Bed bugs and fleas are two blood-sucking insect parasites that can be difficult to get rid of once they're in your home. The two often get confused. Bed bugs and fleas do have some similarities, but very distinct differences, including differences in their bites. Following are some of the primary similarities and differences between bed bugs and fleas.
Similarities Between Bed Bugs and Fleas
- Bed bugs and fleas both survive on a host's blood. Bed bugs and fleas both feed on the blood of their host, whether a human or an animal. Both insect pests will try to bite humans and animals as necessary.
- Similar appearance and stealthiness. Both of these small, wingless insects are small creatures, though both are still visible to the unaided eye. Both are reddish-brown to dark brown in color and have a roundish body type. Both insects are stealthy and can find their way into your home virtually undetected.
- Both Bed Bugs and Fleas Transmit Bacteria. Bed bugs and fleas can both transmit bacteria picked up off of whatever they walked on or through, though fleas are considered the heavier offenders in this regard, also transmitting blood-borne contaminants and even parasites in their interactions between hosts.
Differences Between Bed Bugs and Fleas
- Preferred Hosts. Bed bugs prefer human blood, while fleas prefer animal hosts to feed on. In the absence of their preferred host, they will both find a less-preferred human or animal host.
- Nocturnal vs. Daytime Activity. Bed bugs are typically active at night, while fleas are usually active during the daytime.
- Body Types and Movement. Fleas are generally smaller in size than bedbugs and have bodies with more of a rounded, oval body, and are "vertically skinny," which is what allows them to easily burrow through thick animal hair. Bed bugs have horizontally flat, seed-shaped bodies. These two insects also move very differently. Fleas have longer hind legs than their other two pair of legs, and are incredible jumpers, while bed bugs crawl and move slowly.
- Where They Hide. Bed bugs typically hide in bed frames, bedding, headboards, bedroom furniture, behind electrical outlet plates, sometimes furniture, etc. Basically they hide wherever they can be close to sleeping people.
On the other hand, fleas spend most of their time on their animal hosts, though they may also be found lurking in carpet, furniture, floor voids, drapes, curtains, pet bedding, etc. They tend to hide wherever they can have quick access to their preferred cat or dog hosts.
Bed Bug Bites vs. Flea Bites
The biggest difference between bed bugs and fleas is between their bites.
Flea saliva makes their bites unnoticeable at first, but you will definitely notice signs of the bite later. Bites look like swollen, red, and itchy bumps sometimes lined up in a row, and sometimes in a cluster. A red “halo” is often visible around the center of a flea bite.
Fleas most frequently like to infest your cat's or dog's neck, ears, back, belly, and base of the tail. The most common places fleas will bite you or your family members include your legs, ankles, and folds of your knees. You may also see flea bites around your waist, armpits, groin, and in the folds of your elbows.
Bed bugs hide in mattresses, bedding, headboards, bedroom furniture, and carpets, and feed on humans while they’re sleeping.
Bed bug bites also appear as red, itchy bumps, and their bites are most commonly found in areas of the upper body, as opposed to flea bites that often go for the legs and ankles. Bed bug bites will not have an irritated, red halo around the bite area as flea bites do.
How Do You Know if You Have Bed Bugs or Fleas?
Signs of Bed Bugs in Your House
Here are some common signs that you might have bed bugs in your home.
- Bed bug activity. You might see an adult bed bug or two crawling around your bed, bed frame, in a nightstand drawer, etc. If you see one, chances are there are several more hiding nearby.
- Reddish-brown / rusty stains. These are found on bed sheets and mattresses and are caused by bed bugs being crushed when you roll over at night.
- Dark, flaky spots. Like fleas, bed bug droppings look like dark, peppery flakes. In the case of bed bugs, these flakes can be pressed into your mattress and leave dark splotches as a marker would.
- Whitish eggs, eggshells, and yellowish nymphs. Bed bug eggs are extremely tiny (about 1/25") and the pale yellow skins that young bed bug nymphs shed are also signs of a bed bug presence.
- Red, itchy bites. Bed bugs usually go for your upper body, so bites on your arms, back, neck, etc. are more likely to be from a bed bug. If you find you're itchy in the morning, there is another hint that it's probably bed bugs.
Signs of Fleas in Your House
- Flea Activity. You may also notice tiny insects hopping around on your drapes, carpet, furniture, pets, and in your pets' bedding. Fleas are distinguishable by the way they quickly vanish from sight.
- Scratching. Your first signal that you might have a flea infestation on your hands is if your pets are frequently scratching and biting at themselves. For more serious infestations, your cat or dog may start losing patches of fur (mange).
- Discolored Gums. If your pets have pale, discolored gums, that may be another sign there is a flea issue. This is a sign of anemia, is often prevalent in young kittens and pups, and may be a sign you need to take your pet to the veterinarian.
- Flea Dirt. Flea remains (also known as "flea dirt") is another sign of fleas at home. This is dried flea feces (which many times contain a lot of dried blood), and it kind of looks like pepper flakes. You might see these remains on your pet's skin, on their bedding, on the carpet, curtains/drapes, on furniture, etc.
- On Your Pet. If you suspect flea activity, also carefully check your pet's ears, neck, and back for signs of scratching, redness, blood, or dirt. If fleas are present, you might see fleas on your pet's skin.
- Irritated Skin. You might also notice itchy, red, swollen rashes on your pet's skin or on your own where you've been bitten.
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