Learn to Identify Bed Bugs and How to Distinguish Them From Other Pests

Updated on May 21, 2018
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Melody is a volunteer for the CDC and enjoys sharing her personal experience to give insight to others.

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What do Bed Bugs Look Like?

Bed bugs do look like strange little creatures. On first glance, it's difficult to understand the pest in your visions gaze. It passed by so quickly that you didn't get a good look. Then you realize that the small, dark, circle bug might be a blood-sucking bed bug.

Learning to identify bed bugs and how to distinguish between them and other household pests can prevent you from wasting worry, time and money.

Bed bug description:

  • Fast, small circles that are .15 inches in diameter.
  • Adults may appear white, brown, red or black, depending on the lighting.
  • Back might seem flat if the bug is in a pre-feeding stage.
  • Back is raised and seems full (of blood) if it is post-feeding.
  • It has six legs.
  • On the head are two visible antennae.
  • Depending on age, size, and eyesight of the person may appear stripped.

The photographs here are meant to be a useful learning tool to help you identify your mystery bug.

Use discretion when comparing your bug to these pictures. If the bug you found looks like this, then consider calling a reputable pest control exterminator for a professional opinion.

If you are sure you have an infestation, it's time to learn how to exterminate bed bugs, which includes a to-do list and informs you about what supplies you will need. Call a professional right away so that they can take swift action and teach you what you need to know.

A delayed reaction could lead to disaster. Bed bugs multiply so quickly that it could be only a matter of weeks before full infestation. Exterminating these vampires is not something you can put off until tomorrow.

Adult Bed Bugs

As you can see in the picture, bed bugs can seem to have stripes.
As you can see in the picture, bed bugs can seem to have stripes. | Source

Stages of Life, Habitat, Activity and Physiology

Bed bugs go through many stages of life. Viewing bed bugs during different stages might result in different descriptions of the same type of bug. For example, in their youth phase, they can be difficult to see because they are whitish unless they have started a meal. Then in their adult phase, they may be larger and a different color.

While young, the brown/red/black color signifies that it has had a blood meal. As a bed bug grows it sheds its skin, which is referred to as a cast. The human blood is the energy source to built a new stronger skin.

When they grow older, their bodies become darker. Some people think that bed bugs are black, or even red. Don't be surprised when people have a difference of opinion on the whole color matter.

Factors that do determine the appearance of bed bugs:

  • Meal satisfies adult and baby bed bugs for around two weeks
  • Feeding is often interrupted when the victim moves in their sleep
  • Attempt to eat until their back is fully rounded
  • The secret hiding place where bugs do huddle with its kind
  • Peak activity after 2 a.m. but before dawn
  • Active at any point in the day or night
  • Built for ultimate survival

They have no issue with changing feeding habits if there is no meal available at night. The way bed bugs look changes with age and by feeding time. It can be difficult to identify bed bugs, or even had to find them at all.

When looking for a bug for comparison, try looking under the mattress, around the bed frame, under rubber moldings, in shoes, clocks, frames, and metal brackets that attach shelves to walls. That is on top of being found on mattresses, bed frames, and box springs.

Once you are sure you have bed bugs, then it is time to either call a professional, or invest in bedbug sprays, such as Harris Bed Bug Control, Hot Shot Bed Bug & Flea, Temprid SC, or Suspend SC.

Bed Bugs Come in All Shapes and Sizes

The dark portion of the body tells us that this baby bed bug has started a meal.
The dark portion of the body tells us that this baby bed bug has started a meal. | Source

How to Identify Bed Bugs

Bed bugs move quickly and look like ordinary pests. One must know the different ways to identify the pests. Especially since the looks of these buggers changes throughout a bed bug's life cycle, between feedings, and due to genetic variation.

A bed bug that is flatter is likely to head for a meal soon. If you squish him, there should be dark red pasty goo. This is the digested blood which is now feces. Bed bug feces and cast skins are features of a bed bug infestation.

They are creepers who love to hang out together; in heavy infestations, it is not uncommon to find large groups of 10, 20, or more huddled together.

