*Bed Bug Glossary of Common Words

Size and Physical Characteristics


Life Cycle and Reproduction

Health Impacts



Spread and Prevention

Size and Physical Characteristics


Are bed bugs large enough to be seen?


Yes, bed bug eggs, nymphs, and adults can all be seen with the naked eye (assuming normal vision). The eggs and newly hatched nymphs (1st stage nymphs) are only 1/16 of an inch long (about 1 mm). The 5 nymphal stages are successively larger, with adult bed bugs being about a fifth of an inch long (about 4 to 5 mm). Some people find it useful to compare adult bed bugs to the size and shape of an apple seed, with nymphs roughly the size and shape of sesame seeds.People often do not see bed bugs because these insects typically hide during the day and come out at nighttime when they feed. During the day, you need to search thoroughly to find bed bugs, which typically are hiding (in cracks and crevices, on the underside of furniture, along mattress seams, and in other tight spaces).

How big can a bed bug get?


Adult bed bugs are about a fifth of an inch long (about 4 to 5 mm). Once they feed on blood, they become longer and fatter, about double their normal length. However, they do not become ‘giant’-sized bugs, like swollen ticks.

Why am I seeing very tiny bugs as well as larger bed bugs?


Bed bugs are insects that undergo gradual metamorphosis. Bed bugs proceed from the egg stage through 5 nymphal stages until they reach the adult stage. Furthermore, size differences can reflect the bugs’ feeding condition: bed bugs that have digested a blood meal will have a relatively flat shape whereas recently fed bed bugs will be swollen and elongated.

Do bed bugs have a smell (odor)?


Bed bugs are related to garden stink bugs, so if you are familiar with the distinctive smell of stink bugs, you can imagine how bed bugs smell. The smell is sometimes described as “sickly sweet,” like “rotting berries.” Some people describe bed bugs as smelling like cilantro, although since most people describe cilantro differently, this is not a useful description. Places where bed bugs congregate may smell of iron or flint, like dried blood.



What do bed bugs eat?


Bed bugs eat blood. They prefer to feed on humans, but if a human host isn’t available, they will feed on other warm-blooded animals (such as cats, dogs, birds, rats, etc.). Bed bugs do not drink water. Bed bugs will not feed on blood oozing from a cut or wound, or from a dead body.

Are bed bugs only active at night?


Bed bugs are not only active at night. Bed bugs are technically nocturnal and prefer to feed and move around after dark, but they will feed during the day or in bright light conditions if that is the only time a host is available. As a result, sleeping with the lights on will not prevent bed bugs from feeding. In heavy infestations, numerous bed bugs can often be seen during the daytime.

Will bed bugs stay on my body?


No, bed bugs typically do not stay on a person’s skin for any longer than it takes them to feed (generally 3 to 12 minutes, depending on stage). Immediately after feeding, they seek a site off of the host’s body to hide and digest their blood meal. Bed bugs do not like to remain in constant contact with human skin. Particularly in very heavily infested homes, bed bugs may crawl onto an inactive person and hide in seams and folds of their clothing. Bed bugs typically do not get on people while they remain active.

Do bed bugs live outdoors?


No, bed bugs are an indoor-only pest. They need to be in human dwellings to have a ready supply of food and hiding places and proper environmental conditions. They will not crawl across yards to neighbors’ houses. However, if bed bugs are hiding in a mattress or other piece of furniture that is left outside, they can survive inside the furniture for a long time. Leaving furniture outdoors is not a reliable way to get rid of the bed bugs.

Can bed bugs jump, like fleas?


No, bed bugs cannot jump (they are not closely related to fleas).

Can bed bugs fly?


No, bed bugs have no wings and cannot fly.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

What is the bed bug life cycle?


The bed bug live cycle includes the egg, 5 nymph stages, and the adult stage. In order to have the energy to molt and move to the next stage, a nymph must feed. Adult females must also feed before they can lay eggs. After mating, a female can store sperm in her body and use it to lay eggs for up to 3 weeks. A female bed bug can lay about 150 eggs during her lifetime.At room temperature (around 73°F or 23°C), it takes about 3 months for bed bugs to complete the life cycle from egg to adult; however, they will grow faster if the house is kept warmer. At 86°F (30°C), it takes about 3 weeks for bed bugs to develop from egg to adult.

How long do bed bugs live?


An adult bed bug can live about a year, which is a long time by insect standards.

How long to bed bug eggs take to hatch?


Bed bug eggs take about 6 to 10 days to hatch. The timing of egg hatching is important to the IPM treatment strategy used to control bed bugs, especially considering that eggs tend to be more resilient against pesticides than nymphs or adults.

How long can bed bugs live without food?


