Bed bugs are tiny pests that can turn your life upside down with a single infestation. These small, brown, oval-shaped bugs are quick to spread. Adult females produce 200-500 eggs in a lifetime, which is typically 6-12 months.
Bed bugs were eradicated in the middle of the 20th century but made a triumphant return as the human population began to travel more, according to the UC Riverside Center for Invasive Species Research. Today, they can be found in dark, tight, hidden spaces.
But how do these creatures make their way into our homes? Here’s what you need to know.
Where do bed bugs come from?
You can think of bed bugs as hitchhikers of sorts. They can’t fly, so they rely on transporting with their host to get from place to place. This movement may occur on suitcases, furniture or clothing in transit.
Their scientific name is Cimex lectularius and they’re closely related to bat bugs and pirate bugs. They are thought to have originated in Europe, the Middle East or in India, but moved across the world as humans did, the Center for Invasive Species Research says.
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What do bed bugs look like?
Adult bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed and are long, brown or reddish-brown bugs with flat bodies. They are oval in appearance and have antennas and six legs. Young bed bugs will be smaller and may be lighter in color, almost a white or yellow color, than their adult counterparts.
According to the EPA, bed bugs give off a musty and slightly sweet odor.
How to check for bed bugs
Bed bugs typically make a home in hidden places in the seams or cushions of chairs and couches, in curtains, in wall hangings, in heads of screws near piping, mattresses or box springs or in cracks in bed frames and headboards.
Bed bug infestations can happen all year round, but they thrive in warmer months. Other than seeing the live bed bugs themselves, these are the indicators for bed bug infestations, according to the Environmental Protection Agency:
Reddish stains from bed bugs being crushed
Dark spots from bed bug excrement
Eggs, eggshells and shedding skins
Do bed bugs come from poor hygiene?
No. Bed bugs are attracted to warmth, blood and carbon dioxide, not dirt. Bed bugs feed on mammals and birds and can leave a bite that resembles a typical insect bite, a rash or hives.
How to prevent bed bugs
Whether you’re traveling, on a thrifting spree or simply looking to up your household hygiene, here are some ways you can protect yourself and your belongings against infestation:
Keep your belongings away from others’
Check and clean secondhand furniture and clothes
How to get rid of bed bugs
Here are some EPA recommendations to keep in mind if you’re looking for an at-home solution:
Seal cracks and crevices with silicon caulk
Remove infested items and treat using extreme heat or cold. According to the EPA, the thermal death point for bed bugs is 114-115 degrees, or items can be frozen in a sealed bag at zero degrees for three days. Many professionals use a steamer to treat infected items.
Avoid these treatments: Rubbing alcohol, kerosene, gasoline and sticky traps are ineffective and potentially harmful.
Set bed bug interceptor traps by taping or gluing two plastic containers together (one large one and one small to fit inside of it) and sprinkling talcum powder at the bottom of the containers. When you place the traps under the legs of infested furniture, the bugs will slip on the powder and be unable to climb up.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Where do bed bugs come from? How they get in and what to do about it.