Bugs That Look Like Bed Bugs

While the main insect of concern in the genus Cimex is the common bed bug, which prefers human blood, there are other insects related to bed bugs which are similar in appearance and habit. It is important to obtain a positive identification if there is any question as to the identity of the pest.

The tropical bed bug is closely related to the common bed bug in that it prefers to feed on humans; however, the tropical bed bug is not as widespread as the common bed bug.

Bugs Mistaken for Bed Bugs

There are several species of insects which resemble the bed bug but have other preferred food sources. When the normal food source is unavailable, though, these insects might feed on humans. Some of these pests might not feed on humans but might bite until the insect realizes that the food source is not preferred.

Within the family Cimicidae, which the genus Cimex is a member, there are species which are not normally found in human dwellings but might be accidentally introduced via hosts, migration from former feeding areas, or by transporting by humans.

European Swallow Bug

swallow bug looks like bed bug
photo source:https://extension.colostate.edu

The European swallow bug feeds on a broader list of birds than just swallows and will enter buildings and feed on humans if their normal bird hosts are unavailable. Its preferred hosts, swallows, may have nests which become infested by swallow bugs.

Swallows might abandon nests, but the swallow bugs can emerge in warm weather in anticipation of the return of the swallows. If these birds do not return, the swallow bugs will move and can find their way into the living space of a home, where they feed on humans.

Eastern Bat Bug

bat bug looks like bed bug
Image credit:https://extension.colostate.edu

The eastern bat bug is a common insect in attics or where bats are present and may easily work their way into a structure and feed on humans. The eastern bat bug, found mostly in the eastern part of the United States, is probably the most common insect easily mistaken for a bed bug. There are several characteristics which distinguish the bat bug from the bed bug and these can be easily observed using a hand lens or microscope. There is a western bat bug, but there are no documented cases of this insect attacking humans, even if they infest homes.

Prior to the recent common bed bug resurgence, the bat bug was probably the most common insect related to a bed bug that humans encountered. The bat bug experience has since been overshadowed by the common bed bug. The chimney swift bug lives in nests of the namesake birds and will bite humans if they have no other source of food; however, they usually do not cause massive infestations.

bat bug top
bat bug top view
two bat bugs side by side
two bat bugs

The Poultry Bug

The poultry bug (Haemotosiphon inodorus) is found near birds and is a common pest of chicken and duck houses. These bugs hide near where the birds roost and will emerge at night to feed. If humans remain in close proximity with poultry, these bugs can feed on humans, although their preferred food source is poultry and fowl.

Picture of bugs that resemble bed bugs:


cat flea
cat flea

Both small, biting pests that hide in bedding, fleas and bed bugs also have a similar reddish-brown colour and oval-shaped bodies. However, bed bugs are the larger of the two, measuring about 6 mm long, while fleas are typically half that size. Additionally, while bed bugs may crawl quickly, they are unable to jump like fleas. Fleas may also be happy to feed from humans, but their natural hosts are household pets. On the other hand, bed bugs feed on animals if there is no other option, but prefer humans. If an examination of pets reveals parasites in their fur, the problem is likely fleas.

Fleas vs Ticks vs Bed Bugs

Carpet Beetles

multiple carpet beetles
click to enlarge

Since they live in upholstery and linens, carpet beetles can easily be mistaken for bed bugs. Of the three most common species of these pests, two have furry larvae and adults with brown, yellow, and white markings. Only black carpet beetles look like bed bugs, though they aren’t as flat. Residents who find distinct bites on their skin are not dealing with carpet beetles, as the pests solely eat organic fabrics. However, their larvae’s bristly hairs may cause skin irritation. Check for carpet beetles by looking for holes in bedding, rugs, and clothes.

Book Lice

book louse
book louse

Homeowners often have trouble distinguishing between booklice vs. bed bug infestations. While both insects commonly invade homes, they create different kinds of damage and harm to humans. Recognising each pest is important for control, as tactics that remove one insect will not work for the other.

Booklice vs. Bed Bug Appearance

Both adult booklice and bed bug nymphs are small and light-coloured. However, bed bugs typically become dark brown or red after feeding on blood, so color may not be the best way to identify them.

Checking the pests’ shape is a much more reliable method. While bed bugs have flat, round bodies, booklice are long and thin with prominent heads.

Damage Caused by Booklice vs. Bed Bugs

The type of damage each pest causes can help homeowners determine which insect is the problem. Bed bugs bite humans and pets to feed on blood. Booklice, on the other hand, gather in large numbers to eat mould, book bindings, or starchy stored foods. They do not bite people or animals.

Booklice vs. Bed Bug Habitat

Bed bugs are hardy pests that can survive in almost any conditions. Homeowners often find them hiding in mattresses, floor cracks, and bedside furniture. Booklice usually thrive in humid and mouldy areas. Crawl spaces, bathrooms, and damp boxes or papers are prime habitats for these pests.