It’s a typical scenario, you are folding the laundry, having a fine Saturday afternoon and then you spot… it. It’s a bug. What kind of bug?
The bug kind of bug. Maybe it’s lice, maybe a tick, maybe it’s one of the other half-dozen bugs that look like bed bugs. It’s a bug, you don’t feel the need to interrogate it, ask about its relatives, and see pictures of its children.
We understand, you often don’t care what kind of bug you just found crawling around in places that you would prefer to remain bug-free. And with bed bug infestations on the rise, it’s easy to jump to a conclusion.
Still, it’s best to combat the right problem with the right solution. Read on to learn how to identify some of the most distinctive pretenders to the louse throne.
Bugs That Look Like Bed Bugs
Let’s start with a description of the bed bug (Cimex lectularius). You’ll need this as a comparison to understand why so many other bugs look akin to it.
A real bed bug starts out looking like an oval-shaped, flat thing. Six legs to keep it firmly in the insect kingdom and between 5-9 mm long. They are brown in colour and you can barely make out the difference between their head and thorax, more than half of their body is abdomen.
Once they’ve gotten done feasting on some blood (hopefully not yours) they become engorged. Now they will be more bright to purplish-red colour instead of brown. Their abdomen will be swollen, giving them an extra couple millimetres in length and girth.
Now let’s compare this grisly set of features with other bugs that resemble bed bugs.
1. Cockroach Nymphs
Unlike their full-grown counterparts, nymphs don’t have wings or the harder chitin body structures. This leaves them looking rather more like bed bugs.
After their first moulting from a pupa into a nymph, they possess a reddish-brown colouring that is quite close to a bed bug.
The body shape is more cylindrical, more like a bed bug after feeding, minus the extra swollen red colouring.
Cockroaches are bad news, of course, and carry irritants that can trigger asthma.
In a reversal to the previous look-a-like, booklice look nothing like adult bed bugs. They do resemble bed bug nymphs, however.
These tiny critters are only half a millimetre in length when fully grown. They are wingless and have white markings along their abdomen, the remainder of them, if you can see them, is partially translucent.
Depending on the environment the booklice live in, this colouring chan change to brown or grey, which makes them more similar at a glance to the bed bug nymphs.
3. Bat Bugs
No, bat bugs are not the bugs that Batman keeps around for fighting specific villains. Nor are they a Batman villain — you’re thinking of Bat-Mite.
This entry requires a bit of humour because telling a bat bug from a bed bug requires a microscope and a six-year degree. The scientific name is Cimex lectularius, Afrocimex constrictus. As a sub-species of bed bug, you would be well within your rights to mistake one for the other.
The chief difference between the two species is that bed bugs feed on humans and other animals whereas the bat bug feeds on bats. Visually they have some differences in the length of the fringe hair below their head.
Finding bat bugs is an indicator of bats living in your attic (in the literal sense, not the pejorative for crazy). If bat bugs can’t find a bat, they will develop a taste for humans and pets, so they should be treated when found.
4. Carpet Beetles
As a type of beetle, carpet beetles have wings. This makes them somewhat easy to tell apart if you see them taking flight.
You won’t hear their tiny wings and beg bugs are light enough to catch some hair if you are snapping a sheet. Flight is the best indicator at a distance, though.
Closer up, you’ll see that the carpet beetle has scales and can range in colour from brown to yellow to orange speckles. The thorax portion is a bit more prominent and the bugs are less often translucent in their adult forms.
Carpet beetles eat fibres, not people. You may notice damage to your fabrics if this is the case. Some people have allergies to the tiny hairs that carpet beetles shed. This allergy presents as small welts, which look a lot like bed bug bit sites, so the confusion between the two is warranted.
Using thermal imaging is a great way to detect traces of unwanted pests milling about your home.
5. Swallow Bugs
Unlike bat bugs, which kept the family name, the swallow bug went with Oeciacus vicarius to avoid stigma. Much like the bat bug, swallow bugs are a sub-species of bed bug that chose birds as their primary food source.
If you have a large bird population that uses your clothesline as a perch, you may find swallow bugs around.
Visually, the swallow bug is a darker brown without the reddish colouring and its body is covered in short hairs.
Also like bat bugs, if you get all of the birds to go away, the bugs need something else to eat and you are something else. Treat swallow bugs as bed bugs to prevent that second step from occurring.
6. Spider Beetles
Possessing a large, red abdomen, spider beetles are dead ringers for a well-fed bed bug. They look a bit small, with the largest only being about 4 mm long. Their heads are also a dark brown or black colour, making them easier to see.
Like swallow bugs, they are covered in short hairs.
Spider beetles mostly feed on garbage and old food items. check your pantry for holes in boxes and bags.
Though they are beetles, they also leave behind web-like nests as they breed, eat, and grow. This characteristic provides them with the spider part of the common name.
These final bed bug imposters do a lot of bloodsucking and causing irritation in humans and pets alike.
Fleas are tiny, reaching only upwards of 3.5 mm in size. Fleas can be hard to see with the naked eye, especially as they have a tendency to jump as their major form of movement.
Fleas normally come in with pets and are a good reason to make sure you are bathing yourself, your pets, and your children periodically to deter the pests.
Fleas are translucent in colouring and seem to go from head to abdomen with no thorax. The jumping and size tend to be the biggest indicators, though.
Now that you have a fairly thorough understanding of bugs that look like bed bugs you can impress family members at holiday gatherings.
You can also call pest control professionals to wipe out these crawlies for you.