Can You See Bed Bugs With The Naked Eye?

  • Written By Dan Edwards on January 8, 2018
    Last Updated: December 29, 2020

There’s no question that the thought of bed bugs makes many people’s skin crawl, mostly because they can be difficult to see, heightening the worry. While they are small pests that can cause a big problem, many people ask me whether you can actually see bed bugs with the naked eye.

Adult Bed Bugs

As mentioned, my answer to this common question is mixed. If you are looking for a bed bug and you know what to look for, then yes, it’s possible to see adult bed bugs with the naked eye. I have years of experience in identifying bed bugs, and if you want to identify them properly, you need to get close.

If you have no experience with bed bugs and don’t know what they look like, you probably won’t be able to see them. Even if you do see an adult bug, you may easily mistake it for something else if you don’t know exactly how big bed bugs should be, or what shapes they come in.

Not sure if you’ve ever seen a bed bug? I’ll start by discussing the basic characteristics:

Bed bugs are about 5 to 7 mm or 3/16 to 1/4 inches in length. For a better idea of size, they are roughly the size of an apple seed. Keep in mind that the size of a bed bug may vary depending on the age (adult vs. nymphs) and whether or not it has had a recent feeding.

CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

If the bed bug has just eaten, its body has a balloon-like and elongated appearance and is reddish-brown in color. A bed bug that hasn’t eaten recently has a long, oval-shaped body, and is brown in color.

CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

Bed bugs have characteristics of a “true bug” which include:

  • A beak with three segments
  • Four-part antennas
  • Non-flying wings (or wing pads)
  • Short hairs with a golden appearance
  • Six legs
  • Cone-like eyes

When examining a bed bug up close, you may catch a whiff of their signature scent which is best described as a “musty and sweet” odor. This unique scent is produced through the glands which are located in the lower part of the body.

If you think you’ve spotted a bed bug, pay attention to how quickly it moves. Bed bugs typically move slower than other bugs.

Even though they are slow to move, they are most likely (and quickly) looking for a dark place to hide such as a mattress or couch once they are disturbed – and unfortunately, getting rid of bed bugs from a mattress or similar can be notoriously difficult, although using a bedbug-proof mattress encasement can help to keep infestations under control.

My recommended mattress protector is the SureGuard Mattress Encasement. It’s thick, strong, comes in many different sizes, and is certain to help stop bed bugs of all sizes from getting to, or from, your mattress.

To make sure you’re covered from all angles, the SureGuard Box Spring Encasement and Pillow Protectors, along with the mattress protector, will go a long way in helping to combat the infestation, and should help to ensure you sleep a bit better at night, too.

Baby Bed Bugs (Nymphs)

You might think that properly identifying an adult bed bug is a little tricky, but identifying baby bed bugs (also known as nymphs) is often a much bigger challenge. If you’ve got a good eye and you know what to look for, you might be able to spot bed bug nymphs.

CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

The size of the nymph is dependent on which life cycle stage it’s in, and they are often translucent or whitish-yellow in color. Like adult bed bugs, nymphs are easier to spot when they have recently eaten.

CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

The typical sizes of a nymph during life stages are as follows:

  • The first stage is 1.5 mm
  • The second stage is 2 mm
  • The third stage is 2.5 mm
  • The fourth stage is 3 mm
  • The fifth stage is 4.5 mm

To put that in better perspective, the head of a pin is about 2 mm, so that’s a good indication that nymphs are going to be a lot harder to spot than adults. Baby bed bugs have all the same characteristics as the adults.


Adult bed bugs, under normal circumstances, have a lifespan of about four-six months. During a female bed bug’s lifetime, she may lay up to 250 eggs and the eggs hatch between six to ten days. This gives you a quick glimpse of how many bed bug eggs you could encounter.

Bed bug eggs – CC Image courtesy of British Pest Control Association

Can you see these eggs? The chances are pretty slim that you’ll spot them immediately, but much like the adults and nymphs, I believe you can see them if you’re familiar with their identifying characteristics.

Bed Bug Eggs
CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

Bed bug eggs are pearl-white in color, oval-shaped and about 1/16 inches long. Eggs that are more than five days old are marked by an “eye spot.” Identifying bed bug eggs can be very challenging and even with years of experience, I’ve come close to missing some newly hatched eggs.

Properly identifying bed bug eggs is an important step in preventing a full-blown infestation. While they’re generally tough and hard to destroy using many methods, they can usually be destroyed with heat if it’s applied directly to the eggs. If you discover eggs stuck to fabrics or carpeted, a good steam cleaner can be a great way to penetrate them, destroying the developing bugs inside.

