This is a good time to invest in a mattress encasement and protect your home!


They’re back.  They were never really gone, but most people have never had to deal with these nasty little creatures before.  What am I talking about?  Bed bugs!  Bed bugs are now one of the most common bugs that make an appearance in the Master Gardener office for identification.

Scientists believe that bed bugs followed us from cave to tent to house.  Evidence of their long association with humans includes a 3,500 year-old fossilized bed bug found in an Egyptian village.  Bed bug populations rise and fall following natural cycles.  In the mid-1900s, they were a common pest, but their populations declined so dramatically after World War II that today, many people have never seen a live bed bug.

One of the most significant causes of their decline was probably the use of DDT to control cockroaches.  While not the target, bed bugs were killed by DDT because of its long residual effect.  They died when they crawled where DDT was used, even if it had been there for weeks.  Bed bugs bite people as they live off blood, but they do not burrow into the skin.  They are not known to pass on any diseases.  Bed bugs can feed on pets but they do not live on pets like fleas.  Bed bugs are hitchhikers and their presence is not necessarily related to poor sanitation.  Since they can travel on things such as luggage and furniture, it can be hard to keep them out.

Bed bugs are wingless insects.  They range from brown to reddish-brown in color, are oval shaped and flat when unfed.  After a blood meal the body blows up like a balloon and it looks more torpedo shaped.  Adults are about the size of an apple seed and immature bed bugs can be as small as 1/16 of an inch.  Young bed bugs are nearly colorless except after a blood meal when they become bright red.  The eggs are white in color, bean-shaped and about the size of a pinhead.  Eggs are laid in crevices, scattered randomly or in small clusters.

Inside buildings, bed bugs can breed all year in multiple generations.  The average lifespan of an adult is 3 to 10 months and in that time, a female may lay more than 100 eggs.  The more blood meals a female has, the more eggs she will lay.  Bed bugs walk in search of a blood meal at night and hide during the day.  Bed bug populations can double every 16 days under ideal conditions, so it doesn’t take long for them to become a problem.

The first clue suggesting that you may have a bed bug infestation is often the presence of red, itchy bites.  However, people’s reactions to bites are varied and may not be due to bed bugs at all.  There are four basic signs of bed bugs: eggs, cast skins, fecal spots and live bed bugs.  Bed bugs can be confused with other small household insects, so it is a good idea to get them correctly identified.  Contact your local CCE office to see if they have someone who can identify them and how they would like you to submit the sample.  They may ask you to put the bug in a sealed clear plastic baggie and then put it in the freezer for a couple of days.  Or put it in a clear glass jar with a little bit of rubbing alcohol.  Please do not take live bed bugs in to an office.

In the early stages of an infestation, bed bugs will be found around mattress seams and crevices of the bed frame.  As their numbers increase, they will spread to gaps behind baseboards, pictures, window and door casings, wallpaper and other similar shelters.  In heavy infestations bed bugs will be everywhere and they will spread to neighboring rooms or apartments.

Treating bed bugs is complex and time consuming since they hide so well and reproduce quickly.  The egg stage is resistant to many forms of treatment, so a single attempt may not be sufficient.  You may want to consider hiring a pest management professional who has experience dealing with bed bugs.  Be sure the company has a good reputation and ask that it use an IPM approach.

There are a number of things that you can do yourself.  Clean up clutter to reduce the number of hiding places.  You don’t have to throw out all of your things.  Most of them can be treated and saved.  If bed bugs are in your mattress, use special bed bug covers.  Wash and heat-dry your bed sheets, blankets, bedspreads and any clothing that touches the floor.  Vacuum the furniture, the bed frame, the floor and baseboards, or wherever your inspection found bed bugs.  They can get into tiny crevices.  If the edge of a credit card can fit, so can a bed bug.  Vacuuming with a brush tool is an effective way to remove them.  Be prepared to do a thorough vacuuming every day.  Change the bag after each use so the bed bugs don’t crawl out.  Dispose of the used bag in a tightly sealed plastic bag and put it in an outside garbage can.

Pesticides are another option, but questions have been raised about the effectiveness of foggers against bed bugs.  Bed bugs often hide, especially during the day.  The pesticides used in foggers must contact the bug to kill it.  If the material does not reach where the bed bug is hiding, they will not be killed.  Never use pesticides on yourself.

Wherever there are people there can be bedbugs.  Getting good, solid information is the first step in both prevention and control of these tiny home invaders.  Your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office can help with that.

Resources for this article include: Cornell University, New York State Integrated Pest Management Program, Penn State Extension and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Need more information on bed bug control?  Contact the Cornell Cooperative Extension Genesee County Master Gardeners for assistance.  They may be reached by calling 585-343-3040, ext. 127, Monday through Friday from 10 am until noon; or stop in at our office at 420 East Main St., Batavia.  They may also be contacted via e-mail at:  Visit our CCE web site at  “CCE of Genesee County is an employer and educator recognized for valuing AA/EEO, Protected Veterans, and Individuals with Disabilities and provides equal program and employment opportunities.”

Join the Genesee County Master Gardeners for a new garden series called “Garden Talk”.  Starting Feb. 3, from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m., bring your lunch to the CCE office (420 East Main St., Batavia) and think spring.  We plan to hold different garden related topics on the first Tuesday of the month.  February’s topic will be “Winter Sowing”.  Would you like to learn a new way to start plants for your garden?  Try Winter Sowing.  Winter Sowing is the planting of seeds in containers to germinate outdoors in the winter naturally.  It produces hardy seedlings.  Very easy to do and no special equipment needed.  This program is free and open to the public.


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