How can you tell if a residence or building is infested?

Bed bugs infest only a small proportion of buildings, but they should be suspected if residents complain of bites that occurred while sleeping. BEFORE you conclude that the home or office is infested by bed bugs, you should find at least one bona fide bed bug. Bites and bite-like lesions may be caused by diverse creatures of kinds, including, but not limited to, fleas, biting mites, and mosquitoes. Similarly, such bite-like lesions may be attributable to infections, allergic reactions, drug interactions, and other medical problems. You should consult with your physician about any medical concerns. Your doctor may be able to say that your lesions are consistent with an insect bite. It is unlikely, however, that she/he can identify the kind of bug responsible merely by examining the lesions. So, find a bed bug before you take any actions to manage, control or eliminate them!

If in a residence, then the bedroom and other sleeping areas should be carefully examined for bed bugs and signs of bed bug activity. Folds and creases in the bed linens, and seams and tufts of mattresses and box springs, in particular, may harbor bed bugs or their eggs. They may also be found, amongst many other places, within pleats of curtains, beneath loose areas of wallpaper near the bed, in corners of desks and dressers, within spaces of wicker furniture, behind baseboards and picture frames, above drop ceilings, and in laundry or other items on the floor or around the room. Sometimes, characteristic black or dark brown fecal spots of bed bugs are apparent on the bed linens, mattress or walls near the bed. A peculiar coriander-like odor may be detected in some heavily infested residences. Bright blood-red spots on the linens or mattress are not likely associated with bed bugs. If in a school or office setting, then inspect desks, chairs, bookcases and other furniture for evidence of bed bugs.

If you find a bug of concern, capture it using clear tape (packaging tape is ideal), and gently affix this to a sheet of white paper. The bug will not be able to free itself. You may then try to take a digital photo to send to IdentifyUS electronically, or you may send us the actual specimen. To learn more about submitting images and specimens for evaluation refer to our Specimen Evaluation Form.

Because bed bugs and other kinds of pests may be difficult to find, you can set traps in an attempt to capture one or more. Traps tend to be fairly insensitive devices for capturing bed bugs, but they are useful, nonetheless. You need only capture one bed bug to confirm the identity of your pests. Your options include:

  • Adhesive tape (such as duct tape): Wrap the tape around the legs of beds and desks, leaving the sticky side of the tape facing outwards. This will capture virtually any bug that wanders onto the adhesive surface. You may then remove the tape (cutting it carefully).
  • Insect glue traps: These are available from pest control companies, large hardware stores and from many online vendors. Because bed bugs are not attracted to the baits on these boards, you can use the non-baited kinds of traps. Array these under the beds and under or behind other furniture. Check them every few days for captured bugs.
  • Wet or dry moat traps: These may consist of cups or saucers under each leg of a bed. Bed bugs will drown if they fall into such vessels if they contain soapy water or mineral oil. Used dry with talcum powder, such vessels will likely prevent bugs from escaping.
  • Carbon dioxide attractant traps: Commercial traps are available that liberate carbon dioxide gas, heat and yet other components that may attract bed bugs. These traps tend to be costly, but may be provided for brief intervals by some pest control companies.

Each of these is potentially useful for surveillance. None, however, should be expected to eliminate bed bugs.

‘Bed bug sniffing dogs’ have increasingly become advertised, offered and relied upon for detecting bed bugs in homes and offices. If well-trained and accompanied by an expert handler, they can help confirm the presence of bed bugs as well as focus on where bed bugs may be hiding. If you’ve already discovered a bed bug, then there seems very little reason, if any, to employ such services. If you suspect that you have bed bugs, but have been unable to find one, then such specialized canine detection dogs may help solve the mystery. A good bed bug detection dog will be trained to provide a defined response when it encounters the scent of bed bugs. Such a dog may paw at the area of interest, may sit and stare intently at the site, or offer yet other behaviors. The handler may then state that the dog’s behavior confirms or suggests the presence of bed bugs. It is useful and wise to be wary at this point. Whereas the dog may, indeed, have detected the odor of an existing bed bug, it might also have noticed the scent of a previous infestation, or even that of some completely irrelevant source (such as that of another animal or of a food item). 

You are advised to search the site for a bed bug. If you find one, then the dog and the owner have earned their rewards. If, however, no bed bug or other objective findings (cast skins of bed bugs and fecal spotting) of bed bugs are evident, then the dog’s behavior (and the conclusions of the handler) should be questioned. Before you spend hundreds or thousands of dollars (and have pesticides applied to your property) to abate a bed bug infestation, make sure that you’re really battling bed bugs. Ask the dog owner/handler about their links, if any, to a purveyor of pest control services. One associated with a pest control company is not necessarily biased, but you should be aware of the potential.

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