If you’re looking for a powerful and reliable steamer for use against infestations and at a good price, the PureClean XL Rolling Steam Cleaner is a great choice. It’s heavy-duty, made to last, and produces a great covering of extremely hot pressurized steam – exactly what you want in order to kill insects and their eggs on impact.

This steamer can be used on a wide number of surfaces and objects, including mattresses, carpets, curtains, clothing, box springs, bedding and baseboards.

Common Hiding Places

Despite its name, bed bugs have a variety of hiding spots not just underneath beds. Given their small size, bed bugs can crawl into the smallest of places. While they prefer dark and cozy spots like a sofa cushion or underneath a mattress, a bed bug will go anywhere it can fit.

CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

I have witnessed many heavily infested homes where bed bugs were crawling in and around outlets and behind framed pictures hanging on the wall. Bed bugs will hide in the joints of a dresser drawer or on the tag of a mattress. Any space that you think might be off-limits, think again.

Although they have a reputation of being a pest that only resides in low-income dwellings, bed bugs aren’t picky about their place of residency. Bed bugs will live in high-rise apartments in a busy downtown area, a motel that is in desperate need of maintenance and cleaning, or they will hide out in a clean, newly built home in a suburban area.

Even though people spot bed bugs in movie theaters and on a subway, the chances of transporting one into your home, during the daylight hours, is less likely. Bed bugs are more active at night, and if they are planning to move (such as hopping a ride in your suitcase), they will probably do that when you’re asleep.

What Are The Best Ways To Look For Bed Bugs?

Now that you have a better idea of what to look for when searching for a bed bug, you may feel the need to go over everything in your home with a fine-toothed comb and magnifying glass. Not only will that be labor intensive but it might lead you to a dead end.

It’s important to remember that even if you take the subway, stay in a hotel, go to a restaurant, and purchase a “like new” couch off of Craigslist, you aren’t destined for bed bugs. Yes, you may increase your chances of an infestation, but you shouldn’t avoid going out into the world or stop enjoying life out of fear of bed bugs.

How do you know if you have bed bugs? Sometimes the quickest and most accurate way to look for bed bugs is to identify the physical signs of bed bugs. Here are some common signs that bed bugs are (or have been) present:

  • Rust-colored or reddish stains on mattresses
  • Dark spots (approximately the size of a pinhead) which “bleeds” onto fabric like a marker
  • Eggs or eggshells
  • Bed bug shells/casings
  • Alive and moving bed bugs
A mixture of bed bug eggs & fecal stains – CC Image courtesy of AFPMB
Bed Bug Shells
Bed bug casings – CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

Whether you’re at home, staying in a B&B or hostel, or visiting friends, a quick look under the mattress and the bedding can give you a good indication of whether or not bed bugs are present. If there’s a heavy infestation, you might see bed bugs crawling in and out of or around places other than a bed or couch. Don’t forget to do a quick sniff test for that musty and sweet odor.

Another way to look for bed bugs is to watch for bites or rashes on your skin. If you suspect that you may be living with bed bugs, it’s best to inspect your bedroom first. If you don’t see any eggs, nymphs, or adult bugs, you might need to wait for bites to appear on your skin; this is not the method that I prefer or recommend, but it is often a tell-tale sign.

Bed Bug Bites

Bed bug bites typically show up a few days after the bite occurs and while many people have a visible red welt that itches, others do not or mistake it for a different type of insect bite. Unfortunately, bed bug bites can also last for a while, too. 

When searching for bed bugs use a little common sense. When purchasing second-hand upholstered furniture, look in the crevices and underneath the cushions before bringing into your home. When you return home from traveling via air, bus, or train, inspect your suitcase.

Which Bugs Are Sometimes Mistaken For Bed Bugs?

It’s not uncommon for people to falsely identify a bed bug. Even after years of identifying bed bugs, I occasionally need to do a double-take when coming across specific bugs. As bed bugs become more common in households across North America, people are quick to assume that many bugs in their homes are bed bugs.

When trying to identify a bed bug properly, try to remember the “true bug” characteristics along with the odor and size. Although I think that bed bugs have a very distinct look to them, I am also aware that they are often mistaken for other bugs which may or may not be less of a problem.

Carpet beetles are round in shape, are often brown or black in colors, and may have a pattern of white, brown or orange. They are similar in size to an adult bed bug, but they have short antennas and a hard shell. They also have dense tufts of hair on their bodies.

Carpet Beetle
Carpet Beetle

Swallow bugs are another bug commonly mistaken for a bed bug due to being extremely similar in length and color.

