What Do Bed Bug Bites Look Like?

This question is asked all the time.  Many people will claim to be able to tell you what they look like.  The fact is, NO ONE can accurately diagnose a bed bug bite by looking at it.  Not even doctors.  Everyone can react to a bite differently.  The amount of redness, swelling and itching have more to do with how your immune system reacts than with the bug that bit you.

“I heard that bed bug bites will be in threes”

Well, they will, unless they’re not.  The bites in threes is a myth.  A bed bug will start feeding, and if disturbed he may stop and then bite again to continue until he is satisfied.  I have personally watched a bed bug bite and become fully engorged within 30 seconds.  At other times a bug might bite more than once looking for a sweet spot where the blood flows more easily.  Or, you may have multiple bugs feeding in the same location.

“Are bed bug bites usually in a straight line?”

Occasionally, but certainly not always.  Here’s why.  The bed bug doesn’t necessarily need to climb onto you to feed.  It can travel across the bed to the point where your skin meets the sheet, and bite you while still being on the sheet.  If it bites more than once, or if multiple bugs are feeding in the same area, this could result in bites that are more or less in line.  Does that always happen?  Definitely not.  Does it usually happen that way?  Not necessarily.  Sometimes?  Yes.

This photo was selected because it shows 3 bites in a straight line (Ha ha)

Some people’s bites will be small red bumps and may or may not itch much.

Some people get large painful welts.

Many people have no reaction at all.  These 4 bed bugs were study specimens from my personal collection, being fed on my left forearm.  Afterward I had no reaction whatsoever.

If you search the internet for pictures of bed bug bites, you will get thousands of results.  Some of them will undoubtedly be of bed bugs feeding on a reddish-purple spot on someone’s left hand.  That would be my friend and mentor Louis Sorkin feeding them on his birthmark.  His research specimens like that spot because the blood is very close to the surface.  Louis is an entomologist for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and is a rock star in the bed bug research world.

People will often wonder why only one person, or a few people in the household are getting bites.  It is not  because the bugs like that person better.  It is typically because they are having a reaction to the bites and others in the household are being bitten but not having an allergic reaction to it.  If a person is living with bed bugs but does not have an allergic reaction to the bites, the population can often become quite large before it is detected.  (I call these people ‘feeders’)

Sleep tight y’all, and don’t let the bed bugs bite.

Brian Metzger, GP Home Defense, LLC  (785) 829-0644