The Difference Between Carpet Bugs & Bed Bugs

By Jean Godawa
Frequent vacuuming removes food sources for carpet beetles.

They look different, have different diets and develop differently. Perhaps the only thing that carpet beetles and bed bugs have in common, besides their six legs, is their preference for indoor spaces. Carpet beetles belong to the Dermestid family of beetles (Coleoptera). Immature, or larval, beetles have different food and habitat preferences than their adult counterparts. Bed bugs belong to the Cimicidae family of true bugs (Hemiptera) and develop from egg to nymph to adult, with the same feeding behavior and habits throughout their life cycle.

Physical Differences

Like all beetles, carpet beetles have a pair of hardened wings, called elytra, which cover and protect another set of membranous wings. Adult carpet beetles are small insects, growing up to 1/8 inch long. They are oval shaped and vary in color from black to brown with a mottled pattern. Carpet beetle larvae are typically brown to orange, worm-like, hairy creatures, approximately 1/4 inch long. Bed bugs are wingless, flat, oval insects with reddish brown coloring. Adults reach lengths up to 1/4 inch. Immature bedbug nymphs resemble adults, but are smaller and lighter in color.

Food Preferences

At all stages of their development, bed bugs feed on human and animal blood. Bed bugs find their host at night by detecting carbon dioxide and heat. Nymphs need a blood meal before each of their five molt stages and females need blood prior to laying eggs. Adults feed once every week for their lifetime, but can survive a year without eating. Adult carpet beetles feed on nectar and pollen outdoors, while their larvae are pests of stored food, natural fabrics and, of course, carpets. They avoid synthetic fibers, but can find food sources throughout the home, including pet hair, lint, feathers, wool, leather, fur and silk.

Preferred Locations

Bed bugs stay where they have access to blood, with beds being a favored habitat. They hide along mattress seams and bindings as well as in crevices of walls and furniture. Bed bugs arrive in the home on luggage, furniture, laundry and other items brought in from infested sites. Hotels, apartments and other places with human traffic are common sources of bed bugs. Adult carpet beetles enter the home from outside and lay eggs on a potential food sources, such as a carpets, clothing or upholstered furniture. After hatching, the larvae feed in dark, protected areas for several months. Closets, attics and storage containers are preferred habitats for carpet beetles.

Carpet Beetle Management

Look for shed larval casings and insect droppings around damaged fabrics to confirm a carpet beetle problem. Wash or dry clean clothing and blankets before storing because beetles are attracted to the human odors these items may contain. Remove eggs, larvae and adults with regular vacuuming of carpets, furniture and baseboards. Dispose of vacuum bags and lint immediately to prevent reinfestation. Check cut flowers for adult beetles before bringing them indoors and keep window screens closed and well sealed. Regular inspection and thorough vacuuming is usually enough to bring carpet beetles under control.

Bed Bugs Management

Bed bug populations are difficult to control since a female bed bug can lay more than 200 eggs in her lifetime. Itchy bites on your skin may be the first indication of a bed bug problem. Check along the seams of mattresses for small, rust-colored stains or bugs the size of apple seeds. Immediately launder sheets and blankets with a hot dryer cycle. Vacuum all sides of the infested mattress and surrounding area. It might be necessary to dispose of infested mattresses, box springs and upholstered furniture to completely eradicate the pests. Severe infestations require treatment by a professional pest control company.

About the Author

Jean Godawa is a science educator and writer. She has been writing science-related articles for print and online publications for more than 10 years. Godawa holds a degree in biology and environmental science with a focus on entomology from the University of Toronto. She has conducted field research in the tropical rainforests of southeastern Asia and South America.