What are Bed Bugs?


We’ve all heard the saying “Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite” – But what are bed bugs anyway?

Bed bugs are actually very different than people think.  Let’s learn a little bit more about what bed bugs are, and dispel some of the common myths.

What are Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are small insects, that look very much like a small beetle, but they are incredibly flat, like a tick.   They live indoors, and specifically in and around areas with a food source.  

Bed bugs feed on blood, and preferably human blood.  They prefer to live in hidden areas of your bedroom, specifically around your bed.  Typical hiding places include: your mattress, boxsprings, bed railings, furniture, electrical outlets, carpet, and wall hangings.

Bed bugs “bite” humans to feed on their blood, and in doing so, leave swollen marks that itch intensely.  Bed bug bites are so uncomfortable for most people, that they have difficulty sleeping, and even functioning normally during the day.

We also cannot emphasize enough how good bed bugs are at hiding.  Due to their small size, and flat structure, they prefer to hide in difficult to reach areas.  In fact, most people never actually see them, they just see the bites from getting bitten.

Bed bugs have no wings and do not fly.  They do crawl using their legs and can move about very quickly.

While bedbugs will feed on other animals in your home, like pets, rats, and mice, they far prefer human blood, and actively seek it out.  Adults, children, black or white, it doesn’t matter.  All humans are targets.

Bed bugs do not pose any health risk at this time.  They have been proven to carry disease, but not transmit it from host to host like mosquitos.

How Big Are Bed Bugs?

Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs are not microscopic, but they aren’t real big either.

Adult bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed (4.5mm – 5mm).  Adult bed bugs are brownish in color, and generally are reddish brown, shortly after they’ve eaten blood. 

Size varies by which stage of the bed bug lifecycle they are in.  Bed bugs need to feed in order to progress through the lifecycle.  Bed bugs generally feed every few days and take about 10-15 minutes to fully engorge themselves.

They typically feed in a “breakfast, lunch and dinner” pattern, with one bite for each.  This feeding pattern generally leaves a very telltale and signature bite pattern of three marks in a straight line.

Bed Bug Bites

Generally, while people are sleeping, bed bugs come out of hiding, and penetrate your skin, with a needle-like nose they have.  While doing so, their saliva is also injected.   Their saliva has a numbing agent in it, that keeps you from feeling the bite.  Using this needle-like nose, they draw blood and consume it.

They will generally do 2 -3 separate feedings at a time.   

The numbing agent in their saliva, often causes your skin to have an allergic reaction.   This allergic reaction generally shows up within a few hours and causes red irritated areas on the skin, that often have bumps.   They look very similar to other bug bites and itch severely in most cases.

What makes bed bug bites distinguishable in most cases, is that they are in lines, and the bites are in groups of 2 or 3.  You can see this distinct pattern in the photo below of young child, that has been severely bitten.

Bed Bug Bites Child

Young girl with legs covered in bed bug bites

You can find out more about bed bug bites and how to treat them in our Bed Bug Bites guide.  Treating bed bug bites is very important to minimize the risk of infection.

Bed Bug Life Cycle

Female bed bugs lay hundreds of eggs over their lifetime.  Eggs are very small, white in color, and sticky.  They are generally located in difficult to reach and hidden areas.   The combination of them being small, sticky, and hard to reach make them very difficult to treat and remove.

Photographer: Dr. Harold Harlan

Female bed bugs generally lay eggs 3-4 times a year, and the eggs can develop into fully grown adults within a month, in ideal conditions.   Learn more about the Bed Bug Life Cycle.

Where do Bed Bugs Hide?

Frankly, bed bugs can hide in almost any part of your house, or in a business.   They generally stay within close proximity of their food source (that would be you), so the most common location for them is in your bedroom, where you sleep.   They can be found in other locations, like living rooms and even bathrooms.

When not feeding, bed bugs prefer to hide out where they cannot be seen.  Often in bedrooms, this includes:

  • Between mattresses and box springs
  • On bed frames, or headboards
  • Inside or under furniture such as dressers, and nightstands
  • Behind wall hangings, or under lamps
  • Inside walls, and in particular, inside power outlets and behind baseboard molding.

If your room is cluttered, they could be hiding anywhere in that clutter, including in clothing, inside books and magazines, in boxes … frankly anywhere.

Learn more about where bed bugs hide and how to find them.


How do you get Bedbugs?

New York City Bed Bug

First, let us be clear, everyone is at risk of getting a bed bug infestation.   Bed bugs DO NOT discriminate.  They don’t care how clean or messy your home is, they don’t care what skin color you are, or how old you are.   Humans have blood, and that is all bed bugs care about.

Bed bugs are incredibly adept at traveling.  You can get bed bugs:

  • From someone’s car
  • From public transportation
  • From hotels and motels
  • From visiting someone’s home
  • From businesses
  • … and the list goes on …

Basically, you can get bed bugs from anywhere.   For example, let’s say you travel out of town for business …

You arrive at your 5-star hotel, check-in, and walk up to your room.  Upon entering, you lay your luggage on the bed, and then run out for dinner.

While you are at dinner, the bed bugs in the bed, which a previous occupent brought into the room with their luggage, smell the odor of your clothes, and enter your luggage.  Some lay eggs.

You come back, tired from your travels, move the luggage, and hope into bed.  Overnight, more bed bugs in the bed smell you, and bite you.  You wake up with strange red marks on your back, but you think it’s just a reaction to the sheets.   You get dressed, conduct your business, and head back home.

Oh, while working that day, some of the bed bugs that entered your luggage, travel with you.  You infested the cab you road in, the restaurant you ate at, your client’s workplace, and the airport.  

Then upon returning home and unpacking, you infest your home.

Yes, it’s just that easy, and happens to thousands of people every single day, all over the world.

Common Signs of Bed Bugs

Now that we have you fully creeped out (sorry, but we’re just being honest), you’ll want to know the most common signs of bed bugs.  Fortunately, while bed bugs themselves are difficult to find, they leave behind a number of tell-tale signs that will let you know they’ve moved in:

  • The easiest way is actually seeing bed bugs in your home.   Browse our photo library to become familiar with what they look like.  You can also read our guide: What do bed bugs look like, for more information.
  • Get ready … this is pretty disgusting, but bed beds “poop” out your blood, after they’ve consumed it.  Yea, we know …  BUT, the good news is that excrement is black, and easily smears.  This makes it very easy to see on your sheets and mattress.
  • Blood on your sheets, or mattress
  • A musty, offensive odor, that was not present before on your bed, or in furniture.
  • Bed bug bites on your body or on someone in your home.  Unfortunately, this can include children, even infants.

Learn more about how to find bed bugs and how to do a formal inspection of your home, using our Bed Bug Detection guide.

What to do if you think you have bed bugs

If you think you have bed bugs, you’ll want to begin treatment right away.  The longer you wait, the worse the infestation will get.  Bed bugs will not go away on their own.

heat treatment for bed bugs

The most effective, but also the most expensive way to get rid of bed bugs is to engage a professional exterminator.  Learn more about exterminator cost, and more about why you should use a professional exterminator.

If using a professional exterminator is cost prohibitive, there are a number of various “do it yourself” treatment options available.  Visit our treatment guide for more information on the multitude of techniques and for lots of detailed information about bed bug treatment.   Be sure to avoid all the scams though.

Finally, don’t despair.  You are not alone, you are not dirty, you are not disgusting, and there is hope.   10s of thousands of people are battling bed bugs every single day, all around the world.   Many of them effectively get rid of bed bugs in their home. 

We’re here to help!