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 (order Coleoptera). Immature, or larval, beetles have different food and habitat preferences than their adult counterparts. Bed bugs, on the other hand, belong to the Cimicidae family of true bugs (order Hemiptera) and develop from egg to nymph to adult, with the same feeding behavior and habits throughout their life cycle.
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. Adult bed bugs reach lengths up to 1/4 inch. Immature bed bug nymphs resemble adults, but are smaller and lighter in color.
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.
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 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 Bug 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 these domestic beetle pests. Severe infestations require treatment by a professional pest control company.
About the Author
Ms. Jean Godawa is a former science educator and freelance writer with a degree in biology and environmental science. She is fascinated by insects, and conducted field research in the rainforests of South America and South East Asia. She contributes science and nature articles to online and print publications including ONNature, Trellis and The Globe and Mail.