These apple seed-shaped bugs are everywhere in the Big Apple!
According to Orkin’s Top 50 Bed Bug Cities List in 2023, New York City is the 2nd most bed bug infested city in the nation (Chicago is the 1st).
New Yorkers are constantly on the move, making it easy for bed bugs to travel around. Due to their small size, it’s easy for them to hitch rides on suitcases, clothing, furniture, purses, and clothing.
Here’s what you need to know about dealing with bed bugs in New York City including facts, prevention, control, and extermination.
MMPC Bed Bug Guide:
Facts about Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are tiny, parasitic insects that feed on human blood (typically at night when the host is asleep). They’re notorious for being difficult to detect, since they can hide in small cracks and crevices as small as 2 mm wide.
They easily spread to new locations by crawling into neighboring apartments or by hitching rides in personal items like bags and luggage. Once a bed bug infestation takes root, these pests can be tricky to get rid of completely.
- 1/6–1/4 inch long (4–7 mm); about the size of a small apple seed
- Flat and oval-shaped
- Brown or reddish-brown
- Small head and wide, rounded abdomen
- 6 legs
- Crawls slowly
- Cannot fly
- After a blood meal, its abdomen swells into an elongated, football-like shape
Species of Bed Bugs
There are only two species of bed bugs: the common bed bug, Cimex lectularius, and the tropical bed bug, Cimex hemipterus.
- Cimex lectularius is the most common species of bed bug in the United States and parts of Europe. If you encounter bed bugs in your New York home or apartment, Cimex lectularius is the usual suspect.
- Cimex hemipterus prefers the tropical habitats in Asia, Africa, and South America and is rarely seen in the United States.
- Other species of insects in the genus Cimex may appear similar to bed bugs but don’t typically feed on humans; for example, the common “bat bug” (Cimex adjunctus) feeds primarily on the blood of bats.
What Attracts Bed Bugs?
Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs are not attracted by dirt and grime. Instead, they’re attracted to heat, body odors, and carbon dioxide.
- Bed bugs are sensitive to heat and temperature gradients, which helps lead them toward warm-blooded hosts to feed on.
- An increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air due to breathing, especially during sleep, triggers foraging behavior in bed bugs. This causes them to leave their harborage areas and begin searching for the food source.
- Bed bugs are attracted to human body odor, using certain chemical compounds as signals to help orient them towards their prey.
- Residual body odor also attracts bed bugs to dirty laundry, which is why bed bugs find their way into luggage and suitcases before hitching a ride to new locations.
Bed Bugs on Pets
While bed bugs prefer feeding on human blood, they will occasionally also feed on other warm-blooded animals like dogs, cats, and rodents.
Some signs that a pet might have been bitten by bed bugs include vigorous scratching, skin rashes or inflammation, or dried blood on skin or fur.
Cleaning the bitten areas with antiseptic will aid the healing process and prevent infections.
Life Cycle and Reproduction
In order to fully understand the infestation level in your home, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the bed bug life cycle. If you’re able to identify bed bugs at different life stages, you can estimate the age of the infestation.
Bed bugs go through five developmental life stages in between the egg and adult stages. Each of these transitional stages, called nymphs or instars, requires a blood meal in order to develop to the next life stage. In order to grow larger, they have to shed their exoskeleton, leaving behind a translucent colored shell.
Upon reaching adulthood, bed bugs will start to reproduce. A fertilized female adult bed bug lays 2–5 eggs at a time, and up to 350 in her lifetime.
The average egg will take 6–10 days to hatch, and then another 4–6 weeks to reach adulthood.
- Bed bug eggs resemble a grain of rice but smaller.
- Their shape resembles an elongated oval.
- They are pearly white or grey in color.
- The average length of a bed bug egg is approximately 1 mm.
- Bed bug eggs that are more than five days old have a small dark spot resembling an eye.
- At the end of the egg is a hinged cap, which opens up to allow a newly hatched bed bug to come out.
- Bed bug nymphs can start feeding as soon as they hatch.
- Bed bug nymphs are translucent with yellow brown tint and around 1.5 mm in length.
- Once they feed, the nymph they will molt and then move onto the next stage
- In the fifth instar stage, bed bug nymphs become less translucent and grow to around 4.5 mm in length.
- Bed bug nymphs that reach the final stage of maturity are considered adults.
- The average adult bed bug is between 5-7 mm long.
- Before they feed, adult bed bugs are brown, flat, and oval-shaped
- After they feed, they temporarily take on a darker, reddish-brown hue and will balloon in size into a football shape
- Under ideal conditions, with normal room temperature and an adequate supply of blood, adult bed bugs can usually live up to 10 months.
Common Signs of Bed Bugs
If you wake up with bites on your body, keep an eye out for these common signs of an early bed bug infestation:
- Unusual Bedroom Odors — the smell of bed bug pheromones is musty and slightly sweet, sometimes compared to the smell of raspberries, almonds, or cilantro. Large amounts of bed bug feces, which contains dried blood, has an unpleasant rusty smell.
- Nighttime Bites — the most common presentation of bed bug bites are itchy red bumps that appear in small clusters on areas of the body exposed during sleep.
