Bed Bug Identification Service

Pomerix staff
Published: 2021-10-04

Are you suspecting a bed bug infestation at your home, office, or elsewhere? Did you find some bugs that look like bed bugs, but you are still unsure about their true identity? Do you have doubts about a bed bug identification performed by a pest control company? Do you suspect bed bug presence even after a bed bug treatment and wonder if the treatment worked or was worth it? If so, then you are in the right place.

Figure 1: Bed bug and other similar looking insects

Here at Pomerix Pest Solutions, we provide accurate and professional bed bug identification to help you save time and money and go after the root of the problem instead of paying for unnecessary pest control treatments for non-bed bug insects or mites.

What are bed bugs?

The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius), or simply bed bug, is a blood-sucking insect of public health importance. They usually come out of their hiding at night to bite and suck blood from humans until fully engorged. Then, they will go back to their hiding and remain unseen until the next blood meal. They can disrupt sleep and cause anxiety in affected people. Often, bed bug infestations go unnoticed for a long time since it is hard to see them, and many people don't feel anything or see any symptoms until the bed bug population reaches higher levels.

Where do bed bugs come from?

Bed bugs are widely distributed worldwide and are found in almost all countries and all major cities. They travel with people by hitchhiking on their luggage and clothing. Unlike cockroaches, the presence of bed bugs is not an indication of poor sanitation or social class. Anyone who leaves the house for work, shopping, or a trip, can potentially bring back bed bugs from libraries, offices, friends and families' houses, hotels, theaters, subway, bus, gym, etc. Therefore, it is no surprise that bed bugs are found in many homes nationwide in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.

Bed bug identification problems

Many times, bed bugs are either under-diagnosed or over-diagnosed. There are signs of a bed bug infestation that can help us to detect them such as bloodstains on bed sheets or cast skins (shed skins of bed bugs when they molt into a larger nymph or the adult stage). However, the most accurate and reliable way of detecting an active (live) bed bug infestation is finding live bed bugs themselves. An active infestation refers to the presence of live and healthy bed bugs. In contrast, an inactive infestation consists of dead or dying (moribund) bed bugs, which will die sooner or later. Bed bugs are usually mistaken with cockroaches, mites, pantry pests (beetles), stink bugs, or other true bugs (heteropterans).

Anytime a suspicious bug is found, it is necessary to perform an accurate identification. If a non-bed bug insect or mite is misidentified as bed bugs, the tenant, landlord, or property manager may end up paying for an unnecessary pest control service which costs anything from 400 to $5000 for an apartment or a single-family house depending on the property size, number of rooms, and the extent of infestation. On the other hand, if a bed bug is misidentified as a beetle or other insect, then the infestation will not be treated, and bed bugs will reproduce quickly to reach undesirable densities, increasing the cost of any future treatments. Consequently, it is of utmost importance to accurately identify bed bug adults, nymphs, and eggs when suspecting an infestation.

Please remember that bed bugs cannot be identified solely based on the bite mark or skin reactions. Many blood-sucking bugs such as fleas, mosquitoes, ticks, and mites may also cause red and itchy skin.

Technician’s bias

Many pest control companies provide a "Free" bed bug identification service. Well, in reality, these "Free" identification services are not entirely free. If a technician finds a bed bug in your house, you will have to pay for a bed bug treatment ($400-$5000 per home), and if they don't find anything, the pest control company will end up with nothing ($0).

Bed bugs are very cryptic, and detecting them can be a daunting task, requiring minutes to hours of work. Therefore, if there are any suspicious signs of bed bugs or the tenant keeps complaining about bed bugs, a pest control technician will be more inclined to assume an "active" bed bug infestation and perform bed bug treatment. Ideally, however, we would like to see bed bug treatments ony when there is an "active" bed bug infestation.

Can you identify bed bugs from their bites?

Bed bugs bite people to suck their blood. The bite itself may or may not have any manifestation on the victim's skin. When bitten by bed bugs, some people show absolutely no symptoms, and others develop mild to extreme symptoms such as itchy skin, skin rash, and pustules. Bed bugs, however, are not the only insects that cause the symptoms above. Mosquitoes, lice, fleas, mites, ticks, and other arthropods may cause similar symptoms.

How to accurately identify bed bugs?

Bed bugs vary significantly in size, shape, and even color. Younger bed bugs are tiny and look like mites. As they get older, they molt (shed their skin) and grow larger. Younger bed bugs are also more transparent and, therefore, more difficult to see. Because of this, one can see through their cuticle only when they are hungry (no blood in their gut). However, when they take a blood meal, the red blood enters their gut, making them more visible to the naked eye. Adults, on the other hand, are more opaque and mahogany or reddish-brown. Whether or not they are fed doesn't change their body color. Furthermore, when bed bugs feed on their host, their body expands to accommodate the ingested blood, which causes elongation of their body.

Young bed bug nymphs look like mites but can be differentiated using a few morphological characters. Bed bugs have dark eyes visible to the naked eye, while some mites lack eyes or their tiny eyes are not visible to the naked eye. Second, bed bug nymphs have antennae made of many segments which can be seen with the naked eye. Mites, however, lack antennae. Bed bugs have six legs (3 pairs), while adult mites have eight legs (4 pairs).

Another group that is commonly misidentified as bed bugs is cockroach nymphs, especially the German cockroach. German cockroaches live and reproduce inside houses, and their small nymphs look like bed bug nymphs. The major differences between the two are as follows:

  • Bed bugs have a more flat body than cockroaches.
  • Bed bug's antennae are less flexible and relatively shorter. Cockroaches have long, slender antennae that are very thin and flexible (can be bent in many directions).
  • Bed bug nymphs are generally rounder than cockroach nymphs. However, recently fed bed bugs become more elongated due to internal expansion of their body.

The most complicated bed bug identification challenge is when identifying bat bugs and the common bed bug. These two species are 95% similar, and there are only very few morphological characteristics that can be used to tell them apart. Bed bugs primarily feed on humans, while bat bugs, as their name suggests, primarily feed on bats but occasionally can enter structures and feed on humans.

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