Bed bug identification can be tricky. That’s why it’s important to know what bed bugs look like. Don’t freak out just yet – many other bugs can be mistaken for bed bugs.
Keep reading to learn more information about what bed bugs look like and how to properly identify them. If you want to learn even more about bed bugs, check out our posts on how to tell if you have bed bugs and how to get rid of bed bugs.
How to Spot Bed Bugs
As if bed bugs weren’t annoying enough on their own, having to clean up a bed bug infestation is incredibly frustrating. Because bed bugs can look like other insects and have to be treated in a specific way, it’s important to be able to correctly identify bed bugs.
Bed bugs are attracted to humans because they are parasites that feed on blood. A bed bug’s bite can cause rashes and allergic reactions. Bed bugs like to hide in places that are dark and warm, like the crevices of mattresses, furniture, and bedding.
Bed bugs are found across the United States and are most common in big cities and travel hubs, so bed bug control needs to be a priority. However, bed bugs are also frequently found in small towns and remote locations.
It’s important to know what bed bugs look like before you start treating your home for them because there are other insects that can be mistaken for bed bugs which require a different type of treatment.
Luckily, bed bugs are visible to the naked eye and can easily be identified as long as you know what to look for.
Bed Bug Identification and Life Cycle
Bed bugs are generally tiny, but they vary in size based on their stage in the life cycle. Nymph, or young, bed bugs range from 2 to 5 millimeters in length; adult bed bugs that are fully grown are generally a quarter of an inch long, which is about the size of an apple seed. After feeding, a bed bug’s body swells up and grows a bit longer.
Adult bed bugs have a flat body which is oval-shaped and a rusty, dark brown, but their bodies turn more red after feeding. They each have six legs, two antennae, and don’t have any wings. Adults do have vestigial wings called wing pads, but they never fully develop into actual wings.
Adults also have a long, segmented beak which they use to pierce human skin for their blood meal. While a bed bug is resting, this beak lies under the body and points backward between the legs.
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Nymph bed bugs are translucent and slightly yellow in color. After feeding, a nymph will have a bright red translucent abdomen that will fade to brown and then black as it digests its meal.
Nymphs molt about 5 times as they grow into adults, gradually becoming a darker brown. Newly-hatched nymphs are about the size of the head of a pin and are white or tan in color until they feed. Newborn bed bugs either have no color or are straw-colored.
Female bed bugs lay their eggs in a sticky cluster of three to eight eggs. Bed bug eggs are white to a light cream color. Each egg is about 0.024 inches and is slightly curved. The eggs can be seen with the naked eye, but because they’re so tiny, they are hard to find.
When searching for eggs, it’s a good idea to use a flashlight and magnifying glass. A vacuum cleaner won’t pick up bed bug eggs because when the eggs are laid, they’re very sticky and attach to whatever surface they are laid on.
At LoadUp, we sometimes get asked if we can pick up a mattress or furniture or other item if it has bed bugs. Unfortunately, we can’t take any items that have bed bugs, carpet bugs, or any other active infestations.
Common Bed Bug Misidentifications
There are many different types of bugs that are often mistaken as bed bugs. Since so many common household pests can look quite similar to bed bugs, it’s important to rule these out before treating for bed bugs.
The following bugs are often mistaken for bed bugs:
- Carpet Beetles
- Bat Bugs
- Cockroach Nyphms
- Kissing Bugs
- Smooth Spider Beetle
- Drugstore Beetle
Let’s take a close-up look at these commonly misidentified bugs to see what makes them different from bed bugs.
Carpet beetles look a lot like bed bugs, but they do not bite. They feed on cloth and carpet fibers, so the worst they will do is destroy the fabric items and carpet in your home.
To get rid of carpet beetles, first start by thoroughly vacuuming all carpeted areas and upholstered furniture. Inspect your clothing, linens and towels for holes, and discard any items that have been destroyed by carpet beetles to prevent further infestation. Once you are sure you have gotten rid of all affected items, wash all of your remaining linens and clothing in hot, soapy water.
