Bed bugs and apple seeds? Apples and oranges, says Lou Sorkin

by nobugsonme on January 24, 2012 · 12 comments

in bed bugs, identification, Lou Sorkin

Again and again, journalists point out that bed bugs are “about the size of” apple seeds, or that they even “look like” apple pips.

You don’t have to look to the media reports for this cliché — it’s found in everything from the National Pesticide Information Center and Indiana University fact sheets, to give just two examples (NPIC notes “adults are about the size of an apple seed”).

It’s such a commonplace in writing about these bugs and I don’t doubt that I said it many times myself.

However, entomologist Lou Sorkin has a response to this idea: not so.

Of course, a visual is most helpful in convincing us Lou is right.  And now we have one.  Here’s an excellent comparison of bedbugs and apple pips, from Lou:


Apples and Oranges? Bed Bugs and Apple Seeds.


Of the image, Lou writes on his flickr page,

Apples and Oranges? Bed Bugs and Apple Seeds.

Male and female adult bed bugs in both unfed and fed conditions playing around their plant part look-a-likes, apple seeds. They can’t tell the difference either and readily crawl over the apple seeds in a manner similar to what they do in their harborages. Both male and female bed bugs can have elongated abdomens after feeding. Males did not try to mate with the apple seeds. Any pale or dark waste droppings are from the bugs. Apple seeds don’t move much at all, they have no legs. They are plump, but haven’t fed. Blue line squares are 1/4 inch size.

You must realize by now that I don’t like to describe bed bugs as looking like apple seeds. Bed bugs look like bed bugs. It’s important to familiarize yourself with good images of nymph and adult bed bugs, their waste material, and their shed skins to be able to properly identify unknown insects you may come across in your home or while on the road.

Once again, we applaud Lou for his tireless efforts to educate the world about these bugs.

I am going to try not to compare bedbugs to apple seeds.

How about you?


Photo credit: Apples and Oranges? Bed Bugs and Apple Seeds by Louis Sorkin (louento.pix)  and used via a Creative Commons Attribution/No Derivative Works license.

1 loubugs January 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Just thought to list this info from the forum:
“I meant to note in my post that the female bed bug under an apple seed (middle, right side) is praying that the “large male” on her has a short paramere. Cimex humor.”

2 nobugsonme January 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm

You bed bug humor is much appreciated, Lou!

3 bedbugman January 24, 2012 at 12:50 pm

An apple pip is something that everyone can relate to. Bed bugs look more like an apple pip than any other insect.

4 loubugs January 24, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Don’t forget that all stages of bed bugs are not adult bed bugs. The nymphs are not dark colored like an adult, but not one that has recently molted. Adult females that have just molted don’t look like apple seeds.

5 loubugs January 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Obviously, should have said the adult bed bugs that have just molted don’t look like apple seeds by those people who think bed bugs look like apple seeds or pips in the first place!

6 cilecto January 26, 2012 at 11:41 am

Dr Sorkin:

I’m curious about the bug in the bug in the top row, second from right (one elongated bug, one seed). Is the elongated profile of the bug a result of feeding (yet, it does not appear “plump”) or do some bugs run “skinny”? Is this an adult or nymph (what stage)? Does the pointy tail mean it’s male?


7 loubugs January 26, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Plump is a relative term. Feeding bed bugs become plump during feeding even though the male is elongate, it still is plump relative to an unfed bug. Elongated, plump versus enlarged and plump. Male bodies are more attenuate toward the apex than females by virtue of the last abdominal segment that is modified for mating (having the elongate and sharp paramere). The female abdomen is more symmetrical at the tip compared to the male counterpart due to the mating structures. If I remember correctly from feeding them, the more blood taken, the more elongate the body becomes and males can become more elongate (and less wide) in the process. Maybe you’ve seen this happen in bed bugs you’ve come across?

8 cilecto January 27, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Fortunately, I don’t have a lot of hands-on experience with BB specimens. I’ve seen illustrations of BB like (2nd from right, top row), but not photos and wondered if it was elongated due to feeding. So, If I had to guess, the elongated BB in the (upper right section of the ) lower right picture is a fed female?

9 jessinchicago January 27, 2012 at 11:39 pm

Ummm… I have (unfortunately) seen live bed bugs in several stages, including nymph, which was completely translucent and really innocuous-looking; newly-fed stage three or four, which was full of my blood and easily squished; and adult, which had been crushed and caught in the clothes dryer vent. In any and all cases, none of the specimens looked anything like apple seeds. At all.

10 loubugs January 28, 2012 at 12:21 pm

“Bed bugs look more like an apple pip than any other insect.”
Actually bed bugs look more other bed bugs (members of family Cimicidae and some related families) than any any other insect.
The comparison of bed bugs to apple seeds was coined years ago, but I think it originally was something like … bed bugs look like apple seeds. The definition has morphed to …. as large as apple seeds, …. colored like apple seeds, …. shaped like apple seeds by some people who copied the statement from an original place and didn’t want to plagiarize or just used the statement because they thought it was helpful (and probably had never looked at a bed bug before). And this statement could only possibly refer to an adult because as Jessinchicago notes the analogy is a bad one, especially for immature stages. There are so many images of bed bugs online (there are some incorrectly identified ones, unfortunately), it’s easier to compare specimens of bed bugs to images of bed bugs than to try and make comparisons to seeds or pits of fruits or vegetables. It’s important in a comparison to use the correct definition such as size, shape, height, width, depth, color, etc. The comparison of a first instar bed bug nymph for size approaches the thickness of a credit card, but I’ve seen the comparison to the width of a credit card on some online bed bug sites and also during some presentations. A credit card is about 3 14/16″ x 2 2/16″ x (approximate measure) 1/32″ (less than 1/16″ hash mark since most rulers don’t have 1/32″ increments) or 85mm x 54mm x 1mm (approximate). Using the width measurement gives you one extremely large bed bug! If you grasp the credit card to see its width between your fingers, the thin space between your fingers is approximately the length of a bed bug egg and also the approximate length of a first instar unfed bed bug nymph. Actually a very small thing to look for.

11 loubugs January 28, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Yes, Ci, that’s a fed female. The more it feeds, the more elongate it becomes up to the point at which it finally stops. Some images of lateral views show bed bugs that are weirdly shaped and not equally extended in all directions after extremely long feeding periods. Due to the male body morphology, it can become more elongate than the female.

12 nobugsonme January 30, 2012 at 3:48 am

Bed bugs look like bed bugs.

That seems to be what it comes down to.

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