What Does a Bed Bug Look Like?

Imagine you check into a lesser-known motel or a flat for a night stay, and you tuck yourself into your cozy mattress for a good night’s sleep. But you are not alone.

You start to feel a presence on your body with an itchy sensation, You switch on the lights only to find the rashes on your skin and nothing else. The rashes are similar to mosquito bites, and you wonder why the mosquito repellent is not working.

Congratulations, you just experienced an attack by bed bugs. But what does a bed bug look like? How do you know it’s a bed bug?

Bed bugs are tiny little creatures which can make your favourite hobby, sleep, a disaster. Let us now find out what does a bed bug look like and how you can get rid of it.

What Does a Bed Bug Look Like?

Bed bugs have been known to human beings for thousands of years now, they are nocturnal parasites 1that feed on human blood.

Two species of bed bugs are the common cause of human infestations: Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus. These ‘shy’ bugs are known for hiding during the daytime in dark places.

Hiding places of bed bugs include mattress seams, bed sheet seams, bed frames, seams of curtains, upholstered furniture, fabric folds, and even cracks in the wall.

Controlling bed bug infestation is difficult as the bed bugs breed at an enormous rate, and even the hatchlings are known to feed on human blood. But what does a bed bug look like?

1. Evolution of Bed Bugs

Before delving into what does a bed bug look like, let’s explore some background.

The modern-day bed bugs are known to have emerged around 115 million years ago, even before human evolution2 commenced. At that time, the bugs (bat bugs) were parasites known to feed on bats which were assumed to be their initial host.

It is believed that the bat bugs further evolved to specialize in feeding on birds and bats. With time, they evolved to feed on warm-blooded animals. It is also believed that the bed bugs may not have split their lineage to evolve into human-specific but would have evolved into one.

2. Particulars: What Does a Bed Bug Look like

Bed bugs are tiny crawling insects, adult bed bugs are usually 4-6 mm in length, about the size of an apple seed. A fully grown bed bug looks similar to cockroach nymphs3.

The colour of these bugs varies from light brown to dark brown or red, depending upon the stage of development.

8214056 cimex hemipterus
by muay/ UnlimPhotos

Adult bed bugs have flat bodies, these six-legged bugs are quick and are known for their ability to hide.

The oval-shaped bodies have vestigial front wings, which are now only pad-like structures. The bugs shed their skin by discarding their outer exoskeleton during each advancement in their life stages.

The eggs of bed bugs are of size 1-2 mm, and the colour is akin to pearl white. The newly hatched hatchlings, called the bed bug nymphs, 4are translucent or whitish-yellow and gain colour as they mature.

So what does a bed bug look like? The bed bugs’ appearance resembles commonly seen insects such as cockroaches and booklice. In addition, these bugs have an undesirable and characteristic musty odour emitted when crushed or touched.

They usually spread by crawling from one place to another or carrying personal belongings. These bugs are easily mistaken for carpet beetles, spider beetles, fleas, cockroach nymphs or any similar small brown or reddish-brown insects.

3. Stages of Development: Bed Bug Look Like

Bed bugs are known to reproduce exponentially5, with a single female bed bug laying over 10 eggs every day and over 500 eggs in its life span. These insects have a lifecycle consisting of six stages of life and last being the adult stage, where they are sexually matured and capable of reproducing.

While the bed bugs remain alive without food for about 70 days, they require at least one blood meal to advance into the next stage. In each stage, the bugs will shed skins which is their exoskeleton.

A bed bug may take several weeks to develop into a mature adult. The first stage of a bedbug is the egg. The bed bug eggs are around 1 mm and are usually visible to the naked eye. The second stage is the hatched nymphs which are the white or transparent bodies.

Upon obtaining the nutrients required for further development, these insects shed skins and move on to the next stage, where the sizes increase from 2 mm to 3 mm, which is about the size of a poppy seed.

With each stage, the skin colour darkens from white to reddish brown until the final adult stage, wherein the bed bug sizes vary between 4.5 and 6 mm. Bed bugs have oval-shaped bodies in all stages of development.

