Need to know how to identify bugs in your home? If you're not sure which creepy crawler you're dealing with – we've got you covered with our pest checklist.
Our homes are plagued by unwanted household guests, seen and unseen, throughout the year. Keeping certain pests at bay can be more about limiting their numbers; others can be dispatched with natural remedies, good cleaning routines, and sensible measures; and some will only really leave if you call in the professionals.
Martha Stewart puts it perfectly on her blog. 'Of all the things that can have you feeling uneasy in your own home, discovering you have a (bug) problem is high up on the list.' And it'll make you feel even more uneasy if you don't know what type of insect is haunting your halls.
Creepy-crawlies can make our skin feel all sorts of funny for many reasons. And having more than two legs can be the least of your problems. Identifying flying insects can be difficult as they travel in the air and make haste up high.
But whether the insect you're trying to distinguish has wings or not, bugs can transport germs and viruses that can make you and your family sick. So we will describe their physical characteristics as well as signs to look out for (including indications that they've damaged your house, shed, or left a poop trail behind).
How to identify bugs in your home
Let us guide you through how to identify common bug invaders and the typical signs of each pest. And when you know, why not take a look at our guide to the best cleaning products, to make sure your home is fully bug-free?
Signs of gnats
Typically, adult gnats don't bite or damage plants; they're just a nuisance. In large numbers, larvae can damage roots and stunt plant growth, especially for seedlings and young plants.
We spoke to Jordan Foster, pest expert, Fantastic Pest Contol (opens in new tab) who identified the three most common household gnats. So if you're struggling to work out whether you've got gnats vs. fruit flies, he can literally spot the difference:
- Fruit flies: 'Adult fruit flies flying around inside your house are the most obvious signs of an infestation. You'll see fruit flies flying near fermenting fruits and vegetables. They like rotten food waste and moist places. In addition, they like drains, garbage disposals, empty bottles and cans, kitchen bins, cleaning rags, and mops,' Need these fructose-lovers to fly away? Our guide to getting rid of fruit flies makes for sweet reading.
- Fungus gnats: 'If there's sudden wilting, loss of vigor, poor growth, and yellowing of leaves, fungal gnats are eating your plants. The plant may die if there's a severe infestation. There's no danger to people from fungus gnats, they don't bite or sting, and they don't transmit diseases.' Nonetheless, if they're killing off plant babies, you'll want to know how to get rid of fungus gnats.
- Drain flies: 'Drain flies breed mainly in drains. Especially in showers, bathroom drains are prime breeding grounds. Shower pans leak a lot, so drain flies attract moisture. Drain flies aren't dangerous to humans. Drain flies don't carry diseases despite consuming and living in sewage and bacteria. Despite being a severe nuisance in your house, they don't harm your health.' However, if you do see them swarming around water, we've got a guide on how to get rid of drain flies.
Signs of mealybugs
If you've noticed your best indoor houseplants aren't looking in tip-top condition (even after you've fed and watered them), it might be down to these minute pests. While these insects are super small, en masse, they can cause damage to your finest foliage.
'Mealybugs are tiny, sap-sucking insects that often live in large groups. They hide in difficult-to-reach places on plants, such as where leaves meet stems or under loose bark.' explains Gena Lorraine, garden expert at Fantastic Services (opens in new tab).
'Mealybugs also secrete honeydew, a sticky substance that helps the development of black sooty mold on plant parts. A sugary substance that makes your plants sticky and can cause skin irritation or rashes. Sucking sap from leaves can stunt plant growth and cause yellowing and dieback. To avoid this, wash your hands after coming into contact with the substance. Wearing gloves is the best way to deal with a mealybug-infested plant.'
'Outdoors, natural predators and parasites can help to keep mealybug populations in check. Indoors, without these controls in place, mealybug infestations can quickly get out of hand and cause severe damage to cherished houseplants.'
