Nobody looks through bed bug pictures for fun. Nope. If you’re asking what do bed bugs look like, it’s most likely because you’ve found a bug and now you’re terrified you have bed bugs. You just want to compare what you’ve seen to the most accurate images of bed bugs and get confirmation and hopefully, peace of mind.
Well, you’re in good company. Not only are bed bugs one of the most feared pests – and for good reason. But they can also be confusing to identify thanks to their small size and the fact that there are a couple of bed bug lookalikes who look and behave pretty similarly.
So we’re going to nip all that in the bud and settle the question of what do bed bugs look like with the clearest, most accurate bed bug pictures. It’s not going to be pretty. But we promise that it will be useful.
What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?
The simplest answer is that adult bed bugs have roughly the appearance and size of an apple seed with legs. They’re oval, reddish-brown and they have a flat body when viewed from the side.
The longer, more accurate answer is that how a bed bug looks depends on a couple factors such as whether it’s fed recently and where it is in its bed bug life cycle.
Since the biggest factor affecting bed bug appearance is its life cycle, let’s start there.
Bed Bug Life Cycle Pictures
Just as we transform in our lives from bald yet adorable babes to awkward teenagers and beyond, the way a bed bug looks changes throughout its life cycle as well.
In the case of a bed bug infestation, it’s likely that there are a couple generations of bed bugs living in your home so it’s important to know exactly what bed bugs look like in each stage of their lives.
There are essentially seven stages in a bed bug’s life cycle:
- Eggs (1mm).
- 1st stage nymph (1.5 mm).
- 2nd stage nymph (2 mm).
- 3rd stage nymph (2.5 mm).
- 4th stage nymph (3 mm).
- 5th stage nymph (4.5 mm).
- Unfed adult female (5 – 7 mm).
- Unfed adult male (5 – 7 mm).
And that sounds like a lot but don’t worry – it doesn’t make identification difficult. Because what is important to note is that bed bugs go through what’s known as an incomplete metamorphosis, which consists of just three stages – egg, nymph, adult.
This simply means that once a bed bug hatches from its egg, it takes on the form it’s going to have its whole life. So a baby bed bug looks exactly like an adult bed bug. It’s just smaller and transparent since it hasn’t yet had a blood meal.
This is different from insects that have a complete metamorphosis, which consists of four stages – egg, larva, pupa, and adult. So take the example of a butterfly, which will start life as an egg, transform into a caterpillar, then a pupa, and then a butterfly.
Each stage in a butterfly’s life cycle is entirely different from the others in appearance whereas a bed bug looks more or less the same throughout its life once its hatched from its egg.
You can see how similar bed bugs look throughout their life cycle in the picture below.
This is good news for us since it makes it easier to identify bed bugs in all life stages. But of course, there’s bad news too: as soon as a bed bug hatches from its egg, it’s going to want a blood meal.
We’ll get to that in a bit. But let’s first delve into what bed bugs look like before they hatch: yup, get ready for some bed bug egg pictures.
What Do Bed Bug Eggs Look Like?
Bed bug eggs can be tricky to find and identify. That’s because they’re only about 1 millimeter long. But small as they may be, they are visible to the human eye, even without the aid of a microscope.
Below is a picture of a proud bed bug mama and her eggs.
At first, bed bug eggs just look like shiny white dots that can range from translucent to white. But after about five days, they do develop a dark mark or two after that make them easier to identify.
Below is a picture of one hatched egg and two unhatched eggs.
Thanks to their size and light color, identifying bed bug eggs on a mattress or somewhere with lighter-colored fabrics can be tricky. Which is unfortunate since bed bugs prefer to lay their eggs on fabrics – think mattresses and upholstered furniture – as well as wood rather than plastic or metal surfaces.
That being said, they can and will make use of rough plastic and metal surfaces – these bugs aren’t picky.
Here’s one unfortunate truth that makes bed bug eggs somewhat easier to identify: Bed bug eggs may be small but they are plentiful. It can be easy to miss one or two bed bug eggs scattered about but it’s a lot easier to spot a full nest of bed bug eggs.
And when you’re dealing with the kinds of numbers that a bed bug infestation produces, it’s hard to miss the signs.
You see, a single female bed bug can lay around 200 to 250 eggs during her lifetime. It just gets worse from there: each of those eggs only take about a week or two to hatch into blood-sucking bed bug nymphs.
