How to identify small bugs in a house

fire bugs image by Tomasz Plawski from

Many people become very concerned when they discover a new type of insect or bug in their home. Some species, like deer ticks, can be health hazards, and others, such as bed bugs, become costly nuisances.

Correctly identifying the insect visitor in your home is important, as many bugs are harmless and there is no need to worry. If the insects you are finding are in fact harmful, then proper identification will ensure that the bugs are dealt with in the appropriate manner.

Catch the bug with a white paper napkin or tissue. Try not to squish it too much so you can examine it properly. Another method is to trap the insect with a piece of masking tape (sticky side facing the bug). Place the tape right on the bug or nearby so it walks on the tape. If you fear grabbing the insect, try placing a clear jar over the bug, or snapping a photo with a digital camera.

Check online (see resources below) for an insect identification guide. The online guides ask general questions such as the number of bug legs, colour and what region of the nation you live in. Compare your insect with the photos to get a generalised idea of what kind of bug you may have in the home. Use a magnifying glass if the insect is very small.

Locate a nearby university entomology department or extension service by searching online or looking in the telephone book. Contact their offices and ask if they are willing to examine your bug. These professionals usually do not come to your home, but are happy to examine insects if you bring them in. Having an expert inspect your bug will give more conclusive results.

Place the insect in a clean jar with a lid. It shouldn't matter if the insect is dead or alive, as long as it isn't mangled and can be identified. Use tweezers if the bug is dead, or trap the bug with a jar if alive. Slide a piece of firm paper over the lid of the jar to ensure it can't escape. Remove the paper quickly and pop the lid on when the insect is at the bottom of the jar.

Ask the professionals you are bringing the bug to if they prefer it stored in any particular way. For example, they may suggest pouring rubbing alcohol over the insect to preserve it.