Be prepared to have an iron stomach when fighting a war against these nighttime nightmares; there is no room for the squeamish. Not to mention that squished bed bugs have a lingering musty smell.

Stress from infestation often causes more harm than the bugs themselves.

If you travel a lot, the stress is amplified. If you travel for business the idea of embarrassing bed bug rashes can be worse. In these cases, a good product to help reduce stress is the Pack Tite Portable Bed bug heater. Some hotels offer a bedbug-free, money back policy. You may want to ask about that beforehand you check in to your room.

You can use a bed bug prevention heater on hotel blankets and linens, as well as your own belongings. It will not scorch or damage these items and will help you fall asleep knowing you are safe. These products are commonly found on Amazon Prime and through reputable pest control vendors such as Bedbugsupply.com.

Adult Bed Bug Size Comparison.
Adult Bed Bug Size Comparison. | Source

Exterminating Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are not slow, sluggish creatures. My wisdom about these creatures comes from first-hand experience.

While performing research, and offering assistance, in a poverty-stricken bed-bug-infested area, I learned a lot.

When we searched for bugs, some were not even found on the same side of the room as the bed.

Bed bugs have many faces. They can be reddish, rusty colored, brown, or even white (if they're immature).

If these pictures are too familiar I urge you to seek a professional. Specifically look for a company who understands how feeding changes their appearance.

Exterminators should understand how identifying the species impacts extermination.

If you are going to invest in a professional, you cannot go with a cheap exterminator who does not know what they are doing. The result of using inexperienced exterminators is having to call them out repeatedly. This could cost you thousands of dollars. In the end, cheap exterminators are going to cost you more than the experts.

One thing you must know about the professionals is that they offer a conditional warranty. They will come back until your problem is gone IF you meet certain requirements, such as placing mattress covers on all mattresses.

Mattress Cover Recommendations

More than one expert who I have interviewed recommended the Sleep Defense System Mattress covers. They have secure zippers and are machine washable (a must). Many mattress covers are made of plastics, which melts when you wash them.

People don't realize that these things need to be washed, and end up having to buy new ones when they need cleaned. Sleep Defense system is one of the few bands which are designed to be machined washed. This makes this brand superior to many other brands.

Sleep defense mattress covers also use a pocketed zipper system. Once zipped, you tuck the zipper under the a cloth flap. This secures the zipper. On other brands, which do not secure the zipper, problems ensure, when the zipper moves slightly.

It only takes a small space for any remaining bugs to escape. Sleep Defenses zipper lock system prevents this.

They are comparable in price, or if anything, only slightly more than the competitors price, but with much more value and practicality.

Professional Exterminators

  • Orkin, the leading bed bug exterminator, goes so far as to explain that there are many different species of bed bugs.
  • Terminix is another great option. They offer a lot of specials and often will give a free inspection and quote.

Whoever you choose, do your research before you cut your check.

Bed Bugs In Motion

Professional or DIY Bed Bug Removal

Bed bugs are invasive and can live under the harshest of temperatures. Which is why is why it is essential to spray poison thoroughly. If you do not feel comfortable with spraying, then you should call a professional.

In most cases, you should call a professional. Sometimes people end up spending more on do-it yourself-measures than they would have on the expert. However, some people do not have the funds, or just prefer to do bed bug removal themselves.

If you do it yourself, make sure to read all pesticide instructions carefully. Then, read them again, and carefully! Be aware of the pesticide laws in your state and the rules set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Misusing pesticides can be dangerous. People have the tendency to use too much concentrate when mixing pesticide.

If you choose to use chemicals, it is not a bad idea to print up a list of potential side effects. As well deeply research using those types of chemicals in your home. If you are a renter, DO NOT try to solve this issue yourself, call your landlord.

