Male vs female bed bug - photo courtesy of Lou Sorkin

Male VS Female Bed Bug

There is a difference between male vs female bed bugs, and this article will go into detail. However, only the female bed bug can lay eggs.

If you stay at a hotel and an adult female bed bug crawls into your suitcase, chances are it will lay eggs and start an infestation. The chances of bringing bed bugs home from a hotel are higher if you don’t take precautions.

The anatomy of each bug is similar to the untrained eye but different for a bed bug specialist. Male vs female bed bug:  The female’s abdomen is round, whereas the male is pointier and with a notch. See the photos below.

Both male and female bed bugs are flat oval-shaped brownish-red bugs depending on when they last had a blood meal. Bed bugs have piercing and sucking mouthparts on the ventral side of the head, and these piercing-sucking mouthparts are so they can feed on blood. More importantly, A female and male bed bug will only need blood to survive.

A male vs female bed bug: the female bed bug has different reproductive anatomy than the male bed bug. A female bed bug has evolved a paragenital system that helps the sperm move through her body cavity to its holding place. You can also see the sclerotized white scars on the ventral side of the female bed bug. These scars are usually on the right side of the female bed bug. The scars implicate the bed bug has become pregnant at one time or another by traumatic insemination.

Male vs female bed bug - photo courtesy of Lou Sorkin
Photo by Lou Sorkin

Scientific Study on the Male VS Female Bed Bug

A scientific laboratory study found out that the male penetrates the right side of the female abdomen instead of the left. Even though the female bed bug has the same reproductive organs on the left side, traumatic insemination only happens on the right side. How did the scientists find this out? Well, they covered the right side of the abdomen, and those females remained unfertilized. Then the scientists used artificial insemination on the left side of the female bed bugs, and they were able to become pregnant and lay eggs. So this allowed the scientists to know that both sides of the female bed bug work the same. The bed bug study also highlighted that male bed bugs have a preferred hand or handedness. Just like some people are right-handed or left-handed. The majority of the bed bugs chose the right side.

Can One Bed Bug Reproduce on its Own? 

Yes, if it is an impregnated adult female because the female stores fertilized eggs, but bed bugs are not asexual.

Are bed bugs asexual? 

The answer is no. However, a female bed bug can lay eggs without a male present.

How Do Bed Bugs Reproduce? (Male vs female bed bug)

Bed bugs reproduce by a process called traumatic insemination. A male bed bug will pierce the female abdominal cuticle and inseminate directly into her body cavity. This piercing site is usually on the right side of the female bed bug body. Female bed bugs have a unique secondary genital system, called a paragenital tract. From here, the sperm move through the blood into the sperm storage organs; these are called the seminal conceptacles. Bed bugs have an open circulatory system.  The blood and lymph circulate inside the body cavity unenclosed, which is the opposite of a mammal’s closed circulatory system. The sperm remains in this storage area until it migrates into the oviducts to fertilize the eggs.

According to the textbook Modern Bed Bugs by Dini Miller, Stephen Doggett, and Chow-Yang Lee, a female bed bug will have enough sperm stored in her seminal conceptacles to lay eggs for 35-50 days after sexual isolation. Since the offspring can interbreed, a single pregnant female can help start a new bed bug colony.

male vs female bed bug mating - traumatic insemination
Male vs female bed bug mating: Up close shot of bed bug traumatic insemination

Do Bed Bugs Need a Mate to Reproduce?

Yes, you need a male and female bed bug to reproduce and start an infestation. However, you can pick up an adult female bed bug that has been impregnated and is ready to lay eggs. Males only mate with a recently fed female. Since bed bugs can mate with their offspring, the infestation can increase in size quickly after a few months. The bed bug nymphs cannot lay eggs, and the female bed bug will lay eggs between days 30 and 200 of her adult life.

Whether you find a male bed bug vs a female bed bug in your home, it’s essential to take some monitoring steps. If you search your entire bed, including the frame, and can’t find anymore, place some bed bug encasements on both your mattress and box spring, monitor your bed by searching every inch of it, and get a good steamer for bed bugs.

Are Bed Bug Bites Contagious?

A common myth is that bed bug bites are contagious; this is not true. Bed bugs are blood feeders, and there is no evidence to suggest they can transmit disease. If you have bed bug bites, it could be an allergic reaction or another type of irritation caused by the bite site. A person will not get bed bugs from being near someone else’s bites. However, bed bugs themselves are sometimes viewed as contagious because bed bugs are hitchhikers that can get on our clothing and get dropped off somewhere else.

Do Male and Female Bed Bugs Bite? Female Bed Bug vs Male Bed Bug

Yes, both male and female bed bugs bite. They use the mouthparts, which cut into our skin, where they then insert the feeding tube.

Can a Tropical Bed Bug Be Found In NYC?

