Written by: A O’Neill, Licensed Pest Control Technician
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Is it a flea? Is it a cockroach? Or is it a dreaded bed bug? Finding a bug or an infestation of any kind of pest in your home can be a cause for concern, especially if you think it might be bed bugs.
There are lots of bugs that look like bed bugs, so you need to be sure which insect it is so you can get a proper treatment plan together.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been called out to treat a particular pest, only to find it’s actually bed bugs! And this is often the case throughout the pest control industry, as reported in the following:
84% of pest control professionals were initially contacted about a different type of pest before identifying them as bed bugs. The majority of these contacts (71%) were about fleas, followed by cockroaches (28%).Pestworld.org
So, first, let’s look at how to identify a bed bug.
How To Tell If It’s A Bed Bug
How do you know it’s bed bugs and not some other bug? Well, bed bugs are:
- Small and oval-shaped with a flat body when unfed
- Reddish-brown in color
- They do not fly or jump.
- The adults grow to around 5 mm and are similar in shape and size to an apple seed.
- They bite and feed solely on blood for survival
- Signs of a bed bug infestation are found on the mattress and bed initially
- They prefer to hide during the day and come out to feed when you’re asleep at night, which can it make it difficult to properly identify them
I’ve also been called to lots of homes where the homeowner thinks they’ve got bed bugs and thankfully, it’s turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.
But, as I said above, there have been times when it’s turned out to be bed bugs and not the pest the homeowner thought it was!
Correct identification is key, and we have over 65 pictures showing you what bed bugs look like in all life stages.
Bed Bug Look-Alikes
The following is a list of 10 look-alike bugs that are often mistaken for bed bugs:
1. Bat Bug (Cimex pilosellus)
Color: Beige or dark brown
Size: 3-5 mm
Appearance: Easily mistaken for bed bugs as they are tiny, oval-shaped ectoparasites that appear flattened between feedings, the same as their close relative, the bed bug.
Habitat: Bat bugs are found close to their primary hosts, bats. Bats are found in various dark places inside buildings, such as the eaves, attic, chimney, and cellar.
Bat bugs can be seen in homes, but this is mainly due to the host bats leaving the property so the bat bugs look for an alternative food source, such as human blood.
Location/Region: Midwest USA and Canada. Native to North America.
Bat Bug Vs Bed Bug – Differences/Similarities: Bat bugs are almost identical in appearance to bed bugs, and it often takes a microscope or magnifying glass to spot the main difference, which is the bat bug has longer hairs on the thorax than the bed bug.
The back legs of the bat bug are also wider than the back legs of the bed bug.
It is highly recommended to use a trained pest control company to differentiate between the two bugs.
Another difference between bat bugs and bed bugs is their habitat and diet. Bed bugs need human blood to grow and reproduce and stay close to the bed area where their feeding source sleeps.
Bat bugs feed primarily on bat blood but can be found in our living areas, often on the ceiling, if they have to look for a different food source when bats have left or been removed from the property.
Bites to people occur mainly in the spring and late summer towards the beginning of autumn because of the bats returning or migrating.
The good news is that, unlike bed bugs, bat bugs cannot live on human blood and must have the blood of their primary host to be able to develop and reproduce, without which they will eventually die.
Pest control methods: It is easier to get rid of bat bugs than bed bugs. It is illegal in many areas to kill bats, so contact a reputable pest control expert and find out what the correct requirements are.
When the bats have been removed all access points must be sealed to prevent any bats from re-entering. A pest control company should be used to treat the harborage areas and eliminate the bat bugs.
Bed bug control differs from bat bug control. It can be extensive and requires interrupting the reproductive cycle over a period of time as well as using various methods such as heat treatment and insecticide treatments.
2. Swallow Bug (Oeciacus vicarius)
Color: Greyish brown
Size: 4 mm approx.
Appearance: The swallow bug looks almost identical to the bed bug. They are wingless, with the same oval-shaped flattened body and long 4-segmented antennae.
Habitat: Swallow bugs are commonly found in the nests of barn and cliff swallows and are found in buildings such as hotels and homes or where swallows nest.
