What do bed bugs look like

There has been a huge increase in the bed bug population in recent years and, while bed bugs aren’t actually dangerous, they are pretty gross and an infestation is many people’s worst nightmare! Bed bugs can be tough to identify, given their small size and their habit of staying hidden during daylight hours. The first sign most people have that they’ve had a bed bug ‘encounter’ is a series of ugly red bite marks.

Bedbug bite marks

If you do spot some bugs it helps to know what they look like since there are many similar species and a misidentification can mean you wasting time and money treating the wrong kind of bug!

Bed bugs are flightless insects ranging in size from 4/100ths of an inch (1mm) as nymphs to about a 1/4″ (5mm) long as adults.

Bed bug on a dime

There are 7 stages in the bed bug life cycle – egg, 5 nymph stages and adult.

Bed bug life cycle

The adults are the easiest to see and to identify.  An adult bed bug is reddish-brown in color and about a 1/4″ long – about the size of an apple pip.  Their color gets redder after feeding on blood. The diagram below shows a bedbug before and after feeding on all that lovely blood!

bed bugs before and after feeding

As well as looking foul bed bugs have a distinctive sweet-musty odor that is produced by special glands on the underside of their bodies.  This odor is used to leave a trail to help them find their way back to their hidey-holes at the end of the night.  Bed bugs do not fly, jump or hop, they get about by walking and climbing.

An adult female can lay 5 or 6 eggs per day and can lay about 200 in her lifetime.  Eggs are white in color and are laid in cracks and crevices.  They are about 1/16th inch long.  If each female has 200 offspring and each of those has 200 offspring and each of THOSE have 200 offspring…Well you can see how essential it is to deal with a bed bug infestation early!

A recent US Department of Health report claimed that if forty are placed in a room within six months their population would exceed 6,000!!

Each stage of the bed bug nymph cycle lasts about a week and they must feed each time they metamorphize into the next stage.  They are yellowish-white in color and get browner and redder after feeding.  The nymphs are the same shape as the adults but are smaller –  ranging in size from 1mm to 4mm.  They can be difficult to see with the naked eye because of their small size and light color.

Each time they change stages they shed their skin. They’ll kindly leave that behind in your bed for you along with any faecal matter they care to deposit on their way!!

Bed bugs are most active at night between the hours of 10pm and 6am.  In the daytime, they like to hide in nooks and crannies in your mattress and furniture and in hidey holes in the walls

bed bug hiding in mattress

Of course, the first sign of bed bug infestation for most people is the bed bug bite – most people develop an itchy red welt the day after being bitten – although for some the reaction is very severe while others have no visible reaction at all.

Because of their nocturnal nature you are also more likely to spot traces of bed bug activity than the actual critters themselves.  Signs include eggs, old skin casings and fecal spots appearing as clusters of dark-brown marks on mattresses; especially along the seams.

Biologically the bedbug (Cimex lectularius) is one of 80,000 species of ‘true bugs’.  That is, they have a beak with piercing and sucking mouthparts, antenna that have four parts; wings that are not used for flying; and short, golden-colored hairs.  In bedbugs the mouthparts are split into two: one part secretes the bug’s saliva into its sleeping victim while the other mouth part drinks in the blood.  The bedbug injects an anaesthetic into its sleeping host so that it can suck blood unnoticed and an anti-coagulant to keep that lovely red juice flowing! Yum Yum!

Close up of bedbug

Bed bugs are often confused with, and spoken about interchangeably with, dust mites.  However, the two are entirely different.  Bed bugs are insects, feed off blood and when fully grown are easily visibly to the naked eye.  Dust mites are arachnids (the same family as spiders and scorpions), , they don’t bite and are usually too small to be seen without a microscope or magnifying glass.

Other species (and household objects!) often mistaken for bedbugs are:

  • Carpet beetles
  • Fleas
  • Lice
  • Seeds
  • Lint

It is important to get bug identification correct and otherwise avoid costly and time-consuming treatment for the wrong kind of pest.

To cap it all not only does the bed bug change in appearance during each of its life-cycle changes it also changes depending on whether it has recently fed or not:

Hope we haven’t given you nightmares now!!  Remember as disgusting as bed bugs might be they are perfectly harmless and can usually be treated and eradicated.

don’t worry this is not a bed bug

(don’t worry this is not a bed bug!!!)

“Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.”

Visit stuff4homes.com/bedbugs for more information on how to identify, prevent and treat bedbugs