Bed Bug Information

  • Bed bug eggs look like little grains of rice. These are bed bug eggs.
  • According to the Ohio State University's Entomology research on bed bugs, a bed bug can lay up to 10 eggs at a time.
  • The large pale bed-bug-looking spots are actually bed bug skins.
  • Some people find molted skins and mistake them for dead bed bugs.
  • Sometimes people believe that a pesticide product is working, when it is not.
  • The temperature needed to kill bed bugs is 113° F or 45° C
  • It only takes 15 minutes at those temperatures to kill be bugs, but takes an hour to kill the eggs.

He Wants To Suck Your Blood

Bed Bug Creeping in bed at night
Bed Bug Creeping in bed at night | Source

Killing Them Whilst They Are Creeping Through the Night

Bed bugs are agile and can climb blankets, walls, and even across the ceiling. If you are searching for signs of bed bugs, you might want to invest in traps.

These traps should be placed under the mattress, near where your head would be. These creepy critters use carbon dioxide to track you down, so there are usually more at the head of a mattress.

There are lots of traps that are great. My favorite is Buggy Bed because it uses special ingredients that mimic carbon dioxide. This leads the bed bugs to the trap and away from you. The Buggy Bed Traps work better than many competitors because it uses an enclosed bait and trap system.

Many traps are messy glues, and have fumes, but not these. They are completely surrounded by plastic, accept for small holes that are the bed bug by-way to becoming trapped.

Squished Bed Bugs

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Can you squish bed bugs? Yes, look at this picture of a squished bed bug.
Can you squish bed bugs? Yes, look at this picture of a squished bed bug.
Can you squish bed bugs? Yes, look at this picture of a squished bed bug. | Source

Undead Use Dead To Hide

This photo was taken one day after a spray. That is a great sign that the spray is working.

There are still some living bed bugs in the area, too.

Something I noticed with this group is that the living bed bugs would pick up the dead ones and hide under them.

Even if you find a pile like this you cannot assume they are all dead.

Under the dead ones might be some hiding living ones.

A second spray is needed within two weeks because eggs are usually not affected.

If you find bugs that look like these, it is time to take action towards becoming bed bug free.

This immature bed bugs picture shows a baby bed bug on a woman's finger. It is white and so tiny that you almost cannot see it.
This immature bed bugs picture shows a baby bed bug on a woman's finger. It is white and so tiny that you almost cannot see it. | Source

Squished Bed Bug Advisory

If you use a paper towel to pick up a bed bug and squish it between your thumb and first finger, you will see blood.

Not just a little blood, but a lot of blood.

Keep in mind that this could be your blood, or someone else's blood.

Not only people who live in the house, but guests and visitors.

If you do squish them, use enough layers of paper towels to prevent you from coming in contact with the blood.

While bed bugs do not spread disease, it is better to be safe than sorry and avoid coming in contact with the blood.

A freshly-fed bed bug will squirt blood in all directions when you crush it, and it bleeds right through the paper towel.

You probably want to wear gloves if you try this, especially if the blood may not be yours.

One other thing I suggest is to pay close attention to the smell when you squish it.

This smell is hard to describe, but once you smell it, you know it.

At this point, I can tell when a home has a moderate to severe infestation just by that smell.

I saw an advertisement for bloodhounds who sniff out bed bugs.

Seeing how unique the smell is, I can see why something like that would be possible.

Bed bugs are an epidemic. Now you know what to look for so you can protect yourself and your family.

Works Cited

  1. "Types of Bed Bugs". Orkin. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 May 2012 <http://www.orkin.com/other/bed-bugs/types-of-bedbugs/>.
  2. "Ohio State University Extension fact sheet: Entomology, Bed Bugs". OSU. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 May 2012. <http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/2105.html >.

Questions & Answers

  • How can I find out what kind of bug I killed?

    Engaging in insect classification may help you find out what kind of bug you killed. Spiders and insects are in a group called Arthropoda. Insect taxonomic charts can be used to help narrow down a bugs classification. Following taxonomic guides or charts is how to identify a bug yourself. You can find them online, in bookstores, and often at the library.

  • Are bed bugs eggs grey once they are dead?