And many of those bed bug nymphs will be fertile females who can breed with, well, any of their siblings. Because bed bugs aren’t picky when it comes to mating partners – they’ll breed with their cousins, sisters and even their own mother. Worse news? They can get away with it.
Most insects can’t inbreed so closely because it’ll lead to genetic deformities but bed bugs can – and will.
A recent study by North Caroline State University entomologists showed that entire bed bug infestations can be started by just one or two founder insects. That means if even one pregnant bed bug enters your premises – you’ll have a lot of unwanted bedmates soon.
That’s also why it’s crucial that your strategy for getting rid of bed bugs targets both adult bed bugs and their eggs. Without getting rid of bed bug eggs, you’ll never get rid of bed bugs completely.
What Does Bed Bug Larvae Look Like?
When a baby bed bug hatches from its egg, it enters the bed bug larvae, aka bed bug nymphs, stage. Bed bug larvae look much like their adult counterparts but are much smaller. So small, in fact, that you’ll be able to spot it but you’ll most likely need a microscope to clearly make out the parts of their body.
There are five bed bug larvae stages. At each stage, the bed bug needs a blood meal which helps it to grow larger and darker. While bed bug larvae are transparent, they turn red after it has a blood meal.
Below, you can see what bed bug nymphs look like before and after a blood meal.
Obviously, they are much easier to identify (and see) once they’re filled with blood. When they’re transparent, it’s easy to both overlook them and to confuse them with a few of the bugs that look like bed bugs, such as booklice.
After the blood meal, a bed bug larva then sheds its skin and proceeds to the next stage. Spotting these clear skins left behind in the molting process is one tell-tale sign of bed bugs.
After these five molts, the bed bug reaches maturity. The whole process can take on average around 35 days, depending on the temperature and its access to blood meals.
Keep in mind that blood meals are essential for bed bug larvae to grow and move on to its next stage of development. So if you’re getting bed bug bites but finding nothing that resembles the typical pictures of adult bed bugs, it’s possible you’re getting bit by transparent and harder-to-spot bed bug nymphs.
The only good news when it comes to bed bug larvae is that they are not yet sexually mature. Bed bugs won’t be able to reproduce until they’ve completed their five molts so if you can kill them while they’re young, you can stop the cycle in its track.
What Does Bed Bug Shedding Look Like?
Bed bugs are excellent at hiding. Plus, bed bugs are nocturnal by nature and usually choose to wait ’til their hosts are sound asleep before crawling out of their hiding places.
So when you’re trying to find out whether or not you have bed bugs, sometimes it’s easier to look for signs of bed bugs rather than trying to spot a live specimen.
And one surefire sign that you’ve got bed bugs is finding the skin they shed as they molt into maturity.
As you can see, bed bug shed skins look an awful lot like bed bugs. So if you’re spotting cast skins that look like this, you can be sure you have baby bed bugs that are feasting on you and your loved ones and will soon grow into full-fledged bloodsuckers with families of their own.
What Do Adult Bed Bugs Look Like?
Most of the bed bug pictures that you’ll have encountered in your life are of full-grown, adult bed bugs. But when you’re trying to identify exactly which bug you’re dealing with, a few more pictures can’t hurt.
Adult bed bugs are about 5 to 7 millimeters once they’re fully grown. They’re oval shaped and when viewed from the side, they have flattened bodies.
Bed bug males and females look pretty much exactly the same. The biggest difference is that tail end of a male bed bug is more pointed than that of a female.
As you can see from these pictures of bed bugs, they don’t have wings. That’s about the only good news when it comes to bed bugs – they can’t fly nor jump long distances.
It’s probably a good thing bed bugs are so small because pictures showing close up of bed bugs are pretty darn disturbing.
You can’t tell from these close-up pictures of bed bugs but even at adult size, bed bugs are still very small. How small? Let’s put it in perspective.
How Big Do Bed Bugs Get?
Bed bug size really depends on their stage of development – bed bugs can grow to the size of an apple seed and tend to range from 1mm to 7mm in size (roughly the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny).
Bed bug eggs are around 1 millimeter in length. Once hatched, young bed bug nymphs are the size of a poppy seed and adults are roughly the size of an apple seed.
Here’s how they compare to a penny.
And here’s another great picture of just how small they look on a person’s finger.
The below close-up of a bed bug crawling on human skin really shows how close you need to get to see a bed bug clearly.
Because they’re so small, most pests tend to get compared to various types of seeds. Here’s a great picture comparing the size of bed bugs to various seeds.
