When you’re face to face with a bug, and you’re thinking, “is this a bed bug?”
It’s natural to think about appearance first. But no. That’s the trap I don’t want you to fall into.
Because if you identify it wrong, it’s unlikely your treatment process will work and that bug will multiply and multiply.
In this article, I’ll share with you the most common bugs that look like bed bugs, and how to actually tell the difference.
Common Bugs Mistaken For Bed Bugs
Let’s go through the top 10 bugs that look like bed bugs, and how you can be confident if you’re dealing with a bed bug or some other critter.
1. Bat Bugs (Cimex pilosellus)
The number one bug people mistake for bed bugs, and it’s not hard to see why.
Bat bugs, being a close relative of the bed bug (Cimicide family), are similar in size, shape, color, and the desire to suck blood.
However, the key difference being, Bat bugs, unsurprisingly, prefer to feast on bat blood, not human. Meaning, if you identify these little critters in your home, you probably have a bigger pest problem – bats.
To make a quick identification, you’ll want to pay close attention to the location you see them.
Why location? Because any difference in appearance will require a microscope.
Bat bugs will generally be found on ceiling, walls, but generally within close proximity to bats.
Bed bugs will be found on furniture frequented by humans – mattresses, couch, headboards etc.
- Short broad head attached to the prothorax
- Oval body shape
- Both part of the Cimicide family
- Bat bugs have longer hair
- Generally only found in the Midwest US
- Feed on bat blood
- Bat bugs are more beige or dark brown
- Bat bugs stay close to bats
- Bed bugs stay close to humans
2. Swallow Bugs (Oeciacus vicarius)
A common parasite for cliff and barn swallows, they can become a problem for humans if swallows nest in your own or vicinity,
Most unwelcomed interactions occur during the late winter months and early spring when the swallow bugs come out of winter hibernation in anticipation for the return of their swallow hosts.
The difference in appearance is minute. Swallow bugs are smaller and covered in long, fine hairs. If you get a microscope out, you’d also see the last two segments of the antenna to be equal in length.
Again, you’ll want to pay attention to the location you find them in.
Whereas bed bugs will be found in places you like to hang out, a swallow bug will be found often on the upper floors and on exterior walls.
- Appearance and shape
- Feed on blood
- Will bite humans if the chance is there
- Feed at night
- Slightly smaller
- Found near exterior walls (especially upper floors)
- Will be found close to nesting swallows
3. Poultry Bugs (Haematosiphon inodorus)
Keep chickens and have gotten bed bug like bites? Well, you may have a poultry bug (also known as the Mexican Chicken bug) infestation on your hands.
Typically associated with chicken and other poultry, human bites are rare and can occur if you’re around poultry roosting areas at night.
They could easily contaminate your home if they attach themselves to your shoes, clothes, boxes, equipment etc.
If you don’t have a microscope handy you won’t be able to tell the difference by looking at them.
Instead, consider the location and if you own poultry (or visiting a poultry facilities recently or regularly).
- Same family
- Same shape, color, size
- Feed on blood
- Feed at night
- Commonly found near poultry
- Prefer chicken blood
4. Chimney Swift Bugs (Cimexopsis nyctalis)
Have chimney swifts nesting in your home? The bug you see may well be a Chimney swift bug.
To the naked eye, you can’t tell the difference from a bed bug. However, the key difference with this and others is it’s not as hairy.
So if you’ve got a microscope, you’re looking for less hair. Why the hair? Because chimney swift bugs are also similar to swallow bugs as their last two antennal segments are the same length.
Back to location, location, location. The bugs are going to stay close to their desired host, so if you’re unsure, check these areas of your home.
They are also going to spend time in walls and chimneys and only come out during the summer months, whereas bed bugs are there all year around.
- Size, color, shape
- Feeds on blood
- Feed at night
- Last two antennal segments equal length
- Found near Chimney swifts, inside walls, chimneys
- Emerge only in summer
5. Spider Beetles (Anobiidae)
Common across North America, they’re a classic false bed bug alarm in the pest control industry.
