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Bed Bugs’ Appearance: 10 Questions Answered

Not many people realize that addressing a bed bug infestation is an extremely time-sensitive problem. The biggest challenge is detecting a bed bug problem because they mostly stay hidden, and not every host experiences a reaction to bites. In addition, bed bugs’ appearance is similar to other insects, making them harder to identify.

We’ve compiled a list of 10 questions to help you identify them quickly and easily so you can call the right bed bug extermination professional to get rid of them.

Q1: What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are tiny insects that usually find their way into a home through foreign travel, moving, shipped items, or new or used furniture. There are two primary species of bed bugs, known scientifically as Cimex Lectularius and Cimex Hemipterus, both of the Cimicidae family. Cimex Lectularius are known as the more ’common’ variation of the two, normally found in cosmopolitan areas, whereas Cimex Hemipterus typically derive from tropical areas. Both variations are characterized by their bloodsucking nature.

Q2: How big are bed bugs?

Adult bed bugs are typically between 5 and 10 mm in length, depending on their feeding status. The EPA has compared adult bed bugs to an apple seed for size reference. Young bed bugs are usually 1.5 mm in size and are very difficult to see—they almost look like tiny specks of dust.

The life cycle of bed bugs consists of the following 5 growth phases:

  • Stage 1 – After hatching, bed bugs are 1.5 mm in size and are white or yellow in colour.
  • Stage 2 – 2 mm in size, are still white and yellow in colour, and are completely translucent.
  • Stage 3 – 2.5 mm in size and darker in colour than the previous stage.
  • Stage 4 – 3 mm in length and are less translucent, and dark tan coloured.
  • Stage 5 – The final stage, 4 mm in length and brown in colour.

Q3: What are the physical attributes of bed bugs?

Bed bugs’ appearance is characterized by a broad, flat, oval-shaped body and short, broad head. Bed bugs have two antennae, are six-legged, and are covered in short, fuzzy hairs that are nearly invisible to the human eye. Adult bed bugs are typically brown unless they have fed, which causes them to darken and turn reddish. Alternatively, young bed bugs are lighter in colour, usually whitish-yellowish in appearance, however, they also darken after feeding.

about bed bugs appearance

Q4: Do bed bugs look like other bugs such as dust mites, fleas, lice, etc.?

It’s easy to mistake bed bugs for other types of bugs due to their size. However, knowing what bed bugs look like and the difference between them and similar insects can make the identification process easier. Below, we’ve compiled a list of insects commonly mistaken for bed bugs.

8 Bugs That Look Like Bed Bugs

Bat Bug - Punaises de chauve-souris

Source: Michigan State University

Bat Bugs

Unlike bed bugs, bat bugs have longer hairs, feed off bats as a primary food source and are often sighted on ceilings or mattresses. They may bite humans on occasion. They belong to the Cimex species.

Booklice - poux des bois

Source: NobbiP, Wikimedia

Booklouse / Booklice

Often mistaken as a bed bug nymph, booklouse is similar in colour and also transparent. Booklice have distinct head and lengthier body that differentiates them from bed bugs.

Flea - Puces

Source: iStock


While fleas are the same colour as adult bed bugs, their shape sets them apart. Bed bugs are flat and round, whereas fleas are laterally flat.

Cockroach nymphs - nymphes de coquerelle

Source: pichai25, Pixabay

Cockroach Nymphs

Small cockroaches, also known as cockroach nymphs, are narrow-bodied, with long antennae and are the same colour as an adult bed bug.

Dust mite - acariens

Source: Matt Colloff, Wikimedia

Dust Mite

Dust mites are microscopic in comparison to bed bugs, being only 0.25 mm in size. Dust mites do not feed off blood, but instead on dead skin cells, and look like tiny white spiders.

swallow bug - punaises hirondelle

Source: dhilkey  – Bug Guide

Swallow Bug

Birds are the preferred hosts of swallow bugs and as a result, often reside in nests. They are very similar to bed bugs in appearance, however, when looked at closely, they can be differentiated by the type of hair.

ticks - tiques

Source: E. Nicodemus, Flickr


Unlike bed bugs, ticks are arachnids, not insects. While bed bugs have 6 legs, ticks have 8. Both bed bugs and ticks are bloodsuckers, however, ticks latch onto and burrow into human and animal skin.

spider beetle - ptine

Source: G. Tschuch, Wikimedia

Spider Beetle

Spider beetles tend to be smaller in size than adult bed bugs, between 1.5-4 mm in size, but they are similar in colour. While bed bugs are oval-shaped, spider beetles are plump and pear-shaped.

Lice – poux

Source: G. SanMartinWikimedia


To the human eye, lice are difficult to see because they have the ability to camouflage. They too feed off blood, but they mainly favour the scalp area to take cover under hair growth. They are the same size as a stage 2-4 nymph (2-3 mm).

Q5: What do bed bugs’ eggs look like and how long do they take to hatch?

Eggs are white and are difficult to see for the human eye as they are only 1 mm in size. They take between 6 to 17 days to hatch. Female bed bugs lay between 2 to 5 eggs daily and can lay 200 or more eggs in their lifetime.

Bed bugs eggs - bed bugs appearnce

Q6: Do bed bugs shed their shells?

After feeding, bed bugs moult their shells to progress into the following stage of life. They will do this 5 times throughout their lifespan.

Q7: Can bed bugs fly or hop?

Bed bugs are flightless since they do not have wings. They only have wing pads, not to be mistaken for wings.

Q8: What are bed bugs’ food sources?

Bed bugs survive on blood nutrients, which is why they are attracted to humans and animals.

Q9: How long do bed bugs live? How long will bed bugs survive without a host?

Bed bugs thrive in warm environments and a suitable breeding ground can allow them to live up to 10 months. Bed bugs require blood to survive and reproduce and require it every 5-7 days to develop to the next life stage.

Q10: What does bed bug poop look like?

Fecal waste from bed bugs looks like small, black- or rust-coloured spots. Fecal spotting tends to appear in clumps of 10 or more spots.

As you can see, bed bugs’ appearance can change depending on their life stage but also if they have just fed or not. In addition, they can easily be mistaken for other insects. Look for the presence of the insect, but also for other signs of bed bugs such as eggs, bites, brown spots and more, to confirm an infestation in your home.

You’ve Identified Bed Bugs in Your Home, Now What?

Because bed bugs reproduce quickly in the presence of food (you), it is important to address the problem as soon as possible. As a homeowner, you should never attempt to deal with an infestation on your own. A good exterminator will be able to confirm the presence of bed bugs and help you get rid of them for good, using a proven bed bug treatment.

If you believe you are unfortunately infested with bed bugs, take action now. Thermapro offers a chemical-free bed bug heat treatment that will help you eliminate bed bugs from your home for good.

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