7 Early Signs of a Bed Bug Infestation

by | Mar 7, 2024

Detecting a bed bug infestation early is crucial for effective control and prevention. Addressing a small-scale infestation is not only more cost-effective but also simpler than dealing with a more extensive problem. This can prove difficult though, because bed bugs haven’t been able to establish themselves enough to make a noticeable impact. The most common signs of bed bugs become noticeable when populations grow enough to leave large amounts of fecal stains, egg casings, and molted skins. Otherwise, finding bed bugs early is generally a stroke of luck after noticing bites appear for extended periods. Bed bugs and their bites are also often confused with other insects which can lead to misidentification. This misstep allows bed bugs more opportunity to expand their presence within your home or even spread to new locations. It’s important to become familiar with the specific indicators of bed bugs to avoid such issues. Understanding how to recognize these pests is the first step in maintaining a bed bug-free environment.

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Can You See Bed Bugs?

single bed bug up close

It is possible to see bed bugs without the need for magnification tools. Adult bed bugs can grow to be between 5-9mm in length [1] or roughly the size of an apple seed which makes them visible to the naked eye. These wingless pests have a reddish-brown color and are typically flat until they feed. After feeding they become swollen and elongated.

Immature stages of bed bugs are also visible, but they are much more difficult to see because they are smaller and lighter in color. Newly hatched bed bug nymphs are the most difficult to see as they are white and roughly 1mm in length. Bed bug eggs are the hardest to detect because of their size and location. These eggs are less than one millimeter in length, pearly white in color, and typically found in clusters along mattress seams.

How to Know if You Have Bed Bugs

Identifying bed bug activity in your home requires careful observation for certain telltale signs. During routine activities like cleaning or changing bed sheets, be on the lookout for these common signs of bed bugs:

  • Blood Stains
  • Excrement
  • Molted Shells
  • Bed Bug Eggs
  • Live Bed Bugs
  • Musty Odor
  • Bed Bug Bites

It’s important to remember that while these signs can suggest bed bug activity, professional confirmation is always recommended for accurate identification and effective treatment planning.

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Bloodstains on Bedding 

Bloodstains on your bedding can be a subtle yet telling sign of bed bug activity. These stains typically appear as unexplained red or rust-colored splotches or smears on sheets, clothing, and pillows. It’s essential to rule out other potential causes for these stains like cuts or scabs on your body before considering bed bugs as the culprit. However, if there are no indications of injury then it is very possible that these stains could be the result of bed bugs. After bed bugs feed, their bodies change from their normal flat body to a football shaped body that is swollen with human blood. If the host they feed on moves and accidentally crushes one of these bugs while they are engorged, they can cause the recently ingested blood to leak from the bed bug which results in these noticeable stains on your bedding. Often times the bed bug doesn’t die in this situation which is why the remains of crushed bed bugs are rarely found near these stains.

Additionally, bed bug bites themselves can sometimes lead to bloodstains. The saliva of bed bugs contains anticoagulants [2] that allow the blood to flow without the platelets forming a clot so the bed bug can continue to feed uninterrupted. Consequently, the sites of their bites may bleed slightly post-feeding which can contribute to the presence of bloodstains on your bedding. This is why it is important to check your body for bed bug bites if you discover such stains without any other apparent cause.

Fecal Stains

bed bug fecal stains and blood stains

Bed bug fecal marks, or “fecal spotting,” are another early indicator of an infestation. These stains differ in appearance and size from the non-digested bloodstains that are left behind by bed bugs. These fecal spots are tiny, dark brown or black dots that resemble the ink dots made by a pen tip. On average, they are just slightly bigger than the period at the end of this sentence, but the appearance of the stain can grow in size as the fecal marks bleed out.

These marks are primarily digested human blood, which turns dark brown or black as the vital nutrients and proteins are removed by bed bugs. Fecal spotting can be found in various locations and is not just limited to bedding. They are also commonly found on mattresses, headboards, box springs, walls, curtains, baseboards, and other surfaces. Bed bugs like to cluster together so when an infestation starts to grow, the fecal spotting can develop in much more visible clusters.

Molted Skins

Molted skins from juvenile bed bugs are key indicators of an active bed bug infestation. Bed bugs, like all insects, have an external skeleton and need to shed it to grow. They go through five immature stages [3] before reaching adulthood while shedding their skin at the end of each stage of their life cycle. Unfortunately, if molted skins are found, that means that there is likely a big enough infestation that you have reproducing bed bugs that have developed through several stages of the bed bug life cycle. These exoskeletons are generally yellowish-brown and translucent and can vary in size depending on what stage of the life cycle the bed bugs are in. Finding these molted skins is often easier than spotting the bed bugs themselves because they remain static wherever the bed bugs aggregate.

