BUGS THAT LOOK LIKE BED BUGS – 9 BUGS MISTAKEN FOR BED BUGS

Written by: A O’Neill, Licensed Pest Control Technician

Finding an infestation of any kind of bug in your home can cause a lot of worry, especially if you think it might be bed bugs.

Bed bugs are small, reddish-brown insects that hide during the day making it difficult to properly identify them. But if you think you might have these pests, then you must make sure they really are bed bugs and not other bugs that look like bed bugs.

The following is a list of nine bugs that are often mistaken for bed bugs.

WHAT BUGS LOOK LIKE BED BUGS?

1. BAT BUG

Western bat bug
Western Bat Bug. Image: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org
Bat Bug (Cimex pilosellus)Identifying Features
ColorBeige or dark brown
Size3-5mm
AppearanceEasily mistaken for bed bugs as they are tiny oval-shaped ectoparasites that appear flattened between feeds, the same as its close relative, the bed bug.
HabitatBat bugs are found close to their primary hosts, bats. Bats are found in various dark places in buildings such as in 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 then look for an alternative food source, such as human blood.
Location/RegionMidwest USA and Canada. Native to North America.
Bat Bug Vs Bed Bug: difference/similarity 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 feed on human blood so they stay close to the bed area where their feeding source sleeps. Bat bugs feed primarily on bat blood, but can be found in the same areas as bed bugs if they have to look for a different food source when bats have left or been removed from the property.
Pest control methodsIt is easier to get rid of bat bugs than it is bed bugs. It is illegal in many countries to kill bats so contact a reputable pest control company 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 treatments.

2. SWALLOW BUG

Swallow bug that looks similar to bed bug
SWALLOW BUG Image credit: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org
Swallow Bug (Oeciacus vicarius)Identifying Features
ColorGreyish brown
Size4mm approx.
AppearanceThe swallow bug looks almost identical to the bed bug. They are wingless with the same oval-shaped flattened body and long 4-segmented antennae.
HabitatSwallow bugs are found commonly 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/RegionContinental USA and Canada.
Swallow Bug Vs Bed Bug
difference/similarity
The swallow bug looks similar to a bed bug in shape and 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. 
Pest control methodsSwallows 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.

Contact a pest control company 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

Louse bug (head lice)
Image credit: Gilles San Martin
Head Louse (Pediculus humanus capitis)Identifying Features
ColorClear when hatched and when fed they are reddish-brown.
Size Less than 1/8″ in length.
AppearanceWingless, oblong bodies about the size of a sesame seed. They have 6 legs with claw-like features so they can attach to the hair.
HabitatHead 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/RegionWorldwide, especially in school-age children.
Head Lice Vs Bed Bug
difference/similarity
Both bed bugs and head lice need human blood to survive.

People often ask, can bed bugs live in hair and bite your scalp? Although bed bugs also have 6 legs, they are not equipped to cling to the 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 stay on humans during feeding and will go back to their harborage area straight after.
Pest control methodsSpecialist shampoos and combs to remove the nits (eggs) and live lice.

4. TICK

Picture of a tick that resembles a bed bug
Tick
Family Ixodidae (covers various ticks)
Identifying Features
ColorReddish-brown and become darker after feeding.
Size 3.5mm – 15mm, 1/8″ to 1/2″ when engorged, depending on species of tick.
AppearanceSmall with oval bodies and 8 legs.
HabitatTicks live in and near wooded areas and in tall grass, shrubs, and leaves.  They also live in areas where vegetation is grown.  

Ticks climb onto their host (person or animal) when 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/RegionCertain species are found only in the USA but the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) is found globally.
Tick Vs Bed Bug
difference/similarity
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 a similarly shaped body and are flat when unfed.

They are also similar in size to bed bugs 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 heads into the skin until they have finished taking a blood meal. 

Ticks are known to spread disease, such as Lyme disease, whereas there is no evidence of bed bugs doing so.  
Pest control methodsA 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. 

You can also check and groom your pets on a regular basis as well as frequently washing any pet bedding. 

5. CARPET BEETLE

Carpet beetle
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com AJ Cann
Varied Carpet Beetle (Anthrenus verbasci L.)Identifying Features
ColorRanges in color from black to spots or mottled patterns of yellow, white, orange,
Size Adults are 1/16″ – 1/8″ (up to 3.2mm).
AppearanceOval shaped with tiny scales.
HabitatThey 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.
Location/RegionWorldwide.
Carpet Beetle Vs Bed Bug
difference/similarity
Carpet beetles have wings so they can fly, unlike bed bugs.

People can often confuse carpet beetles with bed bugs as they can look similar.

Carpet beetles do not feed on blood like bed bugs as they prefer to eat fabrics such as carpet, wool, and upholstered furniture.
Pest control methodsAlthough 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, sanitizing if possible. Infested food needs to be discarded. The pest control technician will then probably apply a residual insecticide.

