Early Signs of Bed Bugs: How to Detect Them Before It’s Too Late

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Bed bugs are tiny, reddish-brown insects that feed on human and animal blood.

These insects have been a growing issue worldwide, causing distress, property loss, and financial burden for many people.

Thankfully, bed bugs are not known to transmit diseases. The key to preventing bed bug infestations is regular inspection for early signs of their presence.

Early Signs of Bed Bugs
Bed Bug

One reliable indicator that bed bugs may have invaded your space is spotting the bugs themselves.

Adult bed bugs are roughly the size of a penny and can often be found in mattress seams, headboards, and furniture near the bed.

Another sign of their presence is small, dark spots on your bedding, which indicate their fecal droppings.

Lastly, while not always conclusive, bed bug bites on your skin may resemble other insect bites or rashes, so it’s essential to consider all potential indicators of an infestation before jumping to conclusions.

In addition to inspecting your surroundings for signs of bed bugs, it’s crucial to take appropriate measures to prevent them from entering your home.

Some preventative tips include vacuuming your home regularly, reducing clutter, and sealing any cracks or crevices found in your walls or furniture.

By staying vigilant and proactive, you can minimize the likelihood of facing a bed bug infestation and maintain a comfortable, pest-free environment.

Early Signs of Bed Bugs

Bites

  • Bed bug bites often appear as small, red, itchy welts on the skin.
  • They can be mistaken for mosquito or flea bites, but bed bug bites usually follow a linear pattern, with several bites in a row.
  • Bites may take up to 14 days to become visible and can lead to skin irritation from excessive scratching.

Blood Stains

  • Tiny reddish-brown stains on sheets or mattress covers could be signs of bed bug activity.
  • These blood stains occur when bed bugs get crushed between the body and bedding surfaces during sleep.
  • Regularly inspecting your bedding for these stains can help identify a bed bug problem early on.

Bed Bug

Excrement and Dark Spots

  • Bed bugs leave behind small, dark excrement spots, often found in the seams, piping, and tags of mattresses and box springs, as well as in cracks on bed frames and headboards [1].
  • These dark spots can also be found in drawer joints, in the folds of curtains, and between cushions.
  • Regularly cleaning your sleeping areas can help detect excrement spots and prevent further infestation.

Molting

  • Bed bugs shed their exoskeletons as they grow, leaving behind molted skins.
  • These skins may appear as pale, paper-thin remnants, resembling the bed bug’s original shape and size.
  • Inspecting for molting is important in detecting a growing bed bug population.

Live Bed Bugs

  • Adult bed bugs are typically reddish-brown, wingless, and about 1mm to 5mm in size [2].
  • They are nocturnal and prefer to hide in small, dark spaces during the day, making them difficult to spot.
  • Using a flashlight to scan around mattress corners, bed frames, and furniture joints can help identify live bed bugs.

Understanding these early signs of bed bugs can help you detect an infestation promptly and take necessary actions to prevent its spread.

Regular inspection and cleaning are key to keeping bed bugs from establishing a foothold in your home.

Identifying Bed Bug Infestations

Common Hiding Places

Bed bugs are excellent at hiding in small spaces, which makes identifying infestations challenging. Some common hiding places include:

  • Mattresses and box springs
  • Bedding and sheets
  • Cracks and crevices in furniture
  • Upholstered furniture
  • Wallpaper edges
  • Electrical outlets

It’s helpful to regularly inspect these areas in order to catch a potential infestation early.

Bed Bug

Inspecting Mattresses and Box Springs

Examining mattresses and box springs for signs of bed bugs is critical to discovering an infestation.

When inspecting, pay close attention to:

  • Red, itchy bites on the skin
  • Evidence of bed bug shells or eggs
  • Fecal spots or blood stains on sheets
  • Live bed bugs hiding along seams and edges

Mattress vs. Box Spring Inspection

To effectively inspect both the mattress and box spring, it’s essential to understand some distinctions between the two:

MattressBox Spring
Check along seams and edgesInspect cracks/crevices in frame
Examine any folds or tuftingLook beneath fabric coverings
Remove and inspect all sheets 

Bed Bug Bites and Their Symptoms

Skin Reactions

Bed bug bites can affect individuals differently. Some people may experience no reaction, while others might develop bite marks or other visible signs from being bitten.

Commonly, these bites appear on exposed skin such as the face, neck, and hands. Additionally, they might be found on the body in areas where clothing is less likely to cover, including arms and legs.

Examples of skin reactions include:

  • Eczema-like rashes
  • Swollen red marks
  • Clustered bite marks

Swollen and Itchy Bites

When bed bugs feed on a person’s blood, they often leave behind swollen and itchy bite marks.

These can be found in clusters or a straight line pattern. It’s important to note that bed bug bites can share similarities with other insect bites, causing them to be easily mistaken for mosquito or chigger bites.

Interestingly, some individuals may experience an allergic reaction to components in the bed bug’s saliva, which could lead to more severe itching and inflammation.

