HOW TO TELL IF YOU HAVE BED BUGS – EARLY SIGNS

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

SPOTTING EARLY SIGNS OF BED BUGS

Detecting bed bugs, especially in the early stages of an infestation can be difficult because there won’t be many live bugs or eggs to find.

It doesn’t help that they are nocturnal insects, feeding mainly at night and staying hidden during the day.

Because of this, the opportunity to spot the start of an infestation can be easily missed…unless you know what to look for!

As bed bugs feed on humans, where you sleep, the bed, is where you’ll first see signs of them because of the evidence they leave behind.

How do you know if you have bed bugs? Well, there are several tell-tale early signs to look for, which are listed in detail below, but the main ones are:

  • Small dark brown/black fecal stains on the sheets, pillowcases, and the mattress.
  • Red, itchy bites, live bed bugs, shed skins, and eggs.
  • bloodstains on your PJs and sheets.
  • Cast/shed bed bug skins and shells.  
  • Tiny, flat, reddish-brown bed bugs.
Cluster of immature bed bugs on mattress seam
Immature bed bugs on a mattress seam

Knowing where to look and what the early signs are will help prevent an infestation that can easily grow and get out of control.

BED BUGS APPEARANCE

Identifying and knowing what bed bugs look like is essential for treatment purposes as there are many bugs that look like bed bugs.  You don’t want to be paying for treatment for the wrong pest as this will allow the bed bug infestation to grow.  

We’ve got a great range of pictures of bed bugs that will help you accurately identify them throughout their lifecycle.  It’s always best to get a positive identification from a pest control company though.  

In brief, bed bugs have:

  • 6 legs
  • 2 antennae
  • flat, oval-shaped bodies that look similar to an apple seed
  • no wings as they cannot fly
  • adults are a brownish-red color
  • adults grow to approximately 5 mm in length
reddish-brown color adult bed bug up close
Adult bed bug

Nymphs, which are young bed bugs, are:

  • smaller than the adults, translucent or whitish-yellow in color but become darker like the adults as they progress through each molt.
  • Can be difficult to see if they haven’t recently had a blood meal because of their size and translucent color.  
bed bug infestation of adults nymphs eggs image
Almost translucent bed bug nymphs with adult and fecal spots

Bed bug eggs:

  • they are the size of a pinhead which makes them almost impossible to see because they are so tiny and hidden away.
  • pearl-white in color.
Image of bed bug eggs close up hidden on cardboard
Cluster of hidden bed bug eggs Image credit: Dr. Harold Harlan/AFPMB (CC)

WHAT ARE THE FIRST SIGNS OF BED BUGS?

People often don’t know they’ve got a growing bed bug problem at first because they come out at night to feed when you’re asleep.  But there are some warning signs that should not be ignored. If you find evidence of any of the listed items below, then it’s time to take action immediately.

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE BED BUGS?

Here are some of the warning signs you could have bed bugs:

  • Bloodstains on the bed sheets or mattress due to bed bugs being crushed when you roll on to them.

    Also, the stains could be on your PJs when you bleed slightly at the bite area after the bed bug has finished feeding.
  • Itchy red welts may appear on exposed skin areas, such as the face, arms, shoulders, hands, back, or anywhere not covered when in bed. 

    You might not realize you have bed bugs until you or a family member is actually bitten and swelling around the area appears.  However, not everyone develops itchy and inflamed skin though.[1]

    It also isn’t uncommon when two people share a bed and only one shows signs of bites.

    It isn’t possible to say for definite if the welt is caused by a bed bug as skin reactions vary from person to person, but also because of how similar their bites look to other insect bites, such as mosquitoes.

    Some skin conditions and infections can also be mistaken for insect bites. Keep this in mind if you don’t find any other evidence of bed bugs or other pests.

  • Dark fecal stains or smears (which are dark brown or black) appear on bedding, mattresses, walls, furniture, carpet edges, baseboards, etc.

    Bed bug fecal matter is the size of a small dot and usually bleeds into the fabric and looks like smeared ink.  As horrible as it sounds, this is your blood the bed bug has taken for a meal and has digested and excreted!

    As bed bugs like to stay close to their food supply, always start by looking in the corners of the mattress seams and along the mattress piping for these stains, as well as for bed bugs and their eggs, as these are prime areas for signs for a growing infestation.

    One of the questions asked a lot is whether bed bugs crawl on walls and ceilings. The answer is yes they do, but not usually until the infestation has become more established.

  • Eggs can be hard to spot as they are extremely small and only 1 mm in size and a pearly white color. They are laid in clusters but can be laid singularly. They are usually found on mattress seams, the box spring, and behind the headboard.

  • Eggshells and shed skins (exoskeleton) that nymphs leave behind when growing through the 5 molt stages before they mature.

    The shed skins look like the bed bug except they are translucent and will be different sizes according to their growth stage.

  • Offensive smell.  Bed bugs smell because the glands on the underside of their body produce an unpleasant, musty-sweet odor, and this odor is one of the characteristic signs of a bed bug infestation. The smell has been likened to a wet towel, coriander or cilantro, and rotten berries. Some people don’t notice the smell at all.

