How to Identify Bed Bugs

A lot of bugs bite, but bed bugs come back for more, until you kill them.

Being able to identify bed bugs quickly is the first step toward ending your infestation.

What do bed bugs look like?

bed bugs at all stages of development

In the nymph first and second stages, you won’t be able to easily identify bed bugs without a lighted magnifier. 1st stage bed bugs can also resemble baby cockroaches since they both have long antenna and six legs. However they are different and with the help of a lighted magnifier you can tell the difference between them. Older stages of bed bugs are easy to see with your eye and look just like in the photos. 

If your infestation is just beginning it will be even harder to find one or two bugs, even if you inspect very carefully. That is why I suggest using the traps to capture them/it when it comes to feed on you. If you have thoroughly inspected your mattress and bed frame as instructed here and found nothing, putting traps on the bed frame legs will help you immensely in finding out if you have bed bugs. If you have bed bugs and they are not in your bed they will come for you.

Can you see bed bugs with your naked eye?

When you have traps on the bed legs you will capture them before they can bite you and continue to reproduce. Doing this alone can help you to get an infestation under control before it grows into a nightmare. If an insect is not already on or in your bed, they will come. With the traps under your bed legs you will know quickly if you have bed bugs.

photo credit: stephen_ausmus_usda

bed bugs do not have wings

Do bed bugs have wings?

Bed bugs do not have wings, although they have “wing pads” from when they did thousands of years ago. Before they evolved they did have wings and were known as bat bugs, a related insect still do have wings. Bat bugs are mostly found in caves so no need to freak out about flying bed bugs, but I understand the temptation.

It is believed that bed bugs split off from bat bugs when humans started sleeping in caves for shelter. Humans had less hair and “thinner skin” than regular cave dwelling animals and were easier to feed on.

Can bed bugs fly?

No, bed bugs cannot fly without wings. They also cannot jump or hop. They can only crawl. They can crawl slow or fast.

photo credit cdc.gov

bed bug illustration


How many legs do bed bugs have?

Cockroaches most resemble bed bugs, also flax seeds. Flax seeds do not have legs. You can tell the difference between a cockroach and a bed bug with your eye but it is much easier to use a lighted magnifier to identify smaller insects. Try not to smush them.

  • Bed bugs have six legs.
  • Ticks have eight legs.
  • Spiders have eight legs.
  • Cockroaches have six legs.
  • Beetles have six legs (as in carpet beetle).
  • Crickets have six legs.

Illustration credit: OpenClipart-Vectors, pixabay free images

bed bugs at different stages of development

How big do bed bugs get?

An adult female pregnant bed bug can “stretch” to approximately 3/4″ long.

They will not appear apple seed shaped at this stage. A pregnant female bed bug may take on an elongated shape.

A pregnant adult female lays 1-5 eggs every single day. Assume all adult females are laying eggs. For more about bed bug mating and reproductive habits, I have an entire section for you devoted to their reproduction. Spoiler alert: It’s impressive and prolific. These insects are built to populate and survive, all they need is blood.

See more bed bug photos here. If you want to submit your bed bug photo or insect photo for identification click here.

photo credit: cdc.gov/dpdx/bedbugs/

Get help identifying bed bugs at your county public health vector control office

Your county pest or vector control may have an entomologist on hand to identity your insect (if you’ve captured or killed one) and determine if you have bed bugs or not. In Multnomah County call the Bed Bug Hotline at 503-988-BUGS (2847) if you think you may have an infestation. They can identify your insect for you.

You can find your local County Vector Control department at NACCHO (National Association of County and City Health Officials). When you call a Vector Control Department at your Public Health Department (usually County), they may tell you that bed bugs are not vectors. Legally that’s true for now, but ask if they have an Entomologist in the office who can help you identify your bug. They almost always do have someone who can identify insects and if you are an expert in ants, cockroaches and spiders you also know about bed bugs.

climb up traps for bed legs

What if I think i have bed bugs but i can’t find them?

How do I identify bed bugs?

You can stop looking for them, get traps under your bed legs and wait for them to come to you, because they always do, just like vampires. You should still inspect your bed and launder your bedding but having traps under the legs is considered the first step in prevention and identification.

You’ll know if you have bed bugs fast by trapping them!

With bed bug traps, bed bugs trying to get on the bed will be trapped in the smooth plastic traps, unable to climb out. The slick plastic combined with a light dusting of talc powder will keep them contained in the traps.

plastic bed bug traps

They will never stop trying to feed

The sooner you identify bed bugs are in your home, the faster you can eliminate them. Bed bug traps are the fastest, easiest way to know if you have bed bugs coming to bite you from outside your bed.

If you do have bed bugs, consider it a race to eliminate them before a few bugs become hundreds, and then thousands. Once you have isolated your bed and put the traps under the legs, you’ll know within days if you have bed bugs. You must have isolated your bed for the traps to be effective. If your bed is touching a wall or headboard, the traps can’t help you since bugs can crawl up a wall, or a blanket or headboard.

Order the white traps so you can more easily see what you are trapping. It is recommended you add a light dusting of talc powder in the traps to make them even more slippery for any bed bugs.

You can check daily for bugs, and this can answer the question “Do I have bed bugs?” very fast, within days. If you have them, they are coming for you! They will not stop trying to feed. 

bed bug life cycle illustration


Understanding the bed bug life cycle

If you are already at a full-blown infestation already you need to act fast! Infestations grow fast because it takes so long to know you have bed bugs.

Many people never see one insect even though they get new bites every night. Or they only see bugs after the infestation has grown very large and treatment has been delayed. Each adult female bed bug lay eggs every day. Getting ahead of their reproduction cycle is critical to eradication. You can learn more about bed bug reproduction here.

photo credit: Global HealthDivision of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria


Have you already positively identified that you have bed bugs?

Are you ready to start fighting back?

I’ve got a comprehensive step-by-step plan you can start right now! But first you need to sleep without bed bugs. Are you ready to start?

First you need to get your bed isolated so you can sleep without bed bugs being able to reach and bite you! Even if you don’t know if you have bed bugs, you can take some steps right now. Hopefully you don’t have bed bugs, but if you are getting new bites every few days, or every day you need to act quickly to know if you or if you don’t. They key to that is getting your bed isolated and putting climb-up traps on your bed legs.

Once they are laying eggs in your home they are never leaving without you killing them all. You must act quickly!

You will find with a lighted magnifier, there are many crawly things that don’t bite you in your home you never knew were there. This can be a comfort, or not, however knowing whether some little tiny creature is not a bed bug may help relieve some anxiety if you are experiencing some. Bed bug identification should be primary on your mind if you are getting unexplained bites on more than one occasion and mostly when you are asleep.


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