The 7 Telltale Signs You May Have Bed Bugs

7 early signs of bed bugs in your home or apartment and how to know if you have bed bugs

Worried about an infestation of bedbugs? Here, we'll go over the seven warning signs that you might have bed bugs:

Bed bugs are difficult to spot and even more difficult to exterminate, especially in crowded cities like New York.

Nevertheless, a careful homeowner or renter can spot the beginnings of a bed bug infestation despite the bugs' stealth.

Finding and eliminating these tiny, bloodsucking pests before they can multiply and spread is one of the best ways to safeguard yourself and your loved ones from them.

The 7 warning signs of bed bugs, as well as their hiding places and how to conduct a quick visual inspection, will be covered in this article.

The First 7 Signs You Have Bed Bugs

The certainty with which each of these signs can confirm the presence of bed bugs, particularly at the outset of an infestation, is ranked.

We'll explain what each sign means and where to look, beginning with the least reliable (odours) and working our way up to the most reliable (actual bed bugs).

Various Exoskeletons

It's important to know the telltale signs of a bed bug infestation if you suspect you have them.

This article will give you an idea of when you should seek professional confirmation, but in general, these signs may require professional confirmation to be certain of bed bugs.

Signs of bed bugs include odors that can smell like cilantro, raspberries, rust, and moldy laundry

#7: Odors

  • A musty odor that can't be explained.
  • Insect attractants, or pheromones, from bed bugs have been likened to the aroma of berries, herbs, and nuts like almonds, coriander, and sage.
  • Bed bug infestations can cause your home to have a musty, rusty, or even moldy odor.

Our noses are often the first to alert us to problems. An early sign of bed bugs can be a musty odor in the bedroom that can't be pinned down to a specific source, such as a laundry pile.

The bed bug will release alarm pheromones if they feel threatened. These pheromones emit scents that may be faintly sweet or musty. Those who have sniffed it say it smells like a cross between almonds, coriander, and raspberries.

Pheromone scents are typically so subtle that they escape the human nose entirely. Very few people, outside of people with specially trained canines, can smell the raspberry-like pheromones that bed bugs emit.

Bed bug pheromones combine with the stench of decaying insects, empty shells, and feces when there are many of them in close quarters. The resulting rusty odor is unpleasant and gets stronger as the infestation worsens.

Generally speaking, odor is the least reliable early sign of bed bugs. For the simple reason that when there are only a few bed bugs present, their odor is too subtle for humans to detect. Even if you do smell something, you might not know what it is because most people aren't accustomed to the smell of bed bugs or a bed bug infestation.

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Signs of bed bugs include clusters of red itchy bumps that appear during the night

#6: Bites

  • Little red bumps that scratch like crazy and appear overnight.
  • Bite marks tend to appear on the arms, hands, and legs.
  • The so-called "breakfast, lunch, and dinner" pattern of three or four bites in a row is sometimes seen.

It is commonly believed that the first sign of bed bugs is the appearance of mysterious bug bites upon waking.

Bed bugs, also known as nocturnal insects, are most active at night, when they can feed on our blood while we sleep. Since they are nocturnal, their bites are most commonly seen on exposed skin. It is most common for people to be bitten on the arms, hands, and legs.

Experts in the field of pest control, however, agree that bites alone are not sufficient to identify a bed bug infestation. This is because bed bug bite symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, making it impossible to reliably differentiate them from those of other insects. Thirty percent of people don't have any kind of reaction to bed bug bites at all.

Although responses vary, the most common sign of bed bug bites is a cluster of red, itchy bumps. The "breakfast, lunch, and dinner" pattern is a term used to describe a specific distribution of bed bug bites. These bites typically occur in lines or clusters of three. However, in reality, bed bug bites can manifest in sporadic patterns or as a single bite.

Also, there are no diseases that can be transmitted by a bed bug bite, so don't worry about getting bitten. Bed bug saliva contains chemicals that can cause allergic reactions in some people. Seek medical help if you've been bitten and are experiencing severe itching, painful swelling, blistering, fever, or flu-like symptoms.

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Signs of bed bugs include small, unexplainable bloodstains on bedsheets and clothing

Spots of blood

  • Reddish or rust-colored stains that don't seem to have a clear cause
  • Stains on clothes, linens, and pillows could be small smudges or splotches.
  • Before ruling out all other possibilities, please check again

Bed bugs don't always get away unscathed, even though we don't know they're feeding because we don't notice it happening.

