Live Bed Bugs
Live bed bugs look like tiny cockroaches about the size of apple seeds, about 5-9 mm long, oval and flattened in shape, and brown or pale yellow in color. The most likely places to find bed bugs are near where you sleep-- around boxsprings, mattresses, bed frames, and under the edges of carpet. Other places to look are in the seams of chairs and couches, between cushions, in the folds of curtains, in drawer joints, in electrical receptacles and appliances, under loose wall paper and wall hangings, or at the junction where the wall and the ceiling meet. However, bed bugs are notoriously difficult to detect—the width of a credit card, they can hide in tiny cracks and crevices, so they are seldom seen.
Bed Bug Bites
While bed bugs are very good at hiding, they must feed on blood to survive. When they do, they might leave bites. Bed bug bites can be red and itchy—similar to mosquito or flea bites. If your skin is covered in itchy red spots that you are fairly certain did not come from mosquitoes or fleas, this could be a sign of bed bugs. If you don’t have any visible bites, though, this doesn’t mean you don’t have bedbugs—sometimes the bites are not detectable, or differ in appearance from a mosquito bite.
Spotting on Furniture
One of the most easily detectable early signs of bedbugs is the spotting they leave when they are crushed and when they defecate. When they are crushed, they leave rust-colored stains. When they defecate, they leave dark spots that resemble ink spots from the tip of a marker.
Shed Exoskeletons and Eggs
Insects do not have bones; they have exoskeletons. The exoskeleton is an external hard skin-like layer that encases the insect’s body. Young bed bugs must molt when they grow, shedding their exoskeletons and leaving them as telltale signs of an infestation. Bed bug exoskeletons are pale yellow in color and about 2-9 mm long. Eggs are another telltale sign; they are tiny, about 1 mm long, whitish in color, and oval shaped.
Dogs and Monitoring Devices to Detect Bed Bugs
Monitoring technology can substantially increase the likelihood of detecting bed bugs before an infestation becomes serious. Passive monitoring devices simply catch the bugs. For example, bed bug interceptors are small plastic trays with inner and outer rings that are placed under bed legs. The bed bugs are caught in the trays, allowing both detection of the bugs and prevention of bites. Active monitoring devices lure the bugs using bait such as bed bug pheromones. Dogs can be trained to use their keen sense of smell to detect bed bugs.
If you suspect you may have a bed bug infestation, it is best to call a professional company that uses these methods-- and don't delay! Once entrenched, bed bug infestations are very hard to fight. The sooner you catch an infestation, the easier it will be to rid your home of these tenacious pests.
Further reading and references:
1. American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene: Bed Bug Detection: Current Technologies and Future Directions
2. JAMA: Bed Bugs (Cimex lectularius) and Clinical Consequences of Their Bites
3. CDC: Parasites—Bed Bugs
4. United States Environmental Protection Agency: How to Find Bed Bugs
5. University of Minnesota Extension: Prevention and Control of Bed Bugs in Residences
6. BadBedBugs.com: What Do Bed Bug Bites Look Like?