Before you tell people how to search a room for bed bugs…

by nobugsonme on November 27, 2012 · 9 comments

in Bed Bug Control Techniques, bed bugs, bed bugs in hotels, misinformation

…it’s best to learn what bed bugs look like.

Sorry, Lifehacker.

We love you, but you need to do a bit more research on bed bugs!

They don’t look like the one pictured in your article today:

image of lifehacker article on bed bugs with another bug illustrating it


Lifehacker is part of Gawker media, which has unfortunately made similar mistakes with images before.

Don’t worry, Lifehacker/Gawker: you’re in good company. CBS, ABC and the CBC are among those who’ve made similar errors by posting photos of other bugs in bed bug stories.

All of them can be traced, it seems, to stock photo websites, which frequently wrongly tag certain images as picturing bed bugs; however, the humans selecting these images for publication also obviously don’t know what bed bugs look like and this is a problem — since many readers don’t either.

And we all need to get educated about what bed bugs look like!

Looking at our images of bed bugs, fecal stains, cast skins and eggs is a good start.

Once you know what bed bugs and other signs of this pest look like, learning to search a hotel room is a great idea. We have several FAQs on travel-related issues, including one on avoiding bed bugs when you travel (with a helpful video from David Cain, a handy wallet card from the New York State Integrated Pest Management folks at Cornell, and other resources to teach you how to search a hotel room for bed bugs and what to do if you find them).

As Lifehacker notes, you might find your hotel listed on the Bed Bug Registry (we also suggest looking at TripAdvisor).

However, not everyone reports bed bugs– in fact, I’d venture most don’t. So don’t rely on these channels. Since the pests can be brought in at any time, assume any hotel will likely have bed bugs in at least some rooms, and search to ensure your room doesn’t have obvious signs.

Then, assume you may still have been exposed, and take additional precautions. We like the idea of heating items you bring home in a dryer or Packtite, but be warned that the DIY solution Lifehacker suggests may not work well– I am far from an expert on heat or bed bug treatment, but my understanding is that this DIY heat box is based on conductive heating sources, which are not as time efficient or as effective in killing bed bugs as convective ones (which the commercial Packtite product uses). It’s not just that you need to reach and maintain a temperature in the region of 120F, but you also do not want any cold spots to which active bed bugs will flee.

Bed bug “ovens” need to be tested thoroughly with multiple heat sensors to ensure there are no cold spots.  The Packtite has passed those tests, which is the main reason we like it so much.

You can read more about the ins and outs of heat treatment for bed bugs from this article by Steven Kells in Insects (free PDF currently available at that link).


Update (11/28): on Twitter, Bug Girl helpfully drew my attention  to i09’s article on the bed bugs and fungus story last week, which uses a similar image  from the same Shutterstock photographer.  i09 is, of course, also part of Gawker media.

Clearly, the Gawker bloggers seriously need to be schooled on what bed bugs look like.

This is the i09 illustration for its bed bugs & fungus story:

Screen Shot 2012-11-28 at 11.22.45 AM

Thanks for pointing this out, Bug Girl; we tip our hat to your excellent blog, now retired, and wish you all the best in your diapause and future metamorphosis!


1 CarpathianPeasant November 27, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Well, you see, it’s a bandwagon that can be brought out when you think it’s pertinent (or don’t have anything else to say) to show that you are really in the swim of things.

You get them when you travel. Now, tell me, how is it that I got them twice and in neither case did I leave town or set foot in a hotel. In fact, in one case I didn’t leave the apartment building.

I have a simple message that I think needs to be posted whenever such a thing comes up: If you think you get bed bugs by traveling, you don’t know a thing about bed bugs.

(That’s my contribution to the betterment of society for today.)

2 nobugsonme November 27, 2012 at 11:35 pm

Hi CarpathianPeasant,

Thanks for your comment.

Well, to be fair, it is fully possible to get bed bugs from hotels and people should take precautions and learn to search for them.

Yes, you can get bed bugs without traveling, but keep in mind at least one person originally brought bed bugs into your building– even if they traveled from one apartment to the next after that.

3 Paul November 28, 2012 at 8:07 am

Thank you for the informative post, I wasn’t actually aware of the ‘Bed Bug Registry’ and this looks like a really good site – The UK part hasn’t been updated yet, but I’m hoping it will be soon.

If you are concerned about beg bugs in your own home, I would advise people to invest in an ‘anti bed bug mattresses’. These mattresses have a cover which has a special treatment on it to prevent bed bugs and might help you sleep easier at night.

4 David P James November 28, 2012 at 10:19 am

iStock photos is the source of many of the incorrect bed bug photos used. I tried to submit a number of good pics, but was rejected. I was told my subject matter had too narrow of a focus. Can’t help some people.

5 nobugsonme November 28, 2012 at 11:17 am


Are you referring to mattress fabrics impregnated with pyrethrins? We have heard of this but my impression is they are controversial.

@David P. James,

That’s very interesting! Many of the earlier cases I referenced above could be traced to that shield bug on iStockphoto.

According to the credit on the Lifehacker article, this particular photo came from, which is similar to iStockphoto.

It’s a shame they did not want more bed bug photos. Go figure.

I would note that when you search for bed bugs (or bedbugs) at iStockphoto and Shutterstock, the top hits are actually bed bug images. So it appears Lifehacker and the others are actually weeding through the options and selecting non-bed bug photos.

6 nobugsonme November 28, 2012 at 11:45 am

Update added above!

7 Ci Lecto November 28, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Besides the obvious photo fail, between the article and the comments, we do not seem to be getting batter at understanding how to prevent bed bug infestations in your home.
– Keeping your luggage (if infested) far from the bedroom when you return home will not keep bed bugs from migrating in search of a meal (you).
– Bed bugs hide in crevices out of reach and out of site. Running a UV wand over an object will help you no more than running a wet wipe over it.
– A “bed bug resistant” mattress or an encased mattress is easier to inspect for bed bugs, but these will not prevent bed bugs from colonizing other parts of your bedroom or your home.

8 CarpathianPeasant November 28, 2012 at 6:35 pm


Someone look up fungus — REALLY look it up, medically.

If you have ever had a fungus infection to any substantial degree, you might prefer the bed bugs.

9 nobugsonme November 28, 2012 at 8:36 pm


Well put! I missed the UV wand comment, but yes, the comments are fairly disturbing.

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