What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?

By Mitchell Tollsen
Last Updated On June 5th, 2020

Most of us have heard the saying, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.” It’s not pleasant to fall asleep thinking about bed bugs biting you. How many of…

What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?

Most of us have heard the saying, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.” It’s not pleasant to fall asleep thinking about bed bugs biting you. How many of us would we recognize a bed bug if we saw one?

Grown bed bugs have been compared to apple seeds since the two share similar sizes and shapes. Their bodies are flat and brown to reddish-brown, although after feeding on human blood the color becomes more purplish. Immature bed bugs are nearly colorless, except after a feeding.

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Signs of Bed Bugs

Itchy bites aren’t the most reliable way to tell that you have bed bugs, as bed bug bites can be confused with mosquito bites, rashes, and hives. You may not even show any reaction to a bed bug feeding on you.

Instead, look for signs of habitation.

If you see dark spots on your bed the size of a pinhole, they could be bed bug excrement. The waste is digested blood, so it may have a rusty or blackened color to it and smear onto the bedsheets. Bigger reddish or reddish-brown stains on the sheets may come from crushed bed bugs.

Bed bugs can hide in a variety of places, such as inside the seams of your mattress, foundation or box spring, near any piping, and inside your bed frame. If you can slip a card inside a crack, then it can hide bed bugs. Bed bugs can even hide in the head of a screw.

Bed bugs will move from a spot once found. It’s important to treat a bed bug infestation as quickly as you can, as the cost and difficulty in eliminating them increase as they multiply.

Once the room is heavily infested, you’re likely to find bed bugs in drawer joints, behind electrical outlets and wall plates, under loose wallpaper and hangings, and in chairs, couches, cushions, and cushions.

Bed Bug Look-Alikes

It’s not a good sign to see any sort of bug crawling about your bedroom. However, just because it’s on your bed doesn’t mean it’s a bed bug. The University of Minnesota found that 76 percent of samples submitted for their “Let’s Beat the Bed Bug” campaign were not bed bugs.

Bat bugs may be the insect most commonly mistaken for a bed bug. The two look so similar that  it often takes a trained exterminator to know the differences, which include:

  • Bat bugs have longer hair on their thorax, which many cannot see with their naked eye.
  • Bat bugs feed on bat blood, while bed bugs feed on human blood. Bat bugs can be found on or within mattresses, bed frames, and bedroom furniture, but they prefer areas likely to house bats, such as attics.

Carpet beetles are often confused with bed bugs since they like to infest similar places—around beds and upholstered furniture. The difference is that carpet beetles feed on fibers, meaning their food source is anything from fabric and fur to cereal and pet food, while bed bugs draw blood from a host. Carpet beetles can also fly, while bed bugs cannot.

Many of us know how a cockroach looks. However, we might still mistake a cockroach nymph, which is a baby cockroach, for a bed bug. Cockroach nymphs have coloring similar to bed bugs, coloring that darkens as they grow and molt.

Fleas and bed bugs both feed on hosts, so the two are sometimes confused. However, fleas often prefer to feed off of pets, while bed bugs tend to stick to humans. Bed bugs can also go longer without feeding than a flea can.

If you have a wooden bed frame, you may encounter termites, particularly if it’s an antique frame. Bed bugs can also infest parts of your bed frame, such as the headboard and footboard, which might lead to a mix-up between the two.

Getting Rid of Bed Bugs

Getting Rid of Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are difficult to get rid of since they reproduce quickly, and bed bug eggs resist chemical and non-chemical pest control methods. We recommend bringing in professional pest control to manage them if you can.

If you wish to clear out bed bugs on your own, remove any infested items. Bedding can be washed in hot water and dried on high heat to kill bed bugs. Things you cannot treat but wish to keep should be sealed in a plastic bag for a year, to ensure any lingering bed bugs starve.

Take apart the bed, looking for small holes or cracks that could be potential hiding places. Seal up any hole in your furniture or walls with caulk from your local hardware store.

Consider setting up bed bug traps, such as interceptors. Place the interceptors under furniture legs to catch bed bugs, preventing them from climbing up the furniture.

Use EPA-approved pesticides that explicitly state they target bed bugs. Spray on affected areas, but be careful not to spray too much on your mattress.

If the infestation has progressed too far, it may not be possible to salvage your mattress or furniture. If this is the case, we suggest having your infested items picked up as soon as possible by a trash collector and investing in a new, high-quality mattress. When you do remove your infested items from your home, destroy or mark them so people know they’re infested with bed bugs. This will remove any temptation to bring the objects into their home.

Keep a record of where you find bed bugs, noting dates and locations to track your progress. You will need to watch out for bed bugs for at least a year to be certain you’ve cleared them out.

Protecting Your Mattress

It’s far easier and cheaper to prevent bed bugs from infesting your mattress than it is to clear out an infestation.

The simplest step is to invest in a mattress protector to shield your mattress. There are two types of protectors, a mattress pad and an encasement. A mattress protector goes over the bed like a fitted sheet, while an encasement surrounds the entire mattress.

We recommend buying an encasement for full coverage. Check it every so often to ensure it hasn’t developed any holes.

If you can, avoid buying second-hand furniture. We never recommend buying a used mattress, but other furniture can also carry bed bugs and other pests into your home. If you do buy used furniture, inspect every crevice thoroughly before you bring it inside.

Keeping a clean house isn’t necessarily a bed bug deterrent. However, regularly cleaning and dusting potential hiding places will enable you to spot an infestation much more quickly, and cutting down on clutter will eliminate many possible hiding spots. Frequent vacuuming will help take care of any pests that find their way inside.

If you use a communal laundry room or a laundromat, take precautions. Bring unwashed items in plastic bags, and use a new, clean bag to transport your laundry home. Dry your articles on high heat, and place them immediately in the clean bag—wait until you get home to do any folding.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do bed bugs bite every night?

Bed bugs do not need to feed on a host every night. Often, they will eat about once a week if a host is readily available. Adult bed bugs can survive up to a year without a blood meal.

What bugs are mistaken for bed bugs?

Bugs you might confuse with a bed bug include bat bugs, carpet beetles, cockroach nymphs, termites, and fleas.

Conclusion

Knowing what a bed bug looks like is helpful to prevent mixing them up with other potential pests around your bed. However, to best identify bed bugs, you need to understand their habits and keep an eye out for bites. It is possible to rid yourself of bed bugs without a pest control company, though a professional’s help can be invaluable.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.


About the author

Mitchell Tollsen is a graduate student and a freelance writer who’s contributed to the Early Bird blog for three years. Mitchell’s always been fascinated by the science of sleep and the restorative processes our bodies undergo when at rest. The self-titled “Sleep Expert” is always looking for ways to improve his shut-eye, and throughout the years has implemented numerous lifestyle changes and tried dozens of sleep-promoting gadgets to determine the best ways to truly get better rest.

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