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Bed bugs bite vs. Flea Bite: What’s the Difference?

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Fleas are often confused with bed bugs.

That’s no surprise as both are small, blood sucking insects. They also leave bite marks that look similar to each other.

Nonetheless, correctly identifying these two pests is vital to eliminate them.

In this article, we’ll go over all the differences between fleas and bed bugs.

Let’s dive in.

Bed Bug Bites vs. Flea Bites: Appearance and Symptoms

bed bug bites vs flea bites
  • Flea bites look like small red bumps with a pink halo. They generally appear in small clusters. Bedbug bites look like welts. They come in clusters and occur in a line or a zig-zag pattern.
 
  • Flea bites generally begin to welt within an hour after the bite. In contrast, bed bug bites symptoms can appear anywhere between an hour and two weeks after the bite occurs. Both bites are itchy and uncomfortable.
 
  • Flea often bites below your waistline, including your ankles, lower legs, and feet. They also tend to happen where the skin folds, such as behind the knee or your elbow. In contrast, bed bugs bite any exposed skin including arms, legs, back, torso. Bed bugs rarely bite on neck and faces, unless you’re wearing pants and long sleeves.
 
  • While rare, bed bug bites can develop into severe reactions such as blisters, difficulty breathing, and nausea. Flea bites may develop into a blister or small wound after a day or so. It’s also common to develop secondary infections due to excessive scratching. Severe reactions to flea bites can include shortness of breath, nausea, and chest pain.
 
  • Most fleas bite their host within the first hour. A single flea can bite up to 400 times per day. Bed bugs, on the other hand, will feed approximately once every three to ten days.
 
  • Once a flea gets on its host, they stay to mate, feed, and lay eggs. If a flea falls off its host, its chances of survival are slim to none. Bed bugs, on the other hand, leave their host once they are done feeding. Once they’ve gotten their blood-meal, they return to their harborage area until they are ready to eat again.

Bed Bug Bites vs. Flea Bites: Treatment

Bed Bug Bite Treatment:

  1. Resist the urge to scratch.
  2. Wash affected area with soapy water this will help prevent an infection.
  3. Apply an anti-itch cream or ice on the bite to alleviate discomfort.
  4. Take an oral antihistamine to minimize itching.
  5. Use an over-the-counter pain reliever to reduce pain and swelling.
  6. For severe allergic reactions, seek professional care.

Flea Bite Treatment:

  1. Resist the Urge to Scratch.
  2. Wash affected area with soapy water. Washing your bite will help remove the germs on your skin and prevent infection.
  3. Apply Antiseptic. Aside from using soap to clean the bite, you can also use alcohol as an antiseptic. Pour alcohol on a cotton ball and apply it to the bites. Other antiseptic alternatives you can use are witch hazel and tea tree oil.
  4. Apply an anti-itch cream or ice on the bite to alleviate discomfort.
  5. Take an oral antihistamine to minimize itching or apply an ice pack / cold compress. 
  6. If your bites get worse over time, visit your doctor. Your doctor will be able to address any excess inflammation or infections with proper treatments.

Bed Bugs vs Fleas: Appearance

Bed bug vs fleas
  • Both fleas and bed bugs are light brown to dark brown in color. 
 
  • Bed bugs are have oval bodies. Fleas, on the other hand, are more rectangular. They are also more narrow compared to bed bugs. 
 
  • Fleas are a bit smaller than bed bugs at 2- 4mm. Bed bugs are around 4-5mm long. When fully engorged, fleas grow in  comparable size to bed bugs. 
 
  • Bed bugs and fleas have six legs. Fleas have distinct back legs similar to crickets, which allow them to jump. They also have distinct legs right below their mouth. 

Bed Bug Vs. Fleas: Distribution

In What Region Do Bed Bugs Live?

Bed bugs are found in all 50 states in the U.S. 

Infestations are particularly common in large cities where houses are close together.