It is common to find this type of bed bug in tropical areas, even though it looks similar to what we most commonly found in cities. The tropical bed bug is – Cimex hemipterus, whereas the common bed bug – Cimex lectularius is the one we see in cities. With many people traveling to tropical areas for vacations, we are now finding the tropical bed bug in cities worldwide. Both species are parasitic bloodsuckers that will infest furniture and other items to be near a host. The shape of the neck is how a bed bug specialist can tell them apart. Less research has taken place with the tropical bed bug versus the common bed bug.

male vs female bed bug (tropical bed bugs)
Close up adult male vs female bed bugs cimex hemipterus

Female Bed Bugs

An adult female bed bug caught in a NYC apartment during a K9 inspection
Our bed bug sniffing dog found this female bed bug in Brooklyn.
A ventral view of a female bed bug with round abdomen and scars from traumatic insemination
You can see the scars on the female bed bug’s abdomen. These scars are a part of traumatic insemination.
Adult female bed bug
A female bed bug captured during a NYC bed bug inspection.

What do female bed bugs look like?

A female bed bug is a brownish-red color, with a rounded abdomen, and the size is between 1mm and 5mm, depending on what stage the bed bug is in. When a bed bug begins feeding, it is flat, and as it fills up with blood, its body becomes enlarged and bulbous looking.

In the common bed bug species, females typically develop a single spermalege on the right side of the abdomen. A spermalege is a unique organ where the female bed bug receives the sperm. When trying to ID a female bed bug vs a male bed bug, you will look for the rounded abdomen.

If you found a female bed bug, call a bed bug specialist company to do an inspection.

How to Tell if A Bed Bug is Pregnant?

It is hard to tell if a bed bug is pregnant with the naked eye because she keeps sperm in a holding chamber, ready to fertilize her eggs for months. On the underside (ventral side) of a female bed bug, there is a translucent area which is a non-sclerotized membrane. The ventral membrane will expand for bed bug eggs and also enlarge when feeding.

What to Do if You Find One Female Bed Bug on A Random Wall in your Apartment

First, capture the bug and take a photo; getting the bug properly ID’d is step one. You must zoom in and take the clearest picture possible; otherwise, a blurry photo of a bug is impossible to ID with an image. You can text or email us a photo of your specimen. If you can’t get a good picture, save the bug and show it to a pest professional in your area. However if you found one female bed bug and live in the NYC area, we can come to your home to do a thorough bed bug inspection.

Did you already determine that it is a female bed bug? If so then begin to slowly and carefully search your furniture with a bright flashlight. Don’t forget to explore all sides of things. Bed bugs do not only go along mattress seams; we often find them on the underside of a bed frame or behind a headboard.

What to Do if You Find One Female Bed Bug on your Bed

Since 30% of the human population does not react to bed bug bites, you may have a bed bug issue that you did not know about. Often those people who do not respond to the bites do not realize there is an infestation until they see a bed bug. If you have one female bed bug, try doing a thorough inspection to see if you can find more. Another option is to hire a bed bug specialist or a bed bug dog to assess; they will help you figure out if you have a bed bug issue.

male vs female bed bug caught in 2 different NYC apartments.

Male Bed Bugs 

male bed bug

During a bed bug inspection, we found this male bed bug inside of an NYC apartment.

Male bed bug with head broken off
This male bed bug was found by our client, they crushed it and when we arrived we took a photo of it with a microscope attachment for our phone.

What do male bed bugs look like?

Male bed bugs are between 1 mm and 5 mm, depending on their lifecycle stage. Like a female bed bug, they reddish-brown depend on when they last had a blood meal. Male bed bugs have an asymmetrical abdominal segment due to their mating structures on one side. The male bed bug has a pointier abdomen with a notch in comparison to female bed bugs.

Often clients want to know if the bug they found is a male vs female bed bug. They are curious about this because they want to know if the bed bug can lay eggs. Sometimes, if a client finds one male bed bug and does not find any others, they choose to monitor their home before a K9 bed bug inspection. On the other hand, some clients find one single bed bug and want to know if there are any other right away, so they hire us to bring a certified bed bug in for an inspection.

Do Male Bed Bugs Bite?

Yes, male bed bugs bite. A bed bug is using the piercing-sucking mouthparts for drinking our blood, but they are not biting us with teeth. The stylets of bed bugs are thin, needlelike, and pierce our skin. A male bed bug, Cimex lectularius, takes between 5 and 20 minutes to fill up with a blood meal.

Can Male Bed Bugs Lay Eggs?

No male bed bugs do not lay eggs. This is where a male vs a female bed bug differs. A male bed bug is responsible for impregnating the female bed bug. A male bed bug deposits sperm through the female body cavity into the mesospermalege, where it remains for 4 hours before migrating through the bed bug’s hemolymph to the holding chamber.

Conclusion for Male vs Female Bed Bug

Female bed bugs will lay eggs without a male present. The female bed bug will receive the sperm through traumatic insemination, with most females storing enough sperm to fertilize eggs for 35-50 days after sexual isolation. Male vs female bed bugs bite with their mouthparts that cut into our skin and then insert the feeding tubes. If you find yourself looking at one pregnant female, this may start an entire infestation in your home.

If you are unsure what type of bug it is, please send us pictures to correctly identify it.