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Bedbugs: Facts, Bites and Infestation

Bedbugs lurk in cracks and crevices and they’ve been living on human blood for centuries. Though they aren’t known to transmit disease or pose any serious medical risk, the stubborn parasites can leave itchy and unsightly bites. However, bedbugs don’t always leave marks. The best way to tell if you have a bedbug infestation is to see the live, apple-seed-size critters for yourself. Unfortunately, once bedbugs take up residence in homes and businesses, they can be difficult to exterminate without professional help.

Appearance, lifestyle and habits

Bedbugs are flat, round and reddish brown, around a quarter-inch (7 millimeters) in length. The ones that typically plague humans are the common bedbug Cimex lectularius and the tropical bedbug Cimex hemipterus.

The creatures don’t have wings and they can’t fly or jump. But their narrow body shape and ability to live for months without food make them ready stowaways and squatters. Bedbugs can easily hide in the seams and folds of luggage, bags and clothes. They also take shelter behind wallpaper and inside bedding, box springs and furniture. The ones that feed on people can crawl more than 30 meters in a night, but typically creep to within 2.4 m of the spot its human hosts sleep.

Bedbugs reproduce by a gruesome strategy appropriately named “traumatic insemination,” in which the male stabs the female’s abdomen and injects sperm into the wound. During their life cycle, females can lay more than 200 eggs, which hatch and go through five immature “nymph” stages before reaching their adult form, molting after each phase.

And it turns out, the pests may have favorite colors. Scientists conducted lab tests with bedbugs and found they sought out shelters, called harborages, that were red or black, while avoiding those denizens with shades of yellow and green. (The researchers say that changing the color of your sheets may be taking the finding too far.)

“We originally thought the bedbugs might prefer red because blood is red and that’s what they feed on,” study co-author Corraine McNeill, an assistant professor of biology at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, said in a statement. “However, after doing the study, the main reason we think they preferred red colors is because bedbugs themselves appear red, so they go to these harborages because they want to be with other bedbugs, as they are known to exist in aggregations.”

As for steering clear of green and yellow? Those hues may resemble brightly lit areas, which bedbugs try to avoid, according to the researchers, who detailed their study April 25, 2016, in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

 

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