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Brown Bug and Insect Identification (With Photos)

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The brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys

The brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys

Brown Bugs: Identification and Response

Brown bugs in your home could any number of different species, and each one requires a different response from you. Some, like earwigs and most spiders, are actually beneficial for your home. Others, like bed bugs and brown recluse spiders, are a potential health threat. Knowing how to identify different brown insects and bugs can mean the difference between recognizing a potential hazard and failing to do so.

The brown bugs and insects in this guide are illustrated and described so you may be able to identify the bug you are dealing with. If you don't find your brown bug here, by all means use this guide as part of your continuing online research.

Brown Bug Identification Chart: What it Is, and What You Should Do

For full information, see full descriptions and recommendations below.

NameIdentificationWhat you should do

Ticks

Small, rounded, flat, 8 legs

If bitten, contact doctor to be safe

Bed Bugs

Red-brown, flattened, found near beds

Infestations are serious; call an exterminator

Centipedes

Light brown, many long legs, found in basements

Nothing; centipedes are beneficial

Brown Recluse Spider

Medium-sized, violin mark on back

Confirm identification; put out sticky traps

Termites

Resemble small, pale-brown ants

Call exterminator immediately

Fleas

Dark brown, flattened vertically; can jump

Commercial flea treatment for your pets

German Cockroach

Light brown roach with leathery wings

Call an exterminator

Stored Grain Beetle

Very small, brown, found in pantry/flour/grain

Clear out pantry; new goods in air-tight containers

Carpet Beetle

Small rounded beetle; larvae eat wool/organic matter

Put affected material in moth balls

Weevils

Like stored grain beetle; "snout" is diagnostic

Clear out pantry; new goods in air-tight containers

Fruit Flies

Swarm around fruit/kitchen in late summer

Try a homemade trap (see below)

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

Slow brown insect found in house/window/shower

Escort them outside; they are harmless

Pill Bug

"Roly poly" bugs found under rocks and in basement

Nothing; Pill bugs are harmless

Oriental Cockroach

Shiny black/brown roach; often found near water

If infestation is severe, consider an exterminator

Earwig

Pincers on hind end; harmless

Nothing; earwigs are harmless

brown-bug-identification

Ticks

Ticks are small brown or black arachnids that have caused a great deal of suffering and controversy among humans, especially lately. The deer tick, also known as the blacklegged tick, is a vector of Lyme disease, which if left untreated can have serious, even fatal consequences.

Ticks wait on leaves and grass for a mammal to pass by; they then cling to their target and wander around on the skin surface while looking for a suitable place to bite. This wandering can last a day or more, so searching your skin for ticks after a day spent outdoors is often the best thing you can do to keep from being bitten. Using insect repellent and tucking your pants legs into your socks also helps.

If you do find a tick with its head (biting parts) fastened to your skin, don't panic! Use tweezers to gently pull it out backwards. You don't want to squeeze too hard, because you could push the bug's stomach contents back into the wound, which could increase the chance of infection.

Ticks transmit many other diseases in addition to Lyme. If you're concerned about a possible tick bite, see your doctor. A simple course of antibiotics will prevent Lyme disease and some others from becoming a problem.

The Basics

What is the scientific name? Several species in the order Ixodida

Does it bite? Yes

Where is it found? Wooded areas and places with tall grass

What does it eat? Blood

Should I be concerned? Yes

What should I do about it? Prevent bites with insect repellent. If you are concerned about a tick bite, call your doctor.

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Read More From Dengarden

Severe bed bug infestation

Severe bed bug infestation

Bed Bugs

Previously an issue for people living in the South, bed bugs are now found in northern areas, thanks in part to the warming climate. Once established, a colony of bed bugs is one of the most challenging and potentially costly infestations possible. They reproduce quickly and are almost impossible to eradicate without professional help; they are small and flat, and can squeeze into tiny cracks in and around your bed frame, making them hard to reach with insecticide.

And it just gets worse. Bed bug bites easily become infected, thanks to the insects nasty habit of biting several times and tracking their feces into the wound, increasing the chance of infection. The bites themselves can itch for days.

If you have mysterious bites that are more or less in a row, lift up your mattress. You're looking for a patch of red-black spots and smears (bed bug poop; remember they eat blood), and small red-brown insects of various sizes, typically clustered in a protected corner of the mattress or frame. If you see bed bugs, do not mess around: call an exterminator. There are no "home remedies" that will work. You will also need to throw out your mattress, and when you do, you will need to attach a sign saying "BED BUGS! DO NOT REUSE!".

It's no wonder that bed bugs are such a dreaded pest!

