Signs of Bed Bugs

" Signs of bed bugs include fecal markings on the bed, bed bug bites, and seeing the bugs themselves.  A thorough inspection of all tight spaces in a room are required for treatment to be successful. Pictures are provided so that you can differentiate bed bugs from other common insects. Tips for recognizing all three are described below."   

Identifying a bed bug infestation is based on signs such as:

How to Identify Bed Bugs

Can you see bed bugs?

Bed bugs can be seen with the naked eye.  Bed bugs start life in eggs which are small white pear shaped eggs (about the size of a sesame seed). When searching for bed bugs it is helpful to have a flashlight and a magnifying glass.

signs of bed bugs
Bed Bug Size Compared to Penny

signs of bed bugs

Adult Bed Bug Size

Do Bed Bugs Change in Appearance as the Age?

Bed bugs move through several life stages, so they will differ in appearance depending on what stage they are in. These stages are basically, egg, nymph (baby bed bug) and adult.  Said another way, if you have bed bugs, you will notice bugs that look different depending on their stage of development.

Bedbugs are hatched from eggs and then move through 5 stages until reaching adulthood.  When born,  a baby bed bug is semi-transparent, with a lighter tan appearance.  They develop into adults over a 10 week period.

signs of bed bugs
Picture Bed Bug Eggs (magnified)

Adult bedbugs are brown to reddish-brown in color, have an oval-shape, are flattened, and about 3/16 to 1/5 inch long

signs of bed bugs
Picture Bed Bug Life Cycle

Bed bugs also change in appearance before and after feeding:

signs of bed bugs

Bed Bugs Picture Before and After Feeding

What Other Insects are Confused with Bed Bugs?

Bedbugs are often confused with several common household insects including:

  • Spider Beetles

    signs of bed bugs
    Spider Beetle Picture
  • Young cockroaches (nymphs that were just hatched)
signs of bed bugs
Pictures of Roaches
  • Bat Bugs

signs of bed bugs
Picture Bed Bugs Compared to Bat Bug

Are there services that will identify bed bugs?

There is a service that will confirm the identity of any insects you capture. You can download the form here (pdf download).  Each sample will cost $20 to identify.

Check with your local department of health and/or cooperative extension for free bed bug identification services.  These are becoming more common as the infestation grows.  

Bed Bugs Bites

One of the signs of bed bugs are bed bug bites.  Most people, estimated to be 70% of the population, do not show any skin reactions to bed bug bites. The bites themselves are actually a skin puncture.  Any skin reaction is an allergic reaction, with most people showing no allergic reaction. This is why two people in the same bed can show different skin reactions, ranging from no reaction to small red raised papules, round circular wheals, bed bug skin rash, and in rare cases blistering.

signs of bed bugs
Picture Bed Bugs Bites 1 Hour After Being Bitten
Some People Show an Immediate Reaction while
Others Can Show a Reaction Days Later

signs of bed bugs
Picture Bed Bugs Bites on Arm

signs of bed bugs
Bed Bug Bite Picture - Wheal Reaction

Bed bugs tend to bite areas of the skin that are exposed during sleep.  They will also bite under loose fitting clothes. Areas of the body that show signs of bed bugs include the neck, shoulders, bottom part of the arms, hands, and lower legs.  It is rare for a bed bug to bite the bottom of the feet (this is probably scabies which is caused by mites). 

When patterns appear, it is often due to groups of bed bugs biting the skin, such as a leg that is resting along the seam of a bed.

signs of bed bugs
Picture Bed Bugs Bites on Leg
Individual or groups of bed bug bites are possible

To protect yourself against bed bugs, a natural bed bug repellent spray may be helpful (manufacturer claims product will repel 98% of bed bugs from the skin).  While not a substitute for professional bed bug treatment , it may provide some help while you wait for the bed bug exterminator or do it yourself with a bed bug kit.

Where to Look for Signs of Bed Bugs

Bed bugs leave behind visible signs.  For example, they leave behind markings on a mattress such as brown feces spotting, blood stains, molted skin or eggs.  Look for markings in a 10 to 20 foot radius around sleeping and sitting areas.  Bed bugs usually will not travel beyond 20 feet.  Write down each location where you believe bed bugs are hiding so you can inform your exterminator where to treat the room.

signs of bed bugs
Looking for Signs of Bed Bugs in Boxspring Seam

Where do bed bugs hide?

They are very thin and are excellent at hiding in cracks and crevices that are about the width of a credit card.  If you see them during the day, which is rare, it is because their hiding place was disturbed.  

signs of bed bugs
Picture Bed Bug Hiding Places

Bed bugs usually hide during the day and come out at night.  If you see bugs on the wall during the day, it is probably not a bed bug. Bed bugs do not fly and do not leap. 