  • And of course, look out for any live bed bugs you might see crawling around, which will be unlikely during the day or in the early stages of an infestation.

Baby bed bugs to adults hiding on box spring seam
Various stages of the bed bug lifecycle from instars to adults

WHERE BED BUGS HIDE

They like to hide in harbourage areas near to where you sleep and have many hiding places where you probably wouldn’t think you’d find them.

The main place to look, as mentioned above, is the bed area.  But also be sure to look in any tiny cracks and crevices in the bed frame and headboard, in screw heads, the baseboards (especially near the bed area), and furniture items near to the bed. Also, check behind loose wallpaper and in small cracks in the walls.

As well as the above hiding areas, you might also spot signs of bed bugs in any clutter underneath the bed.  Boxes filled with items hidden under the bed or in a closet are ideal hiding areas for these pests and can be hard for a pest control company to treat if the clutter is not removed.        

CAN I GET RID OF BED BUGS ON MY OWN?


It’s easier and far less expensive to treat an infestation in its early stages. So if you are sure you have bed bugs, then the infestation needs treating before it spreads and becomes established.

You have two options: 

Option 1: do your own pest control and treat the bed bugs yourself, or;

Option 2: call in a licensed pest control exterminator.

If you’ve just started to notice the early signs as mentioned above and you feel confident that you can treat them yourself, then follow our step-by-step guide to getting rid of bed bugs.  

The DIY route can be challenging and will require time and patience and includes extensive vacuuming, steam cleaning the mattress and upholstered furniture, washing and drying bedding and clothes, and clearing and throwing out clutter.  

If doing it yourself is not for you, then hire a licensed pest control company who has experience in dealing with bed bugs. Treatment options vary, but the two commonly offered are heat treatment or conventional pesticide treatments.  

This can be costly and may not be needed if you’ve caught the infestation early enough.

However, if you live in an apartment or condo, then the building manager needs to be informed of the potential problem because a pest control company will more than likely have to be brought in.

Bed bugs are able to move between apartments and infest all the adjoining units including the residences above and below. 

So, how do you get rid of these pests? We have a very detailed guide on How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs that takes you step-by-step on how to eliminate them, which includes:

  • Getting rid of all clutter in the room. Items that you want to keep need to be placed into plastic garbage bags and completely sealed and put in a separate area of the room until you have time to inspect them.

  • Remove and wash all bedding, curtains, and clothes. Put all items into a plastic garbage bag and seal so the bed bugs cannot drop out on the way to the washer.

    Tip items straight into the washer and wash on the highest temperature allowed according to label instructions. When the wash cycle is complete, move all items into the dryer, loosely fill, and dry at the highest heat setting available for at least 30 minutes (consider temperature recommendations on labels).

    Heat kills bed bugs instantly at a MINIMUM temperature of 125ºF (51ºC).  Adult bed bugs die at 119ºF (48ºC) but their eggs can be heat resistant up to 125ºF (51ºC).
  • Don’t throw away the mattress as it can be treated by vacuuming the seams and edging with a crevice tool to dislodge and remove any bed bugs and eggs.

    Vacuum the bed frame and headboard, and in between the slats, then wash down with hot soapy water (heat brings bed bugs out) to remove any remaining bugs and eggs.
  • Vacuum everywhere thoroughly. Vacuum the floor frequently to remove any remaining bed bugs. Other areas to vacuum will be all upholstered furniture in the room including the seams and creases. Heating vents, behind baseboards, and cracks and crevices where harborages could be found also need to be vacuumed.

    A separate vacuum should ideally be used as it lessens the risk of bed bugs being spread to other areas.
  • Heat treat the mattress and box spring with a steamer as it will instantly kill all life stages that it reaches.

  • Apply a desiccant dust such as CimeXa in its dust form as it performs better than when mixed with water as a spray application. It is far more effective and faster at killing bed bugs than diatomaceous earth.

  • Encase the mattress and box spring in bed bug specific encasements. Move the bed away from the wall so it is an island in the room. Place an interceptor under each bed leg and other items of furniture, and make sure no bedding is touching the floor to prevent the bed bugs from crawling up onto the bed.

  • Seal and caulk all cracks and crevices to prevent bed bug harborage areas. This includes caulking along all joints, moldings, and baseboards as well as filling in crevices on walls, doors, windows, and the floor.

The above is just a brief list of what needs doing but our guide goes into specific detail.

As a female bed bug can lay approximately 5 eggs a day, spotting signs of bed bugs early will help prevent an infestation from growing and getting out of control. Whether you treat them yourself or leave it to a pest control professional, the warning signs of a potential bed bug problem should be dealt with immediately.

[1] https://www.pctonline.com/article/pct1002_bedbugs/

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 any 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. But what is more concerning to see is the effect and hardship caused to the homeowner, when this could have been avoided.

For this reason, peststopsolutions.com was created. I understand how stressful it is for you when you find a pest invading your home. 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.