It’s so easy to bring bed bugs into your home. If you don’t spot them in time, you could end up with a full-scale infestation. Unfortunately, they’re also one of the hardest household pests to get rid of completely.
It’s possible that you could have only one bed bug, but this is unlikely. Finding a bed bug is usually a sign that you have an infestation.
Let’s look at the implications of finding one bed bug in your home. We’ll explain how to tell if it’s a bed bug, and whether it’s male or female. You’ll learn how to identify the signs of an infestation. We’ll then go through the next steps that you should take to become bed bug-free.
Table of Contents:
How Do Bed Bugs Get Into The Home?
According to the University of Arkansas, the bed bug population has been growing every year since 2004. Bed bugs have now officially reached epidemic status in the U.S. They’re prevalent in every U.S. state, with the highest infestation rates in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Ohio.
So, if you live in the U.S., there’s a good chance you’ll have to deal with bed bugs at some point. How do they get into homes in the first place? Bed bugs move about via people. They can do this by traveling on:
- Luggage and suitcases
- Purses and backpacks
- Gym bags
- Any item kept in the bedroom, or an area where you don’t move about much, such as the couch
- Second-hand furniture
Pretty much every kind of dwelling where humans spend a lot of time can be infested with bed bugs. The most common places for bed bugs include:
- Houses, apartments, and condominiums
- Hotels and motels
- College dormitories
- Homeless shelters
- Nursing homes
Knowing how a bed bug got into your home is helpful, but not always possible. You could have picked it up almost anywhere – or someone else could have brought it in.
And remember, you may not have even spotted it for days or weeks after it arrived. Wherever it came from, though, the outcome is the same: you’ve got a potential bed bug infestation on your hands.
How to Identify a Bed Bug
If you’ve found a mysterious bug in your home, what’s the first thing you should do? Before you panic, remember that many bugs look quite similar. To deal with it, first, you must make sure that it is a bed bug.
So, what do bed bugs look like? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, this is what to look out for. Bed bugs are:
- Approximately 3/16” to 3/8” in length (smaller when unfed, larger after a blood meal)
- Reddish-brown to mahogany in color
- Oval in shape when unfed. Fed bed bugs are more long and pointy. Both fed and unfed, bed bugs have a segmented body
- Flat when they haven’t fed (they swell up after feeding)
- Six-legged, with short, segmented antennae
- Wingless, though they have small vestigial wing pads that serve no function
- Covered in small, pale hairs (though these may only be visible under magnification)
- Unable to jump or fly, but they can crawl quite fast
Bed bugs also have a long proboscis (straw-like mouth part), which they use to pierce the skin and drink blood. This proboscis isn’t always visible from above, as they mainly keep it tucked up underneath the body. You may be able to see it if you flip the bug upside down.
Nymphs (young bed bugs) are smaller – between 1-4mm. They’re lighter in color, starting out translucent and getting darker as they get older. Eggs, on the other hand, are tiny and white. Young bed bugs and eggs are often quite hard to see.
Do Males and Females Bed Bugs Look Different?
Now that you know how to identify a bed bug, what about the sex? If you’ve found one male bed bug, you might not have to worry. Male bed bugs can’t lay eggs. So, if there is only one male bug, it won’t turn into an infestation.
Females, however, are another ball game. Pregnant female bed bugs can carry sperm inside them for 4-6 weeks. During this time, they can produce eggs and lay them every day. So, if the single bug that got into your home is female, it could create an infestation.
According to the Australian Environmental Pest Managers Association, you can identify the sex of a bed bug by careful visual inspection. Female bed bugs have a rounded abdomen. Males, on the other hand, have a pointier abdomen. Picture an orange and a lemon side by side. Lemons, like male bed bugs, are slightly less round and have a pointy part at the bottom. This only goes for unfed bed bugs, however. Both male and female bugs will appear long and engorged after feeding.
It can be quite hard to tell the sex of a bed bug. This is particularly true if you’re inexperienced with them, or if you only have one bed bug to examine. So, to be on the safe side, you should assume that your lone bug is a female. If it’s laid eggs around your home, you must deal with it before the infestation grows.
Is One Bed Bug Possible?
By this point, you’re probably wondering what your chances are of avoiding an infestation. If I’ve just found one bed bug on my couch, purse or suitcase, could it be the only bug? Is it possible that there isn’t an underlying infestation?
We can’t claim that it’s impossible for there to only be one bed bug. There is a chance that you’ve picked up one single male bed bug, and happened to notice it. It’s also possible that you’ve picked up a lone female, but she hasn’t laid any eggs yet.
