Bed bugs are one of the most frustrating parasites. They reproduce quickly, can survive for months without food in an empty house, and hide inside the smallest cracks and crevices. Some people don’t even react to their bites, so might not even realize they have bed bugs until the infestation reaches dramatic proportions.
Whether you feel bed bugs crawling on you depends how sensitive you are, and where on your body it is crawling. But because they’re so small and light, the sensation isn’t strong enough to wake you up from sleep.
We’re going to address several frequently asked questions about bed bugs. Are they big enough to see with the naked eye? Can you feel them biting or walking on you? Do they ever crawl on you during the daytime? And finally, if you have bite marks but no bed bugs, what does this mean?
Can You See Bed Bugs?
One of the most popular and widely-spread misconceptions about bed bugs is that they are too small to see with the naked eye. It’s possible that people are confusing bed bugs with mites, such as dust mites, which often require a microscope to view.
This rumor probably began because bed bugs are experts at hiding in tiny gaps. Coupled with this, they usually only come out at night. So unless you’re specifically looking for them, you likely won’t notice them in your home – especially if the infestation size is small.
The truth is that bed bugs, nymphs, and eggs are all visible to the naked eye.
Adult bed bugs, in particular, are very easy to see. They’re around 4-6mm in length, a dark mahogany color, and round with visible legs and antennae. You can even see the segmentation on their bodies if you look closely. Many people compare adult bed bugs with apple seeds. They’re roughly the same shape and color, though apple seeds tend to be very slightly bigger.
Bed bug nymphs (juveniles) are slightly harder to spot, and easier to miss. They are much smaller, and lighter in color. Their bodies are translucent and pale, eventually turning brown as they age.
Their eggs are even harder to see. Bed bug eggs are 1mm long, and clear to white in color. To make matters worse, they’re often laid in the smallest, most secluded cracks and crevices in the home.
Can You Feel Bed Bugs Walking on You?
So, because bed bugs are big enough to spot with the naked eye, does that mean that you can feel them crawling on your skin?
Bed bugs are very light in weight. If you’ve ever experienced an ant crawling on you, you already know roughly what it feels like. It’s quite a subjective experience, and whether or not you’ll feel a bed bug on you depends on a few different factors.
- Awake vs. asleep. If you’re awake, you might feel a bed bug on you. However, the sensation is so light that it almost definitely won’t wake you from sleep. Bed bugs are most active at night because that’s when you lie still and they have the lowest chance of being disturbed.
- Your skin’s sensitivity. Some people have more sensitive skin than others, and experience sensations more strongly. For example, according to the Journal of Gerontology, older people are less susceptible to light touch than younger people.
- Where the bed bug is living. Certain areas of the skin are more sensitive than others. The palms of your hands, for example, are more sensitive than your back. If a bed bug were to crawl on the palm of your hand, you’ve got a higher chance of feeling it. It can also be easier to notice the sensation if the bug is walking through hairs – for example, on your arms or legs.
So, all in all, it’s possible to feel a bed bug on your skin. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you always will.
Can You Feel Bed Bugs Bite?
For the most part, no, you will not feel a bed bug’s bite. Their mouthparts are very small, and they don’t pierce the skin deeply. There’s no need for them to, as they drink blood from the capillaries that are just underneath the skin’s surface. The wound left by a bite is smaller than a pinhead.
Not only that, but bed bugs have an interesting trick up their sleeves that make it even less likely for you to feel a bite. Bed bug saliva contains a chemical with anesthetic (numbing) properties.
Why? For the simple reason that if you don’t feel the bite, you won’t disturb the bed bug. It’s in their best interest for you to be unaware of their presence.
Some people do claim that they have felt a bed bug biting them on occasion. It’s true that you might if you’re awake. However, it’s not likely. Most people are bitten while sleeping, as that’s when the bugs are most active.
Do Bed Bugs Crawl on You During the Day?
Some people claim that bed bugs are deathly afraid of the light, and will only come out in darkness. For that reason, you won’t find bed bugs on you during the day. But how true is this?
This is a half-truth. It is true that bed bugs are more active at night than during the day. However, this isn’t due to a fear of light. It’s because bed bugs, over the years, have come to associate darkness with feeding. At night time, humans are more likely to stay still than during the day. So, most bugs choose night time to come out and feed.
That being said, not all bed bugs live in bedrooms.
- If you work from home and spend several hours per day in an office, your bed bugs may choose to bite you while you’re at work.
- If you spend a lot of time sitting on your couch, for example when watching TV, you may be at risk then. A bed bug living in your couch may take the opportunity to feed when you’re there, even if it’s during the day.
Bed bugs prefer the darkness, but only because there’s a lower chance that their feed will be disturbed at night. If a bed bug gets hungry enough, any light won’t deter them from seeking a meal. So, it is possible for bed bugs to crawl on you in the daytime.
Do Bed Bugs Ever Bite Just Once?
If you’ve woken up with a mark that looks like an insect bite, you’re probably keen to figure out whether bed bugs are the cause. But do bed bugs ever leave just one bite mark?
You’ve probably heard that bed bugs always bite in groups of three, or in lines. While it’s possible, they don’t always bite in groups. Bed bugs only come out to feed every five to seven days, and each bed bug only takes one meal at a time.
This means that if you only have a few bed bugs, it is possible to get bitten just once. The only reason that one bed bug would bite multiple times is if:
- they get dislodged in the middle of a feed, or
- they struggle to find a good capillary to feed from.
What do bed bug bites look like? Unhelpfully, they can look and feel different for different people. This is because it isn’t the bites themselves that cause bumps and redness. The reaction comes from the skin’s sensitivity to bed bugs’ saliva.
Some people develop large, painful welts, whereas others only develop small red bumps. According to a study in Medical and Veterinary Entomology, 20% of the population don’t react to bed bug bites at all.
I Can’t Find Bed Bugs But Have Bites
Bite marks don’t necessarily mean that you have bed bugs. Many other insects and parasites can cause similar looking bites. Examples include the following:
- Body lice
- Itch mites (scabies)
So, how can you tell if bed bugs are your problem? The bugs themselves are sneaky and hide in tiny cracks and crevices. So, even if you can’t find any bugs, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
Instead, look for fecal spotting (bed bug poop). This will appear as flat black dots, resembling ink spots from a marker. Bed bugs defecate in the same place that they eat, so the most likely place for them is in and around your mattress. However, remember that bed bugs can live anywhere.