Bed bugs are also commonly found in apartments, public transportation, schools, nursing homes, and retail stores.

In What Region Do Fleas Live?

 

You can find fleas across the U.S., but they are most common in the West Coast and Southeast.

Dog and cat fleas are most common in states with warm and humid conditions such as Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Oregon, Washington, and California.

They are the least common in desert regions in the U.S., including Utah, Nevada, and Arizona.

Bed Bug Vs. Fleas: Habitat

Where Do Bed Bugs Live?

Bed bugs primarily live in bedrooms where food is readily available. 

The most common areas to find bed bugs in your bedroom is on mattresses, box springs, headboards, nightstands, pillows.

On furniture bed bugs live in small seams, edges, folds in fabric, and small crevices that offer protection. 

They are also commonly found in other regions of the home, including living rooms and home offices. 

In severe infestations, they can live on walls, wood furniture, ceilings, and even baseboards. 

Where Do Fleas Live?

Fleas are commonly found in areas where animals frequent, such as barns, back yards, decks and patio furniture.

In homes with flea infested pets, you’ll typically find flea eggs, larvae and droppings (flea dirt) harboring inside carpets, near pet bedding, and furniture near pet loafing sites.

If your pets lay on your chairs or beds, you may also find fleas there. Some common areas are under couch cushions and beds.

The best way to know where to treat fleas is to know your pets behavior and favorite spots.

Bed Bugs Vs. Fleas: Diet

What Do Bed Bugs Eat?

Bed bugs drink blood to survive. 

They commonly feed on humans but will resort to warm-blooded mammals such as dogs, cats, birds, and rodents if humans are not around. 

Adult bed bugs can live for 12 to 14 months without a meal.

What Do Fleas Eat?

Like bed bugs, fleas only feed on the blood of mammals.

The difference is the type of blood they prefer.

Bed bugs prefer humans, while fleas prefer pets and other mammals.

Adult fleas feed only on blood.

Their larvae are scavengers and will eat almost any organic matter. They primarily feed on dried blood and adult flea droppings.

Bed Bugs Vs. Fleas: Flight

Do Bed Bugs Fly?

While adult bed bugs develop wing pads, they do not fly. 

These wing pads do not develop into fully functional wings and have no practical use.

Do Fleas Fly?

Similar to bed bugs, fleas do not fly. Instead, they jump to secure a host.

Fleas can jump up to 120 times their body length. In particular, they can jump as high as six inches and as far as 12 inches.

Bed Bugs Vs. Fleas: Dangers

Are Bed Bugs Harmful?

Bed bugs do not carry any diseases and are relatively harmless compared to other pests such as mosquitoes and cockroaches.

Having a bed bug infestation can be disruptive to the well being of their human host.

Most people that have infestation suffer from anxiety and lack of sleep.

Bed bug bites can be extremely bothersome, especially for young children. 

They can cause excessive scratching, leading to skin infections.  

Bed bug bites also cause allergic reactions, and in severe cases, they may need medical attention. 

Finally, their bites can transmit parasites, although it’s not common. 

Are Fleas Harmful?

Yes. Fleas can carry and transmit several serious diseases, including typhus and plague.

The most noted disease transmitted by fleas is the Bubonic Plague. The plague has been responsible for millions of human deaths.

Bubonic Plague transmitted from rats to humans by fleas.

Fleas transmit disease by biting infected animals, such as rats, and then biting a person or a pet after.

They can also transmit disease with their poop. Flea droppings can cause infections when they come in direct contact with an exposed wound and when breathed in.

 

Bed Bugs Vs. Fleas: Baby

What Do Baby Bed Bugs Look Like?

Bed bugs go through a partial metamorphosis, which means their babies look similar to adults.

Juvenile bed bugs, or nymphs, go into five stages before becoming a full adult.

When bed bugs first hatch, they are only about 1.5 mm long. They have white, oval, and flat bodies.