The Basics

What is the scientific name? Bed bugs are "true bugs" in the order Hemiptera

Does it bite? Yes

Where is it found? In and around your bed

What does it eat? Blood

Should I be concerned? Yes!

What should I do about it? Call an exterminator immediately

Brown house centipede

Brown house centipede

Brown House Centipede

There are many kinds of centipedes in the wild, and most people will never encounter these species.The centipede most often found in homes is known as the "brown house centipede," and although there are a few species under that umbrella, they all look and act basically the same.

Brown house centipedes can be recognized by their multitude of long, thin legs and antennae, along with other sensory or reproductive organs. They are very fast, and run when disturbed. Most people encounter them when moving boxes in the basement or garage.

Centipedes are typically venomous, and some wild species can deliver a painful bite. Brown house centipedes, however, rarely bite and are not venomous to any real degree. These harmless creatures may be creepy to some, but they eat all kinds of debris and "gunk" that would otherwise build up in your corners; they are especially fond of cockroach eggs, so if you don't have roaches in your house, you may need to thank a centipede or two!

Do not kill centipedes. You don't want to get rid of them.

The Basics

What is the scientific name? Class Chilipoda

Does it bite? No

Where is it found? Dark corners and under boxes

What does it eat? Debris and cockroach eggs

Should I be concerned? No

What should I do about it? Nothing – like spiders, centipedes are beneficial.

if you enjoy frightening others, you will be reborn as a centipede.

— Zabs-Dkar Tshogs-Drug-Ran-Grol. The Life of Shabkar

Brown recluse, showing fiddle marking on back

Brown recluse, showing fiddle marking on back

Brown Recluse Spider

Of all the thousands upon thousands of spiders in North America, only two have a bite that poses an actual threat to humans: the black widow, and the brown recluse. The black widow is easy enough to identify, with her long shiny black legs and bright red hourglass marking, but the brown recluse is a little trickier. It looks like most of the spiders in your house – medium sized, brown – but its bite can sometimes cause serious tissue damage.

The best way to identify a brown recluse is by the fiddle or violin mark on its back. If you suspect you have a brown recluse problem, try to get a picture of the spider and send it to the nearest university bio department, museum, or agriculture extension office. They can help with a positive ID. If you think you have been bitten, call your doctor!

Brown recluse spiders can be controlled by placing "sticky traps" around your basement or garage. These cheap, effective traps will kill other insects too, so only use them if you know you have a brown recluse in your home.

The Basics

What is the scientific name? Loxosceles reclusa

Does it bite? Yes

Where is it found? Dark corners and under boxes

What does it eat? Other insects

Should I be concerned? Yes

What should I do about it? Start with "sticky traps," available on Amazon.

brown-bug-identification

Termites

Termites are small, pale brown insects that superficially resemble ants. The species that causes the most damage in the US is Reticulitermes flavipes, the eastern subterranean termite, and you can identify them by their small size, brown color, and soft bodies (unlike ants). These termites are the most economically important wood destroying insects in the United States.

R. flavipes feeds on cellulose, which is the main ingredient in wood. Termites are also known to attack paper, books, and cotton.

A large termite colony can consist of millions of individuals. Over time, a big colony can eat enough of a home's structural support to lead to structural collapse.

The Basics

What is the scientific name? Reticulitermes flavipes

Does it bite? No

Where is it found? Where wood in your home is in contact with the ground; start looking in the basement

What does it eat? Wood

Should I be concerned? Yes – a serious infestation can literally destroy your house.

What should I do about it? Call a termite control service

brown-bug-identification

Fleas

Fleas are very small brown or black insects that live on the blood of mammals. They are also responsible for unimaginable human misery and suffering, via the bubonic plague, which killed about one-third of the population of Europe in the Middle Ages. Although science has figured out the Black Death and how to prevent it ever happening again, fleas are still a potentially dangerous pest that you should be able to identify.

The main characteristic of a flea is its body shape, which is flattened vertically; no other insect has this extreme shape. Think of a tiny, upright shark's fin, and you get the idea. Fleas also jump, fast and far, giving the impression that the insect has suddenly vanished. Their bites are like mosquito bites, so if you're getting red itchy bumps but have seen to mosquitoes, you could have a flea problem (especially if you own a dog or a cat).

There are commercial treatments for fleas, ad in my own experience they can be very effective. But flea eggs can be viable for over a year, and they tend to drop them everywhere they go, so if you have a flea problem now, you need to stay vigilant well into the future.

The Basics

What is the scientific name? Several species in the order Siphonaptera

Does it bite? Yes

Where is it found? Associated with mammals, especially dogs and cats

What does it eat? Blood

Should I be concerned? Yes

What should I do about it? Control fleas with commercial treatments for your pets and furniture, if necessary.

brown-bug-identification

German Cockroach

Most people are at least familiar with this pest, as they are found everywhere in the world. There are thousands of kinds of cockroach, some quite beautiful, but this fast brown insect is the what people think of when they hear the work "cockroach."

