Explore bed bugs' characteristics and life cycle and learn about some insects that are mistaken for bed bugs. This guide will help you identify these pests and keep them out of your home.
Bed bugs are a common household pest that can be difficult to eliminate. They invade our homes, bite us in our sleep, and are generally just a huge pain. You know what bed bugs look like, or do you? It turns out that there are many insects that look strikingly similar to bed bugs but aren't bed bugs at all.
The article will look at some of these imposters and discuss what makes them different from real bed bugs. It's crucial to know the differences to treat an infestation properly.
But, before we move on to identify the pseudo bed bugs, let's learn about the real ones.
Characteristics of Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are small, parasitic insects that host on the blood of humans and animals. They are reddish-brown in color, oval in shape, and flat. Adults are about 4 to 5 mm (0.15" to 0.19") long while nymphs (immature bed bugs) are about 2 to 3 mm (0.07" to 0.11").
These blood-sucking insects belong to the family of Cimicidae and the Cimex genus. Bed bugs are known to have existed since 400 BC, and they can be dated back to ancient Rome and Greece.
They are found in humid, dark places like mattresses and upholstered furniture. Bed bugs are most common in homes, hotels, and other places where people sleep. They gather in areas with a lot of human activity, such as beds and couches.
Here are the characteristics of bed bugs so you can easily identify them:
- Bed bugs are small, flat insects with a distinct reddish-brown color.
- They have six legs and a pair of antennae and are covered in small hairs. Bed bugs can live for several months without a blood meal.
- These bugs do not transmit disease, but they can cause itchy red welts on the skin due to their bites. Many people also experience other symptoms, such as sleep disruption and fatigue.
- You can call them pros at blood-sucking as they suck blood without even you knowing. They do it with their needle-like mouthparts that go through your skin, draw blood, and inject salivary proteins to numb the skin.
- They don't have wings, so they can't fly. But they make up for it by running fast.
- The good news is that they don't transmit diseases because, unlike ticks and fleas, they can't do so. However, the bad news is that their bites can be itchy and uncomfortable.
- Bed bugs are resilient and can live without a blood meal for several months. Plus, they can tolerate freezing point temperatures to very hot temperatures, meaning they can be a problem in any climate.
- Bed bugs become most active during the night when they come out to feed on their victims.
- Bed bugs are systematic with their feeding and have patterns. When they find a host, they feed on them 5 to 10 times on the same or adjacent spot. They continue with the pattern until they find a new host.
- Bed bugs can ingest seven times their weight in blood. This would be equivalent to an average male human holding 120 gallons (545 liters) of liquid in his stomach!
- The female bed bug can lay anywhere from 1 to 5 eggs per day and 200 to 500 in her lifetime. The eggs are clear and about the size of a speck of dust. They are usually found in cracks or crevices near the sleeping area.
- The nymphs or baby bed bugs hatch in 6 to 10 days. They are translucent and have a reddish color. They shed their skin or molt five times before they become adults. Plus, they must have a blood meal before each molt.
Now that you know what bed bugs look like and their characteristics, let's move on to the imposters.
Life Cycle of Bed Bugs
In this particular segment, you will learn about the life cycle of bed bugs. Bed bugs go through a process of metamorphosis, which consists of the following life cycle stages:
The initial stage in the life cycle of a bed bug is the egg stage. Bed bug eggs are tiny, white, and oval-shaped. An adult female bed bug lays about 500 eggs in her lifetime. The eggs are laid in clusters of 10-50, and they hatch within one or two weeks. The eggs are often found in cracks and crevices, mattress seams, and near baseboards.
The second stage in the life cycle of a bed bug is the nymph stage. Nymphs are immature bed bugs that resemble adult bed bugs. The nymphs go through 5 molts before racing maturity, which means there are five nymph stages. These are:
Nymph Stage 1
The first nymph stage is when the bed bug hatches from its egg. At this point, the bed bug is translucent, and it isn't easy to see. They usually measure up to 1.5 mm (0.05") and feed on mammals till they become adults.
Nymph Stage 2
The second nymph stage is when the bed bug reaches 2 mm (0.07") in size and becomes red.
Nymph Stage 3
By the third stage, the nymph molts and reaches 2.5 mm (0.09") in size and becomes darker in color. They start to appear like adults but are smaller.
Nymph Stage 4
The fourth nymph stage is when the bed bug reaches 3 mm (0.11") in size and becomes brown with a more rounded shape. They look like adults but are unable to reproduce.