The nymphs also have two antennas and six legs.

As they mature, they gradually turn from white to dark brown.

Nymphs shed their skins to grow in a process called molting. Every time they molt, they become slightly darker and bigger.

Baby bed bugs need to feed on blood to grow. If they can find enough food, they can become full adults in about six weeks.

They can grow up to 4.5mm long before shedding their exoskeleton one last time.

What Do Baby Fleas Look Like?

After hatching, flea larvae are tiny at about 2mm. Over time they can grow up to about 5mm in length.

Flea larvae are white to cream-colored with a brownish head. Their bodies are cylindrical with thirteen segments and are covered with long stiff hairs or bristles.

The larvae mouths, but they don’t have legs or eyes.

Depending upon species and environmental conditions, larvae can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months before entering pupation.

Pupation is the process of the larvae forming a silken cocoon around itself.

The cocoon is about 1/16 of an inch long and has an elliptical shape. It’s generally covered with debris, which helps the cocoon blend into the environment.

The larva generally develops into an adult flea within two to three weeks.

If there are no available host around, the flea will choose to stay in the cocoon.

That’s because the flea cannot live longer than a few weeks without a blood meal.

But, inside the cocoon, it can survive for longer than a year.

Bed Bugs Vs. Fleas: Eggs

What Do Bed Bugs Eggs Look Like?

Bed bug eggs are white.

They are about 1 mm in length, similar to the size of two grains of salt.

They are sticky and are typically in clusters inside cracks and crevices.

Bed bug eggs take about two weeks to hatch into a white baby bed bug.

Once hatched, the juvenile bed bug will leave behind its eggshell, which generally looks like white debris.

What Do Fleas Eggs Look Like?

Flea eggs are barely visible to the naked eye at 0.5 mm in length.

They have an oval shape and milk-white color. 

Most flea species produce eggs with a smooth outer surface.

This feature allows the eggs to fall freely off the host to hatch in a more suitable environment.

Some flea species produce sticky eggs. The stickiness allows the eggs to adhere to nesting materials.

Flea eggs can hatch in as little as three days and as long as five weeks, depending on the conditions.

Bed Bugs Vs. Fleas: Lifecycle

What Is the Bed Bug Lifecycle?

Bed bugs go  through seven stages of development.

The first stage is egg, followed by five different nymph stages, and finally, the adult stage. 

During the nymph stages, bed bugs progressively grow larger. 

Nymphs must eat at least once to reach the next phase of development.

Bed bugs eggs take around five to six weeks for bud bugs to reach adulthood.

What Is the Fleas Life Cycle?

Fleas have complete metamorphosis—their life-cycle consists of four stages: egg, larvae, pupae, and the adult stage.

The length of time it takes for fleas to complete a life cycle varies from a couple of weeks to a couple of years, depending on a few factors.

The first is the species. Certain flea species take longer to complete metamorphosis than others.

It is also greatly affected by environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity.

Another big factor that affects flea development is the availability of a host.

If there are no available hosts around, the flea will choose to stay in the cocoon.

That’s because the flea cannot live longer than a few weeks without a blood meal.

But, inside the cocoon, it can survive for longer than a year.

Adult fleas emerge from the cocoon when they sense warmth and increase in CO2 levels. These two are an indication that there is a host close by. 

Adult fleas live between five to eighteen days. 

Bed Bugs Vs. Fleas: Causes

What Causes Bed Bugs?

Most often, bed bug hitchhike their way into your home from a location that already has bed bugs. 

They can enter your home by attaching themselves to backpacks, luggage, clothes, grocery bags, etc.

In most cases, bed bugs don’t invade your homes from outdoors.

Bed bugs can also enter your home through used furniture, electronics, and clothing.  

These bugs can hide inside used items for up to 12-14 months without eating. 

There are some reports of bed bugs walking across power lines and outdoor walls, but this is rare.

What Causes Fleas?