Control of German cockroaches is very difficult, and unfortunately requires toxic pesticides to really get the job done. If you find one, it's time to make the call to a good exterminator.

The Basics

What is the scientific name? Blattella germanica

Does it bite? No

Where is it found? Anywhere humans are making or storing food

What does it eat? Just about anything

Should I be concerned? Yes

What should I do about it? Call an exterminator

One of the many different species of stored grain beetle

One of the many different species of stored grain beetle

Stored-Grain Beetles

These tiny brown beetles have several relatives, often told apart by the kind of stored foods they are most likely to infest. For most of us, the important thing is that there are beetles infesting our pantry, and we need to know what to do about it.

The first rule of insect pantry pests is that the larvae do the most damage. This is also true of clothes moths, whose caterpillars eat wool fibers while the adult mouths don't. In the case of those little brown insects in your stored grain, it's the beetles larvae that you want to focus on.

To do this, you will need to throw away a lot of stored beans, wheat, flour, and so on; in most cases, it's best to simply throw away anything that could conceivably be a food source. This will feel like a waste, but it is the only way to be sure you're getting rid of all of the larvae, eggs, and adults.

Once everything is gone, buy new provisions and store them in air-tight containers. Your pantry insect problem will go away.

The Basics

What is the scientific name? Many very similar "litle brown bugs" in various families

Does it bite? No

Where is it found? In stored goods like wheat, flour, and beans

What does it eat? Organic matter of all kinds

Should I be concerned? Yes – if they have food, the colony of insects will keep getting bigger and bigger.

What should I do about it? Throw away all of the target foods, even if they look okay, and start over with air-tight containers.

Carpet beetle larva

Carpet beetle larva

Carpet Beetles

Carpet beetles belong to a very large group, the beetle family Dermestidae, which are well-known for attacking dead organic material of all kinds. Some are actually used by museums to strip the skin and muscle from dead animals in order to obtain a perfectly clean skeleton. Carpet beetles specialize in fur and wool; before humans came along, they would eat that part of a dead and decaying animal. Now that humans have provided them with a concentrated source of their food, i.e. wool carpets and coats, they are happy to find and eat those.

As with stored-grain beetles and clothes moths, it's the larvae that do the damage. If you have holes appearing in your stored coats and sweaters, pack them in air-tight containers along with a few handfuls of mothballs (naphthalene). Naphthalene is fairly toxic so be mindful of your exposure, and make sure the containers are sealed. This should control carpet beetles in most cases.

The Basics

What is the scientific name? Several species in the family Dermestidae

Does it bite? No

Where is it found? Anywhere there's stored organic fibers like wool

What does it eat? Animal skin and fur

Should I be concerned? Yes – the larvae can do a lot of damage

What should I do about it? Use naphthalene or other deterrents (see above)

Weevil, showing snout typical of the group.

Weevil, showing snout typical of the group.

Weevils

When the eminent biologist J. B. S. Haldane was asked what could be inferred about God from a study of His creation, he legendarily replied, "He seems to have an inordinate fondness for beetles." Haldane based this answer on the incredible number and diversity of the group, and of all the kinds of beetles out there, the most common is the lowly weevil. There is likely more diversity among weevils than any other group of animal, insect or otherwise, on the planet.

It figures, then, that they are included among the many kinds of little brown bugs that get into your stored grain, legumes, and spices. You can identify them by their little snout, which sets them apart from similar brown bugs like larder beetles. Weevils may belong to a different group, but controlling them means using the same measures: throw out everything, buy new, and store it in an air-tight container. That will likely take care of any infestations from any source.

The Basics

What is the scientific name? Many species in the family Cuculionidae

Does it bite? No

Where is it found? Anywhere there's stored organic material

What does it eat? Stored flour, grains, beans, spices

Should I be concerned? Yes – the larvae can do a lot of damage

What should I do about it? Throw away all of your stored grains and start over with air-tight containers.

Fruit fly

Fruit fly

Fruit Flies

Starting in the warmest days of summer, fruit flies make their way into the kitchen, drawn by the aroma of bananas and other ripe fruit. These small brown flies don't eat much, and they don't really cause harm, but if you're like me you find them unreasonably annoying. They seem to love red wine, too, which makes them a pain when you're just trying to relax. Fruit flies are also surprisingly quick and hard to smack, which means you will need some other way to catch and kill them. You need to make a trap.