What mealybugs look like
- Mealybug larvae: Look for orange-pink eggs under a fluffy cotton-wool-like waxy substance
- Adult mealybugs: You may spot flat oval-shaped soft bodies approx. 4 millimeters in length
- Golden root mealybug: You'll notice 2-3 millimeter-sized insects under a yellow-colored wax attached to the roots of your plants.
Signs of moths
The easiest way to identify these bugs in your home, and get rid of moths, is to work out where they're coming from. Depending on the location of your sighting, you'll soon know whether you're in the market to get rid of pantry moths in your kitchen, or trying to eradicate clothes moths from your clothing cupboard.
'The larvae of moths can do a lot of damage to clothes. A moth infestation is obvious when it destroys clothes, fabrics, and carpets, but there are also other indicators' explains Jordan Foster, pest expert at Fantastic Pest Control (opens in new tab).
'In most cases, you'll find several large holes, not just one or two small ones. In some cases, the damage is too severe to fix. Whenever there's a large-scale infestation or infested vintage clothing, the damage can be so severe that the item is either destroyed or chewed beyond recognition.'
'Pantry moths do a lot of damage to stored food. You shouldn't consume food that's been touched by insects. Any item that looks contaminated should be thrown away.'
What moths look like
- Moth larvae: These are small and maggot-like
- 'Cases' or tubes made of silk: This is where moth larvae live
- The pupa: Or the silk cocoon of a moth
Signs of bedbugs
- Feeling itchy: If you wake up in the morning with super itchy skin that you didn't have when you went to sleep, this could be a sign that you have bed bugs. You may also notice a rash made up of small, red spots across your body.
- Stains on bedding: You may spot small bloodstains on your bedding, along with rust-colored spots of bed bug excrement. If you have dark bedding, this may be more difficult to spot.
- Cast skins: If you manage to find where the bed bugs are hiding, you may also spot small eggs, or evidence of them shedding their skins.
- A musty smell: There may be an offensive musty smell hanging around your space, this is something that bed bugs release.
What bed bugs look like
- Adult bedbugs have small, flat, oval, brownish bodies measuring about the size of an apple seed (around 5 - 7mm long). They have wing pads on their 'shoulders' but don't have working wings.
Signs of termites
Termites are good at hiding, and they make it pretty hard to spot their presence until it's too late. Noticing the signs early on will make getting rid of them a lot easier.
Alice Shaw-Beckett, head of content Cleanipedia (opens in new tab) explains, 'Termites can cause serious structural damage to your home by chewing through wood. A professional exterminator may be the best way to remove termites, but you can prevent their access to your home by sealing up cracks and gaps in your walls and keeping wood (like lumber) away from your house’s foundations.'
If you suspect you might have termites, check our warning signs:
- Discarded broken wings: As termites age, the winged termites leave the nest to create a new colony. Often resembling fish scales, they drop their wings when they're no longer required.
- Frass: Otherwise known as termite droppings, these tiny 1mm long pellets are left in mounds that resemble black marks, or a dark powdery substance like salt and pepper.
- Drywall damage: Drooping and discolored drywall with pinpoint holes
- Paint damage: You might notice bubbling, and peeling paint, which could be due to water damage or a termite infestation.
- Floor damage: You may also notice buckling wooden or laminate floorboards, from termite subfloor damage.
- Loose tiles: Termites can introduce moisture and subsequently floor tiles will move out of place and/or crack.
- Wood damage: Crumbling, damaged wood, and maze-like patterns in furniture (including coffee tables, wooden flooring, or walls).
- Flying termites: If you spot swarms anywhere in your house, you're sure to have more termites below deck.
What termites look like
- Termite eggs: Tiny, white or light brown and translucent eggs visible to the naked eye.
- Termite nymphs or larvae: These resemble small white versions of adults on hatching
- Adult termites: All termites have straight bodies with no segmenting at the waist, and straight antennae. These are the type you'll see about your house. They develop a firm exterior and wings in order to swarm and reproduce.
- Worker termites: You probably won't see these as they are beavering away in the colony. They have soft, fleshy bodies and measure between 1/4 and 1/2 of an inch long.