Fleas often enter homes when wildlife takes up residence under it.

Some of the most common sources of fleas are feral cats, opossums, raccoons, and rats.

Note that other types of wildlife, such as rabbits and squirrels, rarely cause a flea issue.

Fleas can also find a way into your home by hitching a ride on your clothing or shoes.

Bed Bugs Vs. Fleas: How Common Are They?

How Common Are Bed Bugs?

A study found that 20% of Americans have either had bed bugs or know someone who has. 

Bed bugs spread easily from one home to another, and clusters of infestations tend to happen. 

Bed bugs are one of the most common pests in homes, especially because they do not discriminate. 

They will infest any home regardless of social class, cleanliness, or state.

How Common Are Fleas?

Fleas are the most widespread parasite found on warm-blooded mammals such as dogs and cats.

There are approximately 2,500 species of fleas worldwide, 325 of which can be found in the United States and Canada.

Note, however, that only 22 species bite humans. Among them are the dog, cat, and human flea.

Americans spend 1.5 billion on fleas every year.

Bed Bugs Vs. Fleas: Elimination

How To Get Rid Of Bed Bugs?

There are several different methods that you can use to eliminate bed bugs.

The one you choose will depend on the severity of your infestation and budget for treatment.

1. Vacuuming

Vacuuming is an excellent method for quickly removing many bed bugs, eggs, and skin shells.

Unfortunately, for larger infestations, it’s not always possible to target all bed bugs.

For this method to be effective, you need to target all the locations that bed bugs are hiding.

I recommend using crevice tools designed to help your reach bed bugs hiding in folds and crevices.

Its also best to use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.

Professional pest control companies prefer these filters because the filter will ensure that particles don’t become airborne once you start vacuuming.

This is important because bed bug skins and remains have many allergens that should be unhealthy and should not be inhaled.

2. Fumigation

Fumigation involves releasing insecticidal gas into a bed bug infested areas.

This method allows you to penetrate areas that are difficult to access, such as folds in fabrics, small crevices, and seams.

That said, fumigation requires extensive preparation.

You’ll need to vacate all living things in your home until all the fumigant traces have dissipated.

Fumigation of entire houses or entire rooms requires professional assistance, which can be costly.

Fumigating smaller items such as electronics or couches can be done at home using a large sealable bag and a DDPV strip.


3. Steam

Steam is an effective bed bug treatment that you can do yourself.

Bed bugs and their eggs will die at temperatures above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Most steamers can reach up to 240 degrees Fahrenheit, making them highly effective against bed bugs.

For effective steam treatments, every area with bed bugs needs to receive localized steam above 120 degrees.

Steam is also great because it kills bed bugs without using toxic chemicals from the insecticide.

When treating bed bugs with steam, all bed bugs need to be eliminated during the initial treatment since steam does not have a residual effect.

4. Heat

Extreme heat is fatal to bed bugs.

Heat treatments increase the heat in structures, rooms, and items to a temperature lethal to bed bugs and eggs.

Using heat treatments in larger structures requires specialized equipment and professional assistance.

Hiring a pest control company to do heat treatments around your house is highly effective, but it can be costly.

On average, heat treatments can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.

The most effective way to remove bed bugs from smaller items such as books, laundry, bags, etc., is using a heat chamber.

Heat chambers allow you to place small items and seal them inside while the heat is on.

To kill bed bugs in all life stages, temperatures must reach above 122 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Mattress Encasements

Mattress and box spring encasements can be a great way to control bed bugs.

Encasements create a barrier between you and the bed bugs living in your mattress.

They are great if you are looking for an inexpensive and quick solution for your bed bugs.

The idea behind mattress encasements is to starve bed bugs.

