You cannot just “get” bed bugs. They have to be brought into your home. So what is your first clue that you have brought bed bugs home in your luggage after a trip, or on a piece of used furniture that you bought at a garage sale? Most people become suspicious of a bed bug infestation when they find unexplained bites on their bodies. Most commonly a person will go to bed feeling fine but wake up in the morning with itching bites. While bites might suggest bed bugs, they are not a good method for diagnosing a bed bug infestation. This is because bite reactions are so variable from person to person. For instance, a person who has been bitten while traveling may not react for several days, and only notice the bites after they have returned home.
These bites do not mean the home is infested. Alternatively, a person may not react to bed bug bites at all. This can allow an infestation to get started in their home and remain unnoticed until the bed bug population increases so much that bed bugs start to be seen. Because bites are an unreliable indicator of an infestation (they may not be bed bug bites at all), it is very important to be familiar with the other signs that bed bugs leave behind to detect a real infestation (particularly a small one). By looking for specific bed bug evidence, the infestation can be identified early before the population becomes difficult to control.
It is very important to know what bed bugs look like. The adults can easily be seen with the naked eye. Adult bed bugs are reddish brown in color, wingless, and are about the size of an apple seed. Immature bed bugs (there are 5 immature or nymphal instar stages) can also be seen with the naked eye but they are smaller than adults, and translucent whitish-yellow in color. The most difficult life stage to see is the first instar nymph. This is the youngest life stage that hatches out of the egg. These nymphs are so small that they are difficult to see unless they are moving or have recently fed (bright red when full of blood). Bed bug eggs are also tiny, about the size of the head of a pin. The eggs are a pearlwhite color and have obvious eyespots if they are older than 5 days.