- Soldier termites: With a distinctively shaped head and pale red, light brown or white elongated bodies, they are typically bigger than workers. They have protruding mandibles (mouths) to help them protect their colonies from ant invaders.
Signs of cockroaches
Cockroaches are mostly seen in warm, wet climates, but you do occasionally come across them in cooler places if food has been regularly left out (perhaps there's a dirty takeout next door?). Carrying various horrible diseases, they are a guest you do not want.
Stewart explains: 'Roaches usually enter homes in paper products such as bags or cardboard boxes, and they prefer to seek refuge in dark, damp places with plenty to eat.'
And Shaw-Beckett adds, 'Cockroaches are attracted to food and bodily fluid stains on clothing, and the best way to deter these creepy-crawlies is by washing your clothes thoroughly and not letting soiled clothing pile up. Dampness and wet areas in the house can also attract cockroaches, so watch out for leaking pipes.'
Do you suspect you have a cockroach problem? Here are the signs to look out for:
- Live sightings: An obvious sign of a cockroach infestation is to find a live one scuttling across the floor. However, roaches are nocturnal in nature so the chances of spotting one in daylight hours is slim – though you may spot one on your way to the bathroom at night.
- Droppings: Around 2mm long, cockroaches will produce brown or black droppings when water isn't readily available.
- Shed skins: Cockroaches shed skins 5-8 times as they mature. You'll usually find their molting close to where they are sheltering.
- Pungent odor: The experts at Rentokil (opens in new tab) explain, '... a cockroach infestation will definitely provide you with a heavy scent that is distinguishable. The smell can be described as musty, sweet and sometimes like almond – and this can taint food and surfaces they come in contact with.'
What cockroaches look like
- German cockroaches: The most prevalent, this cockroach measures 1/2 to 5/8 inch long, has a wide, flat body and is tan to light brown in color with two dark brown stripes.
- American cockroaches: Measuring 1.5 inches long, this is the largest of the cockroach home invaders. They have a reddish-brown body with a light brown center and yellow-ish outer edge. They have wings to glide with but don't fly.
- Oriental cockroaches: Not quite as big as the American cockroach, this roach averages about one inch in length. Oriental cockroaches differ in appearance from male to female. The males are slightly shorter (one inch) with stubbed wings, while the females are longer and skinnier (1-1/4 inches) but without wings. Both are reddish-brown to nearly all black.
Get our help to rid your property of these distressing bugs, with our guide to how to get rid of cockroaches.
Signs of ants
Hard-to-spot and harmless pests like ants tend to find their way into the house in summer, usually in search of food. That said, who wants an army of ants making themselves at home in their house? We'll take a guess that that's nobody.
Take a look at the signs of an ant infestation:
- Live ants: If you spot large numbers of ants then you may well have a problem. If you find ants in your kitchen or bathroom, then you should probably do something about it – and quick.
- Ant trails: If you see ants going in and out of your home, chances are they've laid a pheromone trail for their ant mates to easily get to the food source.
- An ant nest: Resembling a small pile of soil or dirt, if you spot a nest you've got a job on your hands. Some types of ants like to build their home in walls or other quiet, dark, hard-to-spot places, making your life that bit more difficult.
What ants look like
There are over 25 different species of ants that invade your home. In general, there are a few main distinct identifying features that differentiate ants from other insects. But if you want to know how to get rid of them ASAP, find out more about how to get rid of ants in our guide.
Ants generally can be identified by their:
- Three main body sections: All ants have a head, thorax, and abdomen, as well as antennae.
- Size and color differences: You'll find small and large ants in varying colors, from brown to black, and even red!
- Ant colonies: Ants are social bugs that live in colonies of hundreds if not thousands of them, so you're likely to see more than one.
Signs of dust mites
Tiny, microscopic insects, dust mites feed on our shed skin – and love pet dander too. They are invisible and don't bother most of us, despite living, feeding, and excreting in our beds, sofas, and soft furnishings.
However, in others, they can cause allergic reactions so here are the signs to look out for:
- Sneezing and a runny nose.