Since bat bugs and bed bugs look so similar, it often takes a professional exterminator to properly identify them from bed bugs. However, if you’d prefer to identify the bugs yourself, there are a couple distinguishing signs to look for.
Bat bugs have longer and more hairs on their thorax – the thin neck region of the bug – than bed bugs. The abdomen’s of bat bugs that have recently fed will quickly become red and swollen, going from flat to fat in only minutes.
The presence of bat bugs usually means that you either do or did have bats in your home. Bat bugs tend to stay around bat nests, and are usually located in the attic or in voids in your walls. However, when a bat bugs food source is gone, the bugs might travel into your home looking for a new host. They like to hide in fabric folds and dark crevices.
Before a cockroach reaches adulthood, it can often be mistaken as a bed bug. However, cockroach nymphs aren’t as flat as bed bugs, and are typically darker in color, especially as they grow. Cockroach nymphs are typically all dark in color with a lighter color patch in the middle of their back.
Cockroach nymphs also have longer legs and more oval-shaped bodies than bed bugs. Similarly, cockroaches have longer antennae than bed bugs.
Unless you have found a tick burrowed human or animal skin, the bugs you’re seeing are likely not ticks. Unlike bed bugs, ticks are arachnids, and have eight legs, whereas bed bugs only have six legs. Ticks have a much smaller head area than bed bugs do, often times not much larger than a ballpoint pen.
Kissing bugs are related to bed bugs, so they are even more tricky to properly identify. Kissing bugs are larger than bed bugs, measuring at about 3/4″ long as adults. They have dark, almost black bodies, with red or yellow spots creating a pattern around the edges of their bodies. Their heads are more narrow and longer than those of bed bugs, too.
Kissing bugs bite, but their bites aren’t what you need to worry about. Unlike most insects that transmit pathogens when they bite, kissing bugs spread Trypanosoma Cruzi through their feces, which can lead to Chagas disease. If you think you might have a kissing bug infestation, call a professional exterminator and get yourself checked out by your physician.
Although they might look similar to bed bugs, a woodlouce is actually a crustacean! Woodlouce have legs all around their thorax, have larger, fatter bodies and don’t have a very large abdomen. Another difference is that woodlouse bodies are segmented, whereas bed bug bodies are not.
Smooth Spider Beetle
Often mistaken for bed bugs, smooth spider beetles look a lot like bed bugs from the top. However, when you look at a smooth spider beetle from the side, you’ll notice they are much more round than bed bugs. Smooth spider beetles typically don’t bite people, so if you are all bitten up, you probably aren’t dealing with a spider beetle infestation.
Since booklice, also referred to as barklice, are usually colorless or slightly gray or yellowish-brown in color, they are less likely to be mistaken for bed bugs. Booklice are also usually found in high-moisture areas because they feed on mold, unlike bed bugs which feed on the blood of a live host. It would be highly unlikely that you would find a booklice infestation where you would find bed bugs.
If you or the other people or animals living in your home have been bitten by bugs, then you’re not the most recent victim of a Drugstore beetles. These beetles look like bed bugs, but they actually don’t bite or feed on blood. Drugstore beetles enjoy bread, cereal, flour, pet food and spices. They also like to eat tobacco, and are sometimes found lurking in cigarette packs. If you’re dealing with pests in your kitchen, or you’re spotting them when you go have a smoke, you probably have Drugstore beetles, not bed bugs.
What to Do If You Find Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are very hard to kill completely. It’s probably best to just go ahead and call a pest control expert who can confirm the presence of bed bugs, conduct a proper and thorough inspection, and use specialized equipment and insecticides to effectively exterminate them.
Bed bugs multiply very quickly, so it’s extremely important to act as soon as you think you might have a bed bug problem. Consider either getting an estimate from a reputable company through a site like Home Advisor or Angie’s List as a starting point.
You should only ever use companies and pest control professionals that have specific expertise and training in treating bed bugs.
While we’re not able to take any items that have signs of an infestation, if you have a mattress, treadmill, or other junk you need to get rid of, LoadUp is your best choice for fast, easy, and affordable junk removal when you need to get rid of a mattress, furniture, appliances, exercise equipment, or just about anything else.