    Once bed bug eggs are dead they may dry out and change in color. They are normally, white or near white. A change in egg color may suggest that the bed bug is dead. However, this is not always the case. There are other factors to egg color classification, such as bug genetics.

  • Can you see bed bug eggs?

    It depends on the egg and the person. A person with perfect vision will be able to see bed bug eggs in a well-lit environment. However, those with poorer eyesight may need to use a magnifying glass to see them.

© 2012 Melody Trent

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    • profile image

      kiba Nicole 

      3 months ago

      I just found a beetle near my bed and I heard my friend had bedbugs a few days ago and I just about had a heart attack then I've read this and got to see what they actually look like but now I'm just paranoid but I feel better

    • profile image

      Sue 

      7 months ago

      Not every bug in the bedroom is a bedbug. $129 later I found out I had several harmless wood boring bugs on my baseboards that probably came in from outside on my dogs, The tiny black specks I kept finding on my comforter weren’t bugs at all but seeds from the 9 grain seeded bread I have as my midnight snack with tea. Lucky me. The cost wasn’t worth it to ease my mind.

    • profile image

      Emily Jones 

      8 months ago

      Very informative. My son's will be motivated to clean their rooms.

    • Bedbugabscond profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Trent 

      13 months ago from United States

      Ted: Great advice! You really do need to inspect closely. Baby bed bugs are white, and often can not be seen by those of us who have less than perfect eyesight.

      You're also correct about the dedication it takes. Some people believe that you only need to do it once. And don't know that you have to keep going until you are SURE that the bed bugs are gone!

      Do you have a particular brand of car vac you would recommend to others? Many regular vacuum cleaners do not have enough suction to truly do the job.

    • profile image

      Ted 

      14 months ago

      U have to inspect whole mattress flashlight magnify glass check seams etc. Spraying all along flooring and moulding around bedroom with hotshot and laying down glue traps .do this for 4 weeks once a week. To remove bugs from mattress use car vac then empty in boiling hot water.

    • profile image

      Jameel Qureshi, Canada. 

      20 months ago

      My bed bugs are a dying trend. I found soapy water in an empty yogurt cup to be very helpful. Just throw in bug & he will die to never bite you again. Use a few drops of dish washing soap. It works very well. And its not very harmful to people.

    • profile image

      Randy 

      21 months ago

      Instead of using paper towels to squish them, use clear packaging tape. It easily picks them up, sticks them to the tape where you can fold them inside sandwiching them in between the tape ... then squish them if needed.

      We caught 99 out of 100 that way which has to be better results than paper towels.

    • profile image

      unknown 

      2 years ago

      I know the smell and could never forget it. I have a thong where i can tast what I smell for some things and I was eating chicken and that smell(flavor) made me throw that peice away. I have had bed bugs forprobly almost 5 years and I am still not used to havong them in my home. I have tried everything to get rid of them bit they are still here

    • profile image

      Mitch 

      2 years ago

      I have a bed bug problem. The only places we've had problems is in the master bed, and my sons car seat. It appears that I've eradicated the car seat colony( which is the only place I've actually found bugs). I thought I got the master bedroom under control, but my wife is still getting bit. I've put the mattress and pillows in an encasement, washed and dried all the sheets on hot, and placed the bedframe in the cup traps that are supposed to stop bed bugs from getting from getting from the floor to the bed. I've moved the bed to the middle of the floor, and don't let any thing thought the wall of floor. As far as I can tell the bed should be an island that no bedbugs can get on or off of. The bedframe is wood and I've sprayed it, but they must still be in the frame since we're still getting bit. Is there something I'm missing, like another way bugs are getting too the bed? Or is it note likely that the bugs are deep in the cracks of the frame and are still able to come out and get us?

    • profile image

      pt109 

      3 years ago

      ok so I think Ive discovered signs of bedbugs, I vacuumed the bed like a mofo and Im going to get a bed cover/zipper thing. My question is this: will I be sleeping on a layer of decomposed bedbugs ? Do they live inside the mattress? thanks for your article, well done.

      Ive been a nervous wreck all day, Im starting to calm down a bit.