The bed bug egg is roughly the size of a poppy seed, the nymphs are about the size of a sesame seed and flax seed and the adult bed bug is roughly the size of an apple seed.
As you can see from these pictures showing bed bug sizes, even when they’re full-grown, they are really quite small.
This is why most advice given on bed bugs recommends that you keep your home clean. It’s not because bed bugs are attracted to filth – they frankly don’t care. They’ll infest clean and dirty homes alike.
It’s simply because clutter makes it even harder to spot bed bugs before they become a serious problem. Bed bugs love clutter since it makes it easier for them to move around without detection – not to mention having a lot of stuff lying around will make it harder for you to rid your space of bed bugs.
So you know all that stuff lying around that you say you’re going to sort through but never get around to?
Well, take this bed bug infestation as an opportunity to finally get around to it.
So the first thing you want to do to control a bed bug infestation is do away with things you’ll probably never use again. That way you can focus your energies on saving the stuff that matters – your home, your sanity and the items you actually use.
Tip: Wrap all the clutter you’re throwing away in plastic bags before taking them outside so bed bugs don’t fall off and stay in your home.
When you combine their small size with the fact that bed bugs are expert hiders, it becomes apparent why you may be unable to find a live specimen, even when they are present in your home.
This is why it’s important to know the tell-tale signs of bed bugs. The shed skins that you saw pictures of above are one such evidence of bed bugs.
Another? Bed bug poop.
What Does Bed Bug Poop Look Like?
One of the earliest signs of bed bugs you can watch out for is bed bug poop. Because whereas bed bugs may be excellent at hiding, they aren’t exactly shy about where they dispose of their excrement.
So what does bed bug poop look like? You’ll want to check for tiny dark spots that look a lot like pen marks that have bled into the fabric.
Below is another close-up of how bed bug poop stains may appear.
If you’re not sleeping with open ink pens in your bed but keep finding little stains that look like these pictures, it’s probably a sign of bed bugs.
Below is a picture of how bed bug poop stains will look to the naked eye, without a magnifying glass.
What Do Bed Bugs Look Like on a Mattress?
Remember how bed bugs can’t fly? How they do manage to get around is by crawling. Bed bugs can travel over 100 feet in a night but they typically prefer to live within 8 feet of where people sleep, sit, or rest.
It’s not surprising why they choose to set up camp close when you consider how small they are and how short their little legs are. Of course they’re going to want to set up camp close to their favorite restaurant – you.
This is exactly why the majority of any bed bug infestation is located in beds and any furniture that is closest to the bed. And when you further consider how bed bugs prefer surfaces like fabric and wood, well, you can fully comprehend why they are called bed bugs.
They love your bed as much as you do.
Mattresses and box springs also offer a lot of little folds, seams and crevices where bed bugs can both hide and lay their eggs. This is why we recommend a very thorough inspection – lift up flaps, seams and examine both the tops and bottoms.
Above you can see what bed bugs look like on a mattress. The picture below shows a close up of the same mattress where you can see adult and baby bed bugs as well as their poop stains.
Keep in mind that bed bugs eggs are sticky and will easily cling onto the fabric of mattresses and bed sheets. In severe bed bug infestations, bed bug poop on mattresses will be easier to spot. As you can see in the below picture, bed bug feces can look a lot like mildew.
As you can see from the below picture, one of the bed bugs’ favorite hiding places in a mattress is the welting. Be especially thorough where the edges are sewn together.
Last but not least, bed bugs can also “burrow” into the fabric of mattresses and set up camp.
Which brings us to bed bug communities, aka the dreaded bed bug nest.
What Do Bed Bug Nests Look Like?
If you’ve ever had to get rid of ants or bees, one of the smartest things to do is to seek out the nest. Because for those pests, the nest is the root of all infestation. It’s where you’re most likely to find the queen, kill it, and nip the problem at the source.
So it’s understandable that you want to do the same for bed bugs by locating the bed bug nest.
Except, when it comes to bed bugs, it’s different.
Bed bugs don’t have a queen. And as such, they don’t have that one major nest. Instead, bed bugs live in what’s called a harborage, which is basically a bed bug community where bed bugs spend the majority of their lives digesting blood meals, growing and shedding skins, laying their eggs and of course, pooping.
The bad news is that there can be several bed bug nests around your home. The good news is that bed bugs like to live together – in fact, bed bugs will communicate to other bed bugs via pheromones to spread the news when they’ve found a good, safe place to live.
