What Do Bed Bugs Look Like? – Identification Guide

What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?

Having a bed bug infestation is no fun. It can make you feel like your home is dirty, even if you take good care of it. You also end up with nasty bites all over your skin, and they can itch like crazy. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know whether you actually have bed bugs, especially early on in an infestation. It helps if you know what bed bugs look like.

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You won’t often see bed bugs out and about during the day, but if you do catch one in plain sight, then knowing how to identify them will let you know what kind of infestation you are dealing with. Once you’ve made an identification, that’s when you can take the steps to get rid of these pests.

Identifying bed bugs by their physical features is exactly what you’re about to learn in this article.

CC Image courtesy of British Pest Control Association

How Big Are Bed Bugs?

Size is one way to identify bed bugs. They are tiny insects. In fact, most adults are only about the size of a lentil. You shouldn’t go on size alone, however, when trying to figure out what pests you have in your home.

CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

Bed Bug Size

CC Image courtesy of British Pest Control Association

Bed bugs can actually be various sizes depending upon their age and how recently they’ve fed. They do get larger when they ingest a blood meal. And the youngest nymphs are only the size of sesame seeds. Eggs are even smaller than that.

When Do Bed Bugs Come Out

Adult Bed Bugs

Adult Bed Bug Before Feeding - CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

Adult Bed Bug After Feeding - CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

Bed Bug Nymph Before Feeding - CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

Feeding Bed Bug Nymph - CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

Bed bug nymphs can be extremely hard to see, even when full of blood - CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

The problem with using size to identify bed bugs is that they change size at every stage of their life cycle, and it’s not just egg, nymph, adult. Juvenile bed bugs go through several growth stages, like human children do. You wouldn’t say, a human child is about four feet tall because a four-year-old and a twelve-year-old are both children but are vastly different in size.

It’s the same with bed bug juveniles. They go through 5 growth stages between hatching and becoming an adult. Each stage is slightly different in size from the last. The first stage is really about the size of the egg. With each growth, the bed bug sheds its exoskeleton. By the fifth stage of a juvenile, it is almost as large as an adult, but it is not yet fully mature.

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

A bed bug next to a shed exoskeleton - CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

Bed Bug Shells

Bed bug exoskeletons - CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

The thickness of a bed bug also changes depending on how recently they’ve fed. In general, most sources describe adults as about the thickness of a quarter, and in my experience, that’s a pretty accurate estimation, with the bugs being slightly thicker after feeding.

CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

I guess the main thing you should know about how bed bug size relates to identification is whether these pests can be spotted with the naked eye, and the answer is yes. You can definitely see an adult bed bug without assistance.

CC Image courtesy of British Pest Control Association

Eggs are the most difficult to spot, but you will probably be able to see them if the area is well lit. Of course, bed bugs are not going to lay their eggs in a well lit area. Instead, they will be hidden away in some crack or crevice. My tip is to use a flashlight to find them. If you have a magnifying glass, they could also help in finding the tiny eggs.

Bed Bug Eggs

CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

What Shape Are Bed Bugs?

Shape is another distinguishing factor, but again, it changes when a bed bug feeds. The bugs are usually oval-shaped and flat. When they’ve had a large meal, however, they become oblong, shaped kind of like a cigar. Their bodies are more cylindrical then, too, instead of flat.

They are not an exact oval. The head is smaller than the body, and the back of their bodies may end in a rounded section or a sharp flap, depending on the sex of the particular individual. Females have the curved back, and males have the pointy back. Also, all bed bugs have protruding eyes.

CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

The juveniles are the same shape as adults, only smaller. Bed bug eggs are always an oblong shape. In fact, the eggs look kind of like very small, short grains of rice.

What Color Are Bed Bugs?

As if there were ever easy answers when it comes to pest identification. Color is, alas, another thing that changes with bed bugs as they progress through various life cycle and feeding stages.

Eggs are a different color from nymphs. Some nymphs are yet another color from adults. Even the color that nymphs and adults start as can change if they’ve eaten! 

CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

Let’s start with the eggs this time. Bed bug eggs are a translucent, pearly white color. In fact, that makes when you shine light on them, they will reflect it back a bit, which is why I suggest a flashlight for hunting them down.

