Bed bugs and bat bugs are nearly identical to the naked eye, and both can be found in the home. Most individuals notice both bed bugs and bat bugs in bedrooms, which can create panic or fears over possible infestation. Most individuals assume the identification of bed bugs due to widely available identification resources online, but a bat bug mistaken for a bed bug can result in hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars wasted on management, as bed bugs and bat bugs are managed differently. The majority of suspected bed bugs sent to the Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic in 2023 have been identified as bat bugs.
To differentiate between bed bugs and bat bugs, you must look at the hairs on the side of their pronotum (thorax) and compare their length to the width of the eyes. Bed bugs have very short hairs on their pronotum, and the hairs are always shorter than the width of the eyes. Bat bugs have longer hairs on their pronotum, and the hairs are always longer than the width of the eyes. This feature alone is usually enough to differentiate between bed bugs and bat bugs in Iowa. A professional identification is recommended when either of these insects are suspected. The Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic can offer lab identification with a physical sample. If a pest control company is contacted first, ask for an ID confirmation prior to using any management strategies.
Due to the nature of bed bugs and bat bugs, it is recommended to contact a professional pest control company for management. The presence of bat bugs suggests the presence of bats, their only host, nearby in the structure (typically attics). Removal of the bats, sealing off the attic space to prevent bat reentry, and often treatments of insecticides in the attic space and elsewhere is often required to eliminate bat bugs. Every bed bug scenario is different, and professionals may combine strategies such as insecticides, monitoring traps, fumigation, and more.
Both bed bugs and bat bugs can bite humans, but only bed bugs can survive and reproduce on human blood. Bat bugs can however live for months or longer without their bat hosts, so simply removing bats may not immediately eliminate bat bugs from structures. Notably, neither bed bugs or bat bugs are known to transmit diseases to humans, and some individuals do not have obvious reactions to bites. So, these fear-inducing insects may not be so scary after all.
Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on July 11, 2023. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.