Most bed bugs ordinarily go 6 to 7 days between each feeding. Bed bugs have been known to survive starvation for several months (around 140 days) at room temperature (around 73°F or 23°C). They can survive much longer in cooler temperatures since low temperatures slow their growth and metabolism. Hence, bed bugs can survive many months without food. However, bed bugs will not starve themselves if a host is available.

Are both male and female needed to reproduce?


Yes, bed bugs reproduce sexually so both male and female are needed—a female that never mates with a male will never lay eggs. However, once a female has mated, she can store sperm inside her body for up to 3 weeks and continue to lay eggs without mating again.

Health Impacts


Are bed bugs public health pests?


Yes, bed bugs are recognized as important public health pests by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Both of these federal agencies strongly encourage the involvement of local public health agencies since bed bugs pose numerous health risks.Many people experience unpleasant itchy bite reactions, and the bite sites can become infected if they are scratched open. In some cases, bed bug bites can be so numerous and prolonged that the person experiences anemia due to blood loss. Some people have very severe reactions to bed bug bites and experience complex (bullous) reactions, which are medically significant as they are associated with local, highly destructive, inflammation of the blood vessels (cutaneous vasculitis). Bed bugs and their shed skins can also trigger asthmatic reactions in humans.

People living with bed bugs often experience sleeplessness, anxiety, and stress. Others also may experience depression. Bed bugs can cause feelings of fear, anger, frustration, embarrassment, paranoia, and social stigmatization. Such an array of health effects caused by bed bugs can make a person more susceptible to common diseases.


What are the health implications of bites?


While bed bugs have not been shown to spread disease, they still can cause severe adverse health effects. Seven out of ten people are allergic to bed bugs and have itchy welts at the site of a bite. Bites can cause more serious allergic reactions, exacerbate existing health issues, and cause psychological distress. See the above Q&A for more information on their public health impacts.

Do bed bugs spread disease?


Based on current evidence, bed bugs are not known to transmit human disease. This issue requires more research.

How can you tell bed bug bites apart from other insect bites?


A firm diagnosis cannot be made unless a bug is seen. Even a doctor can’t tell a bed bug bite just by looking at the bite mark. However, some signs that it might be bed bugs:

  • Bite marks occur on the skin exposed while sleeping – for example, if you sleep shirtless, bite marks may be on your chest and back
  • Bite marks on neck and face
  • Bite marks often occur in rows or groups
  • You wake up with new bite marks

Everyone else in my household is getting bitten, so why aren’t the bed bugs biting me?


If you live with bed bugs, they are most likely biting you, but you simply are not showing any signs of their bites. Approximately 3 of 10 people do not have an allergic reaction to bed bug bites, so you may be among that number.

Why don’t the bites on my friends look exactly alike?


For those 7 out of 10 people who do react to bed bug bites, the bite reaction can look different from person to person depending on their body’s allergic response. Some people are only mildly allergic, while others may be more sensitive.

Do bed bugs always bite in 3s?


Bed bugs do not always bite in 3s, but they are known to leave bites in rows or groups. Since bed bugs prefer to gather together, clusters of bites will occur from several individual bugs feeding near each other. In some cases, a bed bug may have inserted its mouthparts several times (probed the skin) before reaching a blood vessel—the first few bite marks will be smaller (due to milder allergic reaction), followed by a bigger bite mark.


Will bed bugs feed on my pets?


Yes, bed bugs will feed on any warm-blooded animal (e.g., cats, dogs, birds, bats, and rodents), but they prefer to feed on humans. If they feed on a pet, they typically feed on those areas with little fur or feathers. Once a bed bug has finished feeding, it is unlikely to remain on the animal.

Will my pet spread bed bugs when I take it to a neighbor’s house?


While bed bugs might bite a pet, they don’t live on bodies, so pets themselves are very unlikely to spread bed bugs. However, bed bugs will hide in pet bedding and pet carriers, and transport of those items can allow bed bugs to spread to new sites.

If a dog or cat lives with a bed-bug infested person, should the pet be treated?


No special treatment is necessary for your pet. Fortunately, standard flea and tick treatments provided by a veterinarian often help control bed bugs on pets. Bed bugs prefer to bite humans rather than pets in a bed bug-infested house. If you still have concerns, you can speak to your veterinarian about the issue.Although pet flea and tick treatments can protect pets from bed bugs, they are not safe for use on humans and there is no evidence that they protect humans from bed bugs. In addition, never use dog flea or tick treatments on other animals, as this can seriously poison them. Look for treatments specific to each kind of pet.

Will my pets be safe from bed bug treatment of my home?


In general, the pesticide treatments applied by pest management professionals are safe for pets, as long as you follow the professional’s directions exactly. Bed bug treatments vary widely, so ask your pest control professional about what pesticides he or she uses and how to keep your pets safe during treatment. You probably will be instructed to take your pets out of the house during treatment, and then to return after several hours which allows time for the pesticide to dry. If you have an aquarium, make sure it is completely covered during treatment so that pesticides do not drift into the water.Be aware that while pyrethrins or pyrethroids are safe for use around people and dogs, they are extremely toxic to cats, and even small doses can lead to life-threatening poisonings. Never use dog flea or tick treatments on cats; be sure to use cat-specific treatments. Be extremely careful when considering any “grocery store” pesticides in your house if you have cats—a large number of these products contain pyrethrins or pyrethroids that can harm your cat.