The color of juvenile bed bugs varies greatly, like their size does, depending upon which stage they are at. The youngest nymphets are similar in color to the egg they hatch from. They are whitish and translucent.

Recently-Hatched Bed Bug Nymph - CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

As the bed bug grows, it will continue looking translucent, with the white color becoming more yellow or light brown. The color continues to deepen until the bug is the color of a fully mature bed bug. The final color is a rusty reddish-brown.

CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

What Do Bed Bugs Look Like Once They’ve Fed?

Keep in mind that the bugs look different after they’ve eaten. If you see what looks like two different types of bugs in your home, it could just be bed bugs at different points of fullness. We just talked about the color of bed bugs, and that too changes after they’ve had a meal.

Generally, after eating, the bug becomes darker and redder in color. For juveniles that are not yet fully brown, red is seen through their transparent exoskeleton, but the color may not be equally distributed across its body.

To recap, a recently fed bed bug:

  •  Is fatter than a hungry bug
  • Becomes more cylindrical in shape
  • Turns redder and darker

CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

What Do Bed Bug Eggs Look Like?

As we’ve gone through the different characteristics of bed bugs, we’ve talked also about their eggs and what they look like, but how do you know if what you’re seeing is actually bed bug eggs and not something else?

CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

There are actually a few defining features of bed bug eggs. If you look closely, and you may need a magnifying glass or a bright light, you will probably see two eye spots on bed bug eggs.

Also, when we’re talking about size, it’s hard to compare bed bug eggs to something. Some sources describe them as the size of two grains of salt. Some describe them as about the size of a poppy seed. What is for sure is that they are less than 1 mm long.

A mixture of bed bug eggs & fecal stains - CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

You may also spot discarded egg “shells” that have already hatched a bed bug nymph. In that case, what you see may be somewhat different from what a bed bug eggs typically looks like, but is still a sign of bed bugs.

CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

To recap what bed bug eggs look like, they are:

  • Less than 1 mm in size
  • Barrell shaped
  • Translucent white
  • Have eye spots if they are 5 days old or more

Finding eggs can be difficult because their size and color helps them hide. Also, they are typically laid in areas the bugs consider safe from attack, so you may have to really work to find them. The good news is that the eggs are laid where the bugs hide out, so if you find one, you’ll probably find the other as well.

Bed Bugs On Clothes

CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

What Other Bugs Look Like Bed Bugs?

It turns out there are quite a lot of other bugs that look like bed bugs. If you’re dealing with something else, you will need different strategies for getting rid of them. Here are the bugs most often mistaken for bed bugs.

Fleas

If you wake up with lots of tiny red bite spots, you may immediately jump to the conclusion of bed bugs. Before you do, though, you may want to consider whether you have fleas in your home. Adult fleas are actually much smaller than adult bed bugs, but it is possible to mistake fleas for juvenile bed bugs.

Flea

Know, however, that fleas tend to be darker in color and are more likely to be seen out in the open. Fleas also jump thanks to their long and springy hind legs, which bed bugs are incapable of doing.

Flea

Flea

You may momentarily mistake bed bug waste for fleas. Their feces looks like tiny black specks. The lack of movement, however, will clue you in that it is not fleas, which jump quite high when startled. Of course, fleas also leave behind feces, so this could still make identification difficult without other signs.

Cockroach Nymphs

Nymphs are infant insects, and cockroach nymphs look nothing like adult roaches. This surprises many people, who do not realize that what they are seeing in their home are baby cockroaches.

Cockroach Nymph

A cockroach nymph is usually white or gray in color with a smooth body. It is smaller than an adult bed bug, usually around three millimeters in size. Cockroach nymphs do not bite.

Carpet Beetles

Carpet beetles tend to be smaller than bed bugs and differently colored. They can be black and yellow, solid brown, solid black, or have brown, orange, and white scales. People mistake them for bed bugs because they appear in teems and enjoy hiding in some of the same places.

Carpet Beetle

One of the most distinctive characteristics of carpet beetles, in comparison to bed bugs, is that the beetles have wings. You will not see bed bugs flying. Carpet beetles also do not have protruding eyes, which distinguishes them from bed bugs. You probably will not be able to easily see a carpet beetle’s eyes. Carpet beetles do not bite.