    • profile image

      Pharma131 

      4 years ago

      Very nice site!

    • profile image

      Johnk966 

      4 years ago

      Wonderful beat ! I would like to apprentice while you amend your website, how could i subscribe for a weblog site? The account aided me an appropriate deal. I were tiny bit familiar of this your broadcast provided shiny transparent concept adakkddgedgd

    • ptosis profile image

      ptosis 

      5 years ago from Arizona

      eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 

      5 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i see you have lots of bugs at home. Is that an old house with old beddings? I have lots of bites on my legs but not sure whether they are bugbites. Will hunt for the bugs before setting my conclusions. Thanks for sharing the photos.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 

      5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      This is interesting and disturbing at the same time. When we have to live with these critters, we need to take action ASAP.

    • Bedbugabscond profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Trent 

      5 years ago from United States

      Thanks for stopping by. Prevention is ALWAYS the best way to deal with bed bugs. When you travel try to do an inspection of your hotel room before you settle in. Look for the feces, eggs (look like rice, and feces. Another tip is to request a fresh top blanket.

      I worked in a hotel for years and the top blanket was only washed once a month, even though sheets were done daily. I think it is good to ask for a clean one, even if you don't find a sign of bed bug.

      There are also some great organic travel sprays you can spray on your luggage and the bed, just in case! Happy traveling!

    • janices7 profile image

      Janice S 

      5 years ago

      My husband and I travel A LOT so I'm always worried about bringing home critters with us. These things are a nightmare once they invade. Your pictures are quite helpful since you put in the hand for scale. They are actually a bit bigger than I thought they were. Thanks for such an informative hub!

    • Aadom23 profile image

      Abena 

      5 years ago from Albany

      I actually had a friend who was bitten by bed bug, it left her body all red. This is a very informative hub.. Thank You

    • profile image

      summerberrie 

      5 years ago

      This one has left me itching! Lots of great information and well presented. Voted up and useful.

    • Billjames007 profile image

      Billjames007 

      5 years ago

      According to the folks at EastSide Exterminators, repeated treatments are required to make sure bedbuds don't come back.

      http://seattle.citysearch.com/profile/36602381/ken...

    • profile image

      Golivas88 

      5 years ago

      I've heard that the smell is like that of spoiled or rotten raspberries

    • Bedbugabscond profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Trent 

      6 years ago from United States

      No, I don't think it smells like blood. Some people say it smells like nightshade, but I don't know what that smells like. I know the bed bug smell though. It is VERY distinctive. The smell bed bugs make cuts the air, it sticks out (not if you are used to it of course). It is a sort of tangy smell kind of bitter and a little sweet. It isn't gross smelling, but it is defiantly something "odd". I keep trying to figure out how to describe it, and that is still the best I can do since the smell is so unique. Thanks for reading! Sorry about the chills!

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 

      6 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      I have goose bumps all over me while reading this and looking at those photos but I have to continue, so I'm aware. Very informative. I just hate bugs-all kinds. You mentioned to smell it when you squish it. How does it smell? Is it as distinct as the smell of blood? Curious...

    • ROBERTHEWETTSR profile image

      rOBERT hEWETT SR. 

      6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      What an expose on bedbugs. Great post. No one is immune to these feisty little creatures. Thanks for following me I will be following you too. Robert

    • Bedbugabscond profile imageAUTHOR

      Melody Trent 

      6 years ago from United States

      It isn't a terrible idea to replace your mattress frequently. Bed bugs plus dust mites equals yuck. A cheaper alternative would be to purchase a zippered mattress cover and to replace as needed.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 

      6 years ago from London, UK

      Oh my.... those photo's... but it's important to learn about these things. It makes me wonder, maybe people should bin their matrasses every 5 years?

      Great Hub.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      6 years ago from California

      Very well written. Like your use of pictures. My son was in pest control for awhile. He said a good pest control wouldn't stop at just one treatment. :)

      Glad this wasn't your home.

      Hyper link your other hubs to this and your score will go up.

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