4. How do Bed Bugs Feed?

Bed bugs are bloodsuckers, and their bodies are evolved to aid them. These bugs consume blood from warm-blooded animals though they are human-specific insects.

These insects do not spend their entire time in search of their host. The bed bugs are known to hide and only leave their shelter when they are starving, and they return to their shelter when threatened due to light or once they have completed feeding.

shutterstock 1382568572
via white jellybeans on Shutterstock

The insects have high sensitivity to carbon dioxide, body temperature, and odour. The bed bugs are home on their host with any of the three factors. Studies have indicated that bed bugs can respond to human smell alone.

Once these bugs have detected their host, they usually approach the exposed parts of the body in darkness or dim light. The mouth of the bugs has evolved into seeing through the skin of the human and injecting anticoagulants, which are present in its saliva.

Bite of bed bugs is similar to that of flea bites. However, it is not usually painful because its saliva also consists of painkillers, which subdue the pain and thereby allow the bed bug to consume blood as much as required.

5. How do Bedbugs Infest?

Whilst hygiene cannot always be a reason for bed bug infestation, lack of hygiene may worsen the condition. The bugs attach themselves to personal belongings such as clothes and bags from an infested place and are known to spread if the infected belongings are treated before getting to living spaces.

As the bed bugs hide inside cracks in furniture and fabric folds, another source of bed bug infestation is second-hand or used furniture, including beds and mattresses.

It is important to check the furniture for termites and bed bugs before buying it. Mattresses and upholstered furniture are great sources for introducing bed bugs into one’s house.

It is easy to identify bed bug infestation6. Blood stains on the bed sheets and mattresses, either due to the excretion of digested blood or the crushing of bed bugs, are the signs of bed bugs7. These blood marks may be because of the crushing of bed bugs or maybe the excretion of the bedbug.

An infested wall crack will have black and brown dots all around it. In addition to bedrooms and living spaces, bed bugs infest electrical outlets where the cracks near switchboards give bed bugs perfect hiding places.

6. Effect of a Bedbug Bite

Besides the loss of blood and the feeling of itch and reddishness on the skin, bed bug bites are usually harmless. They don’t usually carry any pathogens which can spread disease. However, few people develop severe allergies and skin reactions due to bed bug bites.

The immediate symptom is inflamed spots which are itchy. A few people may develop fluid-filled blisters.

In some cases, a person may experience life-threatening reactions called anaphylaxis8 which is difficulty in breathing, fever, and heart issues. Bed bug bites are also known to cause psychological conditions in people.

6.1 Skin

The effects of bed bug bites are limited to the skin except in case of allergic conditions. The bed bugs’ ability to pierce and release blood-thinning substances along with painkillers results in a delay in the body’s response to the bite.

48009816 man suffering from itching skin close up 1
by towfiq007/ UnlimPhotos

Symptoms of the bite in some cases are not evident until some days. In usual cases, the lesion size varies between 2-5 mm. The reaction to the lesion may also vary from no itching to intense itching, which may last for more than a few weeks.

Further scratching of the lesion may result in bleeding, resulting in subsequent bacterial infections if left untreated. In case an individual is allergic to bed bug bites, one may suffer from severe itchiness and other skin conditions.

6.2 Psychological

Research has indicated that people may suffer from symptoms and other signs suggestive of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), such as hypervigilance, insomnia, nightmares, and anxiety.

In rare cases, severe bed bug incidents have been known to alter hormone balance in women. To find out how to get rid of menstrual cramps overnight, click here.

2015221 depression
by BDS/ UnlimPhotos

6.3 Extreme Reactions

In very rare cases, a bedbug bite can result in severe symptoms, which include the triggering of asthma. Severe infestation and attack by bed bugs can result in anemia.

Reduced work efficiency due to lack of proper sleep and emotional breakdown can also be associated with a bedbug infestation.

6.4 Pets

These bugs can also feed on pets, the symptoms are akin to human skin, such as skin irritation and scratching. This study has shown that an infected poultry shed has reduced egg production.