After feeding on a host's blood, a bed bug's shape transforms from a flat, seed-like form to one that resembles a miniature football. When you move around suddenly in your sleep, you can accidentally squish a bed bug that has just finished feeding.

The blood they just drank may leak out and leave a red or rusty stain, but it usually doesn't kill them.

If you find what appears to be blood on your sheets, clothes, or pillow, you should first look for a cut or scab on your body, as this could explain the stain. A bloodstain may have been left by a bed bug if there is no other explanation for it.

Bed bug bites can be another potential source of blood stains. While feeding, bed bugs use an anticoagulant in their saliva to keep the blood from clotting. Even after they've finished eating, their bites might keep bleeding for a little while.

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Signs of bed bugs include tiny dark fecal marks resembling magic marker stains

Signs of Bowel Discharge

  • Miniscule, black or dark brown spots, about the size of a pen tip.
  • Typically found in aggregations near water's edge, though they occasionally settle on bedsheets and laundry.
  • Marks left on clothes that look like they were made with a magic marker despite multiple washes

Bed bug fecal marks, also called "fecal spotting," are much smaller and darker than the bloodstains we described above.

Those little black dots look like they were dropped from the tip of a pen or marker. On the whole, they're about two to four times as big as the period at the end of this sentence.

Bed bug feces contain partially digested human blood, hence the feces-like appearance. In addition to contributing to the unpleasant odor of a bed bug infestation, the digested blood, which is dark brown or black in color and emits a faint, rusty smell because it contains iron, can be seen as physical evidence of a bed bug bite.

Bed bug feces have been found on sheets, pajamas, mattresses, headboards, box springs, walls, curtains, and a variety of other items and surfaces. They tend to congregate in large numbers close to potential bed bug hiding and harborage spots.

Bed bug feces can leave stubborn stains on fabric that are difficult to remove. When wet, they spread in a way that's easily recognizable, like magic marker stains.  

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Signs of bed bugs include tiny white ovular eggs found near harborage areas

#3: Eggs

  • Pearly white ovals measuring about a millimeter in length, like pinheads.
  • Easily removable from a wide range of substrates
  • Commonly observed in close proximity to bed bug nests

Bed bug females can lay anywhere from one to seven eggs per day, with the average incubation period being 10 days.

Bed bug eggs measure about 1 millimeter in length, are pearly white in color, and have an ovular shape. Miniaturized to the size of a pinhead, they look like miniature grains of rice.

Eggs are not invisible; however, it takes experience to know how to identify them. Each egg has a hinged cap at its end from which the newly hatched beg bug emerges. Bed bug eggs older than 5 days have a darkened eye spot, but this is only visible under a microscope.

What do the eggs of the bed bug look like?

Bed bug eggs, like fecal spots, tend to cluster near hiding places. However, pregnant female bed bugs are known to wander, potentially infesting not only their current residence but also nearby ones.

During egg-laying, the females use a glue-like substance to secure the eggs to the surface they are laying on. Because of this, you can typically locate these tiny, white eggs clinging loosely to cracks between fabrics or wooden surfaces; however, they could be found virtually anywhere.

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Signs of bed bugs include transparent, hollow shed skins or shell casings

Second, shell cases

  • The exoskeletons of young bed bugs are a translucent yellowish brown.
  • Bed bugs go through a molting process that causes them to change size.
  • Signs of a bed bug infestation that can be relied upon

Bed bugs are almost certainly present if you come across their empty shells, also called husks or shed skins. Bed bug infestations are often in their early stages when empty shell casings begin to accumulate.

In many cases, shell casings, which are the see-through, hollow outlines of juvenile bed bugs, are more readily apparent than the actual bugs themselves. Inspect the joints of your mattress and other pieces of furniture as well as any upholstered items and any cracks or crevices in your wooden furniture for evidence of bed bug eggs or larvae.

Over the course of their five-stage lifecycle, before becoming adults, bed bugs will go through several exoskeleton molts. Each stage of development—from the first nymph to the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth instars, and finally to the adult—involves a period of molting.

Depending on the size of the process, shell casings or shed skins are the end product. Since most people are not familiar with the sizes and shapes of bed bug nymphs, identifying shell casings can be a bit of a challenge.

However, if you have a suspicion of bed bugs and you find yellow, translucent shells in common bed bug hiding places, you may want to think about scheduling an inspection with a local pest control company.

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Live adult bed bug found and captured by MMPC inspector

The presence of actual bedbugs is priority No. 1.