However, it’s best to be on the safe side, and assume that there is an underlying infestation. Bed bugs are small, sneaky and good at hiding. The more bed bugs there are, the more likely it is that you’ll find one. So if you’ve spotted one, there could be many more that aren’t visible.
Not only that but the bed bug population snowballs. If there are any eggs hidden around your home, you’re in trouble. Females can and will mate with their own offspring. According to the University of Arkansas, one single pregnant bed bug can turn into an infestation of 500 bugs within two months.
Bear in mind, also, that just because you haven’t found any bites does not mean you don’t have bed bugs. Bed bug bites can take weeks to cause a skin reaction, and some people develop no reaction at all. You could be being bitten without realizing it.
I Found a Bed Bug Crawling On Me
So, let’s assume that you’ve identified your lone insect as a bed bug. What do you do next? How do you identify whether there’s an infestation, and deal with it?
After finding (and safely disposing of) your bed bug, it’s crucial that you follow these next steps. Don’t wait – remember, bed bug populations can grow quickly.
- Clear the area where you found it. Clutter and mess is a bed bug’s dream. It provides so many spaces for them to hide. They’re small and can fit into even the tiniest cracks and crevices. So, for your best chance of finding more bed bugs, thoroughly tidy your home. Focus particularly on the area where you found the bug, and of course the bedroom(s).
- Check for any signs of more bed bugs. Below, we’ll go into more detail about how to spot the signs of an infestation.
- Call an exterminator for a consultation. If you think that you might have bed bugs – or you’re not sure – it’s best to call an exterminator. They’ll examine your home thoroughly and may spot something that you didn’t.
- Start treatment, or safeguard your home. If the verdict is bad, you’ll want to start treatment for bed bugs straight away. If no signs of an infestation have been found, you can still take steps to safeguard your home. Again, we’ll go into more detail below.
How Do I Check for Bed Bugs at Home?
After thoroughly tidying and de-cluttering your home, the next step is to start the bed bug search. Your aim here is to hunt down not only live bugs but also the telltale signs of an infestation.
If you’ve never dealt with bed bugs before, you may be unaware of what you’re looking for. Other than the bugs themselves, there are five main signs to watch out for. We’re going to go over them now, and then guide you on where to look for them.
Bed bug fecal matter has a very distinctive look. Because they only eat blood, their excrement is completely liquid. It’s not red in color, however; it can range from dark brown to black. Bed bug fecal spots resemble small black dots, about the size of a marker point. Many people think that they look like spots of ink. They usually appear in clusters or rows where the bed bugs like to congregate.
On soft furnishings – such as mattresses, carpets or curtains – the dots will be flat, and cannot be wiped off. This is because the liquid soaks into the fibers. On hard non-porous surfaces, like varnished wood, the feces will dry as raised bumps.
Bed Bug Exoskeletons
Bed bugs go through five phases of molting (shedding their casings) throughout their lives. These correspond with the five life stages, from freshly-hatched nymph to full-grown adult. To grow into the next life stage, bed bugs must shed their exoskeleton.
Now that you know what a bed bug looks like, it should be easy to spot their exoskeletons. Though bed bugs can hide, their shells can’t. Bed bug shells look precisely like bed bugs – small, oval and segmented. The only difference is that they are pale and translucent in color.
Eggs and Egg Casings
Bed bug eggs are extremely small. They’re only about the size of a pinhead, so they’re tough to spot. As if that weren’t bad enough, they’re also translucent-whitish in color. To spot them, you’re going to need a strong magnifying glass, a flashlight, and patience.
Bed bugs like to lay their eggs in places out of the way of people, where they won’t be disturbed. They usually choose small cracks and crevices. Sometimes eggs appear in clusters, but they can also appear alone. The eggs are glued onto the surface, so they can even hang upside-down.
If you’ve got a bed bug infestation, you may notice small blood stains in your bedding. Bed bugs produce an anticoagulant, to stop your wounds from healing while they’re drinking your blood. A side effect of this anticoagulant is that bite marks can continue to bleed after the bug has finished feeding.
Each morning, when you wake up, thoroughly check your sheets, comforter and other bedding for bloodstains. Remember that you might find bloodstains even if you can’t find any bite marks as some people don’t react to bites. You may also find blood stains from bed bugs that have been squashed when you roll over in bed or step on them.
If you are one of the unlucky people who react to bite marks, you’ll know when you get bitten. Bed bug bites can appear anywhere on your skin that bed bugs can access while you’re sleeping. If you sleep naked, this could be pretty much anywhere. However, common places are the feet, ankles, arms, and shoulders. Bed bugs commonly bite around 2-3 times. It’s normal to find a few bites clustered together, or in a line.