Bed bug molted skins can be found in common hiding spots include mattress seams, behind headboards, in ceiling and wall junctions, along baseboards, and on personal belongings. In a substantial infestation, thousands of these molted skins can be present. When you encounter such evidence, especially if you already suspect bed bugs, contacting a pest control professional for a thorough inspection is recommended.

Bed Bug Eggs

Bed bug eggs are pearly white, oval-shaped, and about 1 millimeter long which is roughly the size of a pinhead. These eggs, which are still visible to the naked eye, can be extremely difficult to see against lighter colored bedding. Despite their visibility, locating and accurately identifying them can be challenging without knowing their specific characteristics. Each egg has a hinged cap at one end from which the nymph emerges upon hatching. After around five days, the eggs develop a dark eye spot, although this detail is typically observable only under a microscope.

Female bed bugs lay about 1 to 7 eggs daily [4] , and these eggs generally hatch within a week to ten days. When laying eggs, female bed bugs use a glue-like substance to adhere their eggs to surfaces that remain undisturbed. This is why these eggs are often found loosely attached to crevices in fabrics or wooden surfaces. While these eggs are primarily located near bed bug harborage areas, it’s important to note that pregnant female bed bugs may wander which can potentially spread the infestation beyond the immediate area.

Live Bed Bugs

live bed bugs and their eggs and nymphs

Live bed bugs are a definitive sign of an infestation and can be identified by their distinct physical characteristics. Bed bugs are small insects that are flat and reddish-brown. Adult bed bugs typically measure between ¼ to 3/8 inch long (5–9 mm), which is about the size of a small apple seed, while the younger nymphs can be as small as 1/16 inch (1 mm). Their small shape and ability to latch onto unsuspecting hosts make them ideal for being accidentally introduced into a new setting.

These pests are often found congregating in tight spaces and crevices. During the day, bed bugs prefer to hide in secluded locations while waiting to become active, mostly at night when they feed. This behavior means that many people may not encounter live bed bugs until the infestation has significantly progressed. When searching for bed bug aggregations, it’s important to examine areas such as mattress seams, behind headboards, inside screw holes, along wood creases in bed frames or box springs, and behind loose wallpaper or paint. These aggregations are not only characterized by the presence of live bed bugs across various life stages but also by fecal spots, cast skins from molting nymphs, and both live and hatched eggs. While at first glance these aggregations may resemble mildew or mold, a closer inspection often reveals the true nature of these clusters as bed bug infestations.

Musty Odors

A distinct musty odor in your living spaces and bedrooms can be a subtle yet significant indicator of a bed bug infestation. This odor can be a unique smell that is not typically associated with common household smells like dirty laundry. Instead, it arises from a combination of elements associated with bed bugs including the pheromones they release, the scent of deceased bed bugs, and the iron found in their fecal matter.

The odor is often described as similar to rust, damp towels, or moldy clothes, and it tends to intensify as the infestation grows. These bed bug pheromones are typically imperceptible to humans, but pest control professionals have been able to train bed bug-sniffing dogs to assist with inspections.

Bed Bug Bites

linear bed bug bite pattern on skin

Discovering small, red, itchy bumps upon waking is often the first indication of a potential bed bug problem. These bites frequently appear on exposed skin areas during sleep like arms, hands, and legs in clusters of three or four bites that are arranged in a linear or zigzag pattern [5] . This pattern is an important indicator that separates bed bug bites from other insect bites.

It’s important to understand that not everyone reacts to bed bug bites in the same way. People develop itchy red welts due to a histamine response that the human body has in reaction to a bed bug’s saliva. The severity of the allergic reaction is dependent on each individual with up to 30% of people not showing any skin reaction at all [6] . This is why some people can go without realizing they have a massive bed bug infestation in their homes as well as why some couples may have different reactions when being fed on.

Why Bed Bug Bites Are Not Always a Good Sign of Bed Bug Activity

Although the presence of bites may suggest bed bug activity, they should not be the sole criterion for diagnosing a bed bug infestation. Instead, bites should be considered alongside other signs such as physical sightings of bed bugs, fecal marks, and egg casings. Bites are not always a reliable indicator of an infestation because their appearance can be similar to bites from other insects like mosquitoes, fleas, or chiggers. They can also be mistaken for various skin conditions like eczema, fungal infections, or hives. Additionally, the reaction to bed bug bites varies significantly among individuals, with some showing no visible reaction at all and others showing delayed reactions that can take up to two weeks for bite marks to appear [7] .

