The Creepy Truth About What Bed Bugs Do at Night

The creepy story about what bed bugs do at night starts like this – It’s 11 pm, you lay your head on your pillow, stretch out under the fresh, cool sheets, and drift into a peaceful slumber. But as you sleep, something else awakens. It hasn’t fed in months, and tonight, you are its host. It uses its highly-sensitive antennae to detect your body heat and carbon dioxide and climbs up the bedpost in complete silence.

As it bites you, it injects an anesthetic that numbs the area. You won’t feel a thing tonight, but come morning, you will notice the signs of an unwelcome guest. Months might pass before you realize what you’re dealing with, and by then it can turn into a serious infestation – a bed bug infestation.

#NAME The Creepy Truth About What Bed Bugs Do at Night

Stay with us to uncover the chilling truth about these tiny invaders, their sneaky feeding habit, bizarre breeding rituals and most importantly, how you can evict them for good from your home.

What exactly are bed bugs?

When you think of ‘bed bugs,’ you probably cringe and recall the rhyme, ‘Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.’ But bed bugs are more than just a rhyme. According to research, 20% of Americans have had a bed bug encounter. Yep, these pesky little bugs are more common than you think!

They’ve been around for centuries. They likely originated in the Middle East, sharing caves with humans and bats. In fact, fossilized bed bugs were found in ancient Egyptian ruins from 3,000 years ago.

Their scientific name, Cimex lectularius comes from Latin and translates to ‘bug of the bed,’ but they can infest anywhere in your home, from your sofas to picture frames.

Funny enough, our ancestors praised bed bugs for their supposed medicinal properties. Roman philosophers believed they could heal snake bites or ear infections. In the 1700s, people believed bed bugs could treat hysteria.

We don’t know what gave our ancestors that thought, to be honest…

Anyways, by the early 20th century, bed bugs were everywhere. About a third of the American homes were infested. People tried everything to get rid of them: peat fires, boiling water, and even cyanide fumigation, which unfortunately resulted in human casualties.

And then, like magic, the bed bugs vanished! By the 1950s, scientists were puzzled because they couldn’t find enough bed bugs to study. The secret weapon? DDT.

This miracle pesticide was bed bugs’ worst nightmare, wiping out cockroaches and other pests with ease, and effectively disrupting their life cycle, leading to near extinction.

But in 1972 DDT was banned due to concerns about cancer and danger to wildlife, and bed bugs made a grand comeback in the 1980s, and resurfaced all around the world with a vengeance. Not too long ago, in July 2023, the French Agency for Food published a document that showed 1 in 10 French households was infested with bedbugs between 2017 and 2022.

What do bed bugs look like?

Well, it’s quite difficult to spot bed bugs since they’re experts at hiding. But you can imagine you’re in a lab where they study bed bugs (yes, some people do that).

#NAME The Creepy Truth About What Bed Bugs Do at Night

If you reach out your hand and they put a bed bug on you (for science purposes), you would notice a small, flat and reddish-brown bug the size of an apple seed.

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They usually lay eggs, lots of them. Scientists estimate that a female bed bug can average 540 eggs in her short lifetime (which is about 3-4 months). That means, it can cause an infestation on her own. But the eggs are so small, chances are you’ll miss them altogether.

The main things that should give you a hint you have a bed bug infestation are fecal spots in your mattress seams, the box spring, or where the mattress meets the headboard.

Keep in mind that bed bugs don’t only live in your bed. That is the most convenient place to get what they need (and that’s your blood, yes), but they can also be found inside wall voids and other dark, small places in your home.

You might also say – the most visible sign of bed bugs should be the actual bite. Well, not really!

What does a bed bug bite look like?

That’s the catch! Reports show that only about 30% of humans show any signs of bed bug bites. Many people simply don’t have  any sort of skin reaction to their bites. Moreover, those red bumps that result from bites can also look very similar to other issues, like scabies or even chicken pox.

Bed bug bites often appear in a grouping of three. Think breakfast, lunch, dinner all in one go. In fact, the pesky bed bugs can drink 7 times their own body weight in blood. That’s about 120 gallons of liquid for an adult man. Wow! Imagine that beer belly.

Luckily, bed bugs don’t transmit diseases to humans. That means you can safely let them bite you. Well, kinda’… because the actual thought that there are some microscopic bugs crawling around in your bed at night, and biting you all the time is not really fun.  On the contrary, it can cause mental issues like PTSD or delusional parasitosis.

Take that, you ancestors who thought bed bug bites cure hysteria!

Bed bugs behavior

Well, a bed bug’s life starts with the egg. The egg hatches within two weeks and transparent baby bed bugs, aka nymphs, emerge.

Think of them as baby vampires-in-training; they have to go through 5 stages of development to reach adulthood in about 21 days.

Moreover, nymphs need a good blood meal to move up to the next stage, and each time they molt, they get a little darker and redder.

After they feed, their bellies puff up like tiny balloons. With their bellies full, they then hide away to digest all that blood and maybe find a mate.