Conclusion

Early detection is crucial in preventing larger infestations of bed bugs.

Key indicators of their presence include spotting the bugs themselves, often found in mattress seams and nearby furniture, as well as dark fecal droppings on bedding.

Bed bug bites, though resembling other insect bites, often follow a linear pattern and can lead to skin irritation.

Regular inspections, especially of mattresses and box springs, are vital.

Preventative measures, such as vacuuming, reducing clutter, and sealing cracks, combined with travel precautions, can help maintain a bed bug-free environment and ensure peace of mind.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about bed bugs.

Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Flea

Blood Sucking Bug. Assassin? Bed Bug?
January 19, 2010
I have been trying to find out everything I could about bloodsucking bugs ever since I found one on top of my sheets last night. I had received multiple bug bites on my stomach and wrists (see photo for stomach bites) the night before last but couldn’t figure out what was going on.

I found the culprit: a bug was feeding on me. It is no more than a 1/4″ long and was walking slowly across the sheet. It definitely was not a flea as I could pick it up easily. I smooshed its back, trying to kill it. and a lot of blood (my blood) came out in the process.

Flea

It’s antennae was moving for several minutes before I decided to flush it down the toilet. I’m scared. I am not sure if my dog brought it into the house with him (he does not sleep on the bed though).

Or if this is a sign of an infestation to come. I went through a cleaning frenzy today but could not find any more of them. Am I safe? What’s this bug?
Scared this might be a bed bug?
Seattle, WA

Flea

Dear Scared,
This does appear to be a Bed Bug.  While we do not give extermination advice, we strongly counsel you to seek professional help.

Flea Bites

Thank you for answering my question. I am still hopeful that it ISN’T a bedbug though. From all the other photos I’ve seen of them, they have more of a flat, rounded body shape than my bug–which had more of a diamond-like body before I squished it.

Anyway, I haven’t been able to find any more of them, or the tell-tale signs of bedbugs on the sheets or elsewhere. I know that they’re never alone so I will keep looking.
Thanks for having such an informative website.
Not Scared Anymore

Correction thanks to Eric Eaton
Daniel:
The “bed bug” is actually a FLEA!  Probably a cat flea, the most overwhelmingly common species to afflict both cats AND dogs…..
Eric

Letter 2 – Bed Bug

Subject: Need to know what kind of bug we have.
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
January 4, 2016 5:13 am
We live in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have been getting bites on our arms and seeing these bugs on or bed.

We think they are bed bugs but just want to make sure so we can approach it the correct way?
Signature: Curtis

Bed Bug
Bed Bug

Dear Curtis,
Regretably, this is a Bed Bug, and as you have learned, they bite people and suck blood, usually while the unsuspecting victim is asleep.

Letter 3 – Bed Bug

Subject: What kind of bug is this
Location: USA
January 29, 2016 9:13 am
I just want to find out what kind of bug this is
Signature: Marvin Vasquez

Bed Bug
Bed Bug

Dear Marvin,
This is a blood-sucking Bed Bug and chances are good that if you found one, there are more lurking about.

Letter 4 – Bed Bug

Subject: Wtf?
Location: West Virginia
February 9, 2016 12:13 am
I found him on my work shirt (which i leave in my locker) hours after being at work. Im freaked out.
Signature: Brooke

Bed Bug
Bed Bug

Dear Brooke,
You are lucky you left it at work.  This is a Bed Bug.  You should carefully check your belongings in the future before heading home.

Letter 5 – Bed Bug

Subject: Please identify this
Location: Kentucky
March 9, 2016 10:22 pm
Small brownish color.
Signature: Dwillb

Bed Bug
Bed Bug

Dear Dwillb,
Despite your blurry image, this sure looks like a Bed Bug to us.  The Bed Bug is our featured Bug of the Month this month.

Letter 6 – Bed Bug

Subject: bug
Location: United States
August 17, 2016 11:34 pm
Sir I am 8 months pregnant and would love to know what kind of bug has been on my mattress since I’ve been gone. I’m scared it’s bed bugs and I know I can’t afford to get rid of them.

The small ones look like fleas, the big ones look like ticks. I had bug bites on my arms for awhile I just didn’t know it was from my mattress.
Signature: shayla price

Bed Bug
Bed Bug

Dear Shayla,
We are sorry to have to tell you that this is a Bed Bug.  The good news is that Bed Bugs do not spread diseases. 

We would urge you to consult with a physician, but to the best of our knowledge, bites from a Bed Bug should not affect your unborn child.  Again, we are not medical experts, so you should check with a physician.

Letter 7 – Bed Bug

Subject: This one bites
Location: Southern oklahoma
October 8, 2016 3:56 am
We have found this bug type in our house several times, usually after they bite my wife leaving large welts
Signature: Mean little biters

Bed Bug
Bed Bug

This is a Bed Bug and they bite because they feed on human blood.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Bed Bug

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10 Comments. Leave new

  • This looks like a flea of some sort, not a bed bug.