- Bloodstains on Sheets — tiny rust-colored blood stains may be left behind on sheets, pillows, and clothing after bed bugs finish feeding.
- Fecal Marks — bed bug droppings appear as small, dark brown or black dots about the size of a pen tip, and will smear on fabric when wiped with a moist towel.
- Bed Bug Eggs — pearly white, pinhead-sized ovals that are around 1 mm in length and resemble tiny rice grains. Usually found loosely stuck to surfaces where bed bugs hide.
- Shell Casings and Shed Skins — translucent, yellowish-brown exoskeletons shaped like juvenile bed bugs left behind after molting.
- Live Bed Bugs — flat, reddish-brown insects resembling small apple seeds that like to hide inside small, dark crevices such as the seams of a mattress or cracks within furniture.
To learn more about the common early signs of bed bugs, read our article: How Do I Know if I Have Bed Bugs? 7 Early Signs to Look Out For
Bed Bug Bites
Finding mysterious bug bites in the morning is the most common way that people discover they have bed bugs.
Bites are generally not considered dangerous. Itching and skin irritation are relatively common symptoms as part of the body’s response to the proteins within bed bug saliva. In rare cases, certain people may experience allergic reactions to bites, resulting in more severe symptoms.
Not everyone will react to bug bites in the same way. Many people end up with little red bumps or welts, but others don’t have any visible reactions at all.
Bed bugs normally come out and feed at night while you sleep. They typically feed every 3–7 days, and each meal takes an average of 5–10 minutes.
When bed bugs bite, they pierce the skin with two hollow tubes; one injects saliva while the other extracts blood. Bed bug saliva includes certain compounds that act as an anesthetic to prevent their host from feeling pain and waking up.
If you happen to move in your sleep or if a bed bug is unable to feed in a certain spot, they may shift around and bite at a different spot until they’re full. This sometimes results in a zig-zag or line pattern of bites on your skin, referred to as the “breakfast, lunch, and dinner” pattern.
How to Tell if You Have Bed Bug Bites
There are a few common reactions to bug bites that might help indicate if bed bugs are the culprit. But remember, not everyone will react the same way so some people may experience these reactions but not others.
- Raised little bumps
- Large welts or areas of redness
- Mild to moderate itchiness
- Small clusters or rows of bites
- Bites on parts of the body exposed during sleep, such as arms, legs, hands, and face.
Where to Find Bed Bugs
Once bed bugs have invaded your home, they can find a variety of different places to hide in.
In order to have convenient access to their food source, sleeping humans, bed bugs prefer to hide in mattresses and other furniture items around your bed. During the day, they are likely to seek refuge inside small crevices and seams on furniture like bed frames, headboards, baseboards, and nightstands.
From our experience as bed bug inspectors and exterminators, the common bed bug hiding places include:
- Mattress seams and box springs
- Pillows and pillowcases
- Headboards, footboards, and bed frames
- Items and storage boxes underneath beds
- Corners and screw holes of dressers and nightstands
- Desk drawers and bookshelves
- Behind wall hangings and picture frames
- Cracks along baseboards and moldings
- Curtains and window frames
- Pet beds and children’s toys
- Electrical outlets
If you suspect that you might have bed bugs in your home, here’s a helpful guide about where to look for them: How to Check for Bed Bugs: Performing a Self-Inspection of Your Home or Apartment
How to Prevent Bed Bugs
Here are some tips to help keep bed bug out of your home and belongings:
- Store clothes in sealed bags when traveling
- Wash clothing in hot water when returning home from a trip
- Inspect luggage and bags before bringing them inside
- Wash bed sheets and pillow cases frequently
- Vacuum floors regularly and reduce clutter
- Use a mattress encasement to cover your mattress and box spring
- Always inspect new or used furniture before bringing it home (especially used furniture)
Stop Them From Spreading
Understanding how bed bugs get from one place to another can help you take proper precautions to avoid them. There are 2 main ways that bed bugs spread: passive dispersal and active dispersal.
1. Passive Dispersal
Passive dispersal is when humans inadvertently carry bed bugs to new locations in our clothes, luggage, bags, furniture, and other items.
That’s why bed bugs are so closely linked to travel activity, especially overnight travel and hotel stays. Some examples of passive dispersal include:
- Bed bugs hiding inside folds and pockets of clothing
- Bed bugs in a hotel room finding their way into luggage or dirty laundry
- Bed bugs latching onto seams or zippers of bags and backpacks
- Bed bug-infested furniture discarded on a sidewalk and then picked up by someone else
- Bed bug-infested laundry placed on shared surfaces at a laundromat
2. Active Dispersal
Active dispersal is when bed bugs crawl around on their own, wandering from one apartment to another. This usually happens with gravid females looking for new places to lay eggs.
Bed bugs can’t travel far, so the range of active dispersal is typically limited to neighboring apartments in the same building.
Solutions for Bed Bugs
Bed bugs spread quickly and can hide in many hard-to-reach places, which makes it difficult to exterminate them completely. If you don’t get rid of every last bed bug and viable egg, the infestation may come back in the future.