6. FLEA

Image of a flea
Flea (order: Siphonaptera)Identifying Features
ColorDark-reddish brown.
Size 1/8″ long (1-3mm).
AppearanceFleas 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.
HabitatFleas live in the fur of their host (mainly cat or dog) but will feed on the blood of most animals and even humans.
Location/RegionWorldwide, but especially thrive in warmer climates.
Flea Vs Bed Bug
difference/similarity
Fleas differ from bed bugs in that they live in the fur of animals, whereas bed bugs crawl to a human to feed and then crawl back to their hiding place. However, fleas will take a blood meal from a human also.

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 methodsFleas can be difficult to get rid of once an infestation takes hold, so it’s important to treat any animals you have 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 Cockroach
Cockroach (German)
Blattella germanica (Linnaeus)
Identifying Features
ColorThe German cockroach is a light brown to tan color when fully developed with two dark parallel stripes on their back.
Size 5/8″ (1.59cm) but other species can grow much larger.
AppearanceCockroaches are oval shaped with small heads, flat bodies, and 6 legs.
HabitatCockroaches like warm, dark, moist areas so the kitchen and bathroom are their favourite 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.
Location/RegionThe most common species of cockroach is the German cockroach which is found worldwide.
Cockroach Vs Bed Bug
difference/similarity
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 methodsGetting rid of cockroaches can be difficult but to prevent them from infesting your home or business, the kitchen should be 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

Book lice
Image credit: Mohammed El Damir, Bugwood.org
Booklice (Psocids) (Psocoptera)Identifying Features
ColorTranslucent white to light brown.
Size Extremely tiny 1mm to 1.5mm in length.
AppearanceBooklice have 3 body segments which include an elongated body. They have 6 legs and the head has mouth chewing parts and two long antennae.
HabitatIndoors they live in damp, warm areas such as old window frames, moldy foods, and of course, inside books and stacked paper.
Location/RegionWorldwide.
Book Louse Vs Bed Bug
difference/similarity
Sometimes booklice are mistaken for bed bug nymphs due to the similarity in color.

Booklice do not bite or feed on animal or human blood.
Pest control methodsBooklice are easy to get rid of by wiping away mold and sealing moisture-prone areas. Throw away any infested food. Ventilate and reduce the humidity in your home to further prevent any mold growth and eliminate their food source.

If you have a heavy booklice infestation, then a professional pest control company will be needed who can apply an insecticidal spray treatment.

9. SPIDER BEETLE

Spider Beetle (Family: Ptinidae)Identifying Features
ColorShiny red-brown to black,
Size 3-4mm (3/16″) in length.
AppearanceSpider beetles have rounded shaped abdomens. They are smaller than bed bugs and have long legs and 2 long antennae and look like a spider when looking 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.
HabitatSpider beetles eat cereals, grains, dried fruit, and anything that is not stored in airtight containers. They like to lay their eggs in moist food products.
Location/RegionWorldwide.
Spider Beetle Vs Bed Bug
difference/similarity

Spider beetles are often are mistaken for bed bugs due to the similarity in color and shape.

Unlike bed bugs, spider beetles do not bite or feed on humans.

They are similar to bed bugs in that they are nocturnal and feed at night, and during the day, hide in dark cracks and crevices close to their food source.
Pest control methodsTo get rid of spider beetles everything they have infested needs to thrown away. This will also include emptying the pantry and vacuuming the shelves. All new food items will need to stored in containers to keep the spider beetles 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 so a pest control company can help by applying an insecticide.

So you have looked through the above list of bugs that resemble bed bugs and you’re confident the pest in your home is bed bugs…now what?

If the infestation is in the early stages, then you can try do-it-yourself bed bug removal. Our guide gives you clear step-by-step instructions on how to do this.

However, the DIY method might not be for everyone, or the infestation has grown too large so you will need a pest control exterminator that is specialized in treating bed bugs.

On the other hand, you still might not be sure what bugs are in your home or so it would be best to get a professional to take a look. After all, you want to be sure the proper treatments are being used to eliminate them.

You might also find useful:

What do bed bugs look like?
How to permanently get rid of bed bugs in 9 steps
How to tell if you have bed bugs

Peststopsolutions.com

Anthony O’Neill, Licensed Pest Control Technician

I’ve been in the pest control industry helping people get rid of their unwanted pests for over 20 years, both in the UK and Canada.

As a licensed pest control technician I’ve seen and treated just about every common household pest, insect or rodent, you can think of. I’ve seen the damage caused when an infestation has been left too long and has become hard to get rid of.

For this reason, peststopsolutions.com was created. By having honest advice and the right guidance to hand, along with scientific evidence to back up claims, you are given information on the best eradication methods, as well as how to get rid of most pests yourself.