As far as bugs you may find in your house go, carpet beetles don’t get the press of their distant cousins, such as bed bugs and cockroaches. If bed bugs and roaches are the attention-grabbing Kardashians of the insect world, carpet beetles are more like a Tilda Swinton-style character actor (with apologies to Ms Swinton).
Mostly, they stay out of the headlines, but they are constantly working, doing their buggy thing without making news headlines. After all, they’re not red carpet beetles.
But enough of the celebrity comparisons.
Carpet beetles might not be media darlings, but they are an important pest in homes and businesses across the US and around the world. If you have been finding some unexpected bugs in your home, chances are good it’s carpet beetles you’re dealing with.
And as with most pests, the smartest thing to do is to find out more about your enemy so you can better defeat them. Let’s start with some carpet beetle facts.
What are Carpet Beetles?
As is often the case with insects, the term’ carpet beetle’ can be misleading, describing several different species with similar appearances and habits. Carpet beetles are a type of dermestid beetle, a family of bugs that contains around 700 different species.
Most dermestid species are scavengers, relying on dead animals and animal products as a food source.
In fact, if you’ve ever watched one of those cop shows that feature a lot of autopsies, you may have come across species of dermestid beetles in the media, because they are very important in forensic entomology or the art of solving crimes by looking at bugs.
Dermestid beetles are even used to clean bones for displaying, as these industrious creatures will strip away every scrap of flesh if given enough time to do it.
Carpet beetles are a species of dermestid beetle that often become a problem in homes. They get their name from their habit of attacking carpets, eating the wool and damaging carpets and rugs.
But carpet beetles eat more than carpets. So don’t be too smug about your fancy hardwood floors.
What Do Carpet Beetles Look Like?
All carpet beetles share a similar body type and size. They all have hard wing cases that appear almost like a shell on the bug’s back and are split down the middle. They also have short antenna on their heads, and like all true bugs, they have six legs.
The standard carpet beetle size can be anywhere from 1/32″ to ½” long (1-12mm), and they tend to have an oval or almost circular body shape.
When seen from above, (and let’s face it, that’s almost always how humans see bugs) their heads are more or less invisible, since they keep them tucked under their bodies.
Within that basic blueprint, there is room for variation.
Types of Carpet Beetles
The species of carpet beetle you’re most likely to find in your home are the black carpet beetle, the common carpet beetle, the furniture carpet beetle, the larger cabinet beetle, and the varied carpet beetle.
Though they share a similar body type, these beetles vary in appearance, so it’s important to figure out which is which.
Black Carpet Beetle
The Black Carpet Beetle is the most common of all carpet beetle species, and can be found throughout the United States and across North America.
Adults are around an eighth of an inch to a quarter of an inch long, and they are bright green with yellow spots.
Just kidding. Black Carpet Beetles are, unsurprisingly, black in color, or at least a dark brown.
Common Carpet Beetle
The Common Carpet Beetle is sometimes known as the Buffalo carpet beetle because it was a huge problem in Buffalo, New York, during the 1870s.
Around 1/16 of an inch to 1/8 of an inch long, the Common Carpet Beetle has a black body decorated with a pattern of white and red scales, making it considerably fancier than its plain black cousin.
Furniture Carpet Beetle
The Furniture Carpet Beetle is even fancier. These beetles have colorful spots on their bodies formed by yellow, black, and white scales.
The same size as a Common Carpet Beetle, these beetles get their name from their habit of feeding on upholstered furniture. They can also be found throughout the United States but struggle to live outside in northern climates, where they are instead restricted to living inside buildings.
Larger Cabinet Carpet Beetle
The Larger Cabinet Beetle is found worldwide, and at 1/16 of an inch to 3/16 of an inch long, isn’t all that large.
It has a dark body with a pattern of black and dark red scales on its wing covers. These bugs get their name because they are often found in kitchen cabinets.
Varied Carpet Beetle
Finally, the Varied Carpet Beetle is another member of the club. While it’s not exactly certain where this bug got its name from, it’s generally thought it’s because of the color variation it shows.
Around 1/16 of an inch to 1/8″ an inch long, the Varied Carpet Beetle has black, yellow, and white scales that look almost like stripes.
IMPORTANT: All types of carpet beetles undergo what’s known to entomologists as complete metamorphosis. Basically, that means that the adults look nothing like the juvenile bug.
