Bed bug photo FAIL, brought to you by the letters CBS, CBC, and ABC

by nobugsonme on August 21, 2010 · 14 comments

in bed bugs, misinformation, not a bed bug, photos of bed bugs

On Friday morning, CBS published a story on its website about bed bugs, featuring an old friend of ours.

Winston tells us he’s some kind of shield bug.  Check him out:


I have, personally, had it up to here with this guy:

(Photo credit: iStockphoto.)

Here he is in a CBC article from August 5th:


Ironically, this CBC article contained a poll asking if readers had experienced bed bugs. (As of this writing, with 801 votes in, 70% say no.)

That rather begs the question, “How would they even know?”

If the news media doesn’t post accurate pictures of bed bugs, you’d forgive the public for being confused about what they look like.

After three days of complaints about the photo error from readers such as myself, the CBC finally changed the photo [our link to it is now defunct and deleted], only after confirming the original photo was not a bedbug with The Bed Bug Resource’s Sean Rollo, a Vancouver-based bed bug expert. (Sean participates in the forums.)

Why did the CBC prolong the damage by waiting three days to consult Sean, or another pest expert?

For that matter, after multiple readers had complained, why didn’t they simply compare their photo with some bed bug photos from reputable sources, like the Toronto Public Health website?   (Health Canada is stingy with the images on its bed bug page, which don’t contain a single picture of bed bugs, but their downloadable PDF [non-working link now deleted] is a treasure trove of bed bug photos.)

Heck, they could even have glanced at the CBC archives, which have often featured many stories including photos and videos of this pest in the past.

The CBC case aside, you may ask why everyone is using this particular photo.

Well, it turns out, this bug is featured in the #1 spot in a search for “bed bug” at the photo service iStockphoto.

Here are the current search results for “bed bug” on that site, a popular source of images in the media:

There are actually five bed bugs (including one cartoon), out of 33 images tagged “bedbug”.

Mr. Shield Bug is #1, with an image of a bunch of dust mites partying in some clothing fiber coming in a close second:

(Photo credit: iStockphoto.)


I really like the detail of the tiny hairs all over the dust mites’ bodies. We don’t usually see them in images of dust mites.

I note that we did not see them when ABC’s Nightline featured dust mites in a teaser article about bed bugs back in April:


Really, Nightline, dust mites?!?

Confusing dust mites with bed bugs is just so 2007.

Four months later, the dust mites are still on the ABC page under the “bed bug” headline.

While promoting the same story, Nightline also featured this cockroach:


Nice angle!

While, to ABC’s credit, the video that was being promoted itself clearly notes that this pest is a cockroach, you can imagine that anyone who happened upon the site that day may have been confused by seeing headlines about bed bugs paired with photos of roaches — twice on the same page, no less.

I have specifically refrained here from mentioning the many times Pests Which Are Not Bed Bugs have been spotted on websites of people in the bed bug product and service industry.  This is a widespread problem.  Let’s not name any names, but I have lost count of how many times I have discreetly pointed out to someone that their bed bug service website has a photo of a flea, a masked assassin, or a beetle on it instead of a bed bug.  I often get a surprised response, but that’s a post for another day.

For all the journalists and webmasters out there, and anyone else needing a primer:

This is an adult bed bug at the edge of a picture frame:

Bed bug in mirror frame

(Photo used with permission, copyright David P. James)

Note for our regulars: this is David P. James who works in a bed bug-related industry, but has no relation to David James, inventor of the Packtite and Bed Bug Beacon, and frequenter of our forums.

[some of David P. James’s images were made unavailable and have been removed here]

This is a first instar nymph:

(Photo used with permission, copyright L. Sorkin and R. Mercurio, American Museum of Natural History)

This is a first instar nymph feeding:


(Photo used with permission, copyright L. Sorkin and R. Mercurio, American Museum of Natural History)

This is how small that first instar bed bug looks while feeding on Lou Sorkin’s finger:

Bed bug first instar on finger.

(Photo used with permission, copyright L. Sorkin, American Museum of Natural History)

There are many more life stages, but I wanted to convey the extremes.  You can see more bed bug photos here.

Thanks to David P. James, Lou Sorkin, and Randy Mercurio for sharing their photos with us.  If journalists are in need of good bed bug photos, they would do well to enquire of these or other experts.

Thanks to all of those who try to educate the rest of us about bed bugs.  Let’s hope the photo stock firms and the news media catch up with a basic knowledge of bed bugs, and soon.

You can reach David P. James and Lou Sorkin via their flickr pages.

