What are bedbugs and how did they get here?

The common bedbug, is a small brownish-red insect with a flat, oval-shaped body. Its size and structure allow it to into small spaces and cracks where it can seek harborage for reproduction and development.

They feed primarily at night, and require a warm-blooded host in order to meet requirements for growth. Humans are the preferred host; however, they will feed other animals if needed. Bedbugs are wingless; therefore, they must get from place to place on something such as clothing or luggage or by simply crawling.

What are bedbugs and how did they get here?

The common bedbug (Cimex lectularius), is a small brownish-red insect with a flat, oval-shaped body. Its size and structure allow it to access small spaces and cracks where it can seek harborage for reproduction and development. They are nocturnal, feeding primarily at night, and require a warm-blooded host in order to meet their dietary needs for growth. Humans are the preferred host; however, they will feed on birds or other mammals if need be.

Bedbugs are wingless; therefore, they must get from place to place through a mechanical means, such as on luggage, clothing, or simply crawling from place to place. Because these methods of transport are readily available, bedbugs have successfully spread across the country. The travel industry has been most affected, with hotels/motels, hostels, and airplanes serving as easy targets.
Bedbugs were a significant issue back in the 1950s; however, with the help of DDT and other pesticides their numbers dropped and they were believed to be a problem of the past. Resurgence in bedbug numbers has occurred across the nation and health professionals are once again faced with controlling their spread and minimizing associated problems.

How do I know if I have bedbugs?


The first indication most people have that they might have bedbugs is bites. The bites alone cannot confirm the presence of bedbugs; however, it is a reason to look further. Bedbugs tend to feed on exposed skin areas such as the torso, legs, arms, or neck, which can often help differentiate their bites from other insects.

Reactions vary from person to person, just as they would with other insect bites. They can sometimes take two weeks to appear and can vary from very small and discreet to swollen and inflamed. The bites often occur in a linear pattern or patches as opposed to individual spots; however, this also is not a sure indication of bedbugs. The bites will likely itch and secondary infections can be introduced if the sites are itched open.


The act of feeding takes only about five minutes and the bedbug will leave the host to digest. The fecal matter (waste) of the bedbug will leave dark reddish-brown spots on the surfaces they move across or in areas where they seek harborage. They will also cast their skins when progressing to the next nymphal stage (molting). This waste will often leave a sweet, musky smell in areas with high populations.

Places to look:

  1. Mattress, seams, and box springs (underneath and in hidden corners and spaces).
  2. Along baseboards in the room, especially the wall(s) closest to the bed.
  3. Inspect all luggage, bags, laundry, and purses.
  4. All other furniture around the home, underneath, in seams and crevices.
  5. Cracks in walls, lifted wallpaper, under faceplates and pictures.
  6. Along pipes or wiring within the walls.

There are other insects and pests that can leave similar markings (bites and waste) behind, such as mosquitoes, lice, fleas, spiders, scabies, ticks, and even cockroaches. Make sure you know what you are dealing with before applying chemical treatments as well as to save time and money in effectively eliminating the pest you have.

Health Risks

Bedbugs currently are not considered vectors of disease. They have been extensively studied in laboratory environments yet have not been capable of passing disease from one host to another. This is good news from a health perspective; however, there are other issues that come with bedbug infestations that are important to recognize.

First and foremost, the presence of bedbugs does not indicate a filthy or unsanitary environment—remember, they can hitch a ride on anything and therefore appear in places one may not expect. The most common problems associated with bedbug infestations are feelings of anxiety/stress, possible secondary infections from itching, sleeplessness, and the social stigmas that some feel are attached to their presence.

Once bedbug populations are identified, chemical controls can often be more harmful to people than the bedbugs themselves if they are not properly applied. Therefore, seeking out professional assistance and following product labels is incredibly important.

Finding Them and Getting Rid of Them

Bedbugs will remain close to their food source; however, they can disperse over 100 feet if competition or resource limitations apply. When seeking out populations, begin within 5–10 feet of the bed or couch, if sleeping activity occurs there, and search outwardly. You may need to force them out of areas they are hiding in by using a thin item like a credit card to slide between small cracks and crevices.

There are sealed covers available that are designed to enclose the mattress and the box spring; these are a good idea to not only prevent bedbug infestations from occurring on your mattress but quarantine any existing populations that may already exist.

Once the infested areas have been located and measures have been taken to minimize their spread, cleaning, decluttering, and disposing of items should occur. Wash everything that you can! The heat from washing and drying will clean the item and kill all life stages of the bedbug. If you can place items such as pillows, cushions, stuffed animals, curtains, and bedding in the dryer it is your best bet. Heat of 140 degrees for 20 minutes is the threshold for all bedbugs and is the only absolute sure way of killing them.

If you are trying to decide if you can handle control by yourself or if a professional should be called, keep in mind a few things. It is certainly less expensive to address these concerns yourself first, but it is usually difficult unless you have caught it before they have seriously infested your home. Consistency and being thorough are key to controlling bedbugs on your own. If you believe the problem is extensive, time is of the essence and a professional is the best option.

Positive identification is a must before treating any sort of pest problem. Using the wrong products may actually make your problem worse rather than better; therefore, it is necessary to find the source of the problem and have it correctly identified by a professional before chemical applications or measures take place.

Trapping is a good way of identifying the pest as well as the location of populations within your home. There are several easy ways to collect/trap bedbugs, such as with sticky traps, petroleum jelly on legs of furniture, and water placed at the base of furniture. Because bedbugs cannot fly—they must physically crawl from place to place—when going from the wall to the bed, for instance, they must crawl up the leg of the bed in order to get there. By placing traps on the floor or on the legs by the bed or furniture you will likely be able to capture them in transit and confirm their presence for further measures.

Begin with cleaning everything; this may uncover areas that are infested as well as remove some of the bedbugs that are simply occupying various places. The second step is to vacuum thoroughly, use attachments to vacuum along baseboards, moldings, and under furniture. Vacuum cushions, mattresses, and other fabric surfaces; this is a simple yet critical step that can be done often. Remember to dispose of the bag or contents afterward as live bedbugs may multiply or escape.

After cleaning and vacuuming it is best to seal off items known to be free from bedbugs; this helps keep them from becoming newly infested and separate them from other areas that may still need treatment.

If you choose to use chemicals to control bedbugs in your home, remember the following things:

  1. Never apply pesticides directly to your mattress or places you may be in direct contact with.
  2. Bug bombs are not effective in treating bedbugs.
  3. Use a combination of treatments, including aerosols, baits, and dusts.
  4. One application will not likely be enough—there are several life stages and one treatment may miss one or several of the insects. Eggs may not have hatched yet, leaving them unaffected by chemical treatments and nymphs/adults may be hiding in places that do not get exposed to the treatments being made.
  5. Always use products labeled for the use you intend and follow those instructions specifically.

If disposal of furniture is ultimately deemed appropriate, wrap the furniture in plastic and clearly label it so that it is not picked up and they are spread to other locations. Do not donate the furniture and do not pick up furniture from unregulated sources.

If you feel you need to contact an exterminator/pest control professional, look online or in the yellow pages for your area.

Contact Information

Property Specific Questions:
City of Sioux Falls Building Services: 605-367-8673

Public Licensed Facility Questions:
City of Sioux Falls Environmental Health Inspectors: 605-367-8760

Educational information, outreach and general bedbug questions:
City of Sioux Falls Vector Control Division: 605-367-8284

Medical Questions:
Contact your primary physician if you feel you have a medical need.