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Ever Wonder About Carpet Beetles?

One day my daughter woke up with red welts on her torso, which looked like bites. I wondered what they might be.

They looked like mosquito bites, but it seemed too cold for that and she insisted they happened overnight. I didn’t want to think they could be bed bugs, but we checked her bed and along the edge of the mattress, found some little insect things. I put them in hand sanitizer, thinking that would kill them if they were still alive and preserve them if they were already dead or just molts. 

They were only a few millimetres long. My wife took pictures with her fancy camera and macro lens. The reflection off the hand sanitizer made it difficult to compare them with bed bug pictures on the internet. But I thought, bites plus bed must equal bed bugs, right? I’d heard of how Vancouver was crawling with them. You can see a map of reports on the bed bug registry

I found a primer on bed bugs by Vancouver Coastal Health. It had a number that referred me to a person at the City of Vancouver. She told me, "If you find any bed bugs, you have an infestation. You must get a professional exterminator."

So I looked up three businesses that could help deal with bed bugs and emailed them our photos. The companies all told me it was the larva of carpet beetles. They don’t bite people like bed bugs, but some people react to hairs on the larvae with what looks like bites. They told me that vacuuming (and disposing the bags) should get rid of them. It was still possible we had bed bugs, but they suggested that we first see if vacuuming solved the problem.

I had not heard of carpet beetles before. The most common species seem to be the Black Carpet Beetle, (Attagenus unicolor, which is what I think we had) and the Varied Carpet Beetle (Anthrenus verbasci). They are a kind of dermestid beetle. I had seen dermestid beetles in a museum for eating the leftover bits on animal skeletons. But uncontrolled, they can also destroy museum collections by eating dry organic material, including dried insects. Also, when they show up on a corpse they can be an indicator of the time of death in forensic entomology, which you may have seen on a show like CSI.

The main problem are the larvae, because not only do they give some people welts, they also wander around in the dark looking for dry, organic material to eat. Nowadays, not many carpets have natural fibres in them and probably my daughter's stuffies are safe, but that still leaves many kinds of clothing, furniture and other textiles that could be destroyed.

Adult carpet beetles eat pollen and might hitch a ride inside a house, Trojan horse like, on cut flowers. Besides my house, carpet beetles can live in nests of birds or rodents, which might be a starter home before they find their way into your place, if it is well-stocked with dust, as mine was. Adults don't live very long, but they can fly and lay eggs that hatch into very hungry larvae. Now, excuse me while I go vacuum...

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