All species of carpet beetles begin their lives as a wormlike larva covered with bristly hairs. The larvae are around 3/16″ to ¼ of an inch long, and will usually be found on or around whatever the bugs are eating.
These larvae are important for lots of reasons, which we’ll get into in a minute.
Whichever type of carpet beetles you have – and if you’re really unlucky, it’s perfectly possible to have more than one in the same building – you’re going to want to get rid of them.
But when it comes to getting rid of bugs, knowledge is power. Knowing how to tackle carpet beetles means learning a little more about these troublesome creatures.
What Do Carpet Beetles Eat?
The first thing we need to be very, very clear on is this: there is a big difference between what adult carpet beetles eat and what carpet beetle larvae eat.
Adult carpet beetles have a diet that’s rather lovely. They feed on pollen, nectar, plants and flowers. They may also nibble on dried foods like flour, rice and seeds.
But carpet beetle larvae, well, let’s just say that carpet beetle larvae aren’t vegan. They’re total scavengers, and they feed on dead things. When we speak about carpet beetle damage – we’re exclusively talking about the damage done by carpet beetle larvae as they eat through your carpets, fabrics, and other precious items.
Adult carpet beetles know about their young’s disgusting diet and they will make sure to lay their eggs in places where their soon-to-hatch larvae will have plenty of access to the foods they love.
So the real question here is: what do carpet beetle larvae eat?
Young carpet beetles are a little unusual in that they are able to digest keratin, the protein that makes human fingernails as well as horns, hooves, and other parts of animals.
Therefore, carpet beetles can eat just about anything if it came from an animal. Feathers, fur, wool, and other natural fabrics are all on the menu for these tricky pests.
Carpet beetles aren’t picky eaters. They’ll eat just about anything that has protein and will stay still long enough to be eaten. However, they do have preferences.
Varied carpet beetles like to eat other insects, while black carpet beetles will eat stored foods like nuts, seeds, and flour. Furniture Carpet Beetles get their name from their habit of feeding on upholstered furniture, but they will also eat dead insects and animals, cheese, dried blood, and rice.
To grow, these bugs have to find a source of keratin somewhere.
Again, when it comes to damaging your clothes and furniture, it’s the carpet beetle larvae you need to worry about. They cause most of the damage, chewing holes in fabrics before pupating to emerge as adults to mate and create more bugs.
Do Carpet Beetles Fly?
Underneath those fancy and often colorful wing covers, carpet beetles have wings, and they are not afraid to use them.
Carpet beetles can and do fly, and although they generally prefer to crawl when given the chance, their flying can often bring them into houses.
Which means that unlike bed bugs and other pests, carpet beetles don’t need to be brought into the house in an infested piece of furniture or clothing. They can fly right in an open window and start an infestation from next to nothing.
Do Carpet Beetles Bite?
Now for some good news. Carpet beetles don’t bite people. Although the larvae have relatively powerful jaws for their size and can feed on a wide range of different foods, they don’t attack large animals. At least, not while they’re alive.
And adult carpet beetles feed on pollen and don’t have the kind of jaws necessary to bite people at all.
That’s not to say that carpet beetles don’t cause problems. Several species of carpet beetles, including Common, Varied, Black, and Larger Cabinet Beetles can cause a sort of carpet beetle dermatitis, an irritation of the skin.
Remember those fuzzy hairs carpet beetle larvae have? They aren’t there just to make the juvenile bugs look cool.
The bristly hairs are the larvae’s defense mechanism, and when disturbed, the bugs shed these hairs. The hairs can cause an allergic reaction that can be very intense and often feels like a bite.
This allergic reaction, often described as a carpet beetle rash, usually happens due to prolonged exposure to carpet beetle infestation, so it won’t happen right away. But the longer you live with the carpet beetles, the more likely you’ll react to them. Which is why it’s important to get rid of them as quickly as possible.
So no, carpet beetles don’t bite. But given that they can cause an allergic reaction that feels a lot like a bite, that may not be much consolation.
What are Other Bugs in Carpet that Bite?
You may be reading this entire article because you’re convinced you have carpet beetles. You have itchy skin and you’ve found tiny bugs in the carpet. Which has led you to believe you’re dealing with carpet beetles.
But now you know that carpet beetles don’t bite humans, you may be re-thinking what may actually be lurking in your carpets.
So what other pest could it be? What are other bugs in carpet that bite?
The bad news is that carpet bugs aren’t the only pests that can live in your carpets. The good news is that there is a fairly short list of bugs that look like carpet beetles that may be the culprit. Here are the main contenders.
