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Bed Bugs

Description & Biology

Adult bed bugs are brown, flat and approximately a 1/4 inch long, with a soft, rounded look. After a blood meal they are dark red, rounded (distended), and 3/8 inch long.

These fast moving pests usually come out at night or in darkened areas. The pest's small white eggs hatch into almost transparent nymphs that start feeding at the first opportunity and molt five times before becoming adults. Usually, all stages of development are present in an infestation. A temperature of 70°F is ideal for bed bugs; only adults are present at 50°F or lower. Temperature and availability of blood meals determine whether a bed bug lives two or 10 weeks. At least three generations per year are possible.

Bed bugs do not generally travel too far from their host. But when hiding places and hosts are few, they may be found almost anywhere-- in the seams of mattresses, in bed springs, in cracks of floorboards, behind wallpaper, in picture frames, in couches, stuffed chairs, clothing and even the seams of curtains; wherever a dark crack or crevice might be. Excrement spots are often found where they rest. Cast skins will also be found, especially where infestations are heavy.

Bed bugs usually feed at night, but very hungry bed bugs are less likely to wait for darkness. Bed bugs inject a fluid into their host to help them get their blood meal. This fluid makes some people sensitive to bites, causing irritation, itching and inflammation. Other people can live with bed bugs and not be aware of their presence. In spite of their feeding habits, bed bugs are not known to carry diseases.

Distribution

As bed-bugs cannot fly, they must either crawl or be passively transported in clothing, or more probably in luggage, furniture, books and other objects used as harborages. Their ability to withstand many months without feeding increases their chances of surviving such transportation and the insects' very wide Distribution throughout the world demonstrates their success.

Most bed-bug infestations are to be found in domestic premises, usually in the bedrooms, both juveniles and adults live similar lives hiding away in cracks and crevices for most of the time and coming out at night, usually just before dawn, to feed on the blood of their sleeping hosts. Their hiding-places will he close to where their hosts sleep: in the bed frame or the mattress, in furniture, behind the skirting and wallpaper - anywhere that affords a dark harborage during the daylight hours for these nocturnal creatures.

Significance

Bed-bugs are not regarded as disease carriers, but their blood feeding can cause severe irritation in some people, resulting in loss of sleep, lack of energy and listlessness, particularly in children. The bite often gives rise to a hard, whitish swelling which distinguishes it from the flea bite which leaves a dark red spot surrounded by a reddened area. Different individuals react differently to bites, some gaining immunity.

Probably more important, however, is the distaste with which these insects are regarded. Bed-bug excrement gives a characteristic speckled appearance to their harborages, whilst their "stink glands" confer a distinctive and unpleasant almond-like smell on infested rooms. In addition, the very thought of being preyed upon by such creatures is quite sufficient to make most people take immediate action to control them. The bed-bug may even help to create slums by driving away householders with reasonable standards of hygiene, leaving behind only those who are less concerned with such matters.

It is interesting to note that many factors are helping to sustain existing bed-bug populations: modern building techniques, which allow easy access between adjoining properties; the increased use of central heating, which allows continued feeding and proliferation during winter; the movement of furniture in the second-hand market, which aids their Distribution; all these serve to maintain population levels.

Life-Cycle

Bed-bug eggs, which are slightly curved, measuring 0.8 - 1. 3mm long by 0.4 - 0. 6mm broad, are cemented to the surfaces of the harbourages, often in large numbers. Unhatched eggs are an opaque, pearly white colour, whilst hatched eggs, which remain in position long after hatching, are opalescent and translucent. While temperature and the availability of food have a profound effect on egg production, under optimal conditions egg-laying is almost continuous, at a rate of about three per day. The number of eggs laid by a female in the course of her adult life has been variously quoted as between 150 and 345.

The speed of development from egg to adult and the duration of adult life vary according to temperature and availability of food. With frequent feeding, at normal room temperatures (ca. 18 - 20'C) adults live for 9 - 18 months, with egg incubation taking 10 - 20 days and the complete cycle 9 - 18 weeks. Under these conditions nymphs feed at about 10-day intervals and the adults weekly. If necessary, both can survive long periods without food. Under cool conditions (13'C) starved adults could survive for as long as one year.

In unheated rooms where the temperature drops below 13'C in the winter, egg laying, moulting and feeding stops and the population declines as eggs and young nymphs die. Under such conditions there is only one generation per year. Where temperatures do not fall so dramatically, breeding may continue throughout the year and two generations can be attained.

Bed Bugs Facts

Hemiptera: Cimicidae

SIZE: 1/4 to 3/8 inch (4-5 mm)

COLOR: Reddish brown or brown

DESCRIPTION: Bed bugs are sometimes called "red coats," "chinches," or "mahogany flats." The adult bed bug is a wingless insect that is flattened from top to bottom.

HABITAT: At the beginning of an infestation, bed bugs are likely to be found only in the tufts, seams, and folds of mattresses and bed covers. In areas of heavy infestation, bed bugs can be found in crevices in the bedsteads. Because bed bugs can live in bird nests, houses and buildings with several bird nests in the eaves and on the roof often will have bed bugs coming into the living areas.

LIFE CYCLE: The life cycle stages of a bed bug are egg, nymph, and adult. The females lay about 200 eggs, usually at the rate of three or four a day, in cracks and crevices in the floor or bed. Newly hatched bugs begin feeding immediately. They shed their skin five times before becoming adults.

TYPE OF DAMAGE: They feed principally on human blood by piercing the skin with a long beak and sucking blood into their stomachs. They feed mostly at night, but will feed during the day if hungry and the light is dim.

CONTROL: In private homes, find all the areas that bed bugs hide in during the day time. These must be treated with chemicals. In hotels, apartments, and other multiple-type dwelling places, bed bugs may spread from one unit to another. All units should be inspected. Remove bird nests.

INTERESTING FACTS: Usually discovered in unsuspected areas such as in floor cracks, under carpets, behind loose wallpaper or wall pictures, and in old, unused stoves.

Control Points

To enable complete eradication of this hardy pest it is essential that a method of application for hygiene, constructive inspections with correct timing and chemical application is strictly adhered to to coincide with the breeding cycle of the bed bug.

There is no easy short cut to clearing activity, part or poor treatments will not eliminate the activity, it will temporarily at best slow the growth pattern down but the insects will either migrate to other areas and return or further infest other areas causing further disruption. Eradication of this pest is a specialist undertaking and treatment can span over three visits and interim inspection between chemical application.