So that’s the good news: when you find a bed bug harborage, you can kill off a large batch of several generations of bed bugs in one swift go.
Another thing to note about bed bug nests is that they’re typically going to be located near where you sleep and spend the majority of your time. That means beds and sofas, of course. But also keep in mind that bed bugs can set up a harborage in cracks in the walls, behind wallpaper, furniture, curtains, and even electronics.
Whereas they prefer fabrics and wood, they aren’t above living on rougher metal and plastic surfaces, as you can see in the picture of an infested wheelchair above.
In severe infestations, you can even find a bed bug nest in the most unlikely places, like the toilet seat below.
Even then, they almost always prefer cracks and crevices over smooth surfaces, as you can see in the closeup of the toilet seat hinges below.
Just keep in mind: once bed bugs know that their safe place has been discovered, you run the risk of that colony “splintering” and setting up new harborages around your home. This is why we recommend that when you set out to get rid of bed bugs, you be very, very thorough.
What Do Bed Bug Bites Look Like?
Of course, no article explaining what bed bugs look like would be complete without delving into bed bug bites.
But here’s where things can get tricky. You see, looking for bed bug bites is not the best way to tell if you have a bed bug infestation on your hands.
Why? For starters, identifying bed bug bites is not an exact science – bed bug bites can look very similar to bites from other insects like mosquitoes and fleas.
To complicate things even further, people have widely varying reactions to bed bug bites. Some may get red, itchy welts while others might have an allergic reaction and break out in rashes and hives.
Below is a picture of bed bug bites that caused a pretty serious allergic reaction with swollen red welts.
Trickiest of all – many people don’t have any visible reaction to bed bug bites. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that people will not show any visible marks in half of all bed bug cases!
Take a look at the picture below of a very minimal reaction to bed bug bites on the hand.
Thanks to the wide range of individual reactions to bed bug bites, people have been completely unaware they’re living amidst a bed bug infestation until they see the little pests scurrying around and others have mistaken their bed bug bites for everything from poison ivy to an allergic reaction to detergent.
This is why bed bug bites are not the most reliable way of determining whether you have bed bugs.
That being said, bed bugs do have a pretty predictable feeding pattern, which is why their mealtimes are jokingly referred to as bed bug breakfast, lunch, and dinner since there will often be a pattern to the bites you’re getting.
Bed bugs also tend to bite multiple times, even “testing” a few areas first to find the best source of blood so bed bug bites often occur in clusters or rows on exposed skin.
If you notice you’re getting welts or rashes that seem to happen at certain times and are clustered on certain areas of your skin – there’s a good chance you’re dealing with bed bugs.
The most common locations for bed bug bites are hands, arms, neck and the worst – face. Basically, any exposed areas will be the most bitten, but they can bite pretty much anywhere.
Hungry bugs will move out from their hiding places, in search of exposed skin. Typically, the head and neck are bitten, but bed bugs will also bite bare arms, hands, legs, and pretty much anywhere else skin is exposed and easy to get to.
But again, trying to identify bed bug bites can be a tricky science. So if you’re trying to determine whether you have bed bugs (or, hopefully, not) – look for other clues of bed bugs as well.
What Do Bed Bugs Look Like After Feeding?
Last but not least, let’s take a look at what bed bugs look like after a blood meal. They don’t usually change dramatically but as you can see from the picture below of a bed bug on skin before feeding, bed bugs are typically quite flat.
Below, you can see a bed bug after its blood meal. Note how their usually flat bodies expand and swell a bit after they’ve fed.
It’s also helpful to get an idea of how they feed. After all, you must be curious how they could continue using us for blood meals without detection, right?
Well, take a look at the above picture and you can see the mouthparts that bed bugs use to pierce our skin.
And that’s exactly what they do. Bed bug bites aren’t technically “bites.”
Here’s a disturbing bed bug fact: these parasites have two handy little tubes – with one, it injects its saliva which is laced with an anesthetic, into your skin so you don’t feel anything while it feeds on your blood by inserting the other sharp proboscis, or beak, into your skin to suck up blood.
They’ll feed like that for around 5 to 10 minutes until they’re swollen and slightly red from being filled with blood. Then, they return back to their hiding place.
The picture above helpfully shows bed bugs in every life stage after a blood meal. As you can see, they are easiest to spot and identify after they’ve fed.