Bed bugs are one of the trickiest parasites to get rid of. They breed quickly, spread from dwelling to dwelling with ease, and are classified as an epidemic in the United States. But where, exactly, do they come from – and how do they get into your home?
Bed bugs can’t jump or fly. They can only move around by crawling. They crawl into furniture, luggage, and clothes, and spread from one home to another when infested items are introduced. They can also get into neighboring apartments through the walls.
We’re going to take an in-depth look into how bed bugs move from home to home, and where they could come from. We’ll also go over the differences between fleas and bed bugs, and how you can tell which parasite you’re dealing with.
Do Bed Bugs Jump From Person to Person?
Bed bugs are exceptionally good at finding their way into new homes. Because they’re so small, we often don’t notice that they’re hitching a ride with us, but this is how they do it. Though bed bugs do not live on their hosts, they can use us as a mechanism for transporting from place to place.
Many people believe that bed bugs can jump like fleas, and that’s how they get from one person to another. However, this is a myth about bed bugs and isn’t true.
Fleas and other jumping insects have large, powerful back legs which act almost like spring-loaded devices. They are capable of propelling their bodies over 100 times their length, according to research in Veterinary Parasitology.
Bed bugs do not. They have large, relatively heavy bodies, and short legs. They do not have the physiological capability to jump. So, how do bed bugs spread from one person to another?
The answer is simple: crawling. Bed bugs might not be able to jump, but they can crawl for long distances. They aren’t as fast as fleas, but they can scurry at roughly the same pace as an ant.
Because bed bugs are so sneaky, they can easily climb into your clothes or onto your possessions without you noticing. They might hitch a ride in a suitcase, purse, backpack, scarf or your shoes.
Can Bed Bugs Jump From Apartment to Apartment?
Often, when a home becomes infested with bed bugs, it seems like they appeared out of nowhere. If you don’t know anyone with a bed bug problem, and you haven’t visited any hotels lately, it can be very frustrating and confusing to find bed bugs in your home. Many people wonder whether bed bugs can jump from place to place, or fly in through open windows.
As we’ve already established, bed bugs can’t jump. They can’t fly, either, as they have no wings. Bed bugs do have small, vestigial wing pads, but they are functionless.
Entomologists believe that they’re an evolutionary leftover from a time long ago when the ancestors of bed bugs could fly. Thankfully, they can’t anymore.
However, bed bugs do not need to be able to jump or fly to make their way from apartment to apartment. They are tiny – about as thick as a credit card – and can traverse through extremely small cracks and crevices.
As well as hitching rides on clothes and luggage, bed bugs can travel to different apartments and townhouses through the walls, and under doors. If you suspect that your neighbor might have an infestation, this might be the cause of your own.
Where Do Bed Bugs Come From?
So, now that you know how bed bugs get from home to home: where do they come from in the first place?
There are four potential ways that bed bugs could have entered your home. The bed bugs could have:
- Crawled through walls, or under doors, from neighboring apartments or townhouses (row house)
- Got into your luggage or clothes when you visited an infested hotel or other infested property
- Hitched a ride with a friend or family member from their own infested home, then transferred to your home when they visited you
- Arrived inside used furniture, for example, bought from a thrift store or garage sale.
It’s probably no real use trying to figure out exactly where the bed bugs came from. Sadly, bed bugs are classified as an epidemic in the United States, and they’re almost everywhere. One in five Americans has either had bed bugs or knows someone who does. They’re not just found in apartments and houses, either. Bed bugs can invade:
- College dorms
- Public transportation (trains, buses, and even airplanes)
- Nursing homes
- Schools and daycare centers
- Movie theaters
- According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, bed bugs can even infest hospitals.
Retracing your steps is often futile, as you probably won’t notice the bed bugs immediately after they arrive. It could be that one solitary pregnant female found her way into your home months ago, and you’ve only just noticed the infestation because it’s increased in size.
So, realistically, there’s no way to tell exactly how they made their way into your home. You should focus on getting them out.
How to Spot the Difference between Bed Bugs and Fleas
Before you start treating your home for bed bugs, you should make sure that bed bugs are what you’re dealing with. Many small, blood-sucking insects look similar and leave similar bite marks.
Fleas and bed bugs are two of the most commonly confused parasites. So, let’s find out how to tell the difference between them.
The Appearance of Bed Bugs and Fleas
If you manage to catch one of the bugs, seal it in a piece of tape to stop it from escaping. Visually examining it is the easiest way to tell the difference between fleas and bed bugs. Here’s what to look out for:
- Fleas are dark reddish-brown in color. They range between 1.5 to 3.3mm long. Viewing a flea from above, their bodies are incredibly narrow. They have long, powerful legs for jumping, ending in strong claws. Fleas have no antennae.
- Bed bugs are also a dark reddish-brown color. However, they are larger – typically between 4-6mm long as adults. Viewed from above, their bodies are wide, flat and almost round in shape. When they’ve just fed, they are more oval and bulbous. Their bodies are clearly segmented, and they have visible antennae.
The behavior of Bed Bugs and Fleas
Though fleas and bed bugs both bite humans, their behavior is very different.
- Fleas live on the bodies of their hosts. They strongly prefer cats and dogs to humans. If you have any pets, check their fur with a fine-tooth comb for signs of fleas.
- Bed bugs do not live on their host’s body. They can live in bedding, mattresses, box springs or even in furniture such as dressers and couches. To find bed bugs, search in every crack and crevice of furniture in your bedroom. Pay attention to curtains, carpets, and cracks in walls, too.
- Fleas can jump. If you spot a flea and try to pick it up, it will jump away from you. They can leap over 100 times their own body length, and move very fast. Bed bugs don’t jump. They crawl somewhat slowly, about the same speed as an ant.
Here are some other tips for figuring out whether you’re dealing with fleas or bed bugs:
- Check your bed thoroughly. Do you see any small, black dots which look like ink spots? These are bed bug fecal spots (poop). Bed bugs also shed their skeletons. Look for hard, translucent insect-shaped “skins.”
- Check your pet’s fur. Do you see any small brown pieces of dirt? If so, remove it from the fur and place it onto a damp paper towel. If it “bleeds” (turns the paper red), this is flea excrement.
- Are your pets scratching themselves a lot? Bed bugs do not bite pets unless they cannot find a human host. If your pets are being bitten, it’s probably fleas.
If you’re still not sure whether its fleas or bed bugs, you should hire a professional exterminator. They’ll be able to conduct a thorough examination of your property, to diagnose the problem.
How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
By now, you should have an idea of which kind of infestation you’re dealing with. To recap:
- Bed bugs cannot jump like fleas, or fly – they can only crawl. They pass from residence to residence by hitching rides in luggage, clothes, and furniture. They can also crawl through walls from one apartment to another.
- Fleas are smaller and narrower than bed bugs and lack antennae. They both bite humans, but fleas prefer cats and dogs.
- If you’ve got bed bugs, you may notice dark fecal spots on your mattress, and shed bed bug casings.
If you’ve got bed bugs, don’t waste time. They breed quickly, and the longer you wait, the worse your infestation will be. But the question is: how do you get rid of bed bugs naturally?
There are various steps you can take to tackle your infestation. Vacuum your house regularly, and wash all bedding and clothes at 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
The best and most effective method for bed bug removal is whole-house heat treatment. This must be carried out by a professional bed bug exterminator. It’s expensive, but it’s the most effective way of eliminating your infestation.