Carpet Beetles vs Bed Bugs
Carpet beetles and bed bugs don’t look that much alike. In fact, they’d probably be rather offended to be mistaken for the other.
But both pests are tiny, especially from our vantage point, and the differences may not be immediate to the untrained eye. And bed bugs do fit the bill. They can live in carpet and yes, they do bite. So how do you know if it’s bed bugs or carpet beetles? Well, it’s not too difficult to know for sure.
Carpet Beetles vs Fleas
When it comes to tiny bugs that live in carpet and bite, fleas definitely fit the bill. They’re roughly the same size as carpet beetles as well so a case of mistaken identity can easily happen.
That being said, fleas have very different characteristics to carpet beetles. Sure, they can both live in carpet and yes, they can both cause some crazy itching. But the similarities stop there.
It’s fairly easy to tell the difference as long as you know the most common signs of fleas.
Last but not least, there is a very easy hack to identify if it is indeed carpet beetles you’re dealing with. And it all comes down to knowing the carpet beetle life cycle.
What Is the Carpet Beetle Life Cycle?
The larvae are one of the defining characteristics of all carpet beetle species. Not only do the larvae help distinguish carpet beetles from bed bugs and fleas, but they are also what cause the damage to your fabric and furniture.
When two carpet beetles love each other very much, they mate. A female will lay around 90 eggs in a dark, hidden place like the underside of a couch or behind a baseboard. The eggs take anything from 5 to 16 days to hatch, and a limbless larva emerges.
The larva will hide from light and eat whatever animal-derived products they can find, such as a wool carpet, a leather couch, dead insects, and anything else they can get to. The larva will molt, shedding its skin to grow, around 5 to 10 times.
It takes from 66 to 330 days for a carpet beetle larva to reach its final larval stage and pupate, though it could take as long as two years in some conditions. Once the larva pupates, it will emerge after a week or two as a full-fledged adult.
Adult carpet beetles aren’t interested in chewing on your furniture and clothes. Instead, they are interested in finding other beetles to mate with. Attracted to light, they will swarm together and find a partner, and the whole cycle repeats itself.
How Fast Do Carpet Beetles Spread?
On average, it takes somewhere from 180 to 300 days for a carpet beetle to go from an egg to a fully-fledged adult. Once they emerge, the adults only live for about 30 to 60 days, but that’s more than enough time to have lots and lots of hairy babies who will munch on your carpets, furniture and clothing.
With humans, people start looking at you funny if you have more than about four or five kids. But when you consider that a single carpet beetle can have more than 90 babies, and sometimes over a hundred, it’s easy to see how quickly an infestation can get out of control.
And because it’s the larvae that do the real damage, it’s important that you make sure to find them wherever they are hiding when treating carpet beetles. Miss a few larvae, and you have a problem that will just repeat itself over and over.
How to Get Rid of Carpet Beetles
Now that you know just how quickly a carpet beetle infestation can spread, you want to know how to get rid of them quickly and thoroughly so that you can wash your hands of them for good.
We have a full, extensive guide below on how to do just that.
How to Get Rid of Carpet Beetles Completely
Where Do Carpet Beetles Come From?
You’re not interested in where carpet beetles come from because you want to know about their history. Nope, you only care so that you can avoid them in the future.
So how do you get carpet beetles?
Unfortunately, carpet beetles are a fact of life. As dermestids, they have an important place in the ecosystem, since they scavenge dead animals and help break down even tough proteins like keratin. Adult carpet beetles are also pollinators, so they have a use in nature.
That doesn’t mean you want them in your home.
But it can be tough to keep carpet beetles out. They can live outdoors in the summer and all year round in warmer climates, and because they can fly, they can easily come into an open window or door. It’s also possible to bring them in on used furniture or clothes.
That being said, there are a couple things you can do to effectively prevent carpet beetles from entering your home.
How to Prevent Carpet Beetles
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That applies to carpet beetles as well as to just about every other kind of pest.
Here’s the full guide on how to prevent carpet beetles from ever happening to you to begin with.
How to Prevent Carpet Beetles: 5 Carpet Beetle Repellent Strategies
And remember – even if you’ve had carpet beetles once, you can always get them again. All it takes is just carpet beetle fluttering through your window, looking for some delectable natural fabrics for its young to eat.
The best thing you can do is implement the above carpet beetle prevention strategies and remember the signs of carpet beetles so that you never wind up with an infestation again.