Here are some ways to keep yourself from freaking out about bedbugs. One: Take common-sense precautions — when you’re in a hotel or other new place, do a quick scan of the bed’s nooks and crannies for any signs of the bugs, their eggs, or their droppings. Two: Resist the urge to Google (as Science of Us has noted before, just reading about bedbugs is enough to make you feel itchy). Three: You can save yourself a lot of angst by cutting down on the false alarms. And the way to do that is to brush up on what a bedbug actually looks like — something that surprisingly few people actually know.
In a study recently published in the journal American Entomologist and highlighted by the New York Times, researchers surveyed around 2,000 travelers about their past experience with bedbugs, how much they worried about an infestation while staying in a hotel, what precautions they took to protect themselves, and finally, whether or not they could pick a bedbug out of a lineup that also included outlines of an ant, a termite, a louse, and a tick. Try it for yourself:
If you guessed that the bedbug was number four (the second from the right), you’re ahead of roughly two-thirds of the survey respondents, who either got it wrong or refused to guess altogether.
“I’m not surprised about it at all because people bring in stuff all the time: I’m like ‘No, that’s a raisin, it’s not even a bug,’” study co-author Michael Potter, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky, told the Times. “It’s easy for the public, who doesn’t deal with this stuff a lot, or who has maybe never encountered a problem, to not know a difference.”
As the study authors noted, this particular strain of ignorance can do a lot more than just ruin a vacation. “Ramifications of a false report can be costly to the proprietor, who often must respond with a professional pest control service and compensation of the complainant,” they wrote. “Moreover, the hotel’s reputation can be harmed if the guest decides to post an online review, even if it is later confirmed that what they found was not a bed bug.” The Times noted the case of a Massachusetts hotel accused of having bedbugs last year; after management brought in an exterminator to do an inspection, it turned out the guest in question had found the remains of a spider. Maybe that’s a fourth one to add to the list: Before you freak out, take a deep breath and count the legs.