Spread and Prevention


Where Bed Bugs Come From

Are bed bugs spread by certain communities or groups of people?


Bed bugs are not spread by certain groups of people. Anyone can get bed bugs, regardless of where they live, their socioeconomic status, their housekeeping habits, or their country of origin. Wealthy households are as susceptible to getting bed bugs as anyone else. Bed bugs now are found in all 50 states and in many, many countries worldwide.

Do bed bugs impact poor people more than wealthier people?


Anyone can get bed bugs, whether rich or poor. However, poor people often have difficulty affording bed bug treatments, which can be very expensive. Thus, the poor are more likely to be negatively affected by bed bugs.

Are bed bug infestations in Ohio getting better, worse, or staying steady?


This question is difficult to answer, since official records of bed bugs are not kept by any government agency. We must rely on indirect measures, such as pest control company surveys, to estimate statewide bed bug levels. However, from available evidence, bed bugs have been the rise in Ohio for at least a decade, especially in large cities. As of 2017, Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati are all considered some of the most bed bug-prone cities in the U.S.

Why do hotels have particular problems with bed bugs?


Hotels are unique in that they have extremely high turnover of guests and they are used primarily for sleeping and resting. This means that there is a combination of risk factors, including:

  • a large number of people bringing luggage that can carry bed bug hitchhikers
  • high probability of at least one or more visitors bringing bed bugs to the hotel on a regular basis
  • suitable conditions for bed bugs to live
  • suitable conditions for bed bugs to spread between rooms

Since hotels share all the above risk factors, all hotels are susceptible to bed bugs, even expensive hotels.

bed bugs travel through walls to another room/apartment/hotel room/etc.?


Yes, bed bugs can travel easily between rooms and units, including by crawling through gaps into the voids between walls, floors, and ceilings.

Could there be a connection between common laundry areas and spread of bed bugs?


It is possible that bed bugs can be spread through a common laundry area, as any place where people get together with potential bed bug hiding places (clothes, bedding) can be a source of bed bugs. However, in apartment settings, consider the possibility that bed bugs are traveling through infested adjacent housing units.

Am I likely to pick up bed bugs from my office?


It is possible, but not likely, for you to pick up bed bugs from your place of work. Bed bugs can show up in offices, lobbies, schools, and other communal areas, but these incidents most often involve just a few bed bugs that have hitchhiked on belongings from someone living in a heavily infested home. It is possible that a bed bug then could get into your belongings at the office, so it is wise to store your purse, briefcase, coat, etc. in a sealed bag or plastic bin if bed bugs are a concern or if they are a problem at your workplace.


Bed Bug Glossary of Common Words

Nymph = one of five immature, or juvenile (i.e., “baby”, “child”, and/or “teenager”), stages that bed bugs pass through before becoming adults. Newly hatched nymphs are small (1/16 inch, or 1 mm) but nymphs get larger by molting to reach the next stage. A nymph must eat before it can molt and thereby pass to the next stage. The process of a nymph growing up to become an adult is called metamorphosis.

Molt = to shed the skin. All insects molt, including bed bugs. A bed bug nymph must molt in order to grow and reach the next stage. Molting no longer occurs once a bed bug becomes an adult. When insects molt, they leave behind the old skin. These “cast skins” can be a sign of a bed bug infestation.

Metamorphosis = the process of a juvenile insect growing and changing on its way to becoming an adult. Each stage in the change is marked by the insect molting. Bed bugs go through gradual metamorphosis, which means that they start out looking like a small version of the adult, and they look more and more like the adult with each molt. (Note, in contrast, a butterfly goes through complete metamorphosis, with caterpillar, pupal, and adult stages, none of which resemble each other.)

Fecal Spotting = the spots left behind by bed bugs when they poop (defecate). Bed bug feces are partially digested blood, so the spots of feces (poop) sometimes can look like spots of dried, darkened blood. Fecal spotting is one of the important signs of bed bug presence. In addition to dark spots, bed bugs also can produce yellowish white to white spots, which are deposits of uric acid (a nitrogenous waste product).

IPM = integrated pest management, a multi-faceted strategy to control pests, including bed bugs. IPM involves correctly identifying the pest in question, understanding the biology and behavior of the pest, and creating a treatment plan based on that knowledge, using several techniques for achieving control, including pesticides (of which multiple kinds are often used), but also other treatments, such as desiccant dusts, as well as non-chemical treatments, such as decluttering and using mattress encasements.