Swallow bugs will bite humans when their primary food source, swallows, are no longer around due to their nests being removed or destroyed.
Location/Region: Continental USA and Canada.
Swallow Bug Vs Bed Bug – differences/similarities: The swallow bug looks similar to a bed bug in shape but is slightly smaller in size. But a key difference is that the swallow bug has long, fine hairs covering its body.
The other distinguishing feature is its antennae, where the two segments at the end are the same length.
Swallow bugs can bite us and this occurs mainly in the spring, late summer, and early autumn due to the swallows returning or migrating.
As with bat bugs, swallow bugs also cannot live on human blood and can only develop and reproduce on the blood of their primary host. Again, without this to sustain them, they will eventually die.
Pest control methods: Swallows are federally protected and it is a violation of federal law to try and remove them when they are nesting and raising their young. Once the nesting season is over, the nests can be removed (always check your local laws).
Contact a reputable and licensed PMP (pest management professional) to treat the swallow bugs and eliminate the infestation.
Bird proofing the area will prevent the swallows from being able to return and nest again.
3. Head Lice (Pediculus humanus capitis)
Color: Clear when hatched and when fed they are reddish-brown
Size: Less than 1/8″ in length
Appearance: Wingless, oblong bodies about the size of a sesame seed. They have 6 legs with claw-like features so they can attach to the hair.
Habitat: Head lice are human parasites, so they live on our hair and scalp and can only survive by feeding on our blood. They are mainly found at the hairline at the back of the neck, and around and behind the ears.
A head louse will generally die of starvation in approximately 24 hours if it becomes detached from its host.
Location/Region: Worldwide, especially in school-age children.
Head Louce Vs Bed Bug – differences/similarities: Both bed bugs and head lice need human blood to survive.
People often ask, “Can bed bugs live in your hair and bite your scalp?” Although bed bugs also have 6 legs, they are not equipped to cling to hair. Although they could bite your scalp, they prefer hair-free skin to feed on.
Head lice live exclusively on humans, whereas bed bugs will only latch onto humans during feeding and crawl back to their harborage areas straight after.
Pest control methods: Specialist shampoos and combs to remove the nits (eggs) and live lice.
4. Tick (Family Ixodidae – covers various ticks)
Color: Reddish-brown and become darker after feeding
Size: 3.5 mm – 15 mm, 1/8″ to 1/2″ when engorged, depending on the species of tick
Appearance: Small with oval bodies and 8 legs.
Habitat: Ticks live in and near wooded areas and in tall grass, shrubs, and leaves. They also live in areas where vegetation grows.
Ticks climb onto their host (person or animal) as they brush past them when walking through grass and shrub areas.
The brown dog tick can be found in homes because of its feeding host, the dog, so as well as being found on the dog, they will also be near the dog’s bedding, in between floorboards, and in small crevices nearby.
Location/Region: Certain species are found only in the USA, but the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) is found globally.
Tick Vs Bed Bug – differences/similarities: Both ticks and bed bugs feed on blood to survive. Ticks, like bed bugs, do not fly or jump. They can be mistaken for bed bugs as they have similarly shaped bodies, and are flat when unfed.
They also resemble bed bugs in size but differ in that they have 8 legs and no antennae, whereas bed bugs have 6 legs and antennae. Ticks are in fact arachnids, like spiders, mites, and scorpions.
Feeding is different between ticks and bed bugs, ticks will attach themselves to their host and burrow their head into the skin until they have finished taking a blood meal.
Ticks are known to spread diseases, such as Lyme disease, whereas there is no evidence of bed bugs doing so.
Pest control methods: A pest control company will come up with a tick control plan according to your personal situation. This can include, for example, an inspection both inside and outside of your home; exposing outside areas where ticks live to sunlight for moisture reduction.
Check and groom your pets (dogs and cats) on a regular basis as well as frequently wash all pet bedding.
5. Carpet Beetle (Varied carpet beetle – Anthrenus verbasci L.)
Color: Ranges in color from black to spots or mottled patterns of yellow, white, orange
Size: Adults are 1/16″ – 1/8″ (up to 3.2 mm)
Appearance: Oval-shaped with tiny scales.
