Despite their prevalence in recent years, most people are either uninformed or misinformed about bed bugs. They often don’t know where bed bugs can be found, how they spread, and how to treat infestations. As in most things in life, educating yourself on bed bugs is the first step to dealing with them. What are bed bugs? Where do they come from? What attracts bed bugs to human hosts? And how can we use that attraction as part of a bed bug treatment?
Science of bed bug attraction
Bed bugs are believed to have evolved alongside humans, emerging from caves after the Ice Age and following us into modern civilization. However, they work in much simpler ways than humans do. They emit pheromones to signal to other bed bugs when they’re in danger or when they want to meet up to mate. Outside of those basic social needs, bed bugs generally run on a simple loop of eating, digesting, and sleeping.
While they spend most of their day hiding in the dark and digesting their last meal, at some point a bed bug needs to venture out in search of a meal. Since they only feed on blood, that means they’re looking for a sleeping person to feed on. Since they’re not agile and have terrible vision, they have pretty limited tools to “hunt” for their food source. So how do they manage to find us in our beds?
Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs don’t live exclusively in your bed. While there could be plenty of bugs in the seams of your mattress, or in the joints and corners of your bed frame, they could just as likely be hiding elsewhere in your room. They rely on chemical signals to find their host, like a chemical radar that gives them a sense of direction and proximity until they hit pay dirt: your exposed skin and the nourishing blood flowing under the surface.
So what are these chemical lures that are drawing bed bugs to you? The main two are quite simple: carbon dioxide and heat radiation. While you sleep, you’re breathing and emiting carbon dioxide at a much higher rate than what already exists in the air around you. You’re also constantly emiting heat, which makes you a giant target to a small bug that’s sensitive to heat signals.
The other chemicals that attracts bed bugs are much more subtle in their nature. Kairomones like octenol, lactic acid, and other organic acids can draw bed bugs to sleeping humans. We emit these chemicals in trace amounts through our breath and sweat, even while we sleep. While these mild chemicals are a much weaker signal than our body heat, they still contribute to a bed bug’s ability to find us and start chowing down.
Attracting and trapping bed bugs
So now that we know what attracts bed bugs, how can we put that knowledge to use? For starters, knowing how bed bugs actually find us can put to rest some of the less effective ideas people might have about bed bug treatments. For example, we know now that throwing away our mattress and sleeping on the floor isn’t a good idea. Bed bugs can be hiding elsewhere in the room, and we’ve done nothing to address their ability to reach you. We also can’t simply get up and move to an adjacent room, since we’d be bringing our body heat and chemical emissions with us.
Thanks to lab research that has identified what most effectively attracts bed bugs, pest control professionals have been able to develop bed bug traps and monitors that can imitate the lures that draw bed bugs to humans. These innovative tools are called active monitors because they use active lures to attract and catch bed bugs. Active monitors might use electric heat radiation, slow-release carbon dioxide, or chemical lures to bring nearby bed bugs out of hiding. Some products, like the NightWatch, even combine all three types of lures to increase their effectiveness.
Using bed bug traps in your treatment
Both active and passive (non-active) monitors can be included in your bed bug treatment. Deciding which type of monitor to use depends on your specific situation. If you’re trying to determine whether bed bugs are in an unoccupied room, you’ll want to use an active monitor that attracts bed bugs and lures them out of hiding. You’d also need an active monitor to treat vacant rooms, since otherwise the bed bugs would stay in hiding and may not be exposed to the eradication methods you’ve deployed.
However, active bed bug monitors aren’t going to be the right choice all the time. If you’re dealing with an infestation in a room that someone’s sleeping in, then you shouldn’t use an active monitor in that room. The sleeping host is a much larger and stronger lure that more effectively attracts bed bugs than any monitor can – there’s simply too much heat, carbon dioxide, and chemical odor coming off of a human body for a smaller lure to compete.
In the case of an occupied space, we can actually weaponize that sleeping host and use their luring effect for our treatment. By completely treating the bed first, then isolating it with passive traps like ClimbUp Interceptors, we can create a bed bug-proof bed for the occupant to safely continue sleeping in. When we apply residual sprays and powders to the area, the sleeping host will draw the bed bugs out of hiding so that they come in contact with the chemicals. We’ll also be able to inspect the passive traps on a regular basis to get a gauge of the population. If fewer and fewer bugs are caught in the ClimbUps, we know that the treatment is effective and that we’re closer to complete eradication.
Bed Bug Supply’s recommended treatment process incorporates the science of what attracts bed bugs. Whether you’re using a ClimbUp in a vacant room or treating and isolating a bed in an occupied room, being able to safely lure bed bugs out of hiding is a critical step in treating them. That’s why the first two steps of our four-step solution are dedicated to treating your bed, encasing your mattress and box spring, and installing passive bed bug monitors so that the bed is completely isolated. With our sleeping human lure in place, the bed bugs in the room will come out thinking they’re getting a free meal. In reality, they’ll be getting their just deserts.