Because everybody reacts to bed bug bites slightly differently, it’s impossible to advise exactly how the bites will look. For some people, the bites manifest as small pinkish blotches that lie flat. Others react more severely. In their case, bites can cause painful, raised red welts.
Where Should I Look for Bed Bugs?
Now that you know what you’re looking for, where do you look?
Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs don’t just live in beds. According to the CDC, they can live in any room, though are most often found in bedrooms. Anywhere which provides close access to you is a viable bed bug hangout.
Other than the bite marks – which, of course, will appear on your skin – the other signs of an infestation can be found in many different places. Here are the top 10 spots to focus your search on.
Including sheets, pillowcases, comforters, and comforter covers, cushions, throws, pillow and mattress protectors. Remember to turn pillowcases and comforter covers inside out. Check inside every crevice and fold of the material.
Mattresses and Box Springs
These are the most common bed bug hangouts. Bed bugs particularly love living inside the crevices along the piping around the edges of mattresses. Make sure to flip your mattress over and check the other side, too.
Bed bugs don’t have to live in soft fabric. They can also live in wooden and metal bed frames. When examining your bed frame, make sure to inspect inside every joint and crevice. Bed bugs are about as thick as a credit card. If a credit card could fit in the gap, so could a bed bug.
Walls and Baseboards
Bed bugs frequently live in and near walls and baseboards. If your baseboards have a gap at the top or bottom, it could be a prime bed bug hangout. Don’t forget to check underneath any loose wallpaper, behind wall hangings, and inside any holes (including screw holes).
Rugs and Carpets
If you have a high-pile carpet, bed bugs could be living (or laying eggs) inside of it. Examine every inch of your carpet – particularly around the edges – with a fine-tooth comb. Remember to check the undersides of any rugs.
Chairs and Couches
Bed bugs don’t have to live in bedrooms. They can also live in living rooms or offices, and bite you while you’re sitting down. Couches and armchairs are full of nooks and crannies which make the perfect bed bug hiding spots.
Curtains and Drapes
Bed bugs are good climbers, and curtains provide lots of folds in which to hide. This is a particularly likely hiding spot if any part of your bed is next to a window. Move your bed away and look for bugs hiding in the crevices and folds.
Electrical Outlets and Light Switches
Bed bugs aren’t worried about electricity. They can easily fit inside the tiny gaps around an electrical socket plate or switch plate. Inside an electrical outlet, or in the wiring inside the wall, is a brilliant place for a bed bug. It’s quiet, undisturbed by you, and close enough to crawl out and find you at night.
Other Furniture and Bedroom Objects
Beds and chairs aren’t the only furniture where you could find bed bugs. They can also live in nightstands, drawers, wardrobes, vanities, dressers, and tables. Don’t forget to check all of the joints and cracks in the furniture. You should also examine pet beds –while bed bugs prefer to feed on humans, they can bite pets.
Bed bugs can even live in objects such as soft toys and electronics (TVs and remotes, computers and other gadgets). Anything that you keep in your bedroom should be subject to a full examination.
Closets and Clothing
Finally, don’t forget to check inside your closet. Bed bugs could be living inside the seams of clothes that you don’t wear very often. They could also be merrily nestled inside suitcases, bags or shoes. They could even be inside the door hinges or in and around shelves.
What Should I Do Next?
After conducting your home search, you should have some idea of whether you’ve got a bed bug problem. If you found any signs of bed bugs – no matter how few – your home is most likely infested. Remember, the bugs could be inside your walls, or somewhere else that you can’t see. Even one bed bug can turn into hundreds if left untreated.
If, however, you can’t find any more signs of bed bugs, you may be in the clear. The one bug you found may have truly been the only bug that managed to get into your home. For peace of mind, though, there are many steps you can take to help guard your home against future infestations.
Let’s now go over the next steps for both scenarios.
If You Can’t Find Any More Bed Bugs
Found one bed bug, but can’t find more? That’s good news. It either means that you haven’t got a bed bug problem, or that if you do, it’s probably a very mild infestation. If you can’t find any signs of bed bugs, here are the next steps to keep your home bug-free.
- Arrange a consultation with an exterminator. This is optional, but it will help to give you peace of mind. Bed bug pest control experts are very experienced and know what to look for. They will generally be better able to find the signs of bed bugs than you.
- Encase your mattress and box spring. Mattress and box spring encasements are designed to keep bed bugs out of nooks and crannies within your bed. This means that if you do get an infestation, it will be far easier to spot the signs. As a bonus, encasements also trap any bed bugs which are already living there, meaning they eventually starve.