Habitat: They can fly into homes through open windows and will then feed on items of furniture and clothing. They can cause significant damage if an infestation is left for too long.
Carpet Beetle Vs Bed Bug – differences/similarities: Carpet beetles have wings so they can fly. Although bed bugs have wing pads, they are unable to fly.
Carpet beetles are often mistaken for bed bugs as they can look similar.
They do not feed on blood like bed bugs do, as they prefer to eat fabrics such as carpet, wool, and upholstered furniture.
Pest control methods: Although carpet beetles are not dangerous, if left, they will cause a lot of damage to clothes and furniture. People can have an allergic reaction to the hairs/bristles on the larvae which can cause red bumps on your skin.
All items containing natural materials will need examining and sanitizing if possible. Infested food needs to be discarded. The pest control technician will then probably apply a residual insecticide for the treatment process.
6. Flea (order: Siphonaptera)
Color: Dark-reddish brown
Size: 1/8″ long (1-3 mm)
Appearance: Fleas are tiny, wingless, flat insects with 6 long legs and piercing mouthparts. They are covered with microscopic hairs that enable them to move easily through animal fur.
Habitat: Fleas live in the fur of their host (mainly cat or dog) but will feed on the blood of most animals and even humans.
Location/Region: Worldwide, but especially thrive in warmer climates.
Flea Vs Bed Bug – differences/similarities: Fleas differ from bed bugs in that they live in the fur of animals, whereas bed bugs crawl to a person to feed and then crawl back to their hiding place.
However, fleas will take a blood meal from a human also, and if you’ve experienced a flea bite then you know it’s very itchy.
One of the key differences between bed bugs and fleas is their shapes. Bed bugs are oval-shaped and resemble an apple seed. They are unable to jump so crawl to find a host. Fleas are smaller and flatter but have long, powerful legs for jumping.
Pest control methods: Fleas can be difficult to get rid of once an infestation takes hold, so it’s important to treat your animals with veterinarian-recommended products.
A pest control company can treat your home and this usually includes applying a residual insecticide in combination with an insect growth regulator.
Regular vacuuming will be necessary to remove flea larvae from carpets and furniture.
7. Cockroach (German) Blattella germanica (Linnaeus)
Color: The German cockroach is a light brown to tan color when fully developed, with two dark parallel stripes on its back.
Size: 5/8″ (1.59cm) but other species can grow much larger
Appearance: Cockroaches are oval-shaped with small heads, flat bodies, and 6 legs.
Habitat: Cockroaches like warm, dark, moist areas, so the kitchen and bathroom are their favorite places as they are close to food and water supplies.
German cockroaches are the most common household insect in the US and find their way into homes via such things as grocery bags, infested equipment, and boxes.
They are more active at night when they come out in search of food.
Cockroach Vs Bed Bug – differences/similarities: When they are nymphs, they are often mistaken for bed bugs as they are similar in size and color.
Cockroaches are not interested in feeding on our blood, unlike bed bugs.
Another difference is the length of the antennae, which is longer than a bed bug’s antennae. Bed bugs also have eyes that are far more prominent.
Pest control methods: Getting rid of this nuisance pest can be difficult, but to prevent them from infesting your home or business, the kitchen should be kept clean by wiping up spills and picking up dropped food.
A pest professional will usually use a combination of treatment methods, such as gel bait stations, dusts, and sprays.
8. Book Lice (Psocids) (Psocoptera)
Color: Translucent white to light brown
Size: Extremely tiny 1 mm to 1.5 mm in length
Appearance: Booklice have 3 body segments, which include an elongated body. They have 6 legs, and the head has mouth-chewing parts and two long antennae.
Habitat: Indoors, they live in damp, warm areas such as old window frames, moldy foods, and, of course, inside books and stacked paper.
Book Louse Vs Bed Bug – differences/similarities: Sometimes booklice are mistaken for bed bug nymphs due to the similarity in color and size.
Booklice do not bite or feed on animal or human blood.
