Bed bugs are masters at hiding. When they are not looking for a meal, they stay out of sight, hiding in cracks, behind pictures, behind electrical plates, and even behind wall treatments. Their elusive nature makes it difficult to both identify an infestation and to estimate how many bugs there actually are. While a meticulous inspection may reveal bugs, you better believe that there are many other bugs you didn't see. Following are a few ways you can measure how many bugs there actually are or, rather, how bad your infestation really is.
One of the first signs you notice after you get bed bugs is unexplained insect bites. Bed bugs feed approximately once every 5 to 10 days. The day following a feeding, you may notice red welts on your skin, especially if you're sensitive to insect bites. The number of bites you have each morning is a good indicator of how many bugs you have. However, the amount you find one day does not equal the number of bugs you have. Remember, each bug may only feed once a week or so. The number of bites you see each day might only represent about 10 percent or less of your population.
Perhaps the most visible signs of an infestation is the presence of droppings. Bed bugs go to the bathroom after each meal. Their fecal matter is very dark and may leave dark black stains on your mattress or bedding. It's very hard to remove the stains, so they tend to multiply over the course of an infestation. If you don't see many stains, your infestation is likely new and not very bad. If you see a lot of stains, however, you can determine that there has been extensive bug activity for quite some time.
Like cicadas, bed bugs shed their skin, leaving their shells behind. Each bug sheds their skin approximately 5 times before reaching maturity. You will find bed bug casings or shells anywhere that the bugs like to hide. If you're not finding many casings, you probably don't have a large infestation. Counting casings each time you clean is also a good way to see if your eradication efforts are paying off.
Bed bug infestations can get out of control very easily. For this reason, it's vital that you know the signs of an infestation and know how to gauge how bad yours is without actually seeing the bugs.