25712712 little puppy paw scratching his neck sitting on the grass
by kosmsos111/ UnlimPhotos

7.  Getting Rid of Bed Bugs

Now that you are aware of what does a bed bug look like, getting rid of them is another story altogether. Despite having the tiny appearance of bed bugs, these insects can be adamant when it comes to getting rid of them.

Since it is easy to identify bed bug infestation through signs of bed bugs, we can use various methods to exterminate these pests before severe infestation.

What Does a Bed Bug Look Like
By Wavebreakmedia/ UnlimPhotos

Managing bed bug problems using both the chemical treatment plan and non-chemical methods is known to be effective. Prevention is better than cure for pest control, especially for bed bugs and fleas.

To start with, if we suspect that our personnel belongings may have been infected, it is recommended that the belongings be kept under the sun for two to three days. All infected clothes should be washed in hot water.

Methods of extermination of bed bugs are mentioned below:-

(a) Maintain high room temperature. Bed bugs cannot regulate their body temperature and higher room temperature results in a reduction in numbers.

(b) Wash clothes in hot water.

(c) Apply alcohol in the infested area.

(d) Kerosene can also be used in bed bug-hiding places such as bedding and mattress seams. Kerosene is also known to kill bed bug eggs.

(e) Sun-drying mattress and bedding frequently.

(e) Pest control using pesticides such as pyrethrins and pyrethroids. These chemicals are also known to be effective against fleas.

8. Frequently Asked Questions

1. What happens if bed bugs go untreated?

Bed bugs spread quite quickly. Within a few months, a bed bug outbreak can grow into a full-fledged colony. So if you don’t want to share your place with non-rent payers, it is advised to work fast!

2. What kills bed bugs?

The most popular materials used to deal with bed bugs alongside other indoor insects are pyrethrins and pyrethroids.

3. Can bed bugs get in your hair?

Now that you know what does a bed bug look like and spot one in your hair, bedbugs do not generally stay in the hair, but they might stick themselves thereafter attacking your scalp.

9. Conclusion

Now you know a bed bugs look like and how pestering they can be. Though tiny, it is important to check for any infested area frequently when in doubt.

It is also important that proper care and checks are institutionalized when buying used furniture. Concentrated efforts are required to reduce infestation, it will require patience and time to eliminate these crawlers from home.

You can contact an agency to do pest control for better and higher protection in future.

  1. Mouahid, Gabriel, et al. “Host‐parasite life‐histories of the diurnal vs. nocturnal chronotypes of Schistosoma mansoni: adaptive significance.” Tropical Medicine & International Health 24.6 (2019): 692-700. ↩︎
  2. Cavalli-Sforza, L. Luca, and Marcus W. Feldman. “The application of molecular genetic approaches to the study of human evolution.” Nature genetics 33.Suppl 3 (2003): 266-275. ↩︎
  3. Cohen, Randy W., Danielle A. Mahoney, and Huong D. Can. “Possible regulation of feeding behavior in cockroach nymphs by the neurotransmitter octopamine.” Journal of insect behavior 15 (2002): 37-50. ↩︎
  4. Harraca, Vincent, Camilla Ryne, and Rickard Ignell. “Nymphs of the common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) produce anti-aphrodisiac defence against conspecific males.” BMC biology 8.1 (2010): 1-7. ↩︎
  5. Pereira, R. M., et al. “Potential population growth and harmful effects on humans from bed bug populations exposed to different feeding regimes.” Medical and Veterinary Entomology 27.2 (2013): 148-155. ↩︎
  6. Bernardeschi, Celine, et al. “Bed bug infestation.” BMJ 346 (2013). ↩︎
  7. Vaidyanathan, Rajeev, and Mark F. Feldlaufer. “Bed bug detection: current technologies and future directions.” The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene 88.4 (2013): 619. ↩︎
  8. Sampson, Hugh A. “Anaphylaxis and emergency treatment.” Pediatrics 111.Supplement_3 (2003): 1601-1608. ↩︎

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