Found something in your bed sheets or mattress that resembles a bed bug?
Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to find and get rid of, and the damage they can cause ranges from itchy bites to psychological distress.
But before taking any drastic actions (like this), take a deep breath and carefully check if what you found is really a bed bug. After all, there are several common household pests with similar sizes, shapes, and colors that might also be found in your bedroom.
Here are 6 examples of similar-looking bugs that are sometimes mistaken for bed bugs:
What Do Bed Bugs Actually Look Like?
Bed bugs are small, brownish-red insects around 4 to 5 millimeters in length (about the size of a flaxseed).
An adult bed bug has a large, flat, oval-shaped abdomen that encompasses most of its body. After it feeds on blood, the bed bug’s abdomen swells into a long, bloated football shape with a reddish tinge.
In front of the abdomen is a small thorax and a narrow head, which has two beady eyes protruding on each side. At the very tip is a small tube-like beak called the proboscis, which the bed bug uses to puncture skin and suck blood. Also visible on its body are 6 thin legs and 2 segmented antennae.
A juvenile bed bug, also known as a nymph or instar, looks similar to an adult bed bug except it’s smaller in size and lighter in color. Depending on its stage of growth, a bed bug nymph might appear whitish-tan or light brown.
1. Bat Bugs
Bat bugs (Cimex pilosellus) are close relatives of bed bugs (Cimex lectularius). Unlike bed bugs, which feed on human blood, bat bugs have evolved to only feed on blood from bats (hence their name).
They typically establish their colonies in places where bats roost, such as in attics, behind walls, and inside chimneys, and only occasionally move into human living areas. Fortunately, this type of pest isn’t known to spread diseases and isn’t considered dangerous.
Appearance-wise, bat bugs are nearly identical to bed bugs. Like bed bugs, bat bugs have small, flat, oval-shaped bodies with 6 legs, 2 antennae, and beak-like mouthparts used for feeding.
Compared to bed bugs, bat bugs are slightly darker in color, either beige or dark brown. If you examine them side by side under a microscope, you’ll also see that bat bugs have longer hairs on their bodies.
2. Spider Beetles
The American spider beetle is a species of spider beetle that most resembles bed bugs — at least to an untrained eye.
Spider beetles are called such because their long legs and rounded abdomens make them look like a cross between a spider and a beetle. These pests are scavengers that can be found feeding on wool, hair, fabrics, food products, and animal droppings.
Adult spider beetles are smaller than bed bugs, measuring approximately 1 to 3 mm in length. They have shiny, rounded bodies that range in color from dark reddish-brown to black. Under a microscope, you’ll also see tiny, pale yellow hairs covering their head, thorax, legs, and antennae.
Besides their size and color, you can also differentiate spider beetles and bed bugs by the shapes of their bodies. Spider beetles have small, globular abdomens, which are much smaller in proportion to their legs and antennae.
3. Baby Cockroaches
Baby cockroaches, also known as cockroach nymphs, can look surprisingly similar to bed bugs in terms of size and color.
Before reaching adulthood, baby cockroaches are small, wingless insects with flat, reddish-brown bodies ranging in size from 3 to 6 millimeters in length.
Appearance-wise, the main difference between bed bugs and baby cockroaches is their shape and the length of their antennae. Unlike bed bugs, cockroach nymphs have narrow, pill-shaped bodies and their antennae are usually longer than their bodies.
Finding baby cockroach is usually an indication of a pretty serious cockroach infestation. They tend to hide in dark enclosed spaces near areas with food and water. You don’t typically see baby cockroaches in the same places where bed bugs like to congregate (unless you have a habit of leaving food crumbs around your bed).
4. Carpet Beetles
Carpet beetles are another common household pest that are similar in size to bed bugs, and certain species have brown or black shells that can easily be confused for bed bugs.
Adult carpet beetles can be between 2 to 5 millimeters long, with large, oval-shaped bodies and small heads. But unlike bed bugs, carpet beetles have much short antennae and two large wings. They also don’t bite humans or feed on blood — adult carpet beetles mainly feed on flowers and plants.
Carpet beetles are attracted to light and are usually seen near windowsills. It’s unusual to find them around your bed unless it’s right underneath or next to a window.
On the other hand, carpet beetle larvae don’t resemble bed bugs or bed bug nymphs at all. Rather, they look like fuzzy little caterpillars that primarily feed on carpets, clothing, and upholstered furniture. These larvae also don’t bite humans, but prolonged exposure may cause an allergic reaction called carpet beetle dermatitis.
At first glance, ticks and bed bugs seem to share several similar characteristics. Both are small, blood-sucking pests with flat, wingless, oval-shaped bodies.
Prior to feeding, ticks are usually between 2 to 6 millimeters long. Like bed bugs, their bodies become much larger and rounder after a blood meal.
But unlike bed bugs, ticks are actually arachnids — not insects. That means they have 8 legs, whereas bed bugs only have 6 legs. Ticks also have no antennae on their heads, while bed bugs do.
And while bed bugs don’t transmit diseases through their bites, ticks do. They are considered disease vectors because they spread diseases, such as Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, by passing along bacteria, parasites, and viruses through their bites.
Booklice are pests that are occasionally mistaken for bed bug nymphs and not adult bed bugs. Fully grown booklice only reach about 1 to 2 millimeters in length. These wingless pests have white markings along their abdomen and the rest of their body is slightly translucent. Their bodies can be a light shade of brown that’s similar to bed bug nymphs.
The main difference between booklice and bed bug nymphs is the shape of their bodies. Booklice have longer bodies with a narrow midsection and wide head.
Unlike bed bugs, booklice don’t bite and feed on the blood of humans and animals. If you have booklice, they won’t bite you or threaten the structure of your home. These pests typically nest in undisturbed places that are damp and warm.
MMPC is a minority-owned pest control company that provides reliable and eco-friendly pest solutions, including NESDCA-certified canine bed bug inspections as well as customized extermination and treatment programs.
If you still have questions or need help identifying pests you find in your home, send a picture to our free Pest ID Center. Our experts can also analyze a physical specimen of the pest to provide identification results and suggestions for treatments.