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Bed Bug vs. Flea: The Differences (Plus Bed Bug vs. Carpet Beetle vs. Tick)

Close up of a bed bug.

Beg Bugs under bed zoomed in.Bed bugs and fleas – two pests no one wants anywhere near their homes. Yet, most of us will find ourselves dealing with one or other (maybe both) at some point in our lives. If you have pets, fleas are inevitable if you don’t take the right steps to prevent them. If you travel often, your risks of bringing home bed bugs skyrockets.

And while bed bugs and fleas are similar in some ways, they are inherently different bugs. Because both of them bite humans, it can be difficult to determine which critter you’re dealing with.

Bed Bug vs. Flea: What’s the Difference?

1. Bed Bugs 101

Bed bugs are a type of parasitic insect in the cimicid family, and they feed exclusively on blood. While there are various types of these bugs, the Cimex lectularius (i.e. the common bed bug) is the most famous because it prefers to feed on humans. Other species prefer other animals.

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Bed bugs are named for their preferred habitats: warm houses, and inside or near bedding. Because these bugs are mostly active at night, they often feed on their hosts without them even knowing it.

Appearance

The common bed bug is light brown or red in color with a flat, oval-shaped body. They have no hind wings, and their front wings are vestigial. Their abdomens are segmented with microscopic hairs.

Adult bed bugs are 0.16-0.20” long and 0.059-0.118” wide.

Baby bed bugs, or nymphs, are translucent and become brown in color as they molt.

Read more about Bed Bugs

Feeding

Bed bugs are bloodsucking insects, and prefer humans. Carbon dioxide, warmth and chemicals attract bed bugs to their hosts. They prefer to feed on exposed areas of the body, such as the arms, face and neck.

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On average, bed bugs live 10-11 months.

2. Fleas 101

Fleas also feed on blood, but are a part of the Siphonaptera order. These wingless critters have mouthpieces that pierce the skin and suck on blood. Like bed bugs, they’re considered external parasites.Realistic 3d render of flea.

There are more than 2,500 species of fleas around the world.

Appearance

Fleas are tiny creatures – 1/16”- 1/8” in length on average. Nearly black in color, these insects are incredibly agile and can jump vertically up to 7” and horizontally up to 13”.

Baby fleas, or larvae, are tiny, pale and have bristles covering their bodies. While they don’t have eyes, they do have mouth parts that are well-equipped for chewing.

Feeding

Unlike bed bugs, fleas will feed on just about anything that’s warm-blooded, including humans, cats, dogs, ferrets, squirrels, rabbits, birds and mice.

Bites can be a nuisance, and cause an insatiable itching sensation. Some people are allergic to flea bites and may develop flea allergy dermatitis as a result.

Fleas can carry a host of different bacterial and viral diseases, including endemic typhus, murine and the bubonic plague. They can also transmit:

  • Bartonella henselae (associated with cat-scratch disease)
  • Rickettsia felis (associated with cat-flea typhus)
  • Rickettsia typhi (associated with murine typhus)
  • Myxomatosis virus

Fleas have also been known to carry trypanosome protozoans and certain types of tapeworms.

While bed bugs and fleas are two inherently different creatures, many of the extermination methods for bed bugs, like Hot Shot bed bug and flea, will also work for fleas.

3. How Can You Tell if It’s a Bed Bug or Flea?

Visual identification is the best way to determine whether you’re dealing with a bed bug or a flea. But if you’re bites seem to be coming from a mysterious creature, there are a few things you can look for to help you determine which insect is feeding on you.

  • Look for blood marks or fecal matter on your sheets. These marks are commonly associated with bed bugs.
  • If you’re getting bit while sitting on the carpet, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with a flea.
  • If you have pets that are also itching, you likely have fleas.
  • Flea bites often look like random clusters of mosquito bites.
  • Bed bug bites are red, flat, raised and often formed in a line.
  • Bed bugs can take days (or weeks) to appear, while flea bites appear within minutes.

Tick Vs Bed Bug: Is That a Tick or Bed Bug?

Front of tick on the white.Ticks are another pest that no one wants in their homes. Not only are they pesky creatures, but they also carry diseases that can affect humans and pets.

Just like with fleas, it’s not always easy to tell whether you’re dealing with a bed bug or a tick.

Ticks are actually arachnids, and they’re part of the Parasitiformes order. Just like bed bugs, these insects are considered external parasites, and they feed on the blood of birds, mammals, and in some cases, amphibians and reptiles.  

There are three main families of ticks: hard ticks, soft ticks and Nuttalliellidae. These creatures are closely related to mites.

There are more than 700 species of Ixodidae, or hard ticks. Named for their hard shells, these ticks aren’t easily killed under the sole of a hard shoe.

There are around 200 species of Argasidae, or soft ticks. These ticks tend to prefer feeding on birds instead of humans.

The final family, Nuttalliellidae, has only one species, and it’s found in southern Africa.

Bed bugs and ticks both have diets of blood, but that’s where their similarities end. While both bugs are small, ticks are larger than bed bugs. If a tick has recently fed, it will have a blob or sack filled with blood.

A tick bite will often create a red bull’s-eye, while a bed bug bite will leave nothing more than a small raised bite on the skin.

Visual identification is the best way to determine which type of bug you’re dealing with, but if the creature remains a mystery, take a closer look at the bite to identify the insect.

Carpet Beetle Vs Bed Bug: Is That a Carpet Beetle or Bed Bug?

Carpet beetle is the common name given to the Dermestidae order of the Coleoptera family. There are around 500-700 species of these beetles around the world, and their sizes can vary between 1/4″ and 1.”Macro shot of a varied carpet beetle on a white daisy.

Carpet beetles have round oval bodies and are covered in scales. These bugs are scavengers by nature and will feed on a variety of plant and dry animal material, including pollen, skin, hair, dead insects, feathers and natural fibers.

While not common, some people do confuse bed bugs and carpet beetles. Carpet beetles are often attracted to fabrics, which means they may be found on bedding and in mattresses.

But generally speaking, these two insects are worlds apart. The carpet beetle is much larger than the bed bug, which is often hard to see with the naked eye. These beetles typically don’t bite humans either and do not live on a diet of blood.

Bed bugs are also brown in color, whereas the carpet beetle is brown and white. True to its name these beetles really do look like carpeting.

The Bottom Line

Fleas, bed bugs, ticks and carpet beetles are all insects that we’d rather not have in our homes. Most feed on our blood, and can leave us with unsightly bites that takes days or weeks to heal. While these insects have different traits, behaviors and appearances, they all pose of threat of serious infestation if steps are not taken to curb their population.

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