If you’ve uncovered holes, stains or insect shells around your house — or you’re waking up with bites on your skin — you might be dealing with an infestation of carpet beetles or bed bugs. Both insects are troublemakers and require immediate extermination to prevent a worsening spread. Knowing which bug has infiltrated your property is the first step.
Learn more about the similarities and differences between these home invaders.
What Makes Bed Bugs and Carpet Beetles Different?
Both insects can — and will — ravage your home, belongings and lifestyle. Though these pests sometimes look and behave similarly, there are several key differences between a carpet beetle and a bed bug that can help you better understand what you’re dealing with.
At a glance, carpet beetles look like bed bugs, depending on their life stage. They are one of the most common bugs mistaken for bed bugs because they share a distinctive oval-shaped body. However, bed bugs are flatter and thinner than carpet beetles.
Bed bugs are also more uniform in color — mature adults are brown or reddish-purplish brown, depending on how long ago they’ve fed. Immature adults, known as nymphs, are smaller and lighter colored versions of their mature parents. Carpet beetles can also be brown, but some types are tan or various shades of black, white, orange and yellow. They are usually covered in dense bristle-like hair, while bed bugs are flat, shelled discs.
An insect’s life cycle encompasses the time they hatch through their larvae and adult stages. Both carpet beetles and bed bugs can live a long time, leaving behind hundreds of eggs in their wake:
- Carpet beetles: Carpet beetles have four stages of life — egg, larva, pupa and adult. On warm days, adult females lay between 50 and 100 eggs on a chosen material, often fabric or pollen-producing plants. Black carpet beetles produce one generation each year, while other types typically produce three or more. Eggs hatch by the 15th day in a dark, quiet place and spend several months or a year in the larval stage. The larval stage is the most destructive for homeowners, as it’s when carpet beetles feast on clothes and linens. Once the larvae reach adulthood, they molt, shedding their skins. You can find carpet beetles indoors and outdoors, including near stored clothing and blankets, rugs, upholstery, near pet hair or outdoors near pollen-producing flowers and dead insects or animals. Their versatile diet makes them challenging to eradicate because they can adapt to live wherever they find food or undisturbed shelter.
- Bed bugs: Female bed bugs lay up to 250 eggs in their lifetime, often depositing a few into a quiet, secluded place each day. These tiny, nearly invisible eggs have a whitish hue and adhere to the mother’s chosen surface for safekeeping. Depending on the temperature and local environment, these eggs hatch about one week later and emerge as tiny beige larvae. Over the next month, they will molt five times, feasting on a diet of animal blood — siphoned from humans, dogs, cats and rodents — between each molt. The average bed bug lives 10 months but can last beyond a year in cold climates, even without regular feeding. You’ll find bed bugs in bedrooms, living rooms and shared spaces, as they tend to congregate wherever their food source rests.
These unwanted housemates can destroy property or leave behind bites that could trigger allergic reactions:
- Carpet beetles: Carpet beetle larvae feed on fabrics or clothes that contain an animal protein known as keratin, such as wool, silk, feathers and leather. This is why they are so common in carpets, rugs, clothing and bedding. Though they may feed on stored bedding, carpet beetles do not live in beds. Once larvae mature into adults, they prefer a less destructive diet of flower pollen. During these transitional phases, you might spot larval and adult carpet beetles indoors on your baseboards or near vents and ducts, or outdoors in flower gardens.
- Bed bugs: Bed bugs feed on warm-blooded animals using their tube-like beak, called a proboscis. They use their beak to puncture the skin and draw blood, a process that can last as long as 10 minutes. Unlike ticks, they do not burrow or latch onto their victims after feeding. Instead, they quickly scurry back into hiding somewhere close. While carpet beetles form nests, bed bugs do not — though they do often share living spaces due to the proximity to food sources. For this reason, you often find bed bugs in mattresses and bed frames. These bugs can leave behind single bites or several bites that form a straight line, cluster or shape. Some people experience an allergic reaction when bitten by a bed bug, and severity ranges from person to person. During the day, bed bugs stay hidden — unless their food source tends to rest during the day, then they may shift their sleeping patterns to sleep while you are away from home.
What Problems Do Bed Bugs Pose to Humans?
Though bed bugs do not carry any known diseases or spread illness, they are far from harmless.
Physical and Mental Effects
When a bed bug bites a person, it may leave behind rounded, slightly raised welts that may or may not be accompanied by intense itching. You can find these bites in several locations, including:
Some people may experience a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis that may cause severe sickness, trouble breathing, pain, fever, blisters or a swollen tongue. Other physical side effects might include poor quality sleep or sleep deprivation when these insects crawl across bodies, making it impossible to sleep comfortably. Intense itching might also lead to infections that can fester in broken skin.
Aside from the physical effects of a bed bug infestation, they are also known to impact the victims’ mental health negatively. Even though bed bugs are common across all types of environments — including spotless, immaculately clean homes and cluttered, messy spaces — there is a social stigma about bed bugs that may cause embarrassment or fear of others finding out. When you pair this negative social stigma with poor sleep, physical side effects and an insect that is virtually impossible to eliminate on your own, it’s a challenging situation for anyone.
