If given the choice between having carpet beetles or having bed bugs, the obvious answer would be neither. However, if you suspect that either one of these pests has already snuck into your home and become a threat to your family, you need to know which is which so you can eliminate the threat.
Unfortunately, both bed bugs and carpet beetles are similar in size and habitat. It's no wonder homeowners are easily confused when trying to tell if they have a carpet beetle problem or a bed bug problem. Because pest management and pest prevention strategies differ based on the exact pest you're dealing with, it's imperative that your bug identification is accurate. Take proactive measures today with this helpful guide to identifying the differences between carpet beetles versus bed bugs, and what to do to get rid of the infestation once you've identified your specific problem. Find out about carpet beetle vs bed bugs.
What is the difference between how carpet beetles and bed bugs look?
Carpet beetle larvae and bed bug larvae
The youngest bed bug nymphs are extremely tiny and will appear as small, light amber dots the size of a dust speck. These nymphs grow much larger very quickly, attaining their adult size of about 1/4 of an inch. As they get older, the nymphs change color to a darker, reddish brown.
After being laid, their eggs hatch in approximately seven days. The resulting bed bug nymphs have a yellow-brown color and are about the size of the tip of a pin. It takes the young bed bugs a month to grow to maturity. At this point, they'll start laying their own eggs and the bed bug infestation rapidly spreads.
Carpet beetle eggs take twice as long to hatch. They typically need 14 days to emerge. The resulting carpet beetle larvae are small and grub-like, unlike the nymph bed bug, which looks like an adult, but smaller and lighter in color. Carpet beetle larvae can measure up to 1/4-inch long, have a brown or dark tan hue and appear fuzzy or hairy thanks to all of their miniature bristles. By contrast, carpet beetle adults look like a small lady bug or lady beetle.
What do adult carpet beetles look like?
Carpet beetles vary in color depending on type (e.g., varied, black, furniture or common carpet beetles). Sometimes they look like a black and yellow ladybug. They have short antennae and round bodies and might also have irregular brown, orange and white scales or be solid brown or black. Carpet beetles are generally smaller than bed bugs and have an oval shape.
Carpet beetles typically have 11 segments to their antennae, which are shaped like a club. Their membranous wings are covered by a hard exterior shell. Bed bugs, on the other hand, have thick antennae arranged in four segments. They have wing pads on both sides of their thorax just behind head, but no wings (i.e., vestigial or undeveloped wings). It's extremely hard to see a carpet beetle's eyes, while a bed bug has eyes that protrude from its head. An immature carpet beetle has tufts of hair sticking out from its body while bed bugs may appear hairless.
What do bed bugs look like?
Bed bugs are reddish-brown, flat and shaped like an apple seed. Each bed bug is quite minuscule, measuring as small as 3/16-inch long (although some may be as big as 1/4-inch long). In contrast, a carpet beetle is approximately 1/8-inch long.
The EPA explains that bed bugs are a "true bug," meaning it has all the main characteristics that define bugs:
- A four-part antenna
- Wings, although they do not actually fly
- A beak with three segments
- A sucking mouth part known as a proboscis
What is the scientific difference between carpet beetles and bed bugs?
Bed bugs are in the family Cimicidae, while carpet beetles are in the family Dermestids. The difference here is that bed bugs have a mouth made for piercing skin and sucking blood while carpet beetles have a mouth made for chewing on plants and other fibrous material. The good news is that this means carpet beetles don't bite humans. The bad news? Bed bugs do.
Carpet beetles are not bed bugs
While carpet beetles may initially appear similar to bed bugs, and be spotted in similar areas around your home, these pests are a distinct problem and have very different behaviors than bed bugs.
Learn more about carpet beetles.
What is the difference between carpet beetle and bed bug diet and feeding habits?
Bed bugs feed on human blood while carpet beetle larvae actually prefer pollen and nectar (which is why they often enter your home on cut flowers). Once inside, carpet beetle larvae expand their diet to include hair, fur, silk, wool, clothes and other fibrous material. (Once carpet beetles exit the larvae stage and graduate to adulthood, they do not cause damage or consume those items.) While carpet beetles aren't an invasive danger to your body, they may produce a rash from skin contact.
What is the difference between carpet beetle and bed bug behaviors and needs?