- Itchy, red or watery eyes.
- Itchy nose, nasal congestion and postnasal drip.
- Itchy roof of mouth or throat.
- A cough.
- Facial pressure and pain.
What dust mites look like
Dust mites are microscopic arthropods, estimated to measure 1/4 to 1/3 mms long. You can really only see them under a microscope, and even then, they look like tiny white spider-like creatures.
Our how to get rid of dust mites guide will help you to limit their numbers and your reaction to them.
Signs of fleas
These pests are usually brought into the house by your dog or cat. Fleas feed on dirt and by sucking blood from animals – and humans. Their bites aren't harmful but they are itchy and annoying. They breed quickly, with one female laying up to 20 eggs that can hatch within a couple of days.
Here are the flea signs to look out for:
- Your pet is acting strangely: If your dog or cat might be scratching or biting its fur or fidgeting constantly, check their fur for multiple tiny, dot-like insects.
- Sightings in your home: 1/8 inch long reddish, black or brown insects hopping on your drapery, carpet, and/or furniture.
What fleas look like
- Adult fleas are small, wingless, flat insects with three pairs of legs with biting mouthparts. They measure around 1/8 in long and are dark reddish-brown in color.
- Flea eggs are extremely small, round or oval in shape and white in color.
- Flea larvae look like white and translucent worms and gradually get darker as they grow.
See our detailed guide on how to get rid of fleas to find out more.
Signs of flies
Like ants, flies tend to appear in summer, attracted by the smell of food. We probably all know already that they carry up to two million bacteria on their bodies and liquefy their food by regurgitating digestive juices on to it; in doing so, they pass on gastro illnesses that cause stomach upsets. Nice.
Flies breed fast so time is of the essence. Here are a few signs of a fly infestation:
- Pinhead-sized black clusters of spots: Usually found in areas near light, small dark clusters of spots could actually be clusters of young flies waiting to reach adulthood.
- Regular sighting of flies: Usually you'll spot them around your home, food or kitchen trash cans.
- Maggots: Indicating a potential breeding site, these are flies in their larval stage.
What flies look like
There are a plethora of different types of flying insect, and within that category, there are dozens and dozens of different types of fly. However, all flies have similar characteristics which we'll outline below:
- Adult flies have three body parts: a head, thorax and abdomen.
- Flies' color and size varies depending on species but most are quite small, typically measuring around 10mm long. Their heads have a pair of compound eyes, antennae, and various different mouthparts.
- Fly eggs are the size of small grains of rice and are pale in color.
- Fly larvae: Also known as maggots, resemble small, pale worms.
We've detailed how to get rid of flies in your home – including making your own spray, DIY flypaper, and more – in our guide. And, if you've spotted wiggling larvae in your kitchen bin, you'll definitely want to read up on how to kill maggots.
Signs of carpet beetle
Carpet beetles can be extremely hard to spot. They live under floorboards or in vents, or hide in cracks and crevices in carpets, furniture, clothing, and other textiles.
The adults can fly and lay up to 100 eggs at a time – meaning that an infestation can take hold in a relatively short space of time... but it’s the larvae from the eggs that do the damage, so you won’t necessarily spot a carpet beetle itself, but the trail of devastations they leave behind.
Here are the top signs to look out for:
- Fabric damage: Like clothes moths, carpet beetles create thin, bare areas, or even bore holes in natural fabric items such as carpets, rugs and upholstery.
- Cast skins: As carpet beetle larvae grow, they shed their skins, leaving a litter of light brown, empty skin cases in their wake, which you'll typically find around the areas where they've been feeding.
- Droppings: The larvae produce tiny faecal pellets – about the size of a grain of salt –which you'll find near where they are hanging out.
- Live or dead adult beetles: When adult carpet beetles develop you'll see them crawling towards windows and doors to head outdoors to mate.
What carpet beetles look like
- Carpet beetle larvae: Their minute larvae are brown and hairy, and measure a measly 2mm long. When disturbed, they tend to roll up into a ball.