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Where to Look for Signs of Bed Bugs

Identifying bed bug activity requires a thorough inspection of numerous potential hiding spots due to their ability to squeeze into very small spaces. Key areas to check include:

  • Bedding Areas: Mattress seams, tags, piping, box springs, bed frames, and headboard cracks
  • Furniture: Nightstands, dressers, seams of chairs and couches, computer chairs, between cushions, zippers of upholstered furniture, furniture joints, under folds of curtains
  • Household Fixtures: Beneath loose wallpaper; at wall-ceiling junctions; inside the heads of screws, along baseboards
  • Electronics: Electrical outlets, appliances, battery ports for cell phones and other mobile devices
  • Additional Areas: Rugs, carpets, storage boxes, window and door frames, pictures frames, under posters, and smoke alarms

Given their tiny and flat nature, bed bugs can fit into just about any crack that a credit card can fit into which makes them extremely difficult to find if they have an excellent place to hide.

What Should You Do If You Find Signs of Bed Bug Activity

If you find signs of bed bugs in your home, taking immediate action can help get rid of the bed bug infestation. Here are some steps you can follow:

  • Laundry Treatment: Run all linen and cloth materials including bedding, curtains, and clothes in the dryer for 2 full settings on the highest temperature before washing them in hot water and then drying them again. This is because the bed bugs’ minimal thermal threshold needs to be reached and maintained for 90 minutes [8]  to kill of all stages of the bed bug life cycle. Non-washable items like stuffed animals and shoes should be placed in the dryer on high for the same duration.
  • Mattress Cleaning: Use a stiff brush to scrub the seams of your mattress to dislodge bed bugs and their eggs. Follow this with thorough steam cleaning to kill the bed bugs and their eggs before vacuuming up the remains.
  • Regular Vacuuming: Vacuum your bed and the surrounding area daily. It is absolutely critical to dispose of the vacuum bag or vacuumed materials immediately in a sealed plastic bag placed in an outdoor trash bin.
  • Mattress Encasements: Cover your mattress and box springs with a tightly woven, zippered cover to prevent bed bugs from entering or escaping. Keep the cover on for at least a year, as bed bugs can survive for several months without feeding [9].
  • Install Bed Bug Interceptors: Place these plastic devices under the legs of your bed frame. They trap bed bugs attempting to climb up or down from your bed using smooth surfaces that bed bugs can’t climb. These may not prevent bed bugs from reaching you all together but if your mattress is properly encased, this will help monitor on going bed bug activity after treatments have been applied.
  • Home Repairs: Repair cracks and crevices in plaster and glue down peeling wallpaper to eliminate potential hiding spots.
  • Reduce Clutter: Clear clutter around your bed and keep the bed away from walls and furniture.
  • Heat Treatment: In hot climates, enclose items that can’t be heat treated in bags and leave them in a car to reach temperatures of at least 130°F for several hours.

Contact Absolute Pest Management if You Are Dealing with Bed Bugs

While recognizing early signs of bed bug activity is a good starting point in addressing a bed bug problem, fully eradicating these persistent pests often requires professional expertise. If you suspect you have a bed bug infestation in your home, don’t hesitate to reach out to Absolute Pest Management. Our team of experienced bed bug control professionals is equipped with the knowledge and tools to efficiently tackle bed bug issues and ensure your home returns to being a comfortable and pest-free environment. We have offices in Austin and Buda, Texas and serve the surrounding communities. Contact Absolute Pest Management today for reliable and effective solutions to your bed bug concerns.

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Signs of Bed Bugs FAQs

  • Can you see bed bugs with the naked eye?
    • Bed bugs are visible to the naked eye. Adult bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed. This size makes them easy to see without needing a magnifying glass. Bed bug nymphs, on the other hand, are much harder to see. They are smaller and depending on the stage of growth can be extremely light colored and translucent.
  • How do you know it’s not bed bugs?
    • Determining if it’s not bed bugs involves examining the signs and symptoms of an infestation. If you don’t find small, reddish-brown insects, no unexplained blood stains or fecal spots on bedding, and no signs of bites in a linear or clustered pattern on the skin, it’s likely not bed bugs.
  • How long can you have bed bugs without knowing?
    • You can have bed bugs for several weeks or even months without realizing it, as these pests are adept at hiding and can be present long before the first signs of an infestation become apparent. Additionally, many people do not immediately notice bed bug bites, or they mistake them for other insect bites.

Sources

[1] https://extension.umn.edu/biting-insects/bed-bugs

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3255965/

[3] https://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/bed-bugs-appearance-and-life-cycle

[4] https://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/pdf/bb-biology1.pdf

[5] https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/bed-bugs-treatment

[6] https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef636

[7] https://www.dshs.texas.gov/sites/default/files/region1/documents/Epi/Bead-Bugs-Fact-Sheet.pdf

[8] https://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/pdf/bb-heat1.pdf

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553461/

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