Most bed bugs will be around the bed.  Be sure to look for signs of bed bugs:

  • underneath mattress buttons
  • along mattress reams and tufts

    signs of bed bugs
    Picture Bed Bugs on Mattress

    signs of bed bugs
    Picture Signs of Bed Bugs on Mattress - Feces Markings
  • inside boxspring coils
  • in cracks on wood bed posts

    signs of bed bugs
    Bed Bug Remains on Bed Frame
  • inside hollow bed legs or posts
  • in furniture upholstery

    signs of bed bugs
    Picture Bed Bugs on Furniture
  • look in all cracks and crevices near the bed such as windows, door frames and around electrical and cable outlets (use a flashlight). Use a putty knife or other thin object to see if you can dislodge any of the bugs
  • remove furniture drawers and check underneath the drawer, inside the drawer tracks, in cracks at the inside back and the actual back.  Look in and around screw holes.

One hint is to take a hair dryer (high heat setting, low heat) and blow air on seam for 30 seconds at foot of mattress.  Bed bugs will react to the heat and try to escape.  Be prepared with a rag or vacuum hose to scoop up the insects or kill the bedbugs.  You can also use a wire brush to reach the bed bugs.  They are excellent at hiding deep into objects.

signs of bed bugs
Picture Signs of Bed Bugs Hiding inside Corner of Boxspring

What To Do When you see Signs of Bed Bugs

Bed Bug Home Owner Advice:

If you are a home owner, the best first step is to call in a bed bugs exterminator with solid references, that is also licensed and insured. The Home Advisor Network (1.877.233.1145) is a good place to start as they offer 4 free quotes and they pre-screen members of the network.

Treatment can cost between $1,000 and $2,000 for a typical home, so it pays to get more than 1 quote.  Another good source for local experienced bed bug exterminators is our exterminator database.

Questions to Ask when Hiring a Bed Bug Pest Control Expert:

Ask the bed bugs exterminator the following questions:

  • Experience that specific person sent has in treating bed bugs
  • References
  • Chemical and non-chemical bedbug treatment used (vacuuming, steam, insecticides, natural products, heat, freezing spray)
  • Pet and Child safety
  • Guarantees provided and for how long
  • Availability of a bed bug sniffing dog (very accurate, but can cost several hundred dollars for the inspection).  
  • Confirm that they are licensed in your state or region

Also ask the bed bug exterminator you choose to show you the actual signs of bed bugs to avoid any scams or scrupulous firms.

Can You Treat Signs of Bed Bugs Yourself?

While a bed bug pest control expert is preferred, you can treat a bed bug infestation yourself with the right combination of products.  The best way to do this, and to get the required knowledge is to purchase either an insecticide based bed bug kit (preferred), or an all natural bed bug kit if you do not like to use chemicals in the home.  Insecticide based products tend to undergo more independent testing.

Bed Bugs Apartment Tenant Advice for Signs of Bed Bugs:

Treating bed bugs in an apartment is a more complicated proposition.  It is very hard to determine if bed bugs were carried into an apartment by the tenant or if they came in through the walls from apartments that are next to, over or below the apartment where you live.

It is also complicated because bed bugs are not covered by most landlord tenant agreements and by local landlord tenant law.  Because of this, many landlords either refuse to coordinate and pay for treatment.  Some landlords even will attempt to evict a tenant on the grounds that the tenant brought the bed bugs into a building.

For bed bug treatment to be successful all adjoining apartments need to be inspected for signs of bed bugs.  Studies show a 20% chance that bed bugs can spread to an apartment next door, and a 7% chance that they will spread to an apartment above or below the bed bug infested apartment. For this reason, a tenant should contact the building management for treatment.

Like single family homes, it is preferable that the landlord or managing agent bring in an experienced bed bugs exterminator.  Bed bug dogs are also helpful for determining if bed bugs have entered the walls.

If a landlord refuses treatment, you can organize tenants, and offer to pay 50% of the cost, You can also apply pressure by 1) checking on the law at your state or city attorney generals office regarding bed bugs and landlord/tenant law, 2) contact the local media, they love bed bug stories, 3) contact local politicians for help and 4) contact your local health department.

How Can you Get Bed Bug Protection in an Apartment

If there are signs of bed bugs in your building, you can get some protection by:

  • Sealing with caulk any openings under baseboards that can allow bed bugs to pass through the wall.

    sigsn of bed bugs
    Caulk Any Openings Where Bed Bugs Can Hide
  • Applying bed bugs dust (also called fossil dust) under the baseboard and in the tufts of the mattress and box spring. 

    signs of bed bugs
    Bed Bug Powder (also called Fossil Dust) Applied to Mattress Seams Can Provide Some Level of Natural Protection Against Bed Bugs
  • Spray a bed bug residual spray such as Phantom (NY residents use Bedlam)  under the baseboard.  This will provide several weeks of protection.
  • Do not bring any rented or used furniture or mattresses into the apartment
  • Inspect any luggage brought into the apartment by travelers
  • As the managing agent to issue a written policy to all tenants indicating what to do in cases where there are signs of bed bugs.  Tenants should not be afraid to report the issue.
  • Reduce clutter.  This gives bed bugs more places to hide and can hinder bed bug treatment.

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