Can you recognize bed bugs?

life tips | July. 19, 2017

Hopefully, you give your bed a thorough check for bed bugs before settling in for a hotel stay. The itchy bites you’ll get if they snack on your blood during your trip is the least of your problems. The bugs could also get into your luggage or hold on to your clothes, so you won’t escape the bloodsuckers once you’re home.

Diligent as you are about checking, though, you might not recognize a bug when you see one. A study in the journal American Entomologist asked 1,956 travelers to pick out a bed bug from a lineup of bug silhouettes. Can you guess which one it is?

If you just shrugged and said, “no clue,” you’re not alone. About 42 percent of leisure travelers and 29 percent of business travelers didn’t bother guessing, and choosing the “I don’t know” option. Only 28 and 35 percent of leisure and business travelers, respectively, chose correctly.

Ready for the big reveal? The real bed bug is (drumroll please)…option four. In order, the other bugs are an ant, termite, louse, and tick.

Not being able to recognize a bed bug could mean false alarms at hotels, says study coauthor Hannah J. Penn, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at Miami University. For instance, she’s heard of people mistaking dead spiders for a bed bug. “Spiders are much leggier in appearance and, I would think, easier to identify since people encounter them every day,” she says.

Convincing yourself you’ve found a bed bug that’s really something else won’t just hurt the hotel’s reputation—it could also be a massive inconvenience for you. While about 30 percent of travelers said they’d ask the hotel to place them in a different room, almost 60 percent said they would switch hotels entirely.

When you’re hunting for bed bugs, check in mattress seams, behind the headboard, and on chairs and couches for evidence, says Dr. Penn. But there are other signs of bed bugs besides the actual bugs, like their droppings. “Fecal spots are generally roundish, dark brown to black spots, typically with several in the same area,” Dr. Penn says. “You can also look for old bed bug sheddings (outgrown skins), which look similar to the actual bed bug but are light yellow and delicate.”

If you think your room is infested, let the hotel manager know, says Dr. Penn. “I would report the finding to the front desk of the hotel and ask for a room change,” she says. “From there, the hotel can make sure that the room is cleared of bed bugs for later guests.” If it’s too late and you’ve already brought them home, learn how to get rid of bed bugs.

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