Bed Bug Shells: What Do They Look Like?

What do bed bug shells look like? A bed bug shell is the shed skin from bed bug nymphs. It’s important to realize that a bed bug shell looks precisely like a bed bug in size and shape.

Its color is a light tan or straw color. Plus, the size of a shell will range from 1mm up to 5mm.

The shell is an exoskeleton, which contains gland reservoirs and aldehydes, producing an odor.

Some studies demonstrate how the bed bug shells help a bed bug locate its harborage area. Adult bed bugs tend to settle near the shed skins of bed bug nymphs.

Bed bug shells are often one of the first things people look for when they think they might have bed bugs. Not only that, but they are often one of the first things people think they find. More often than not, what most people find and think are bed bug shells are actually just boogers, food debris, or carpet beetle sheds.

bed bug shells in Brooklyn Heights

The shells are the exoskeletons that bed bugs shed as they grow and can be a helpful indicator of an infestation. However, bed bug shells are small and can be challenging to spot.

What Do Bed Bug Shells Look Like?

People hire us for an inspection in the NYC area, so we find bed bug shells every once in a while. If you want to see some pictures of bed bug shells, you are in the right place!

Check out the bed bug shells below; each photo features a bed bug cast skin we found in an NYC apartment.

bed bug shells on a box spring

As you can see, bed bug shells look just like the little pests themselves, only a different color and crunchier. These cast skins are what remain after a bed bug has molted or shed its exoskeleton.

bed bug shed skin in a NYC apartment

Bed bugs must do this several times throughout their lifecycle to grow. The bed bug life cycle lasts up to a year, and each baby bed bug will shed its skin.

a bed bug shell zoomed in

How to Find Bed Bug Shells?

Locating bed bug shells will help you in your quest to learn how to find bed bugs during the day. But how exactly do you find bed bug shells? Here are five tips for how to find bed bugs shells:

1. Check in the cracks and crevices of your bed frame, headboard, and nightstand. These are common hiding spots for bed bugs and their shells. Check out this picture of a bed bug shell I found in a crease on the side of the headboard below.

bed bug shells in Brooklyn Heights
A bed bug casing on the side of a headboard. Brooklyn Heights, NYC apartment.

2. Scrutinize your mattress, paying close attention to the stitching and seams. Using a bright flashlight is imperative.

3. Check behind pictures and paintings on the wall. Recently on a bed bug inspection on the upper west side, I found some shed skins, bed bug poop, and a few live bed bugs behind a painting.

4. Look in any drawer or cabinet near the bed.

5. Finally, check under the bed frame itself. On a recent bed bug inspection last week, I saw a few fecal stains, some cast skins, ten bed bug eggs, and a few nymphs clinging onto the underside of the wooden bed frame.

If you follow these identification tips, you should be able to find bed bug shells with ease. However, be sure to save anything you see.

What Happens if You Find Bed Bug Shells but No Bed Bugs?

It could be that what you think is a bed bug shell are actually something else. It is very common for us to show up to an inspection, and the client is convinced they have bed bugs because they found some “shells.”

bed bug shell in a NYC apartment

However, upon closer inspection, we find that the “shells” are lint, carpet beetle skins, food crumbs, animal dander, or even human skin cells! If you have found something you think may be a bed bug shell but are unsure about, feel free to contact us or text us a photo.

Are Bed Bug Shells the Same Thing as Bed Bug Casings?

Yes, bed bug shells, bed bug casings, bed bug exuviae, shed skins, and cast skins all mean the same thing. After a baby bed bug is born, it will take a blood meal, and before it grows, it will shed its skin.

A bed bug will remove its outer shell five times between hatching and adulthood. Once the bed bug is an adult, it will no longer produce any shed skins.

What Is a Bed Bug Exoskeleton?

Bed bugs are arthropods with their skeleton on the outside of their body; this is called an exoskeleton. The exoskeleton of a bed bug is not hard; instead, it’s malleable, and it prevents the bed bug from growing bigger.

Furthermore, it’s made up of chitin, a flexible fibrous substance that can retain its shape.

Once a bed bug sheds its skin, it can advance to the next stage. The exoskeleton will remain attached to cloth surfaces, which is why we often find them on the cloth headboard.

Do Baby Bed Bug Shells Look Different Than Adult Ones?

Adult bed bugs do not remove their shells, but baby bed bugs between instar 1 and instar 5 remove their shells. So for each adult bed bug, you find there will be 5 shed skins scattered around where they are feeding.

cast skin of a bed bug

Bed Bug Shells: What Do They Feel Like?

A bed bug shell will crunch if you step on or smash it. Furthermore, the bed bug casings are not complicated, but at the same time, they are not soft either. The casings are firm and rigid; when you find one, it will have the exact shape of a bed bug.

What Happens When You Add Water to Bed Bug Shells?

Bed bug shells are made from chitin which is an insoluble material. Bed bug shells will not dissolve when you add water to them.

What to Do About Bed Bug Shells After Treatment?

If you see a lot of bed bug shells and dead bed bugs after treatment, you’ll need to vacuum thoroughly. Use a vacuum cleaner for bed bugs to clean up bed bug debris.

Make sure you ask your pest control professional when it’s safe to vacuum. You don’t want to clean away any treatment that’s down.

After treatment, it is important to vacuum and steam your home. Using a steam cleaner for bed bugs will also give you peace of mind that you are removing the debris bed bugs leave behind.

What Do I Do if I Find a Bed Bug Shell?

First, it’s essential to get a proper ID; bed bug shells are the one thing people often mistake for something else. If you are unsure if what you have found is a bed bug shell, please take a photo and send it to us.

Once you have confirmed that the thing is, in fact, a bed bug shell, then you may need to look deeper into the area where you found it. You can hire a professional bed bug inspection company like Doctor Sniffs or try to look for evidence on your own.

Check out our tips on bed bug hiding places to help determine where to look for them.

empty bed bug shed skin

Final Thought on Bed Bug Shells

So now that you know what to look for, it’s essential to keep an eye out for bed bug shells. They are the cast-off skin of nymphs and look like bed bugs in size and shape. Their color is light tan or straw colored. If you see anything like this near your bed, it’s time to get a proper ID!