How Do I Know If I Have Bed Bugs?

(plus 5 tips on how you can find bed bugs)

When you suspect a bed bug infestation may have invaded your home, one of the most frustrating problems is actually finding a specimen. Where do bed bugs hide? Can you see bed bugs? 

Bedbugs hide in screw head. Courtesy of L. Sorkin.

Although bed bugs are visible to the naked eye, they are a challenge to locate. Keep in mind bed bugs are masters of hide and seek. They fit in the tiniest of cracks and crevices — several can fit in the head of a screw. Yet, when hungry they seem to effortlessly emerge from their secret lair, feast upon us, then mysteriously scurry back to their refuge. All undetected.

Over the last several years, I have gained a lot of experience hunting for bed bugs. Of course, I have an advantage, as my business revolves around my bed bug dog, Loola Loo, to pinpoint the location of bed bugs. I have also researched and learned a few tips to make the job easier and faster. I will tell you about effective tips that will help you learn how to look for bed bugs. I will also share with you an indispensible aid pest control professionals use on a regular basis. 

Bed Bugs — What To Look For

1. Know How To Recognize All Life Stages of Bed Bugs:

This is the MOST IMPORTANT tip I can give is the foundation of the following points and ultimately leads you to learn how to stop bed bugs.

Become FAMILIAR with the all life stages of bed bugs. For example, look at the difference (photo below) between a fed and unfed adult bed bug; otherwise your chances of being able to distinguish either from a spider beetle or dog tick are unlikely…

Photos courtesy of Dr Harold Harlan (left) and Michael Higgins (right), both of AFPMB

Gibbium spider beetles on left (aka hump or shiny spider) and American dog tick on right. Photo courtesy of L. Sorking (left) and James Gathany / CDC (right).


LEARN TO RECOGNIZE a bed bug nymph, again both fed and unfed, and not identify a louse or carpet beetle larva for a bed bug nymph. Bed bugs progress through 5 instar stages as a nymph before becoming an adult capable of breeding. Note the pictures below of a 1st instar before, during and nearing the end of its first feeding.

Progressive shots of unfed 1st instar nymph feeding. Photos courtesy of L Sorkin.

Carpet beetle larvae and body lice. Photos courtesy of (left) unknown and (right) James Gathany / CDC.

The last life stage you should be familiar with is the smallest and the first stage - bed bug eggs. They are oval and firmly stuck to whatever surface they were deposited upon. Unlike flea eggs, there is no chance they will tumble to the floor when the bed linens are changed.

Photos' credit:  istock (first) Dr. Harold Harlan / AFPMB (second and third)

FAMILIARITY with the appearance of all life stages provides a measure of bed bug protection because you are now on your way to know how to stop bed bugs before an infestation can take hold.

2. Maintain Heightened Awareness:

Your newfound recognition skills will naturally make you much more AWARE of your environment and allow you to provide a healthy vigilance of bed bug protection. For our grandparents it was all part of their everyday practices – part and parcel of the lifestyle; checking luggage for stowaways, keeping purses and knapsacks off the floor in public venues, etc.

Be cautious of fixating upon every speck of dust that comes your way; that really is not healthy. A BALANCED approach will ensure any bed bugs that may happen to cross your path will be noticed long before an infestation has a chance to explode into the heavy infestation situation the media seems so fond of broadcasting.

3. Cast Skins:

If bed bugs are present they will leave CLUES to their presence – and these signs of bedbugs are often easier to locate than the actual bed bugs themselves. Remember, the developmental process of the bed bug nymph through all 5 instar stages mentioned in tip #1?

Well, at each stage that nymph literally climbs out of its EXOSKELETON. What is left behind is an amber coloured transparent shell, complete with six legs, two antenna and head attached to the cast of the main body. It is not uncommon to find these castings adhering to mattresses or mixed in with ‘dust bunnies’ under the bed.

Photos courtesy of L Sorkin.

4. Fecal Spotting:

One of the BEST bedbug symptoms is the deposit of black or dark brown dots, similar to the dot left by a Sharpie felt tip pen. This is bed bug fecal left by the bed bug on the way to or from a blood meal. It smears like charcoal when lightly brushed with the fingertip and retains the dark colour when a damp cotton swab is swiped across their surface.

Bed bug poop is most often encountered outside harbourage areas. It is theorized this excess liquid is expelled before entering their abode in order to fit into the smallest, tiniest crevice possible. It is also speculated to serve as a ‘calling card’ to other bed bugs to join them; a bed bug poo welcome mat.

LOOK for fecal spotting on box springs, mattress seams, cracks and crevices of bed frames, headboards, nightstands, etc. Wood is not the only potential material, be sure to check bed linens, paper, wallpaper, even rubber or vinyl mouldings.

