How to Identify a Bed Bug

Knowing how to identify a bed bug is the quickest way to determine if you have an infestation. Many bugs resemble bed bugs but there are telltale differences.


Life Cycle of the Bed Bug

Bed bugs begin as eggs and go through five life stages before entering adulthood. During the early stages, the bed bug is referred to as a nymph. Interestingly, they must feed to enter all life stages. Their preference is human blood, but they will feed on other mammals if necessary. The bug will feed several times throughout each life stage, but usually only once per day. Once the stages are complete, the bug can continue surviving without a blood meal for up to a year.

Life Cycle of Bed Bug


What Do Bed Bug Eggs Look Like?

Bed bug eggs are nearly impossible to see with the naked eye. They measure smaller than the size of a pinhead and are pearl-white in color. Eggs that are more than five days old may have a noticeable eye spot.


What Do Nymphs Look Like?

Once the egg has hatched, the young bed bug or “nymph” emerges. Each bug goes through five nymph cycles before becoming an adult, shedding its exoskeleton each time.

  • Nymphs have a translucent or whitish color until they have fed
  • Smaller than adults, young bed bugs are only the size of a pinhead
  • If the nymph has not fed, then it can appear invisible


What Do Adult Bed Bugs Look Like?

Once the bug has gone through all life stages it reaches adulthood and has a lifespan of 10 months to a year.

  • Adult bed bugs are similar in size to an apple seed; they measure 5 to 7 mm or 3/16 to ¼ of an inch in length
  • Their body is long and brown with an overall flat oval-shape, however, they swell and lose their flat appearance after consuming a blood meal
  • After feeding, they take on a reddish-brown hue and balloon out
  • They have a beak with three segments, a four-part antenna and wings although they do not fly


What Does a Bed Bug Nest Look Like?

Bed bugs congregate during the day, so it is common to find the bugs hiding in large groups referred to as the nest. Bed bug eggs are laid wherever the bugs spend their daytime hours however, you may not be able to see the tiny eggs as even a person with 20/20 vision cannot usually detect them.


What do Bed Bugs Look like on Your Bed? 

Bed bugs feed under the cover of darkness while you sleep. Their nocturnal and sneaky behavior makes it unlikely that you will see them in your bed. However, in the morning you might notice reddish flecks on your bedding or mattress. This reddish discoloration is the fecal matter or blood stains that the bugs often leave behind after feeding.


Bed Bugs Have a Hard Shell 

Like most insects, bed bugs have an exoskeleton which acts like a hard shell, providing them with protection. As the bed bug grows and ages it sheds its exoskeleton. It is common to find the shed exoskeletons in your bed, clothing, carpeting, or other locations of your home.


Bed Bugs Smell Bad 

The bugs have a musty odor that is produced by glands located on the lower side of their body. The smell is a pheromone that they use for mating. Many people find the odor like that of a wet, moldy towel.


How to Identify Bed Bugs from Other Bugs

Identify Bed Bugs from Other Bugs

From left to right: Swallow Bug, Bed Bug, and Bat Bug.
Via ADES Bed Bug Handbook

If you have recently traveled or had house guests, seeing an unknown bug in your home can be cause for concern. You may have unknowingly allowed a bed bug to hitch a ride into your home. The best defense is to identify the bed bug. There are other types of insects that bear a striking resemblance to the bed bug and can even bite you:

Bat Bugs: Bat bugs look a great deal like bed bugs. It typically takes examining the insect under a microscope to tell the differences. Bat bugs occur when a colony of bats has set up residence in your attic or a nearby structure. Bat bugs prefer to feast on – you guessed it – bats, however, will feed on humans if desperate.
Barn Swallow Bugs: Barn swallow bugs are flat and brownish like bed bugs, but they have wider heads. They are in the same family as bed bugs, however, prefer to feast on nesting swallows and nestlings.
A pest control professional will be able to identify each insect without much difficulty and execute the suitable treatment for eliminating the pest.


The old saying, "knowledge is power" holds true when it comes to identifying bed bugs. If you can quickly ID the pests then you are one step ahead of the game. It is best to contact a pest control specialist at the first sign of bed bugs to tackle the problem before it has a chance to become a full-blow infestation.


Get more information on Bed Bugs:

Why Early Bed Bug Detection is Important

13 Good Habits for Preventing Bed Bugs

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