    Reply
  • Simon Kahalehoe
    June 20, 2013 6:10 pm

    Insect bites are annoying and potential threats to both humans and animals. Fortunately, flea bites are not as dangerous as many other insect bites. Although you do not need to contact your doctor as soon as it starts itching all over the body, you must still be aware of allergic reactions and rashes. Fleas can be carriers of many different types of bacteria and viral diseases, and they are known to transmit tapeworms. Even if the fleas do not have infections, flea bites can still drive both animals and humans mad when they come in big groups, and they are not easy to get rid of. I’ll show you how to treat and prevent flea bites.`,,”

    Find out more about our personal webpage as well http://healthwellnessbook.comcl

    Reply
  • Simon Kahalehoe
    June 20, 2013 6:10 pm

    Insect bites are annoying and potential threats to both humans and animals. Fortunately, flea bites are not as dangerous as many other insect bites. Although you do not need to contact your doctor as soon as it starts itching all over the body, you must still be aware of allergic reactions and rashes. Fleas can be carriers of many different types of bacteria and viral diseases, and they are known to transmit tapeworms. Even if the fleas do not have infections, flea bites can still drive both animals and humans mad when they come in big groups, and they are not easy to get rid of. I’ll show you how to treat and prevent flea bites.`,,”

    Find out more about our personal webpage as well http://healthwellnessbook.comcl

    Reply
  • Just FYI. The best way to kill the miniture blood-sucking vampires called “fleas” is by NOT trying to squeeze the little blood demons but rather to “roll em” while they eat! Now I consider myself a pretty strong fella, as I work out on a regular basis, but squeezing as hard as I could for as long as humanly possible did not kill the last one I tried to expire by this method. Now I just roll them like puddy or dough (like masa for making tortillas for all you Mexican folk out there ) and voila… DEAD flea! Try it, you’ll like it..

    Hope thIs helps someone, anyone in desperate need of help and good luck hunting to ya all.

    Signed: “El flea hatin’ MexiCAN from California”!

    Reply
  • Dear Brooke,
    You have to check more Bed Bugs in your surroundings.They are very dangerous pests.So if you want to get rid of pest like Bud Bugs,you can call to Texoma Pest Managment,Wichita Falls,TX. They have the experience, equipment, and expertise necessary to eliminate pests.

    Reply
  • I bought a bed when i first came home from prison. Three weeks later i started feeling like bumps i thought were mosito bites. Inspected the bed and found a bed bug. I went to home depot and got some bug spray for bed bugs it didnt work. I then got different spray and a guy told me he was going through the something and he was told to mix bug spray with 91% rubbing alcohol. I did the bites stop for two days and started back. Why can i get rid of these pests i pulled the carpet and tossed the bed and bought another one and i still get bit usaully on my feet and arms.

    Reply
    • Bed Bugs frequently hide under pictures hung on the wall or between the baseboard and the wall. They emerge at night to feed.

      Reply
  • Does whatsthatbug.com also not endorse extermination of bedbugs?

    Reply
    • WTB? does not endorse wholesale extermination, especially of native species that pose no threats. We also firmly believe that non-native species that pose a significant threat to native species, like the Argentine Ant, should be controlled. We believe things need to be taken on a case by case basis. Our site disclaimer was implemented because we cannot fully control the Google Ads placed on our site, and the disclaimer is more regarding products advertised on our site than regarding an actual blanket statement about extermination. Invasive species and threats to human health and welfare are distinct exceptions. If we found a Bed Bug on our mattress, we would kill it.

      Reply
  • Recent Bug Refugee
    August 18, 2016 8:05 am

    Shayla, it doesn’t have to be expensive to get rid of an infestation, but it does take some hard work and vigilance. You will want to be very cautious about using pesticides, though, with being pregnant and when your baby arrives.

    If you rent, your landlord should be responsible for treatment — but they should use an experienced pest professional (one that is familiar with bed bug behavior and proper treatment options). Make sure the pest professional knows you are pregnant.

    The first and best things you should do, aside from notifying your landlord if you rent, are to buy a mattress & box spring encasements, isolate your bed from the walls and floor (no bed skirt, hanging sheets, etc), and put traps on the legs of your bed. Vacuuming all the nooks and crannies — gaps, baseboards, bed frame corners, etc. in your bedroom is important to remove bugs and eggs, but you must either throw away the vacuum bag each day or use knee-high pantyhose stockings on the vacuum hose (then you can soak those in alcohol and throw away, instead of the whole vacuum bag). You will also want to bag up all your clothing etc. and put through the dryer on very high heat (120 degrees kills all stages of the bugs). Then keep storing your belongings in plastic trash bags or Ziplocs until you know the bugs are gone.

    Know that foggers and sprays sold at home stores are not a reliable method to eliminate an infestation, and can be dangerous if not used properly.

    Good luck!

    Reply

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