Nymph Stage 5
The fifth and final nymph stage is when the bed bug reaches the size of 4 mm (0.15"). At this point, the bed bug is brown with a more oval-shaped body.
The last stage of a bed bug's life cycle is the adult stage. Adult bed bugs are 4 to 5 mm (0.11" to 0.19") in size and brown with an oval-shaped body. They develop six legs and two antennae. An adult bed bug typically lives for four to six months.
Bugs that Look Like Bed Bugs
This segment will discuss some of the bugs commonly mistaken for bed bugs. You'll learn about the characteristics of these bugs and how to identify them. These are:
The swallow bug is a small species of insect that resembles a bed bug. They are reddish-brown in color and oval-shaped, with two pairs of wings and six legs. Their name comes from their primary host, swallow birds, and they also feed on martins and house wrens. However, in the absence of the primary hosts, they can also feed on humans. The swallow bug is similar to a bed bug in many ways, and they come closest to any other bug on the list.
It can be mistaken for a bed bug because of its shape and color and its ability to bite humans. However, a few key differences distinguish the swallow bug from a bed bug. Swallow bugs have wings and can fly, whereas bed bugs cannot. They also have a proboscis, a long, thin tube-like mouthpiece to pierce the skin and suck blood.
Cockroach Nymphs (Baby cockroaches)
Cockroach eggs hatch into nymphs, which look very similar to bed bugs. The baby cockroaches are oval-shaped and reddish or brown. They have a flat body and small heads with long antennae. Adding to that, the nymphs don't have developed wings, and they are just 12.7 mm (0.5") which further makes them look like bed bugs. They are fast runners and can hide in small cracks and crevices.
Unlike bed bugs, cockroach nymphs feed on organic matter and can be found in damp locations. Roach nymphs are often found in kitchens or bathrooms and can infest homes quickly. You will see them munching on food particles, crumbs, and decaying matter. If you have a cockroach infestation, you will likely see these nymphs before you see the adult cockroaches. These roach nymphs can bite you, but the chances are very rare.
Bat bugs are most commonly mistaken for bed bugs due to their uncanny similarity. They are very similar to bed bugs in appearance. The main difference is that bat bugs have longer antennae and shorter hind legs. They are oval in shape, flat, and reddish-brown. Like bed bugs, they feed on blood and are found in areas where bats roost, such as attics or barns.
Bat bugs have underdeveloped wing pads and hence can't fly. They lack eyespots and have longer antennae than bed bugs. The adult bat bug can grow about 3.5 to 5 mm (0.13" to 0.19") in length. To give you a perspective, they are the size of an apple seed. They can also hitch a ride and move into homes, where they can cause problems for homeowners.
Booklice are another common imposter to bed bugs. They are famous by many other names, such as Paperlice, Barklice, or Psocid. These are tiny insects that measure 1 to 3 mm (0.039" to 0.11") in length. They have a pale brown or gray color and have a small body with long antennae. Although they look similar to bed bugs, booklice are much smaller and have a different body structure. Their heads aren't attached to the bodies, plus booklice can fly.
They feed on organic matter like bed bugs and don't bite humans or animals. You can find them in areas with high humidity, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms. They are often found near books, hence the name booklice. Moreover, they are prone to dehydration and require high humidity and damp locations.
Fleas are small, wingless insects that are reddish-brown. They have a hard shell, and their bodies are flattened from side to side. Their head is attached to the body, and they have long hind legs that they use for jumping. Fleas are capable of jumping up to 200 times their body length, which is about 18 cm (7") and horizontally 33 cm (13"). Adult fleas are parasites that thrive on the blood of animals and humans.
Although fleas look like bed bugs, there are several key differences. For starters, fleas can jump, whereas bed bugs cannot. What's more, fleas have a hard shell while bed bugs do not. Moreover, unlike bed bugs, they can be a vessel and transmit various diseases. These diseases include the plague, murine typhus, and tapeworms.
Next on the list, we have spider beetles, they are mistaken for bed bugs because of their oval body shape. They are brown or reddish-brown and have a small head. Spider beetles have long antennae, and their whole body is covered with Bristled hair. One fact that distinguishes them from bed bugs is that they can fly.
The good news is that these beetles don't feed on blood, and thus they don't bite humans. Instead, they feed on grains, cereals, and other stored food items. These insects can grow up to about 1.5 to 3.5 mm (0.059" to 0.3") long, making them much smaller than bed bugs. They can be found in numerous locations inside the home, including cupboards, pantries, and pet food containers.