Swallow Bug

When people have bed bug bites, they often mistake the red, itchy welts for a flea bite or may even suspect a lice infestation. Fleas have flat bodies and have “jumping legs.” Flea eggs resemble small, clear worms which are more likely to be found on your pet’s bed than on yours.

Adult Flea
Adult Flea

While lice also have six legs and other “true bug” characteristics as a bed bug, their bodies are long and tear-shaped. They can be found on mattresses and other pieces of furniture, but are more likely to reside on a human body, as they can’t survive long without a human.


As soon as you suspect that you may have bed bugs in your home, you may find yourself closely inspecting every speck of dirt you come across. I still remember finding a few seeds in my couch cushion and was convinced that they were bed bug eggs, only to later find out I had spilled a packet of planting seeds.

If you spot something that you think looks like a bed bug, a nymph, or an egg, don’t panic. It may be lint, dirt, or even a seed; and yes, it may be a bed bug. Once you properly identify the bed bug at whichever stage it’s in, you can take the next step in preventing or eliminating an infestation.


No one wants to share their home with bed bugs. Even though I have years of experience and am fascinated by them, I do everything in my power to keep them away.

Despite all of the steps that people take to prevent bed bugs entering their living space, there’s always the likelihood that a few could hop on board with your luggage or come with a piece of furniture you buy at a yard sale.

The best way to keep bed bugs out of your life is by having the ability to identify them properly. Can you see a bed bug with your naked eye? It takes some practice, but with all the right information, you’ll be much more likely to spot them quickly.

My Favorite Bed Bug Treatment Products

While getting rid of bed bugs without buying any additional products can be done with very small infestations, I believe that by purchasing just a few additional products, you’ll be so much better equipped, and will be able to stamp out an infestation before it gets worse. Below is my list of essential products.

Bed Bug Patrol Bed Bug Killer Spray Treatment, 24oz Kills Bed Bugs on Contact with Residual Protection, Natural & Non-Toxic, Child & Pet Safe. Recommended for Home, Mattresses & Furniture.

Bed Bug Patrol Bed Bug Killer Spray Treatment, 24oz Kills Bed Bugs on Contact with Residual Protection, Natural & Non-Toxic, Child & Pet Safe. Recommended for Home, Mattresses & Furniture.

Bed Bug Patrol Bed Bug Killer – One of the best bed bug sprays that I’ve yet to personally use. Not only does it have a reported 100% kill rate against live bed bugs in controlled tests, but it’s also child and pet friendly. This product can be used against both light and heavy infestations, and most importantly, it’s laboratory tested and completely chemical-free.

Studies conducted using the treatment showed an impressive kill rate of 83% within just 30 minutes after application, and 98% within the first four hours, leading on to an eventual mortality rate of 100% over time.

Queen (13-16 in. Deep) SureGuard Mattress Encasement - 100% Waterproof, Bed Bug Proof - Premium Zippered Six-Sided Cover

Queen (13-16 in. Deep) SureGuard Mattress Encasement - 100% Waterproof, Bed Bug Proof - Premium Zippered Six-Sided Cover

SureGuard Mattress Encasement – It’s thick, durable, and is certain to help stop bed bugs of all sizes from getting to, or from, your mattress.

The protector prevents bed bug transportation by using SureSeal technology, and by using an extremely fine zipper that not even bed bug nymphs can impregnate.

Bed Bug Interceptors – 8 Pack | Bed Bug Blocker (Pro) Interceptor Traps (Black) | Insect Trap, Monitor, and Detector for Bed Legs

Bed Bug Interceptors – 8 Pack | Bed Bug Blocker (Pro) Interceptor Traps (Black) | Insect Trap, Monitor, and Detector for Bed Legs

In my experience, the best and most effective bed bug traps are usually the ones that are designed to work in the simplest of ways. I’ve used the Bed Bug Blocker Interceptor Traps extensively and I find they do the job better than any other trap I’ve tried. You also get a very generous 8 interceptors per pack.

Simply place them directly underneath the bed/table/chair legs you’re trying to protect, and watch the bed bugs fall into the traps time and time again with no chance of escape.

ZappBug The Oven 2 XL Large Bed Bug Heater | Real Reviews | Time-Tested | Excellent Customer Service

ZappBug The Oven 2 XL Large Bed Bug Heater | Real Reviews | Time-Tested | Excellent Customer Service

ZapBugg Bed Bug Heater – Specially designed to kill all stages in the bed bug life cycle, including eggs, without the need to purchase expensive pest control heat treatment solutions.

Simply place infested items into the ZappBug heater and it will automatically reach the all-important bed bug killing temperature, so you can be sure the items will come out free from all life stages of bed bug once the process is complete.

Large and small versions are also available.