The bed bug romance, though, is not exactly a love story. Their mating process is quite traumatic for the lady. Instead of taking her out on a date, a male bed bug pierces the female’s abdomen with their sharp appendage, injecting their sperm directly. This gruesome mating ritual would scar the female for life and considerably shorten its lifespan. But they will go on laying up to five eggs a day and that will serve you with a bed bug infestation.

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Unlike other creepy creatures, bed bugs can’t fly, or make big jumps. They can only rely on their six tiny legs to crawl around.

But don’t underestimate their travel skills. They are professional hitchhikers, which cling to your luggage, purses, gym bags – anything you keep near your bed.

Once you bring those items home from our travels, the bed bugs will head straight for your mattress or box spring and start laying eggs for the “invasion”.

That’s why it’s recommended, when you spend a night in a hotel, to keep your luggage away from the floor and the bed so as not to catch bed bugs.

But enough about them. Let’s see how you can identify a bed bug infestation and what you can do about it.

How to check for bed bugs

Catching an infestation early is your best bet against bed bugs. But it’s not easy, because bed bugs can easily be mistaken for other insects such as carpet beetles or feals. So, you’ve got to keep an eye out for unexplained bites, tiny brown spots on your bedding, blood smears on sheets, molted skins, bug carcasses, or eggs, or a combination of these.

Start your search with the bed. Use a flashlight to inspect the seams and folds of your mattress, the box springs, the headboard or baseboards.

But don’t stop there. Bed bugs can lurk anywhere you sit for a while—couches, recliners, rocking chairs. Check beneath furniture, where fabric meets the legs, and between seat cushions.

When you’re traveling, and staying in hotels, no matter how fancy, don’t unpack right away. Don’t put your luggage right on the floor or bed. Instead, use your phone flashlight and take a good look at the bed linens, mattress,  curtains and furniture. Also, keep an eye out for bites.

When you return home, wash all your clothes immediately, even the ones you didn’t wear. Vacuum your suitcases thoroughly.

Of course, this might seem a bit extreme to do every time. So, yeah, let’s see how to get rid of bed bugs once you’ve got them.

How to get rid of bed bugs

Well, you can start by thoroughly washing all your bedding, linen, clothes, curtains etc. Make sure you use the hottest water possible and also dry them on the hottest setting possible without damaging them. If you have various other stuffed animals, shoes etc. that can’t handle a hot wash, just pop them  in the dryer for 30 minutes. That should help a little.

But this is not all! Grab a stiff brush and scrub the seams of your mattresses, and then vacuum them. It could help you to get rid of some of those eggs. Don’t forget to take out the vacuum cleaner bag immediately after.

If you can, you could also seal your mattress in a zippered cover to keep the bed bugs in. But remember, these critters can survive for months without eating. You could also try to fix the cracks in the furniture or walls around your bed as that’s where they might be hiding.

Decluttering can also help. Try to remove as much clutter as possible from your living spaces, as that would technically destroy their hiding places and help you eliminate bed bugs more effectively.

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However, while you can take some measures on your own, the most effective method is to call for a bed bug exterminator. You might be very thorough in your cleaning and scrubbing efforts, but if you miss one single pregnant female, in three months you could have over 300 bed bugs and 1,000 new eggs. Yes, it’s crazy!

So, what would a professional exterminator do?

Heat treatment is one option – heating an area or specific objects to 150 – 170 degrees Fahrenheit could exterminate bed bugs. You can even use a clothes steamer to treat your bed and other items infected with bed bugs.

Next up is diatomaceous earth—a natural remedy made from fossilized sea shells. It’s a sort of magic dust that can be sprinkled in the cracks and crevices where bed bugs hide. It will mess with their waxy shell, causing them to dehydrate until they die basically. Moreover, it doesn’t contain any pesticides or chemicals, and it can also double as a physical barrier because bed bugs will steer clear of it.

Then, there’s also fumigation. This is a more drastic measure. The professional exterminators will seal off the infested room or building and release a sort of fumigant gas that can get through every nook and cranny, leaving no bed bug unharmed.

Other Surprising Facts about Bed Bugs No One Told You

Bed bugs only feed on live hosts. Spilled, old blood is kinda’ yucky for them. Their high senses will tell them where blood flows closest to the surface and that’s where they’ll bite you. And as we were saying in the beginning, their saliva contains a sort of anesthetic that will render their bite unknown until the morning.

So, bed bugs are quite picky eaters; if they cannot find a host, they can starve for months without dying.

Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs aren’t found just in dirty places. They don’t discriminate based on the level of cleanliness in your home. So, beware!

If you leave your light on at night, they can still feed on you. They’re not really afraid of light. They’ll sense your body heat and the carbon dioxide you exhale and will immediately find you in the room.

They’re just like you. They love warm places, and you  might even find them in your kitchen. A recently used oven or other warm kitchen appliance is just as good for them. Bed bugs thrive at around 70-80°F, but crank up the heat to 132°F (56°C) and you’ll fry them at any life stage. That’s why heat treatments are super effective at getting rid of bed bugs.

And to put your heart at rest – bed bug bites are not very dangerous. They cannot transfer diseases to humans, and most of the time you won’t even know you’ve got bitten. It might happen that you get an allergic reaction that will result in a painful rash or more. But overall, you’ll be fine.

However, it’s better to listen to the famous saying – “sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!”