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5 Pests Commonly Mistaken for Bed Bugs

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If you saw the pests from the list below and had to identify which was a bed bug, what would you say? Harder than you think, right? If you’re stumped, you’re not alone.

University of Kentucky research found that more than 2/3 of people in the U.S. could not correctly name a bed bug if they saw one isolated from other kinds of insects. That leads us to realize there is still so much that the public doesn’t know about bed bugs.

So what do—and don’t—bed bugs look like? Unfortunately, a handful of critters are often mistaken for bed bugs. Here are five bed bug doppelgangers.


  • Appearance: Fleas are reddish-brown, similar to bed bugs, but are smaller (no larger than 1/8 of an inch) and more oval in shape. They appear skinnier, can jump, and stand taller and more vertical to surfaces in comparison to bed bugs.

  • Diet: While both fleas and bed bugs feed on blood, fleas prefer animals such as cats and dogs over humans. You are more likely to see them hanging around your pet’s sleeping areas or in carpeting, than in your bed.


  • Appearance: Ticks can range in color, but most are brown. Before feeding, they appear flat like bed bugs and have a similar, round body shape. Ticks have eight legs (they belong to the arachnid family) rather than six like the bed bug.

  • Diet: While ticks can bite humans, they prefer animal hosts. One big difference between ticks and bed bugs is ticks latch onto their hosts and burrow their heads into your skin when they bite. Ticks are also known to spread disease, but there is no scientific proof of bed bugs transmitting illness.

Swallow Bug

  • Appearance: Swallow bugs are approximately the same color and size as a bed bug, but are covered in longer hair.

  • Diet: Their preferred host is the swallow, but if their bird hosts migrate to another location, the swallow bugs can move into homes or businesses, feeding on human blood if desperate for a meal.

  • Find out what happened in this real life scenario where swallow bugs were mistaken for bed bugs.

Carpet Beetle Adult

  • Appearance: Carpet beetle adults can appear small and round like bed bugs, but they are actually smaller (no larger than 1/7 of an inch) and vary in color—some are patterned with black, white and yellow. Another important difference is carpet beetles have wings and can fly, while bed bugs cannot.

  • Diet: Adult carpet beetles prefer to feed on pollen and nectar, but can also feed on the cast skins of bed bugs, which can cause confusion when they are seen in the same area as bed bugs. They do not bite humans, but you can get a rash if exposed to the prickly hairs on their bodies.

Cockroach Nymph

  • Appearance: Cockroach nymphs are white upon hatching, but quickly turn a reddish-brown similar to bed bugs. They have more of a cylinder shape than bed bugs.

  • Diet: Cockroach nymphs do not feed on blood like bed bugs do.

Since it can be easy to mistake bed bugs for other pests, it’s best to have a pest management professional complete an inspection and identify the pest. Correct identification is critical because pests often require different control methods, and when a pest issue is misdiagnosed, the problem may grow and become more severe without proper treatment.


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