My client emailed me photos of what appear to be insect bites on their legs. They believe the bites are from bed bugs, but I am not sure exactly what caused the bites. How should I proceed? 

Anytime that I am presented with photos of possible insect bites, I always recommend that the client consult a medical physician. As pest control professionals, we do not possess the equipment or the medical training to properly diagnose someone’s skin condition. Additionally, reactions to insect bites can differ dramatically from person to person, making it nearly impossible to identify a pest from a possible insect bite. Having said that, any evidence to suggest that biting insects could be present in a home should be taken seriously and warrants a thorough inspection. The goal is to identify both the location of the infestation and where the pest may have originated. This often involves more than just a walkthrough of the home. Obtaining information from the client about travel history and daily habits can also be crucial to determining the potential source. For example, if the client recently returned from a work trip or vacation, then luggage should be inspected for bed bugs. The same goes for any other items that are regularly carried out of the home, such as handbags, backpacks or gym bags. If no evidence of bed bugs were found during a visual inspection, then the client could have encountered bed bugs at a regularly visited location, such as a spa or bus stop. Temporarily avoiding each location for a short period could help to determine if any one site was a possible source of the bites.

Late last fall I was treating a house for bed bugs and after 3 visits, I eliminated the infestation (to the best of my knowledge).  Fast-forward to March and that same house has a new (or recurring) infestation.  The thing is, this is a three-story house in Ohio with a finished attic and the recurrence is in an attic bedroom.  I checked out several of the bugs under a microscope and realized they are actually bat bugs!  I never thought to check originally because the initial infestation was huge and the bugs were only found on the first floor.  What’s going on here and how do I proceed?

It is certainly possible that this house experienced a one-two punch of bed bugs and bat bugs.  The odds of this happening are very slim, but similar occurrences have been documented and there isn’t anything about the presence of one species or the other that would preclude the other from being in the same structure.  The timeline for the initial infestation could coincide with bats leaving a roost in the structure to seek out their hibernacula.  Conversely, the fact that the initial infestation was large and exclusive to the first floor casts doubt on that notion.

Since it’s too late to be 100% positive that the initial infestation was bed bugs, we can only focus on the current problem. The body of knowledge about bat bugs (and swallow bugs) is poorly developed at this point but the first step should be to determine if there is currently a bat problem in the house.  Check for possible bat entry/exit points under the eaves, around the chimney, beneath the ridge cap, and anywhere else in the vicinity of the infested bedroom.  Bat bugs will feed on people but we are certainly not their preference, so if bats are (safely, of course) evicted the infestation most likely won’t be sustained.  Once the bats have been evicted, start your control and monitoring efforts on the recently vacated roosting spot(s) and focus on other voids, cracks and crevices, and areas in which you are finding evidence of bat bugs.

One final note, although I understand why you assumed bed bugs given the nature of the initial infestation, remember that it’s always recommended to get a positive ID before proceeding (and it doesn’t hurt to save a few specimens just in case).

I’ve been told that bed bug nymphs can survive without a blood meal by eating bits of dried skin particles found on mattresses, is this true?

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) have mouthparts that are modified for eating one thing – blood.   Bed bugs are considered true bugs which all have gradual metamorphosis, meaning that the immature stages look like, and exhibit the same feeding preferences and habitat as adults.  Both nymphs and adult bed bugs feed exclusively on blood. In fact, a blood meal is required for nymphs to develop from one nymphal instar to the next.  In addition, blood meals are required by adult females to produce eggs.

Your source may have been confusing the nutritional preferences of bed bugs with house dust mites (Dermataphagoides spp), which do not feed on human blood, but consume shed human and animal dander (skin particles), mold spores, pollen grains and feathers.  High populations of these tiny (0.33 mm) mites are often present in mattresses and furniture.  Even though house dust mites do not bite, they are considered one of the top causes of allergic reactions and are considered a major factor for most asthmatics.

Our company just invested in a bed bug detection dog.  How do I get our canine certified?

Scent detection canine certification testing can be performed by an organized body or an individual evaluator.  When choosing who will perform the certification testing and provide the credential for your canine team, there are many factors to consider, not the least of which are the qualifications of the evaluators and the testing protocols and procedures employed.  Check to make sure that the evaluator meets the qualifications set forth in the NPMA Best Management Practices for Bed Bugs (BMPs) and the certification test meets the minimum standards outlined in the BMPs.

A common misconception is the idea that a canine can be individually certified.  The BMPs note that only canine teams (the handler and the canine) can be certified.  Without human handlers interpreting the behavioral changes in their canine counterparts, canines have little value as bed bug detectors.  If multiple handlers are assigned to perform inspections with a single canine, each combination of canine and handler must be tested individually.  If a single handler works with multiple canines, the same rule applies.  The reason for this requirement is that each canine has unique, often subtle, behavioral cues that indicate that it has detected a target odor, so handlers need to be trained and tested for work with each canine.  In the same way that the BMPs do not provide for certification of individual handlers or canines, individual companies are not able to be certified either.