Bed Bugs

What are Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are small insects. Adult bed bugs are reddish brown in color and range from 1/16" to 1/4" inch in lengthi (about the size of a poppy seed and apple seed, respectively). Bed bugs are nocturnal and active at night. They are visible to the naked eye, but can be difficult to spot because they often hide in clusters in cracks and crevices around the home. They feed mainly on the blood of humans, but may also feed on pets. 

Are Bed Bugs Dangerous?

Bed bugs are not known to spread disease, but many people consider them a nuisance. The timing and severity of bite reactions is dependent on the bitten person's immune response and can vary from one person to another. Some people are allergic to bed bug's saliva and can develop itchy welts on their skin immediately after being bitten by a bed bug. It can take some people a week or more to develop a reaction to a bed bug's bite, while oftentimes, a bed bug bites a person three times during a single feeding.  

Fed Bed Bug, Ken Gray Image Courtesy of Oregon State University

How Long Do Bed Bugs Survive?

Bed bugs multiply quickly; each female may lay 200-500 eggs in her lifetime. Bed bugs can live two years or longerii and an adult bed bug can survive over 12 months without feeding on blood.  

How to Identify a Bed Bug:

Adult bed bugs are reddish brown in color and vary in size. A bed bug's appearance can change dramatically depending on their feeding status. If an adult bed bug has not fed recently, it looks flat, long and oval-shaped. However, once it takes a blood meal, the body will appear almond in shape and the bed bug will look less disc-like.

Bed bugs leave fecal spots after digesting a blood meal. These fecal spots are dark, round in shape, and are often seen in clusters of 10 or more. If the bed bug population is low, there may be only a few dark spots in one location.  Unfed Bed Bug, Ken Gray Image Courtesy of Oregon State University

Where do Bed Bugs Come From?

Bed bugs are successful hitchhikers. They cling onto clothing, luggage, bedding, boxes and furniture, allowing them to travel long distances over a short period of time. One should take precaution in places with a high rate of occupant turnover such as hotels, apartments, and shelters because of the increased likelihood of bed bugs. The following are simple precautions that can help prevent a bed bug infestation in your home and while traveling:
  • Check secondhand furniture and beds for signs of bed bugs
  • Use a protective cover for your mattresses and box springs
  • When traveling:
    • In hotel rooms, place your luggage on a luggage rack
    • Check mattress and headboard
    • Upon returning home, wash your clothes and dry on high heat; inspect your luggage carefully

Bed Bug in Couch Cushions, Copyright 2004 M. Potter University of KentuckyWhere to Look for Bed Bugs:Bed Bugs on Mattress Cushions, Copyright 2004 M. Potter University of Kentucky

- Along mattress seams
- Any cracks or crevices
- Inside box springs
- Along baseboards
- Between furniture cushions
- On pet beds
- Behind headboards


If you Suspect a Bed Bug Infestation:

The Washington County Environmental Health Program recommends that homeowners, property owners, or property managers hire a pest control professional licensed by the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Licensed pest control professionals should always provide proof of their licensure and their company's licensure upon request. Select a licensed professional  who has experience in bed bug control and who will use control measures for all life stages (egg to adult). Cooperation with a pest control company is essential in successfully eradicating an infestation. Multiple treatments and/or follow-up inspections may be needed to effectively wipe out an infestation. A prompt response to the problem will reduce the financial burden of bed bug control to owners and managers.

What can you do:
  • Vacuum and steam clean carpet
  • After vacuuming, immediately place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag, seal it tightly, and throw the bag away in an outdoor container
  • Seal cracks and crevices around the inside of your home.
  • Wash and dry clothes, drapes, stuffed animals, etc., on highest heat setting (reach a target core temperature of 115° Fiii). 
  • If you find bed bugs on the mattress or box spring, buy a zippered mattress cover. These covers often say, "Allergen Rated," "For Dust Mites," or "For Bed Bugs." Then enclose the mattress and/or box spring in the cover for at least one year.
  • Reduce excess clutter. Place clutter into a plastic bag, seal it tightly, and throw it away. If you need to save it, make sure it stays sealed for a minimum of a year.

Additional Information:

i New York State Integrated Pest Management Program, "FAQ List for Bed Bugs", Cornell University, 19 October 2010, <>.
ii Krinsky, W., 2002 True Bugs, pp.67-86. In G. Mullen and L. Durden [Eds.], Medical and Veterinary Entomology, Academic Press, Orlando, FL.  
iii Miller, Dini M. Ph.D. "Non-Chemical Bed Bug Management", State of Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bed Bug Outreach,  October 2010, 19 October 2010