- Set bed bug traps. Traps aren’t designed to get rid of an infestation. Their purpose is to alert you to a potential bed bug problem. You can buy interceptor traps that sit underneath your bed legs. If a bed bug tries to climb the bed leg to reach you, they’ll get stuck in the trap.
- Be vigilant when you travel. Don’t sit down on public transport unless you have to. Thoroughly examine hotel rooms before you get into bed. Also, store your luggage away from the walls and floor (like on a luggage rack).
- Keep your home tidy. Having a clean home doesn’t mean bed bugs are more likely to invade. However, keeping your home tidy and clutter-free gives bed bugs fewer places to hide. This means you’ll be able to spot any new invaders more easily.
If You’ve Found Signs of an Infestation
If your search for the house has revealed further signs of bed bugs, try not to panic. However, you should act quickly, and not waste any time. As you know, the longer you take to implement treatment, the larger the infestation will get. Here are the next steps you should take to solve the problem.
- Wash your bedding and clothes. Bed bugs die at high temperatures. Wash all of your bedding and clothes at 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit), and tumble dry on high heat. This will kill all bed bugs and eggs. Make sure to keep them away from infested areas after washing.
- Vacuum thoroughly. Bed bugs are light in weight and can easily be sucked up by the vacuum cleaner. Thoroughly vacuum your whole house, including your mattress, couches, and chairs. Get into as many nooks and crannies as you can. Make sure to remove the vacuum bag afterward, seal it in plastic and throw it in an outside trash can.
- Use diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is an all-natural material that is safe to use in the home. It’s a contact killer and kills bed bugs by dehydration. Sprinkle this anywhere that you suspect bed bugs to be hiding (such as cracks and crevices, and electrical outlets).
- Use tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is an all-natural bed bug contact killer. The higher the concentration, the more effective it is. Store some in a spray bottle to kill any bed bugs you see on the spot.
- Use a store-bought bed bug killer. There are various insecticides available for purchase online and in stores. They come in the form of sprays (such as Hot Shot and EcoRaider) and dusts (CimeXa). Just be aware that some bed bugs are immune to certain pesticides, and some aren’t safe to use around pets and children.
- Steam and encase your mattress. As bed bugs die at high temperatures, steam-cleaning your mattress is a great way to kill any bed bugs that may be hiding inside. For good measure, use a mattress encasement afterward to trap any remaining bed bugs.
- Call an exterminator. If you still have bed bugs, arrange for an exterminator to come and do an inspection. They’ll be able to gauge the size of your infestation and recommend treatment options. The fastest and most thorough way to get rid of bed bugs is to have an exterminator treat your home.
If it’s Not a Bed Bug, What Is It?
By now, you should be well aware of what to do if you find a bed bug in your home. We’ve talked you through identifying bed bugs by sight, and the other telltale signs of an infestation. We’ve guided you on the next steps to take, whether you find signs of an infestation or not. If you follow our advice, your home should soon be bed bug-free.
However, there’s a chance that the critter you found in the first place was not a bed bug. There are some insects that look and act similar to bed bugs but aren’t. If you suspect insect doesn’t match the description that we provided, what else could it be?
The Most Common Bed Bug Lookalikes
- Carpet Beetles. Like bed bugs, carpet beetles are small and usually roundish in shape. However, they’re usually multicolored (white, brown and yellow) or solid black. Carpet beetles do not have visibly segmented bodies like bed bugs. They have two large wing casings on their backs instead (as they can fly). Carpet beetles also have club-shaped antennae.
- Cockroach Nymphs. Adult cockroaches are far too big to be confused with bed bugs. However, baby cockroaches (nymphs) are similar in size. They’re also the same color. The main difference is their body shape. While bed bugs are roundish, cockroaches are long and almost cylindrical. They also have a much longer, non-segmented antennae.
- Spider Beetles. These home invaders are also the same color and size as bed bugs. While unfed bed bugs are extremely flat; spider beetles have bulbous bodies. Their bodies are extremely shiny and smooth, while bed bugs are segmented. Spider beetles also have very long, cream-colored legs. They usually live in pantries and eat your food.
- Fleas are parasites and will bite people. However, they live on the bodies of animals, rather than in beds and furniture. They are smaller than bed bugs, and their bodies are much narrower when viewed from above. Fleas don’t have antennae, and they can jump, unlike bed bugs.
No matter what insect or infestation you’re dealing with, an exterminator can help. They’ll be able to identify which bug is sharing your home, and help you get rid of them.