Bed bugs are a nesting parasite. They spend most of their time hiding together in a nest, typically within a few feet of their food source (i.e., you or your pet). They hide during the day, and come out at night to search for food (studies have found peak bed bug activity between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.). While they may hitchhike on objects to a new room or a new home, bed bugs tend to stay put unless their food source moves.
In contrast, carpet beetles don't feed on blood, and thus are not interested in sticking close to the rooms where you sleep or spend considerable amounts of time. Instead, carpet beetles congregate in dark, quiet and undisturbed areas full of food sources:
- Boxes of clothing or textiles that are kept in storage.
- Closets full of clothing that's rarely used.
- The backs or corners of a closet on garments that you rarely disturb or wear.
- Rugs, furniture and other textiles in unused rooms.
Are carpet beetles or bed bugs dangerous?
The risks of carpet beetles
Once they've matured, this species is relatively harmless because they feed on the nectar and pollen of flowers (especially buckwheat, crape myrtle and spiraea).
However, the larvae can cause considerable damage in your home. They slowly crawl from room to room, migrating through your house and eating textiles and garments, such as wool rugs, pants, sweaters and jackets.
Although carpet beetle larvae do not typically move around or migrate inside your house, the eggs are laid near a food source by an adult, When the larvae hatch, they feed on nearby food sources, eating textiles and garments, such as wool rugs, pants, sweaters and jackets. Carpet beetle larvae have somewhat limited mobility and are not likely to leave a food source unless they are physically moved by a person (such as, unknowingly moving them in infested clothing or other infested items).
The risks of bed bugs
First, the good news. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency points out that the most recent public health research hasn't found any link between bed bugs and the spreading or transmitting of pathogens that cause common diseases.
And now, the bad news. Bed bugs can:
- Cause itchy, red bits on your skin where they feed on your blood
- Leave behind debris, "dust" and excrement that dirties or stains your bed sheets, furniture and home
- Create significant levels of stress and anxiety, which may affect your mental health and your ability to relax and enjoy your own home
Do carpet beetles or bed bugs transmit diseases?
Neither of these pests are known to directly transmit diseases.
However, researchers and Penn State report that some people have allergic reactions when touching carpet beetle larvae due to their sharp bristles. And if left untreated, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that the constant itching and scratching of bed bug bites on your skin can lead to secondary infections.
What types of skin reactions do carpet beetles and bed bugs cause?
Generally speaking, carpet beetles damage your belongings, while bed bugs damage your skin. Still, bed bugs and carpet beetles can both leave similar evidence of their presence on your skin. Bed bug bites are actual bites. The bug injects anesthetic and anticoagulant into your skin with its mouth to ensure a quick feeding that won't disturb your sleep. This saliva causes an allergic reaction in some people, which registers as raised, red welts that itch. Carpet beetles can also leave red bumps on your skin, but they aren't bites. These bumps and rashes are caused by an allergic reaction to hairs or bristles on the abdomen of carpet beetle larvae as well as to traces of the insect's blood. The two can easily be confused as bed bug bites.
Dermatitis caused by carpet beetles mostly appears beneath clothing and is scattered across the body. This is caused by the path the bug or insect takes when crawling over your skin. Both bites and dermatitis from either pest may result in itchy welts that can become infected and erupt from excessive scratching.
Do carpet beetles fly or bed bugs fly?
Another important distinction to note between carpet beetles and bed bugs: carpet beetles can fly. They can enter your home through cracks, doors, windows and other openings. Bed bugs cannot fly. Instead, they drag their blood-filled bodies across your skin to and from their hiding spots.
What is the difference between where you can find carpet beetles and bed bugs in your home?
Bed bugs typically hide within eight feet of their victims. Check in and around your bed as well as clothing, drawers, cracks, baseboards, floorboards, electrical switch covers and anywhere else that grants these pests easy access to your sleeping family.
Carpet beetles aren't always found in carpets, especially since many modern carpets are synthetic. Instead, look for carpet beetles in spaces between walls, chimneys, crawl spaces, attics and basements. Carpet beetles particularly like living in places where other insects have lived, especially if those insects are dead. Of course, flowers are their preferred food source, and they are attracted to sunlight, so indoor plants would be their ideal habitat.
