NYC Living

Don't Panic: Bugs That Look Like Bed Bugs

While the hysteria around bed bugs has died down over the past couple of years, it’s still understandable to become paranoid at the slightest itch after an afternoon in an NYC movie theater. Before you panic, here’s everything you need to know about bed bugs.

What are bed bugs?

They’re tiny, blood-sucking life ruiners. Let’s not even worry about any sort of scientific definition here – just know that they’re about the size of an apple seed when fully grown. Bed bugs look like this:

Don't worry - bedbugs aren't this big.
Bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed.

Bugs That Look Like Bed Bugs

To help you narrow down what a bed bug looks like, let’s start with what they don’t look like. Bed bugs do NOT look like this:

Sources, clockwise from upper left: Spider beetle via BugGuide.net; book lice via AmericanInsects.net; carpet beetle via Pest Control at Home; cockroach nymph via BugGuide.net.
Sources, clockwise from upper left: Spider beetle via BugGuide.net; book lice via AmericanInsects.net; carpet beetle via Pest Control at Home; cockroach nymph via BugGuide.net.

Pictured above are bugs commonly mistaken for bed bugs. Usually, a Google image search for bed bugs will ease any panic if you confuse one of the above critters for the real thing – unless you have the misfortune of coming across a bat bug, pictured below:

Source: ABC Termite & Pest Control
Source: ABC Termite & Pest Control

Bat bugs look extremely similar to bed bugs. But, living in New York City, it’s more likely you’ll run into Leonardo DiCaprio than a bat bug. They tend to stick exclusively around bat colonies, and because I doubt your apartment building has an attic and because this is New York, it’s safe to assume you won’t encounter one of these guys.

How do I know if I have bed bugs?

You probably envision leprosy-style skin lesions when you hear the term bed bug bites, but in actuality, not everyone reacts to the bites. The most reliable way of figuring out whether or not you have bed bugs is by marks on bedding, furniture and the various nooks and crannies around your apartment (i.e., baseboards, the face plates of electrical outlets, smoke detectors, etc.). The marks can be rust-colored smears or small brown or black stains on your mattress or furniture seams.

Who’s responsible for getting rid of bed bugs?

Here’s the good news – your landlord is ultimately responsible for getting rid of bed bugs thanks to NYC’s housing and maintenance code. The code specifically names bed bugs in the list of insects your landlord is legally obligated to eradicate. NYC’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development categorizes bed bugs as hazardous and requires landlords to fix the problem within 30 days of notification. If your landlord refuses to take the necessary steps, you can file a complaint by calling 311.

How do I get rid of these suckers?

  1. Contact a professional immediately. Tips on finding a reputable exterminator can be found here.
    Pro tip: If the exterminator you call offers a flat fee, that’s a red flag; a good pest control professional will inspect your apartment before giving you a price quote and will provide you with an inspection report and action plan. Know that bed bug control requires two or more treatment visits and a follow-up inspection to confirm they’ve been totally eliminated. Don’t think that you’re one and done – be persistent and make sure you take the proper follow-up steps.
  2. Find and destroy. Limit the spread of bedbugs by forcing them out of crevices with a credit card or hair dryer and trapping them with tape. Ick! We hear you, but 30 seconds of direct contact with a hairdryer can kill a bed bug. Also be sure to seal any cracks or crevices with caulk.
  3. De-clutter your apartment to prevent bed bugs from hiding out while they plot your (social life’s) demise. Vacuum daily and be sure to empty the contents and dispose of the bag outside.
  4. Disinfecting surfaces and affected items is key; wipe off dead bugs, bloodstains, eggs and droppings with hot soapy water. Is anyone else’s skin crawling from that sentence? Let’s move on.
  5. Enclose your infested mattress and box spring for at least a full year, keeping an eye out for any tears in the cover. Or, if you’ve got the budget, toss that thing and invest in a new one. If you’re dumping it on the curb, remember to wrap your mattress in a plastic bag per NYC law.
  6. Wash all items showing bed bug stains in very hot water, drying them on the highest setting for at least 20 minutes.

Logistical annoyances aside, bed bugs aren’t as scary as they’re made out to be. If worse comes to worst, you get an infection from scratching your welts too much — nothing some oven mitts duct-taped to your hands can’t fix.

Check out NYC’s official bed bug guide for more information on how to deal if you find yourself with an infestation.

Related:

Maggie Glascott

Maggie Glascott is a marketing coordinator on the StreetEasy marketing team. Hailing from the mean streets of Westchester County, NY, Maggie fulfilled every suburban teenagers’ dream and moved to the city after graduating from the College of Charleston. After spending a year in a poorly lit ground-floor apartment on the Upper East Side, she moved to the top floor of a sunny walk-up in Prospect Heights and hasn’t looked back.

  • native new yorker
  • preston

    So instead of giving us the answer to the question making up the title of the article, you decided to essentially copy/paste from wikipedia the absolute basics about bed bugs. The title suggests that the article includes some statistics or figures of reported bed bug cases in NYC over time at the very least.

  • Fritz Bernazzi

    I say get protection from http://www.thermalstrike.com/product/ranger.asp , they have the most effective products i have found. and i have fought bed bugs for months.