  • Tiny, flaxseed-sized, reddish-brown insects.
  • Favors secluded spaces such as narrow crevices for concealment.
  • Sometimes misidentified as spider beetles, carpet beetles, and other similar-looking insects

And the last and most telling sign is the presence of actual bed bugs.

Bed bugs are nocturnal creatures that stay put except when looking for a meal or hiding from aggressive males. Whenever possible, bed bugs will choose a single hiding spot and remain there.

This is why many people don't notice they have a bed bug problem until it's severe. Bed bugs are difficult to spot unless their hiding places are disturbed, such as during the packing process.

The discovery of a living bed bug in your home might seem like irrefutable evidence of an infestation, but it's not always that cut and dry.

Bed bugs are often misidentified as other insects, and vice versa. We've found that spider beetles, carpet beetles, and cockroach nymphs are the insects most often mistaken for bed bugs.

In addition, many people have the false impression that bed bugs are no bigger than apple seeds. While this may sound true, bed bugs are significantly smaller than apple seeds.

Adult bed bugs are only about 4-5 mm in length (although when they become engorged with blood, they can temporarily grow to up to 7 mm in length), while an average apple seed is about 8 mm in length. Nymphal bed bugs are even more diminutive than their adults, measuring an average of just 1 mm.

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Where Can You Find Bed Bugs?

Because of their flat bodies, bed bugs can fit into spaces as narrow as 2 mm.

They can be found within the folds of curtains, along the creases of electrical outlets, in the crevices of walls and baseboards, and even within the seams of mattresses. All of the aforementioned are places you should inspect carefully for bed bug signs.

Our years of experience as New York City bed bug exterminators have taught us that these are some of the most common hiding places for these pests:

  • Your Bed Everything from the pillows to the mattress seams to the headboards and box springs
  • In Close Proximity to the Mattress —furniture like tables, chests, rugs, and containers
  • Furniture to include furniture like couches and cushions, bookcases, tables, desks, chairs, carpets, and pet beds
  • Walls Including the light switches, outlets, smoke detectors, and decorative elements such as wallpaper and baseboards.
Duvet covers
Bed frames
Seams in a mattress

Step-by-Step Instructions for a Visual Bed Bug Inspection

A flashlight and some sort of thin card (an extra business card, a deck of cards, or an old credit card) are all you need to do a quick visual inspection for bed bugs at home.

  1. Check the bedding for signs of feces and blood.
  2. Take off your sheets and look in the crevices and along the seams of your mattress for evidence of bed bugs or their eggs or discarded shells.
  3. Take out the mattress and use the light to look in the cracks and crevices of the bed's frame and headboard.
  4. Bed bugs and other debris may be hiding in crevices that are too small to see into, so slide your card into them and use the thin, rigid edge to pry them open.
  5. Check the nearby chests of drawers, nightstands, and any other wooden furniture for the same issues. It's important to keep an eye out for bed bugs in places like screw holes.
  6. To inspect the backs and baseboards, move the furniture away from the wall.
  7. Remove cushion covers and use your credit card to inspect sofas and other upholstered furniture by getting into cracks and crevices you can't reach with your bare hands.
Up close image of an adult bed bug specimen

Some Suggestions on Spotting Bed Bugs

Exactly how these bedbugs appear was the subject of an entire article we penned. In order to help you identify an adult bed bug, here are some additional clues:

  • Bed bugs are characterized by an elongated, oval body with a narrow head and thorax.
  • Two black eyes stick out from the sides of their heads, and they are very menacing.
  • There are 6 of them and 2 antennae. Their antennae are four-segmented and protrude from the crowns of their heads.
  • Small, useless wing pads allow bed bugs to move around, but they can't fly. Something that can fly is not likely to be a bed bug.
  • In contrast to the slender, white nymphs, adults are rounded and brown or rusty. In response to food, they grow slightly in length and develop a ruddy hue.
  • Bed bug interceptors, also known as monitors or indicators, are an excellent method for locating and spotting these pesky insects.

Do You Have Bed Bugs, or Not?

MMPC provides a free Pest Identification Service, so if you suspect you have bed bugs, just send us a picture of one of the above indicators and we'll get back to you within one business day with our assessment. In addition, we are available to provide recommendations for further action and answer any questions you may have at no additional cost.

Having to deal with a bed bug infestation is a major hassle, and eliminating them requires cooperation between people. You should have a better idea of when it's time to bring in the big guns now.

If you want to learn more about bed bugs, check out our pest blog and resource page.

Information about Bed Bugs:

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