Bed Bug Spread
The other negative side of a bed bug infestation is that it happens quickly and spreads easily. For this reason, the spread is common in hotels, apartments, schools, dormitories and other shared public areas. Bed bugs are also thin and agile, so they can access many places to remain undetected, including behind door hinges and even inside small metal screws or components. When bed bugs bite their victims, they can leave behind blood stains, and some larvae stain mattresses and sheets as they molt and feed. This results in expensive damages. In many cases, you might have to toss ruined items as part of a successful bed bug elimination.
Are Carpet Beetles Harmful?
While there is only one type of bed bug, carpet beetles have several variants:
- Black carpet beetle: Black carpet beetles, known as Attagenus unicolor, are the most common type of carpet beetle in homes across the United States. They are also responsible for the most damage. Their life cycle lasts anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years, with females laying about 50 eggs per cycle. They prefer low humidity areas, which creates an ideal hatching environment. Compared to other carpet beetles, black carpet beetles are longer and narrower.
- Varied carpet beetle: Anthrenus verbasci, otherwise known as the varied carpet beetle, has patterned shades of brown, white and yellow as larvae. As adults, they look like black carpet beetles, with solid black or dark brown shells. Mature larvae are actually longer than their parents, with a dense coating of hair that instinctively protrudes when disturbed. Their front is narrow, while the rear is rounded. Each adult female lays several dozen eggs that take a couple of weeks to hatch before living several years in optimal conditions.
- Furniture carpet beetle: Furniture carpet beetles — Anthrenus flavipes — are more rounded than other carpet beetles, with a spotted pattern in brown, black, yellow and white. The underside of a furniture carpet beetle is white, though they turn red or brown as they age from larvae to adult. As adults, females lay about 60 eggs per life cycle, and once they hatch, these young bugs can live for several weeks or years.
Regardless of the type, carpet beetles can cause extensive damage around your home or business. They have been known to leave behind holes and destructive trails in furniture, stored clothing, rugs, bedding, carpets, curtains and packaging materials. They can also create something known as “carpet beetle rash,” which happens if you are allergic to carpet beetles and their larval bristles cause itching, hives or general discomfort.
Signs of Bed Bugs and How to Prevent Them
Bed bugs spread from person to person in nearly any public place, including:
- Public transit
- Nursing homes and hospitals
- Cruise ships
- Shopping centers
- Business offices
Nearly every place is fair game. Some telltale signs of bed bugs include:
- Bloodstains on and near your bed.
- Discarded thin, oval-shaped shells.
- Rust-colored smears in furniture seams, luggage and on walls.
Extreme bed bug infestations may also produce a sickly-sweet, musty odor that comes from their alarm pheromones, though a smell is not always present.
Signs of Carpet Beetles and How to Prevent Them
Some signs of carpet beetles in your home to watch for are:
- “Grazed” areas on clothes, fabrics, furniture and bedding.
- Unexplainable holes in belongings.
- Piles of dust or insect shells in closets and drawers.
To minimize your chance of attracting carpet beetles, launder or dry clean all fabrics before storing them away in a tightly sealed container. Keep your home clean of dust and wipe down pantry shelves. As you clean, pay close attention to those signs listed above.
Are Bed Bugs and Carpet Beetles Controlled the Same?
Generally speaking, carpet beetles are far easier to eradicate than bed bugs, but both require professional assistance. Do-it-yourself solutions and commercial insecticides can be hazardous for humans and pets and are ineffective against these types of infestations.
These are some things you can do to lessen the effects or prevent an infestation:
- Carpet beetles: Keep all fabrics clean with high heat and steam and store them somewhere airtight. Vacuum rugs and carpets regularly. Sweep hard surface floors where pet hair or dander are present. Inspect pollen-producing plants before bringing them inside.
- Bed bugs: Wash and dry all infested items on high heat and discard any bedding, clothes or furniture that are impossible to clean. Always inspect items, especially secondhand furniture and bedding, before bringing them into your home. Wash bedding and laundry often and visually inspect for any stains in the process. If you are currently experiencing an infestation, cover as much of your skin as possible while sleeping to avoid bites until you can schedule an appointment with a professional.
Both insects require thorough, complete elimination. Otherwise, they will continue to spread.
When to Call a Pest Control Professional
Because infestations can quickly get out of hand, it’s important to contact a professional removal service as soon as you suspect or find evidence of carpet beetles or bed bugs. Both of these pests are a challenge to manage and eradicate, and DIY solutions are unlikely to suffice, even as a short term control method.
Some signs that it’s time to call a professional are:
- The presence of bites on human or pet skin.
- Visible stains, blood smears or holes in furniture, bedding and clothes.
- Seeing a bug in your home that resembles a bed bug or carpet beetle, even if it appears to be alone.
- A strong, musty-sweet odor that may indicate a bed bug infestation.
- Piles of molted shells or insect skins.
Avoid letting the problem continue — it will not go away on its own. Prompt action is essential to avoid bites and irreparable damage to your belongings.
Contact Spectrum Pest Control to Learn More
Identification is the first and most important step in eradicating and preventing future infestations. Contact the professionals at Spectrum Pest Control — we’ll help you identify, locate and remove your household pests. Whether you’re dealing with carpet beetles or bed bugs, we have the tools and experience to clear your home quickly, safely and effectively. We can also work with you to create a preventive action plan to avoid future pest problems.
Contact us today to learn more about our pest control services and schedule your consultation.