Since fruit fly maggots feed and develop in rotten fruit (Which means those brown bananas in your kitchen could have dozens of tiny, light brown maggots in them), try using rotten banana to trap the adults. Here's a photo of a simple fruit fly trap, made with a jar, tape, paper towel, and banana chunks:

Fruit Fly Trap

brown-bug-identification

Fruit flies fly in, and they can't fly out. Once you have a jar-full, pop it in the freezer. You can even reuse the trap once the flies are dead.

The Basics

What is the scientific name? Genus Melanogaster

Does it bite? No

Where is it found? In your kitchen

What does it eat? Rotting fruit, especially bananas.

Should I be concerned? No, but they are annoying

What should I do about it? Try making a fruit fly trap (see above)

brown-bug-identification

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

These medium-sized brown insects arrived on the east coast from China in 1998; they are now found across the US. They feed on a wide variety of plants, including stone fruit crops. So why are you finding brown marmorated stink bugs on your window screens?

Like many other "true bugs" (order Hemiptera), these insects overwinter in sheltered places; to them, your home is the ideal place to hang out and hibernate for a few months while waiting for the weather to warm up. This is why you will more often see them in the late fall and early spring, when they are on the move to and from their hiding places.

Brown marmorated stink bugs are completely harmless. They don't even stink much, unlike some other members of their group who smell like rotten fruit as a way of deterring predators. They don't eat anything in your home, or leave marks, or cause damage. These slow-moving brown bugs are just looking for a place to hang out while waiting for spring, and if you don't mind sharing your home for a bit, they can safely be left alone.

The Basics

What is the scientific name? Halyomorpha halys

Does it bite? No, these insects are harmless

Where is it found? In your home, they are often found around windows

What does it eat? Many plants and crops

Should I be concerned? No

What should I do about it? Escort individuals outside; they are harmless

brown-bug-identification

Pill Bugs

These small, amusing little brown bugs have several common names, including sow bug, Roly Poly, and woodlouse. Most of the creatures in this group can roll up into a perfectly round ball when they feel threatened, which most gardeners and outdoors types already know from picking them up; after a minute or two they unfurl and began walking around on their multitude of short little legs.

Pill bugs are actually not bugs at all – they are terrestrial crustaceans. In addition to other features of their sea-going relatives, pill bugs actually have gills that they must keep moist in order to breathe. They eat just about anything, and are hardly ever numerous enough to be considered a pest.

The Basics

What is the scientific name? Pill bugs belong to the awesomely named family Armadillidiidae.

Does it bite? No, these insects are harmless

Where is it found? Outside in dark sheltered places; inside in basements and drainage areas

What does it eat? Organic matter of all kinds

Should I be concerned? No

What should I do about it? Nothing, just enjoy their presence!

brown-bug-identification

Oriental Cockroach

Even though the common name is no longer widely used, this insect is still widely distributed wherever humans live. These are large roaches, often over an inch in length. They stick to dark, moist habitat, so it's unusual to find them in your kitchen like the much more common, light-brown German roach. Oriental cockroaches are also much less of a pest, since they rarely venture out of the dark corners or your basement.

If you see one of these roaches in your home, do not panic! They are essentially an outdoor species, and do not naturally prefer human dwellings. However they will shelter there and even take up residence if there is warmth, darkness, and a source of food.

The Basics

What is the scientific name? Blatta orientalis

Does it bite? No, these insects are harmless

Where is it found? Outside in dark sheltered places; inside in basements and drainage areas

What does it eat? Organic matter like decomposing vegetation and discarded food

Should I be concerned? No, although if there are a lot of them and they are invading your eating spaces you should do something about it. Roaches can spread disease from place to place.

What should I do about it? If you see this cockroach frequently in your living space, consult an exterminator

The harmless – and beautiful – earwig.

The harmless – and beautiful – earwig.

Earwigs or Pincher Bugs (Dermaptera)

Earwigs really get a bad rap. Despite the fearsome-looking "pincers" an their hind end, they are completely harmless. They are typically found outside, where they eat decaying organic matter, other insects, and sometimes the tissues of living plants: in other words, just about anything. They do not, however, pose a threat to your home or sanitation. In fact, they help keep your corners clean by eating the gunk that's accumulating there.

The "pincers" on these harmless brown insects are actually part of the insect's reproductive organs, and cannot open or close like the actual mandibles on beetles or other insects. Earwigs also, despite the name, do not crawl into your ears. They would find that just as scary and unpleasant than you would!

The Basics

What is the scientific name? Many species in the order Dermaptera

Does it bite? No

Where is it found? Usually outside

What does it eat? Anything organic

Should I be concerned? No

What should I do about it? Nothing – earwigs are actually beneficial insects.

Resources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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