So you found a bug on your mattress, or perhaps somewhere else in your home. You’ve seen bed bugs on the news, heard horror stories from your friends or family, and the sight of a little brown bug sounds the alarms in your head. You have bed bugs!
Hold on, though — before you torch the apartment and begin life anew, it’s a good idea to confirm your suspicions. Some pest control companies estimate that up to 80% of their bed bug calls are from people who don’t actually have bed bugs. Every type of pest requires a different type of treatment, so rushed efforts against the wrong species may just be a waste of time and money. You’ll want to learn how to identify bed bugs (and how to tell them apart from similar pests) so that you know whether or not to treat for bed bugs.
Common Imposter Bugs
Arguably the common pest most visually like a bed bug is the brown carpet beetle. These aren’t common in the US, but they are widespread in Europe. They are also called “vodka beetles” as a reference to their scientific name, Attagenus Smirnovi.
Unlike bed bugs, carpet beetles do not feed on blood. Instead, their meal of choice is – you guessed it – carpet. They are also known to dine on skin, fur, and wool, all of which contain the fibers and other nutrients they are looking for. They are only about half the size of an adult bed bug, and have thicker antennae.
A drugstore beetle. Photo source: Kamran Iftikhar.
Another tiny lookalike beetle is the drugstore beetle, also known as the bread beetle or biscuit beetle. These are a bit larger than the brown carpet beetle, but still not as large as the average adult bed bug. They also do not bite people — drugstore beetles got their names by infesting stocking room bags of grains, bread, and other food. They may be found feeding on hair or leather in your bedroom or living room.
A cigarette beetle. Photo credit: CSIRO.
Similar to the drugstore beetle in appearance and stature is the cigarette beetle, also known as the cigar beetle or tobacco beetle. These little brown pests can be found feeding in cigarette packets, as well as loose tobacco or stored bales. Even if you don’t smoke, you might still find them hunting for cereal, dried fruit, or flour.
A German cockroach.
The bed bug look-alike you are most likely to find in the US is probably the German cockroach. While the adults look almost nothing like bed bugs, their smaller and rounder nymph form is a bit closer to the suspect. In either case, they are so common throughout the country that their appearance near a bed raises a lot of false alarms. This is why it’s so important to learn what bed bugs look like, and how to tell them apart from other common bugs.
Identifying Bed Bugs
An adult bed bug is tan or brown, but can appear more red after they’ve fed. They average about 5 mm long as an adult — a little larger than the beetles shown above, but smaller than a German roach. They are flat-bodied and are unable to jump or fly, a dead giveaway of many common imposters.
You aren’t likely to find bed bugs in your kitchen, bathroom, or garage, since they aren’t as interested in pet food, wood, or hair as many other household pests are. Bed bugs feed exclusively on blood, and will prefer human hosts over any others. That means you will almost never find them outside of a bedroom or living room, unless they are in the process of travelling from one host to another.
Still not sure if the bug you spotted is a bed bug or not? Try taking a clear picture of the bug and posting it on our forum. Our resident bed bug experts or local pest control operators can help you identify the species you’re dealing with. That way, you are one step closer to starting the right treatment process.