Pest control methods: Booklice are easy to get rid of by wiping away mold and sealing moisture-prone areas. Throw away any infested food. Reduce the humidity in your home to try to stop any mold growth and eliminate their food source.
If you have a heavy booklice infestation, then a professional pest control company will be needed that can apply an insecticidal spray treatment.
9. Spider Beetle (Family: Ptinidae)
Color: Shiny red-brown to black
Size: 3-4 mm (3/16″) in length
Appearance: Spider beetles have rounded-shaped abdomens. They are smaller than bed bugs, have long legs and 2 long antennae, and look like a spider when you look down on them.
Some species differ in color. For example, the American spider beetle (pictured above) has yellow-colored hairs covering its head, thorax, legs, and antennae.
Habitat: They eat cereals, grains, dried fruit, and anything that is not stored in airtight containers. They like to lay their eggs in moist food products.
Spider Beetle Vs Bed Bug – differences/similarities: Can be mistaken for bed bugs due to the resemblance in color and shape.
Unlike bed bugs, spider beetles do not bite or feed on humans.
They are similar to bed bugs as they are nocturnal and feed at night and hide in dark cracks and crevices close to their food source during the day.
Pest control methods: Everything they have infested needs to be thrown away. This will also include emptying the pantry and vacuuming the shelves. All new food items will need to be stored in containers to keep them out.
Also, remove any rodent and bird nests from inside and near your home as spider beetles can be found looking for food in these.
As they are nocturnal, you may not realize how large the infestation has become but a pest control company can get rid of them by applying an insecticide.
10. Bugs in Bedding – House Dust Mites (Family: Pyroglyphidae)
Color: Under the microscope, they are a clear-white color.
Size: 0.1-0.5 mm
Appearance: House dust mites are microscopic arthropods that have hair on their round-shaped bodies and 8 legs (they are related to spiders and ticks).
Habitat: These mites live in your mattress, pillows, comforter, carpets, couches, and soft toys, as well as lots of other areas.
Dust mites thrive in high-humidity areas, and population levels increase in the spring, summer, and fall (autumn).
Dust Mite Vs Bed Bug – Differences/Similarities: Firstly, you can see bed bugs even though they are small, but you’d need a microscope to see dust mites because they are so tiny and not visible to the naked eye.
Secondly, as you know, bed bugs bite you and feed on your blood. Dust mites DO NOT BITE YOU. They feed on household dust and flakes of dead skin from people and pets.
However, just like bed bugs, dust mites are found on your bed and in your bedding and can cause an allergic reaction such as sneezing and a runny nose, but they can also cause a rash.
A dust mite rash can be mistaken for bed bug bites as it can produce a red, itchy, raised bite-like rash. It differs from a bed bug bite because it’s caused by a protein in dust mite feces and dead body parts that build up in the dust in our homes, which, when it becomes airborne, can cause your body to react when you breathe it in.
Pest control methods: Pest control companies don’t really carry out dust mite treatments, but they can give advice on how to deal with them. However, there are several measures you can take to reduce your exposure to them, such as keeping humidity levels in your home below 55%.
Although it’s impossible to remove all the dust in your home, allergy experts recommend trying to keep it as dust-free as possible.
Wash all bedding regularly at 60 degrees Celsius. You might want to consider dust mite bedding such as a mattress encasement and pillow protectors, which protect against both bed bugs and dust mites.
Read about mattress encasements for bed bugs and dust mites here, including how to choose the best one and which one I use as a pest management professional.
Have You Got Bugs That Look Similar to Bed Bugs, or Is It Bed Bugs?
So you have looked through the above list of bugs that look like bed bugs and you’re confident the pest in your home is or is not bed bugs…now what?
If you’ve found evidence of bed bugs and the infestation is in its early stages, then you can try do-it-yourself bed bug removal. Our guide gives you step-by-step instructions on how to do this.
However, the DIY method might not be for you, and you want a pest management professional that is specialized in treating bed bugs to eliminate them for you, which is always the recommended course of action to take.
On the other hand, you still might be unsure of the identity of the bugs in your home, so again, it would be best to get a pest control professional to take a look. After all, you want to be sure the correct treatments are being used to eliminate them.
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