How to Find Where They’re Hiding
1. Bed Bug Traps (Interceptors)
There are several types of bed bug traps on the market, but we recommend the ClimbUp Interceptor, which is designed to catch any bed bugs trying to climb up or down your bed.
These plastic dish-like devices have two walls that are rough on the outside and smooth on the inside, so that bed bugs can climb in but not out. When placed beneath the legs of your bed, they act like a moat to trap and capture bed bugs.
If you can’t find bed bug interceptors near you, homemade tape traps are another option. Have the sticky side of the tape facing up and lay the pieces around your mattress or bed frame before you go to sleep. In the morning, check the traps to see if anything was caught.
2. Bed Bug Sniffing Dogs (Canine Inspections)
Bed bugs are notoriously good at hiding, and it’s difficult to find their hiding spots by relying on your eyes alone. Even if you manage to find some, there might be more hiding in other places you’re not aware of.
Luckily, dogs can be specially trained to help detect bed bugs by sniffing out their scent.
Scent detection canines can find bed bugs and viable eggs with a much higher accuracy rate compared to a traditional visual inspection performed by a human. According to this 2008 study at the University of Florida, trained dogs were 98% accurate in locating live bedbugs.
Canine bed bug inspections are best suited for detecting early stage infestations since a dog’s nose is so sharp that they can pick up traces of individual bed bugs. Being able to catch onto an infestation early—and knowing exactly where the bed bugs are hiding—drastically improves your chances of successfully exterminating them.
At MMPC, our highly-trained bed bug detection dogs are paired with experienced handlers to help New Yorkers quickly and accurately locate the presence of bed bugs.
Learn more here: The ABC’s of Bed Bug Sniffing Dogs: Accuracy, Benefits, and Costs
How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs Yourself
Sometimes an early bed bug infestation can be handled by yourself.
However, be aware that there is a risk involved—if you’re not successful, you’re instead giving the bed bugs time to breed and multiply. By the time you call in a professional bed bug exterminator, the costs of treating the infestation might be significantly higher than if you called them in the beginning.
If you have a bed bug infestation in your home and want to try tackling them yourself, here are some recommended methods to save your belongings and kill the bed bugs.
1. Washing and Drying (High Heat)
In order to kill bed bugs infesting your clothes or bedsheets, wash and dry them on the highest heat settings. A minimum temperature of 118 °F (48 °C) for a combined 90 minutes is required to kill bed bugs with a 100% mortality rate.
Prior to washing, place infested items in sealed trash bags, and dispose of the trash bags immediately after the clothes and sheets have been placed in the wash.
After your items have been cleaned, place them in clean trash bags to prevent them from becoming re-infested.
Use a vacuum with a crevice tool attachment to suck up any bed bugs that you find. Start around your bed and check bedsheets, mattress seams, and around the bed frame. Slowly expand your search outwards through the rest of your home.
After you’re done vacuuming all of the nooks and crannies, spray the area down with an isopropyl alcohol solution with a concentration of 80% or stronger.
Lastly, empty out your vacuum into sealed plastic bags and sanitize the vacuum chamber with the alcohol solution.
Using steam to treat a bed bug infestation is another effective non-chemical option.
Directly apply steam slowly and evenly to infested fabrics, items, and furniture. In most cases, bed bugs will die after being exposed to steam for a few seconds.
Be sure to let the steam penetrate deep into seams and cracks, especially in areas with bolts and screws that bed bugs like to hide in. For large pieces of furniture like beds and upholstered couches, you may need to disassemble the parts and steam the mattresses or cushions separately.
For small items and belongings that are sensitive to heat, you can eliminate any bed bugs hiding inside by freezing them. (Note: don’t use this method for electronics with LCD screens.)
Place the items into sealed plastic bags and leave them inside a freezer with a temperature at or below 0 °F (-18 °C).
The items should be left in the freezer for at least 4 days to ensure that all bed bugs are killed. Bulkier items may take even longer, since the freezing temperature must reach all the way to the center of the item.
Whether or not an item needs to be disposed of depends on the size of the infestation and if you think it’s worth the time and cost to fumigate it.
Secure any infested items for disposal in garbage bags and tape the opening shut so that the bed bugs can’t escape. If the item cannot be sealed, don’t just leave it on the curb—be sure to label it as “infested with bed bugs” to prevent others from taking it home.
About MMPC: NYC’s Top-Rated Bed Bug Experts
For the peace of mind that comes with knowing your bed bug infestation has been completely eliminated, consider calling a professional for help.
MMPC is a top-rated pest control company in New York City with 25+ years of experience helping people find and exterminate bed bugs.
We provide effective and eco-friendly bed bug inspection and treatment services:
- NESDCA-Certified Canine Bed Bug Inspections
- Bed Bug Cryonite & ULV Treatment
- Bed Bug Ambient Heat Treatment
- Custom Treatment & Prevention Programs
Although professional bed bug treatment may be costly (depending on the size and stage of the infestation) taking this step gives you the best chance of getting rid of your bed bugs once and for all.