- Adult carpet beetles: Adult carpet beetles can grow up to 4mm and resemble small, dark dots.
We've got lots of different methods and approaches to getting rid of carpet beetles yourself. And, the good news is that you don't need to call the professionals!
Signs of silverfish
Silverfish are harmless little pests – still, you don't want to share a bath with one. They're one of the most off-putting things though when it comes to how to identify bugs in your home.
They're attracted to damp places, such as bathrooms and kitchens, and will feed on the glue in wallpaper paste (really). Improving ventilation will reduce dampness, making your rooms less attractive to them.
Stewart explains that 'these tiny silver-gray wingless insects often seek dark, warm, moist environments, such as attics, closets, and baseboards around bathroom fixtures.'
- Bite marks that resemble holes, notches along an edge, or surface etchings in paper, cardboard and goods with glue (a rich source of protein for them)
- Remnants of silverfish: Molted scales and yellow marks where they like to hang out.
- Silverfish droppings: You might spot tiny black pepper-like pellets on infested materials.
What silverfish look like
- Silverfish shape: They have very distinctive tear-shaped bodies with three long bristle-like appendages coming off their back and a long pair of antennae.
- Silverfish color: As the name suggests they are silver or brown. They get their name from the silvery-gray scales that cover their bodies.
Getting rid of silverfish is easy. In most cases, investing in the best dehumidifyer can reduce the moisture levels in the air, though sealing any gaps can be a cheap and easy fix to stop them in their tracks.
Signs of spiders
We'll put it bluntly: like other common pests, spiders will inevitably make their way into your home. We think spiders get a really bad rap because arachnophobia is so rife. They are actually pretty harmless, including the poisonous varieties that tend not to bite unless provoked. If anything, they represent the circle of life, catching other pests in their web.
Here are the top signs of a spider infestation:
- Webs: Some spiders can create very ornate webs, while others look as if they put as little effort as possible into making a home of their own in yours.
- Egg sacs: Most types of spiders lay hundreds of eggs at once, all wrapped up in a cozy silk ball. If you spot these sacs in your home there's a chance you'll have hundreds of baby spiders on your hands.
- Lots of flying insects: If you spot lots of flies, mosquitoes or moths in your home, chances are you're going to get a lot of spiders too. All of these winged critters are a spider buffet in the making.
- Spider sightings: The ultimate sign of an infestation is seeing eight-legged beasties walking your halls.
What spiders look like
There are about seven common spiders that live in your home. All of which have similar characteristics:
- Spider body shape: Two body segments, eight legs, and no wings nor antennae.
- Head: On the front of the head are the mouth, the fangs, the eyes, and two small 'legs' called pedipalps.
- Fangs: All spiders have fangs that they use to bite their prey with, and most have venom glands for this purpose.
- Female spiders are often much bigger than males.
Keep spiders at bay by cleaning away their food source of dead flies, woodlice, millipedes, centipedes and other crawling insects. Remove webs too.
Find more on how to get rid of spiders naturally in our jam-packed guide.
Signs of wasp nests
We've all had a wasp sting at some point, which makes them such unwelcome pests, particularly when we're trying to create the perfect outdoor dining area idea in our garden. Bear in mind that in early autumn, they are more docile, but their sting is just as painful.
Finding a wasp nest in your house is another matter altogether. Here are the signs that a wasp nest is in your home:
- Seeing an abundance of wasps flying around is probably one of the biggest indicators that you might have a wasp issue.
- Nest sightings: Wasps are likely to make their nests in sheltered spots. You’re likely to find wasps’ nests under trees, in wall cavities, under eaves, or in your shed or garages.
What wasps and wasps' nests look like
There are quite a few different types of wasp so we'll lay out the difference between wasps and their more dangerous relatives, the hornet and yellow jacket, to help you in your quest for how to identify bugs in your home. Common wasps are large buzzing insects with yellow and black striped, wasp-waisted bodies.
Here's a little more on each of them:
- Wasps: Common wasps generally have an anchor-shaped black marking on the front of their face and they make football-sized nests in the ground or in roofs and trees.