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Preview
LUCID Encasement Mattress Protector-Guards Against Bed Bugs-100% Waterproof-15 Year Warranty-Queen/White, Queen
Product
LUCID Encasement Mattress Protector-Guards Against Bed Bugs-100% Waterproof-15 Year Warranty-Queen/White, Queen
Prime
Price
$29.99
Details
Preview
Utopia Bedding Zippered Mattress Encasement Twin, 100% Waterproof Mattress Protector, Absorbent, Six-Sided Mattress Cover
Product
Utopia Bedding Zippered Mattress Encasement Twin, 100% Waterproof Mattress Protector, Absorbent, Six-Sided Mattress Cover
Prime
Price
$16.99
Details
Preview
HOSPITOLOGY PRODUCTS Mattress Encasement - Zippered Bed Bug Dust Mite Proof Hypoallergenic - Sleep Defense System - Queen - Waterproof - Stretchable - Standard 12" Depth - 60" W x 80" L
Product
HOSPITOLOGY PRODUCTS Mattress Encasement – Zippered Bed Bug Dust Mite Proof Hypoallergenic – Sleep Defense System – Queen – Waterproof – Stretchable – Standard 12″ Depth – 60″ W x 80″ L
Prime
Price
$39.00
Details

6. Insecticide 

Insecticide treatments involve spraying chemicals on or around bed bugs.

When using insecticides, make sure to read and follow all label instructions.

Pay special attention to what type of furniture, surfaces, and materials is the insecticide safe to use.

You’ll also want to pay attention to how long it takes before re-application and follow accordingly.

How To Get Rid of Fleas?

1. Identification 

The first step to eliminating fleas in your home is to find possible locations for flea breeding. Look at the areas where your pets sleep, lounge, and eat.

2. Vacuum

Next, vacuum and or clean steam carpet to prepare them for treatment. Vacuuming and steaming help remove dried blood, live adult fleas, and flea eggs. It also helps straighten the carpet fibers to help it receive treatment.

3. Chemical Treatment

For flea treatment, I recommend using insecticide such as Pyrethroids in combination with slower-acting IGRs.

In many cases today you can find a pyrethroid with IGR’s combined into a single insecticide.

You can also use plant-derived insecticide such as orange oil and pyrethrins along with IGRs.

Pyrethroids

Pyrethroids are of the most widely used classes of insecticides in pest control. They are long-lasting and highly effective.

These are typically insecticide sprays that should be sprayed directly on affected areas such as rugs, furniture, and other locations around the house. 

These insecticides can kill on contact and also have a residual effect which can last between one and two months.  

IGRs

IGR’s are like “birth control” for insects. It stops infestations by making adult fleas unable to reproduce. It also blocks immature fleas from becoming an adult. 

If juvenile fleas are unable to grow into reproductive adults, their population will eventually die. IGRs have an excellent safety record for people and pets. 

4. Dust Treatments

Another common method of killing fleas is using dust treatment.

Dust treatments can be used as a lone treatment method as well as in combination with an insecticide spray.

Two of the most common methods are:

Diatomaceous Earth

Although to pets and humans, DE is just like any other powder, it has microscopic, razor-sharp edges to insects. Diatomaceous earth kills insects by destroying their exoskeletons. 

First, DE absorbs the oily and waxy outer cuticle layer found on insects exoskeleton.

This outer layer prevents insects from losing body water in dry environments. Once it’s destroyed, fleas lose water and die from dehydration.

Borate Salt

Borate salt is toxic to fleas when ingested. You can dust it to areas indoors where the fleas are aggregating, such as carpet, cushions, and bedding. Borate salt is safe for humans and pets.

5. Natural Treatments

Botanicals

If you want to use more natural ingredients to eliminate fleas, I recommend using plant-derived insecticides. For this, I recommend using the most active orange oil and pyrethrins. 

Orange oil has D-Limone, which repels and kills fleas. For the best results, I recommend using orange oil with slower-acting products like IGRs. 

When using orange oil, remember to practice caution. At high concentrations, these oils can be dangerous for pets. Always read and follow label directions carefully. 

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