Bed bugs have been a long-standing nuisance for humans, for centuries. These small and pesky insects are only about the size of an apple seed but can cause big problems!
Being reddish brown in color with no wings makes them incredibly difficult to detect as they easily hide in tiny crevices or cracks around your home.
While not known to spread illnesses directly, these bloodsuckers may lead you to mental distress, physical irritations from their bites, and economic loss to eradicate them.
Let’s review some of the early signs of bed bugs in your home or business.
What are the Signs of Bed Bugs
Physical Characteristics of Bed Bugs
Generally, adult bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed, which is between 5 to 7 mm long. They are typically brown in color with an oval-shaped body before feeding, and reddish-brown, a bit elongated if recently feed.
A bed bug has a beak and three body sections, an antenna with four segments, vestigial wings, and short golden hairs.
One way to know you have bed bugs in your home is through their smell – characterized as a musty-sweetish smell that is produced via glands on the lower part of the body.
Young bed bugs are known as nymphs and are typically smaller, translucent to whitish-yellow in shade. Baby bed bugs are almost invisible if they have not fed recently.
The eggs are usually tiny, almost resembling a pinhead. In terms of color, bed bug eggs are generally pearl-white characterized by an eye spot.
Common Signs of Bed Bug Infestations
Bed bugs are pesky and hard to detect, but luckily there are indications that can help you identify an infestation before it gets out of hand.
In a matter of weeks – or even days for especially fast-growing colonies – bed bug populations swell from just a few eggs into detectable numbers.
A large colony of bed bugs usually produces a musty odor known as alarm pheromones. If you get a whiff of this smell, it is a possibility that you have a bed bug infestation.
The strength of the smell emitted by just a single or a few bed bugs is usually very faint and almost undetectable.
So, a noticeable smell means the infestation has grown to a point where you should be able to see live bugs crawling around your home.
On an individual level, this smell typically comes from pheromones – a unique chemical used by the bug to send cues to each other.
But when it is at the infestation level, the pheromone smell is usually overwhelmed by the smell of fecal matter, shed skin castings, and dead bed bugs.
Bite Marks on the Body
If you suspect you have bed bugs, keep watch for signs of bites. Bed bugs tend to feed on exposed areas close to blood vessels like hands, neck, legs, and arms.
Bites from other insects such as mosquitoes or ticks can look like bed bugs.
Although usually visible in groupings or lines near the bitten area, some people may experience more subtle bite marks or nothing at all. Sometimes it can take up to two weeks before anything appears.
Small Blood Stains on Sheets
Unexplained small blood stains on bed sheets or pillows may also be a sign of a bed bug invasion in your home.
It is usually hard to notice a bed bug when it is feeding on you since it is usually 3 AM in the morning, but they don’t usually get away because they leave a trail of blood.
Bed bugs puncture the skin using their beak-like feature and feed on your blood for around 3 to 10 minutes, before crawling back to their hideout.
Blood stains on sheets can be caused by a couple of different scenarios listed below when the bed bug is feeding.
- Bed bugs inject into the bloodstream an anticoagulation chemical that keeps the blood flowing for some time. This will cause small flecks of blood to fall onto your pillows and sheets creating a blood stain or streak.
- Also, the beak-like feature of the bed bug or beak, which they use to suck blood, can trickle blood after a large blood meal. When the bed bug crawls away, the dripping blood leaves a mark on the sheets.
- Lastly, you may unknowingly roll over and squish the bed bug, squashing it, and leaving behind splotches of bright red marks. Note that this squashing will not kill the bed bug.
Pepper-Looking Stains on the Mattress are Bed Bug Poop
Spotting fecal matter on your mattress is an unmistakable sign of a bed bug infestation. These droppings can range in color from deep red to dark brown and even black, due to the fact they are composed partially of blood that has been half-digested by the bugs.
Clustered together near their hiding places, these stains may be as small as one millimeter in size.
The spots look like flecks of pepper, and you will usually find this bed bug poop in mattress seams when the bus usually hide.
Bed Bug Skin Shedding in Bedding
Bed bugs leave behind traces to be able to find them, but you need to know what to look for to know you have bed bugs in your home.
Bed bugs will leave empty eggshells, old skin that was shed, fecal stains, and blood stains.
Finding any of this is a sign that you have a bed bug infestation, and you need to start a treatment plan or call an exterminator.
Bed bugs need to malt every time they feed and thus will shed their skin about five times by the time they reach maturity. They will shed their skins where they hide after they have fed.
Comparison to Similar-Looking Insects
Bed Bug vs. Baby Cockroach (Recognition)
Nymphs or baby cockroaches can resemble bed bugs when it comes to color and size. Before maturing, baby cockroaches are normally small, reddish-brown insects with flat and wingless bodies that range in size from three to six millimeters.
The main difference is the length and shape of antennae, with cockroach nymphs having rather longer antennae than their bodies. Just like a bed bug, finding a cockroach nymph is also a sign of a severe cockroach infestation.
You will rarely find baby cockroaches near the spots where bed bugs live because a roach will be where there is food and water like a kitchen or bathroom.