- Hornets: Twice the size of wasps, hornets are a lot more aggressive. Measuring approximately 1.5 inches, they are easily identifiable by their brown and yellow striped bodies. Their stings are extremely painful due to the chemicals found in their venom.
- Yellow jackets: Measuring a small half an inch long and black and bright yellow, yellow jackets make their nests below ground. They can be invasive and extremely destructive in nature.
- Wasp nests look like papery grey balloons, and often have an intricate swirly pattern on the outside, with cells visible from the bottom. However, if wasps chew colored paper to build their nests, the finished product will look a little more artistic.
Find out more about how to get rid of wasps without getting stung, in our full guide.
Signs of woodworm
Woodworm infestations aren’t caused by worms, but by wood-eating larvae or grubs that hatch from the eggs of different species of beetle. The common furniture beetle is the most prevalent in the UK.
The beetles lay their eggs from April through to September, typically on or just under the surface of wooden items, such as floorboards or antique furniture, though they can also infest modern laminate flooring and flat-packed items – so knowing how to get rid of woodworm is pretty important!
Here are a few signs of a woodworm infestation:
- New exit holes: look out for these in furniture, beams and flooring; they're particularly likely to appear from May to October when woodworm are active. Don't believe anyone who tells you that the holes are a sign that the woodworm have left. In fact, it's entirely possible that new larvae will be within the wood.
- Dust around the holes: this might be the first thing you notice. It's not actually dust; nope, this powdery residue is droppings, and just looks like fine sawdust.
- Weak floorboards or beams: this is a sign of a serious woodworm infestation.
What woodworm looks like
- Larvae: they're creamy white in color and look like little grubs, but are smaller than the tip of a pencil so difficult to spot.
- Beetles: dead or alive; they are around 3mm long and brownish/black.
Signs of woodlice
Woodlice are funny little bugs that, for the most part, are seen outside of the house, While they are helpful in promoting healthy biodiversity in your garden, if you've spotted them inside – it could be a sign of an unhealthy home.
According to Lorraine, 'If you find a lot of woodlice in your house, it is a sign that the humidity levels are too high. Woodlice actively seek out damp areas and are attracted to dark, sheltered locations. They are primarily active at night, so you may not see them during the day. Don't fear these tiny creatures – they won't hurt you. They don't have stingers or fangs and can't transmit diseases.'
Because they prefer moist environments, it's likely that you'll spot an infestation in a basement where there might be rotting wooden infrastructure, or in a poorly-ventilated bathroom, which is a naturally steamy environment.
So, similar to our advice on silverfish, we suggest you look for a good dehumidifier on Amazon (opens in new tab) and get some crack sealant (opens in new tab) and a bathroom ventilation fan (opens in new tab) in your shopping basket too!
What woodlice look like
We're sure you're familiar with what they look like, but if you're not, you'll be able to detect woodlouse by the following characteristics:
- A dark grey / black, oval-shaped, shell-like body
- A thick exoskeleton with seven segments/plates
- Think of the insect version of an armadillo!
Signs of ladybugs
Let's be clear; ladybugs, or (as they're commonly known in the UK), ladybirds, are a godsend when it comes to your garden. If anything, we've got a whole guide on where to buy coccinellids (opens in new tab) (including eBay (opens in new tab) and Lowes (opens in new tab)), encouraging you to use them as a natural method for pest control in your yard.
However, if you dislike all insects, it can be quite distressing to spot these polka-dotted bugs in your home. The good news is, if they have entered your property, it's a sign that you keep a toasty and hospitable house.
But if you need these spotted beetles to scoot, gently discourage them by sealing any gaps per our methods above, and introducing the scent of citrus, clove, or bay leaf in your home.
What ladybugs look like
While there are around 26 types of ladybugs in the US/UK, you're likely to come across these two:
- Coccinella septempunctata: These red beetles are commonly known as the 'seven-spotted ladybird'
- Harlequin ladybug: These non-native ladybugs are identifiable by their black and orange markings.