Well, because of their dark reddish/brown color and large round abdomens, spider beetles look just like a bed bug that’s had a nice blood meal.
However, spider beetles can have shiny bodies with their head, antennae, and thorax are covered in fine hairs.
They also don’t feed on blood. And are found feeding at night on dead insects and rodent droppings in dark damp areas.
- Can resemble a bed bug after a meal
- Dark reddish/brown color
- Shiny bodies
- Head, Antennae, and Thorax are covered in fine hairs.
- Don’t feed on blood
- Found in dark damp areas
- Some have white marks
6. Lice – Head Louse (Pediculus Humanus Capitis)
The major difference between lice and bed bugs is they need to stay on their human hosts. This’ll cause itchiness and skin irritation similar to a bed bug bite.
Unlike some of the other bugs on this list, you should be able to tell the difference without a microscope.
Lice have oblong bodies, are much smaller, and have a white/gray color to them. The most common type of lice, head lice, will be found on the human scalp.
- Bites cause itchiness and skin irritation
- Feed on human blood
- White/gray color
- Oblong bodies
- Found attached to human host (commonly scalp)
- Smaller (⅛ of and inch)
7. Fleas (Siphonaptera)
Although both fleas and bed bugs require warm blooded hosts for meals, the flea will prefer to attach itself to a hairy/furry animal. Commonly a cat or dog.
Similar in a reddish/brown color, fleas appear longer and skinnier – like a stretched out bed bug.
They’ll also be found clinging to their host, or lurking in carpet or upholstery, waiting to utilize their 18 inch jump to attach themselves to a host.
However, fleas are known to bite humans and the key difference here is a flea bite will resemble a cluster of mosquito bites. A red swollen bump may appear within one hour, whereas a bed bug bite could take a few days to show.
- Feed on warm blooded hosts
- Reddish/brown color
- Prefer hairy/furry animals
- Bite will show up within an hour
- Longer and thinner body
- Found on animal or on upholstery/carpeting
- Can jump 18 inches
8. Ticks (Ixodida)
Both oval-shaped with flattened bodies, it can often be difficult to visually distinguish between ticks and bed bugs.
First though, check out the legs. Ticks have 8 legs, bed bugs have 6. But if that doesn’t work for you, look at the bite. Ticks will also inflate much larger when full of blood.
A tick will attach itself to you and you’ll need to remove it safely. A bed bug will bite, feed, and retreat back to its safe place.
- Similar size, shape, color
- Feed on blood
- Found attached to host
- Has 6 legs
- Often found outdoors
- Tick inflate when full of blood
9. Booklice (Psocoptera)
Mistaken for bed bug nymphs, due to their translucent white color, pay close attention to the shape of their body.
Booklice are elongated and have larger heads than bed bugs or nymphs.
They can be found on windows/window sills, under wallpaper, and generally anywhere they can feed on fungi, pollen, mold, and bits of dead insects.
- Similar color and shape to bed bug nymph
- Do not feed on blood
- Feed on fungi, pollen, mold, and bits of dead insects
- Elongated bodies with larger heads
- Color can range from white/translucent to gray or brown
10. Carpet Beetles (Anthrenus verbasci)
The same size as bed bugs, but darker in color and rounder in shape.
One of the key visual differences, carpet beetles have wings and can appear striped/speckled.
Carpet beetles don’t feed on humans, just the things we own: carpets, toys, blankes, clothes, comforters. Generally anything made of natural fibers.
- Dark brown/reddish color
- Could be found on a mattress
- Feed on natural fibers
- Have wings
How To Quickly Spot A Bed Bug
If you’re unsure if it’s a bed bug or not, the first thing to always do is check your mattress.
Remember, bed bugs are going to be nesting there, it’s in the name and their number 1 hiding place.
Thoroughly inspect the seams, tufts, and folds of your mattress in addition to any corners or crevices of your bed.
If you see bugs, eggs, feces, or molted skin – there is a good chance you have bed bugs.
If not and your bites are sporadic, you’ll need to check the bug more closely and call a professional if you’re unsure.