From left to right:  1. and 2. bed bug fecal spotting on fitted sheet at head of bed; 3. clock radio volume conrol served as an egress point for bed bugs, note the one fecal spot on bottom right; 4. two fecal spots on inside of clock radio.

From left to right:  1. and 2. bed bug fecal spotting on fitted sheet at head of bed; 3. clock radio volume conrol served as an egress point for bed bugs, note the one fecal spot on bottom right; 4. two fecal spots on inside of clock radio.

Although bed bug fecal is the most common physical evidence of bed bugs encountered, it is also one of the most DIFFICULT TO CONFIRM. It can be hard to distinguish – even for professionals. General spotting, the result of mascara, paints and stains, natural wood colouration or permanent markers, are easily mistaken for bed bug poo. Fecal deposits by roaches and flies can further confuse the observer. Not to mention, mould spots on fabric is very similar in colour, shape and spacing and may be mistaken for bed bug fecal staining.

5. Confirm with Bed Bug Blue™

A new bed bug fecal spotting detector, BED BUG BLUE™ easily confirms the spots as blood residue assuring the spot has been deposited by a bed bug. In as little as 60 seconds, a simple test will let you know if you have a bed bug problem – even though you cannot find an actual bed bug! How to find out if you have bed bugs? With Bed Bug Blue, of course.

Bed Bug Blue Fecal Spot Detection Kit provides scientific evidence of bed bugs

Bed Bug Blue Fecal Spot Detection Kit provides scientific evidence of bed bugs

In the test kit there is:

  • Proprietary Bed Bug Blue™ detection tape with 9 test windows
  • Bottle of spot developer fluid, 15 ml (½ fluid oz)
  • 9 cotton swabs
  • Instruction guide
  • The box is a mere 8.5 cm X 8.5 cm  X 2.5 cm (3¼” X 3¼” X 1”), weighing 14 g (1.6 oz).

This is what you do - EASY:

  • Apply one drop of spot developer fluid on a cotton swab
  • Gently rub the swab over the spots to test
  • Immediately apply the cotton swab to an unused test window
  • Gently press against the test card for 1 full minute and then remove
  • A positive result is indicated by a blue colour. A negative result is indicated by no colour change in the test window.

Suitable to Use Anywhere and Everywhere

SIMPLE and INEXPENSIVE, Bed Bug Blue™, is portable and suitable to be used in any number of locations and situations by the home owner, vacationer, student, manager and even professional pest controllers:

  • Small and convenient, take Bed Bug Blue™ on vacation with you to test suspect marks in your hotel room
  • Test marks on used furniture BEFORE you take your prized possession home from the auction or garage sale
  • Give to your college children to test surfaces in their DORM ROOM
  • Managers can reassure CONCERNED EMPLOYEES questioning suspect ‘fecal’ marks in the workplace
  • May even be used to confirm mangled suspect bug specimens; see David Cain's report under Testimonials and Product Testing (listed below)

A quick test with Bed Bug Blue™ can AVOID needless STRESS, EXPENSE and unnecessary loads of laundry and vacuuming. Better to know and be sure before undertaking remediation measures for bed bugs.

Testimonials and Product Testing

With each use, Bed Bug Blue™ provides bed bug protection and reassures you of the presence or absence of bed bugs. I use this kit as part of our ‘show me the bed bug’ protocol to confirm an alert by our bed bug dog in residential, commercial and retail services and heartily recommend Bed Bug Blue™, another fine addition to the PactTite™ line of bed bug products.

The famed, John Furman, aka ‘Killer Queen’, an outspoken frequent poster on and owner/operator of "Boot A Pest", whose company, in February 2009, was named New York's Best Bed Bug Exterminator by New York Magazine: John Furman endorses Bed Bug Blue™.

David Cain, of Bed Bugs Limited and inventor of the BB Alert Monitoring System, uses Bed Bug Blue™ to confirm identification of mangled suspected bed bug specimens as part of their postal sample identification service:  Faecal trace confirmation kit for confirming damaged identification samples.

If you are interested in buying this bed bug product, you may do so below. It only weighs half an ounce, so shipping costs are low.  

I hope these 5 tips of how you can find bed bugs gave you some valuable information, including one exceptional tool to add to your Bed Bug Kits.

Be sure to pay heed to ALL of the tips above, particularly #1, as it is the foundation upon which the others build. Together, they empower you to recognize the signs and symptoms of bed bugs, scientifically confirm the presence or absence of bed bugs and SAVE you hours of NEEDLESS WORRY and ANXIETY. You now know how to find out if you have bed bugs.