Bed Bugs vs. Ticks (Recognition)
Bed bugs and ticks seem to share a lot of similar physical features. Both are tiny, blood-sucking bugs with plain wingless, oval bodies.
Before feeding, the length of a tick varies from 2 to 6 millimeters, and their bodies increase in size and become much rounder after feeding.
However, ticks are not insects. They are arachnids, meaning they have eight legs whilst bed bugs have 6.
Another fundamental difference between bed bugs and ticks is that the tick is considered vectors. This means they transmit diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease, by spreading viruses, bacteria, and parasites through each bite.
Bed Bugs vs. Bat Bugs (Recognition)
Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) and bat bugs (Cimex pilosellus) are closely related, as you can tell by their biological names. But whereas bed bugs prefer to only suck human blood, bat bugs on the other hand only feed on bat blood, hence their name.
Appearance-wise, these two bugs are almost identical – small, wingless, plane, oval-shaped bodies, beak-like structures for feeding, 2 antennae, and 6 legs.
But bat bugs are typically darker compared to bed bugs. If you want to dig deeper, putting them under a microscope reveals that bat bugs have a bit longer hairs on their flat, dark brown or beige bodies.
Checking for Bed Bugs
You already know what bed bugs look like, the signs that indicate that there is an infestation, and how to identify a bed bug from other bugs. Now is the time to check and find out where these bed bugs are hiding.
To do this, inspect these common hiding spots around your home. Bed bugs hide during the day so it will be difficult to find them you will have to look in the right places.
Closely inspect your mattress seams, especially in corners. This may reveal yellow and black specks and rusty stains, representing egg shells, shed skins, nymphs, and excrement. In addition to mattress seams, these insects will also hide in creases of fabric around your bed.
This is the first place to look and the most common place they hide. When I go to a hotel I check the beds for any signs of bed bugs.
Look around the edges of the headboard a few times. Go beyond just the headband and inspect the attached wall for any signs of bed bugs, including fecal matter, eggs, shed outer skins, and dead bed bugs.
Inspect the crevices and cracks of the nightstand, together with joints, screw holes, and drawers.
Bed bugs hide almost anywhere, including in baseboards. To proactively check for bed bugs, check the baseboard along the floor and the top of the baseboard and you might find them there.
Inside Electrical Outlets
Bed bugs are not only found in beds. Remove the cover plate of your electric outlet to check for signs of bed bugs, including eggs and bed bugs themselves.
Where the Ceiling and Wallpaper Meet
If you don’t find bed bugs in your bed but you are sure there is enough evidence your room is infested, try looking in the seam where the ceiling and wallpaper meet. Sometimes they gather there.
Picture Frames and Wall Pictures
We had a property with bed bugs in it and we were looking for other hiding spots beside the bed. We happen to look behind a picture that was on the wall and there was a nest of them.
They like dark and protected areas so look for them hidden in crevices, cracks, and holes.
Tools to Use for Inspection
Use the following tools to help you deep inspect your room for bed bugs:
- Plastic zip-top sacks for collecting your specimens
- Compressed air for flushing out bed bugs from their hiding in crevices and cracks
- Flashlight for illuminating dark spots
- Magnifying glass for detailed observation
- Screwdrivers for opening electrical plates and light switch
- Baby wipes or alcohol to ascertain that the stains and marks are bed bug fecal matter
- Cotton swabs are used for checking stains in cracks and crevices
- Credit card for sliding inside baseboards and other crevices and narrow spaces
- Gloves to protect yourself
- Bed Bug detection system
At this point, you should be looking for:
- Live bed bugs
- Bed bug droppings
- Shed outer skeletons
Prevention and Treatment
Prevention is important when it comes to avoiding bed bug invasion in your home. Thankfully, there are tips you can use to reduce the chances of infestation, including:
- Regularly vacuuming
- Inspecting old/secondhand furniture before bringing it into your home
- Checking luggage before bringing it into your home
- Wash and dry all clothes in luggage immediately after traveling
- Remove clutter from your home
- Remove or repair peeling wallpaper
- Tighten any loose electrical plates
- Seal all crevices and cracks on bed frames, in walls, between baseboards, and in windows, ceilings, furniture, and door frames.
There are plenty of options when it comes to permanently exterminating bed bugs. You can use pesticides, especially ones that contain pyrethroids, imidacloprid, piperonyl butoxide, dinotefuran, or acetamiprid.
You can also deploy some bug bombs to kill the bed bugs. Bug bombs and foggers that are over the counter are not very effective in killing bed bugs.
The best option is to hire an exterminator. A professional team of exterminators will evaluate the infestation and come up with the most effective plan to kill the bugs and restore the tranquility and peace of your homestead.
If you do not have the money for an exterminator then you need to DIY and get rid of the bed bugs on your own.
Here are some products we recommend to get rid of bed bugs.
It is best to regularly check for bed bugs and take action to treat bed bugs if they are found. This way, you can take care of the infestation before it spread and get out of hand.
Minor bed bug infestations are easier and less expensive to treat compared to major ones. Understanding the signs of bed bug infestation will help in the detection of the problem before it becomes too bad.