Update (8/28):

And now we have The Aiken Standard (in South Carolina) with the same shield bug [link no longer working and removed, 3/2014], and Gawker, with a mystery silhouette.

Update (9/3/2010):

Bed bug researcher Richard Naylor has posted a comment alerting us to his own collection of sightings on his lab’s blog. [Links to Naylor’s homepage at Sheffield University and to his lab’s blog no longer work and have been deleted as of 3/2014.]

Thanks, Richard, and thanks for your important research in the field!

Links updated 1/2019

1 Lou Sorkin August 21, 2010 at 8:15 am

Dust mites photo looks like an SEM colorized image
Shield bug looks impressive

Some of the news agencies (magazine and other publications as well) look for free images to plant into their stories. You get what you pay for. People take lots of photos and it’s so easy thanks to digital photography. Unfortunately many don’t really know what their 6 or multi-legged subject is or just guess and then upload it to their site or to a stock photo site (some may even get royalties or payments of some sort when the image is used). istockphoto is one of the offenders, most likely that images aren’t vetted, just posted and relying on photographer to have done the homework. I often search for images of various insects and write the photographers when they have actually misidentified the subject. Some are thankful for the corrections. If you read responses under the images, many of their friends have expressed such enthusiasm over their friend’s image: they don’t know that it’s misidentified and sometimes not really that good at all. The editors at the publication houses don’t necessarily know if the image is correct, just that it has been given to them and for all intents and purposes it is correct. Of course, with all the stories about bed bugs they should know that their image doesn’t resemble the other images that they have seen. Images of human babies in cute poses on beds and labelled bed bugs have not been used in bed bug infestation stories for some reason! Public education in bed bug identification is lacking and having incorrect information provided to the public by newspapers, magazines, online stories, television and radio reports simply compounds the lack of correct education. I have to admit that even some entomologists or pest control professionals who have been invited on shows or have had their commentaries appear in print and online also don’t really know enough about bed bugs.

2 bedbugresource August 21, 2010 at 10:37 am

They contacted me nearly right away and I told them right away. They mentioned it to their stock photo agency who insisted that the picture was a bed bug. I sent them a picture of a bed bug along with my credentials and it was finally changed.

I also told them that “bedbug” is not the correct spelling. It is two words (bed bug) and the scientific reasoning behind it. I was told that their style guide tells them they have to spell it bedbug for consistency. You would think a major news source would want to consistently do something right, not wrong.


3 Ci Lecto August 21, 2010 at 8:22 pm

In a future version of your ‘blog banner, you should have the BB beating up on one of the “non bed bugs”.

4 nobugsonme August 21, 2010 at 9:59 pm

Hi Sean,

I am shocked that it took them three days to fix this if they contacted you promptly. It really is appalling.

I hear you on the spelling issues. The NY Times also has a policy of referring to “bedbugs.”

5 nobugsonme August 21, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Hi Lou!

I am sure many people try to use as many “tags” as possible in order to increase their sales. However, I expect that if it keeps up, it will lead eventually to media outlets not trusting iStockphoto.

And yes, I also have noticed all of the cute swaddled babies in cribs, and pit bull puppies wrapped in blankets in beds which are tagged “bed bugs” on flickr. Those folks are apparently thinking of what they think are cute descriptions for their pictures, rather than tagging things so others can find them.

6 nobugsonme August 21, 2010 at 10:04 pm


7 Edward August 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm

This goes to show how misinformed and uneducated the mass public is when it comes to bed bugs. Sad.

8 nobugsonme August 24, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Why should the big boys have all the fun? Here comes shield bug in the Aiken Standard (Aiken, SC):

9 nobugsonme August 28, 2010 at 1:59 am

And Gawker gets in on the act (at least they did not use that darned shield bug!)

10 Richard Naylor September 3, 2010 at 4:35 am

I’ve been collecting misinformation like this for a while and putting them on our lab blog. Name and shame them I say!

[non-working link removed 3/14]

11 nobugsonme September 3, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Thanks, Richard!

I enjoyed perusing your collection.

I also have quite a few collected of industry websites. It’s quite disturbing how many firms which specialize in inspecting for bed bugs have photos of other pests as “examples” on their websites.

Even more disturbing is that when I discreetly write to them to tip them off, so they can fix their issues, they get angry or don’t want to know. So “naming and shaming” as you suggest is probably the way to go!

12 nobugsonme September 3, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Now added to the post above:

Update (9/3/2010):

Bed bug researcher Richard Naylor has posted a comment alerting us to his own collection of sightings on his lab’s blog. [non-working links removed 3/14]

Thanks, Richard, and thanks for your important research in the field!

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