How to identify bugs in your home – bed bugs, termites, cockroaches, ants and more with pictures

Need to identify bugs? If you're not sure whether you're dealing with the early signs of bed bugs or if you think you have termite droppings, we're here to put you straight.

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Need to identify bugs making your house a 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 (like those on our cleaning hub) 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.

Let us guide you through how to identify common bug invaders and the typical signs of each pest.

Signs of bedbugs 

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Figuring out which of the most common household pests is bugging you starts with identifying the culprits.

One of the creepiest you'll have the pleasure of welcoming in is the dreaded bedbug. Before you can start tackling them, you'll need to know, once and for all, whether you have an infestation. 

As it's highly unlikely that you'll ever see your bed bugs, here are some sure-fire signs that you could be dealing with the little critters:

  • 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 coloured 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.

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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 from Cleanipedia 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 resemble 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, peeling paint, which could be due to water damage or a termite infestation.
  • Floor damage: Buckling wooden or laminate floorboards from termite sub floor damage.
  • Loose tiles: Termites can introduce moisture to your floor and subsequently tiles will move out of place and/or crack.
  • Wood damage: Crumbling, damaged wood and maze-like patterns in furniture, floor boards 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 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.

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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 takeaway next door?). Carrying various horrible diseases, they are a guest you do not want.

Martha 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.'

Alice 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. 
  • 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: Rentokil describe more, '... 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.' 
  • Get our help to rid yourself of these distressing scuttling creeps, with our guide to how to get rid of cockroaches.

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.

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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 ant 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.

  • 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 colours, from brown to black.
  • 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.

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Signs of dust mites

Tiny, microscopic insects, they 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.

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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 us 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.

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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 bins.
  • 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.

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Signs of carpet beetle

Carpet beetles can be extremely hard to spot. Living 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.

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Signs of silverfish

Harmless little pests, still, you don't want to share a bath with one. 

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 damp, making your rooms less attractive to them.

Martha Stewart recommends: 'These tiny silver-gray wingless insects often seek dark, warm, moist environments, such as attics, closets, and baseboards and 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: Moulted 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 3 long bristle-like appendages coming off their back and a long pair of antennae. 
  • Silverfish colour: As the name suggests they are silver or brown. They get their name from the silvery-grey scales that cover their bodies.

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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.

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 is 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 7 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.
Discouraging spiders

Keep spiders at bay by cleaning away their food source of dead flies, woodlice, millipedes, centipedes and other crawling insects. Remove webs.

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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 dine al-fresco in the 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, in your shed or garages.

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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. 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 coloured paper to build their nests, the finished product will look a little more artistic. 

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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 being 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.

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.