Mites are small arthropods that are related to spiders and ticks. They range in size from 0.1 to 6 mm (0.003" to 0.23"). Mites have a hard exterior shell and feed on plants, insects, and humans. They are often found in beds, fabric, and clothing. Most mites live on animals and also feed on decaying organic matter.
Mites can cause several skin problems, such as rashes, itching, and irritation. They are slightly similar to bed bugs in appearance, but their hard shell can distinguish them. Mites also do not feed on blood but on skin, hair, and other debris that collect in the home.
Ticks are vectors of several diseases that look very similar to bed bugs. They are also called blood-sucking parasites that feed on the blood of other animals or humans. Ticks are small arachnids with a hard shell and four pairs of legs. These bugs come in different shapes and sizes, but the most common ones are the deer tick and the dog tick.
Ticks can usually be found in wooded areas or grassy fields. They attach themselves to their host and then insert their mouthparts into the skin. Ticks can transmit diseases like Lyme disease, spotted fever, and tularemia. Despite their resemblance to bed bugs, there are key differences between ticks and bed bugs. Ticks have a hard outer shell, while bed bugs do not. Ticks attach themselves to their host and can be vectors of diseases while bed bugs are not.
Carpet beetles have a unique orange or red color pattern with white and yellow spots. They are oval and have a pair of short antennae. Carpet beetles feed on fabric and fabrics made of natural fibers. Moreover, carpet beetles can fly and are more active in the daytime (excluding the larval stage). This means you'll likely see them running around during the day, unlike bed bugs which are more active at night.
Carpet beetle larvae are long, thin, and brown. They have a hairy appearance and look like miniature bed bugs. Carpet beetles don't bite people or suck their blood; however, they can cause damage to the clothes and fabrics in your home. They can also make holes in books, but that doesn't mean they feed on them. Overall, they resemble bed bugs and often go unnoticed because of their tiny size.
Head lice are mini insects that live on the scalp and feed on human blood. They are smaller than bed bugs but are somewhat similar in appearance. Head lice are brown or reddish-brown and have six legs, and they have a red line running along their back. They are wingless, and their bodies are elongated and flattened from side to side. Adults are about 2-3 mm long and 0.5 mm wide (0.08" - 0.12").
They cannot fly or jump, but they can crawl quickly. Head lice are most commonly found on the scalp, behind the ears, and on the neck. They are spread through contact with clothing, hats, or other personal items that have been in contact with an infected person. Now, they are a nuisance, but they are not known to transmit diseases.
What Else Could Be Biting You at Night?
If you feel like you're being bitten at night but can't seem to find any bed bugs, there are other potential culprits. Here are some other bugs that may be to blame:
Mosquitoes: Mosquitoes are small insects known for biting and feeding on human blood. They can be differentiated from bed bugs by their long, thin legs and wings. Mosquitoes usually attack you at dawn or night and leave a reddish bump on the skin.
Fleas: Fleas are another common insect that feeds on blood and can be found in many different environments, including grassy areas, woods, and even indoors. They are characterized by their ability to jump several feet at a time and can spread disease through bites. You may be able to identify fleas by the tiny, dark spots that they leave on your skin after biting.
Bat Bugs: Like bed bugs, bat bugs are small insects that feed on human blood. So, it's highly likely that they are biting you instead of bed bugs. However, the chances of bat bugs biting you are rare but never rule them out.
Mites: These tiny insects feed on plants and animals and can also be found in your bedding, upholstery, and clothing. Mites can be annoying and cause skin irritation but are not known to transmit disease. If you see itchy, capsule-shaped bites in the morning, it's all thanks to mites.
How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs?
There's no simple answer to this query because it depends on several factors. Different treatments may be necessary, from the severity of the infestation to the number of bugs and the environment. However, some of the most common techniques include using chemicals, vacuuming, and laundering your bedding.
If you suspect that you have a bed bug infestation, the first step is to identify the bugs and confirm that they are, in fact, bed bugs. This can typically be done by looking for the following signs and symptoms:
- Live or dead bed bugs and skins on your bedding, mattress, or other surfaces.
- Small bloodstains on your sheets or mattress.
- There is an intense, musty smell in the area where you sleep.
Once you've confirmed that you have bed bugs, the next step is to treat them. The most common method is to use chemicals such as pesticides, but there is also a range of non-chemical methods that you can try. These include vacuuming and laundering your bedding.
If you decide to use chemicals, it's important to read the instructions carefully and follow them to the letter. You should consider getting a professional pest control expert, as they will have access to more powerful and effective chemicals. Whatever method you use, remain persistent and consistent with your treatment to ensure that the bed bugs are fully eradicated.