Signs of carpet beetles
One of the first signs of a carpet beetle problem is finding beetles congregating around your windows (they are attracted to sunlight) or finding the hairy, slow-moving larvae crawling up your walls. If you find the beetles or larvae, immediately check:
- Your closets
- Your furniture
- Your rugs
- Your boxes of stored clothing
The hungry pests leave tell-tale holes and damage in various natural fibers.
Signs of bed bugs
One of the first signs of bed bugs are dark spots on your furniture, mattress, sheets and other bedding. Additional bed bug signs and symptoms include:
- Bites and welts on your skin
- A musty, sweet-smelling odor in rooms that have a heavy infestation
- A visible inspection revealing bed bugs congregating in the cracks or folds of your bed or nearby furniture
What to do if you find carpet beetles or bed bugs in your home
Once you've properly identified the difference between carpet beetles and bed bugs, take proactive measures to stop the spread of these problematic pests before they spread even further.
How to get rid of carpet beetles
Sanitization and clean up are critical in helping to eradicate a carpet beetle problem. While these tips may help, they are not likely to get rid of carpet beetles in your home. A pest control professional can advise you on a treatment plan to help get rid of carpet beetles. However, taking the following precautions can minimize future infestations.
Oregon State University recommends immediately cleaning up dust, lint and other debris around your home that may serve as a food source for carpet beetles. Likewise, inspect your garments, clothing and textiles for carpet beetles. Clean, pest-free clothing should be immediately stored in tight, insect-proof plastic containers.
Infested furniture and clothing can be treated by:
- Physically removing the carpet beetles and larvae by hand or with a vacuum if the infestation is minimal.
- Store small garments or textile items in your freezer for at least two days.
- Dry cleaning infected items, or heat treating them for several hours (temperatures must exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit to be successful).
How to get rid of bed bugs
Similar to a carpet beetle problem, a pest professional can often be your surest route to getting rid of bed bugs. However, there are many steps you can take to help get rid of these creatures. If you find bed bugs:
- Immediately wash all affected bedding and clothing. Use the hottest water setting and the hottest dryer setting. Bed bug eggs, larvae and mature adults die when exposed to temperatures hotter than 131 degrees Fahrenheit. While this may help to get bed bugs out of personal items that can be laundered, it will not get rid of bed bugs completely from the home.
- Vacuum all furniture, floors, bedding, baseboards and crevices thoroughly. Remove the vacuum cleaner's bag, place it in a sealed plastic bag, and dispose of it immediately. A professional with experience in bed bug removal can be of great help in this situation.
- Steam clean your mattress, walls, floors and furniture with a portable steam cleaner. In this instance, an experienced professional with knowledge of bed bugs and steaming procedures can also be of help.
While it may be tempting to take a DIY approach to getting rid of bed bugs, these tasks alone will not get rid of them. Enlisting the aid of a pest control professional can help you more thoroughly rid yourself of these persistent pests.
When to call in a professional
Both bed bugs and carpet beetles are very small, adept at hiding, and quick to reproduce. Missing just one or two mature adults can mean an immediate recurrence of the problem in a few weeks when the pests have laid eggs and the eggs hatch.
If you suspect a bed bug infestation or a carpet beetle problem, it's always wise to consult with a pest control expert. Only an expert can:
- Quickly and properly identify the exact species of pest you're dealing with.
- Do a thorough visual and physical inspection of your home, locating potential hiding spots that you might have missed.
- Create a thorough, holistic treatment plan.
- Complete follow-up inspections to stop a recurrence of the pest.
Both carpet beetle and bed bug infestations are serious matters that need professional pest control treatment. Both of these obscure invaders disperse throughout your home and are experts when it comes to hiding. Instead of carpet beetles vs. bed bugs, it quickly becomes pests vs. your family. When that happens, be sure to call Terminix® to make sure the battle is short-lived.
Stop carpet beetles and bed bugs before the problem spreads
Schedule a free bed bug inspection today! Our local experts, backed by our nationwide network of resources and research, can help you to figure out if you're facing a carpet beetle or bed bug infestation. We can provide on-site inspections and put together a treatment plan tailored to the severity of your problem, the layout of your home, and your personal lifestyle needs and preferences.