Booklice

Booklice can look similar to bed bug nymphs (that is, young bed bugs). A primary difference, however, is that booklice have longer bodies. Their midsection is narrow with a wider head and lower abdomen. They will definitely look smaller than adult bed bugs and are lighter in color. Some booklice have wings, but not all of them. Booklice do not bite.

Book Louse

Spider Beetles

Spider beetles look kind of like tiny spiders, thus the name. They are easily mistaken for bed bugs because many of them have a similar, reddish-brown coloring, though others are black. In fact, of all the bugs listed here, spider beetles are probably the most similar in appearance to bed bugs, with the exception of bat bugs.

Spider Beetle

These beetles do tend to be a bit smaller than bed bugs, but if you’ve never seen either species, it could be difficult to distinguish the size difference. Spider beetles do not bite.

Bat Bugs

Bat bugs are actually related to bed bugs. They are also small, flat, and reddish-brown. In fact, without a magnifying glass, they look exactly like bed bugs.

bat bug vs bed bug

Bat bugs also bite humans and feed on blood, just like bed bugs.

That being said, it’s less common to have a bat bug infestation that is causing welts and rashes on the skin of people than this problem is with bed bugs. That’s because a bat bug’s preferred food source is--you guessed it--bats.

You’re more likely to have a bat bug problem if you’ve had bats in your attic, and these insects are usually found in upper levels of buildings.

Ticks

Ticks can be similar in appearance to bed bugs, despite the fact that ticks are arachnids rather than insects. They tend to be oval-shaped and flat until they have fed, much like bed bugs. That being said, there are many different varieties of ticks.

Tick vs bed bug

The various types of ticks come in a range of sizes, with some being similar in size to bed bugs. They can also be similar in color, though ticks are often less red.

Notably, ticks have 8 legs, whereas bed bugs only have 6, if you get close enough to count.

Other things that look like bed bugs

Sometimes, your eyes may trick you into thinking you see a bed bug when there isn’t one there at all. Black specks in the bed may turn out to be something entirely different from insect feces. Also, with the bugs being about the size of a seed, it’s possible that if you spot a “dead bug”, you’ve actually just spotted some kind of seed, lint, or debris on your floor or furniture. Before taking action against bed bugs, make sure that you’re certain that’s what you have.

Places To Look For Bed Bugs Outside Your Home

Most of this guide has talked about identifying bed bugs in your home, but don’t forget to keep an eye out for them elsewhere too. When you travel, you should always check the hotel room for possible infestation. Look for the same signs you would in your home, including black spots on the bed or bed bug eggs under the mattress. You can also check for molted exoskeletons and other bed bug waste behind headboards and around electrical outlets. You’d be surprised where you’ll find them hiding.

CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

Bed Bug Stains

Blood stains from where a bed bug gets squashed shortly after feeding - CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

Don’t think that what you are seeing is not a bed bug just because of where you are. These pests have been located in schools, movie theaters, and office buildings, as well as other locations. Basically, if human hosts are available, you may see a bed bug lurking around.

What To Do If You’re Unable To Identify A Possible Bed Bug

Let’s say you’ve seen a bug or bugs out in your house, but you just can’t tell if it’s a bed bug. Maybe you haven’t had any bites, that you’ve noticed, or maybe you can’t fully identify whether a bite is from a bed bug. You have a couple of options.

One thing you can do is to catch a specimen and send it in to an entomology lab for inspection. They will be able to make an accurate identification. Of course, they won’t be able to do much else in way of helping you get rid of the infestation if they do positively identify a bed bug.

Another option is to have a pest control professional come in and inspect your home for signs of bed bugs. They have strategies for finding the bugs, including utilizing canines trained to detect bed bug odor, in some cases. The upside to hiring an exterminator is they can also help you with strategies for getting rid of the bugs.

A final option for helping you make an identification is to read through more of the articles on this site. You’ll find tips for distinguishing bed bugs from other bugs. You’ll find out about bed bug odor and what it smells like. You’ll also get information about identifying bed bug bite patterns.

Bed Bug Bites

Summary

If you know what you’re looking for, you can figure out what bed bugs look like and make an identification. An adult is a flat, lentil-sized oval with reddish brown coloring. If you’re having trouble, seek expert advice from an entomologist, a pest control professional, or more of the articles here.

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