What's the Difference Between Flea, Bed Bug, Mosquito, and Spider Bites?
Gather The Evidence To Uncover The Culprit
It is not easy to tell the difference between mosquito, bud bug, spider, flea, and other kinds of bug and insect bites—not to mention fungal rashes, allergic reactions, and poison oak and ivy. Mystery bites are alarming. That is when the mind starts to wonder about fleas, mosquitoes and bed bugs.
Symptoms of chronic hives also appear similar to many insect and arachnid bites. There are, however, some characteristic differences that the average joe can spot. With thousands of rashes existing worldwide, you may even need a doctor to help identify your rash.
Unfortunately, your doctor can't always tell what bit you by looking at the bite. They will want to know as much information as they can. If you can present them with a picture of what bit you, then you are likely to get a positive identification.
They may also prescribe hydrocortisone cream for mild cases. Chronic hives and allergic bug rashes may require more powerful treatment such as injectable anti-inflammatories such as Xolair or Colchicine.
Basic Differences Between Bed Bug vs. Mosquito vs. Spider Bites
Bed Bug Bite
Raised welts that appears randomly on the body
Flat, red dots that may or may not be in groups of three.
Singular bite that can be red and itchy; sometimes has puncture marks from fangs
Bites qickly turn into itchy red welts
Bed bug bites do not start itching until later for hours or days
Spider bites' anticoagulant wears off slower, causing itchy red bumps or a rash to appear later
Questions to Ask About Bug Bites
I know you are probably feeling worried about your bite, but don't panic. If you are having a serious reaction call your doctor right away. If not then continue collecting information. Bud bugs might not spread diseases, but they can cause severe allergic reaction in some people.
Fleas and mosquitos do cause disease. It makes you wish there was a definitive way to test for insects and arachnids. We sometimes have to be detectives so we can gather all the clues and answer the question once and for all.
Make a symptom list by asking yourself the following questions:
- Where did I get the bite?
- What part of my body is the bite on?
- Are the bites in clusters?
- What season is it? It's unlikely for mosquitoes to bite in winter.
- Where did exposure happen?
- Have I been outside or spending time at others' homes?
- Does my home show signs of infestation?
- What is the duration of the rash?
- Does it come and go?
- Do you have previous skin conditions?
- Are there local public health warnings about a certain pest?
- Does your pet have fleas?
Answering these questions may help you discover the culprit and might be information your doctor needs.
Bed Bug vs. Mosquito Bites
The difference between bed bug bites and mosquito bites is not always clear. What you need to know is that mosquito bites are commonly mistaken for bed bug bites, especially if the bites happen in bed at night.
Both creatures bites can induce allergic reactions. They appear immediately after exposure or later, as body chemistry affects the timing of the reaction. The comparison between the two might surprise you.
Mosquito bites appear in isolation, grow quickly, and resolve themselves. It's less likely to be bed bugs when there are only a few red areas. Resist the urge to scratch to prevent misdiagnosis of your rash.
The diameter of the bite depends on the person, the size of the mosquito, and length of time the mosquito labium pierces the skin. However, the bites can get quite large. Unlike bed bug bites, irritation almost always begins at the time of the bite.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of a mosquito bite are:
- Pale bump that appears lighter than the surrounding skin.
- The area around the bite may appear red.
- Initially, a soft bump that turns hard when scratched.
- The bump may turn red.
If you look at the bump and still can't tell, ask yourself:
- Have you been outdoors a lot? (If so, it's more likely a mosquito.)
- Did you wear DEET bug spray? (works on mosquitos, gnats, and spiders but not on bed bugs.)
- Have you seen black, red, or brown smudges on bed sheets? (These may be bloody signs of bed bug bites.)
- Are you seeing an unusually high volume of spiders?
Bed Bug Bites
There are lots of pictures on the web to show you what bed bug bites look like. This rash can be clustered, red and unraised. The bite of a bed bug develops more slowly than that of mosquitoes, spiders, or fleas. If the bites linger for weeks or return quickly, what you might have is bed bugs.
Bites almost always appear in clusters. Sometimes, they don't look like bites or a rash at all. Instead, they may look like welts. Some people never develop a rash.
These bloodsuckers split each feeding session into courses. One of these tiny vampires causes three red dots. Attuned to exhaled carbon dioxide, the location of the bites may be consistent with bed bugs. Bed bugs are usually found near the head of the bed and spread from there.
Inspect the entire bed using your rash as a clue. For example, if you sleep on your back, on the left side of the bed, then check the mattress edges in that location.
Be cautious about self-diagnosing bed bug bites. Look for live specimens, clusters of bed bugs, dead bugs, discarded exoskeletons, or bug feces (rusty-looking stains). Check your bed, furniture, and car.
Bite Comparison Table: Spiders, Mosquitos and Bed Bugs
Bed Bug Bite
What you feel at time of bite
Bite feels like a sting, or is not felt.
Bite starts to itch immediately.
Not felt until hours or days later.
When you'll notice something
Immediate skin discoloration after bite.
Inset bite that turns red right away.
Does not turn red until anticoagulant wears off.
Number of bites that occur at once
Bites are usually singular, or dual.
Bites may be close by coincidence only.
Bites come in groups of three, unless bugs were interrupted while feeding.
Appearance over time
Usually has redness and is accompanied by puncture wounds from fangs.
Raised welt or rash that grows quickly.
After a few hours, each bite turns into a red circle, or dot.
What it looks like at the center
Center is red, with two small holes (bite itself).
Center is white at onset.
Center is red, and uniform with rest of rash. They are never white.
Who experiences a reaction?
Rash caused by venom.
Almost everyone bit by mosquitoes has a reaction.
Only some people get a rash. Some have no symptoms.
Common bite location
No specific body part is preferred.
Bites happen anywhere on uncovered skin, with mosquitoes preferring the upper torso.
Bed bugs are attracted to carbon dioxide (we breath this out), so most bites are near the head (but can be anywhere).
How long reaction takes to develop
Can take minutes to hours to develop symptoms.
Reaction happens in minutes.
The reaction may take as long as 14 days to develop in some people, and appears instantly on others.
Level of danger
Some venemous spider bites can be life-threatening.
Mosquito bites are an annoyance to all, but can be serious to those who are allergic.
Bed bug bites may rarely spread disease, and are not life-threatening.
Cause of bite
Bite caused by a pair of fangs.
Bite caused by needle-like tube called a labium.
Bite caused by two tubular mouthpieces.
Substance that is injected
Contains anticoagulant and enzymes.
Bite introduces anticoagulant, and brief skin numbing agent.
Bite contains a longer lasting pain killer, skin numbing agent and anti-coagulants.
What kind of creature
Not an insect an arachnid.
Is considered to be an insect bite.
Bite comes from an insect.
Many spider bites can be treated on your own at home. However, venomous spider bites can be painful and even deadly, and can require medical treatment.
Mosquito bites can be treated with home remedies, and almost never need medical treatment.
Bed bug bites are almost never treated by a doctor, and can be treated at home.
Time of year most common
Can happen any time of year, even in winter. Spiders find homes in houses and garages.
Bites only appear in spring, fall and summer. Where it gets cold, mosquitoes are not a problem in winter.
Happens year round. However, bed bugs are less active in extreme cold; few bites happen during winter.
Which Bite Is the Worst?
Mosquito bites are far more dangerous than that of a bed bug because they transmit diseases such as malaria, West Nile Virus and Zika. Plus, they occasionally cause severe reactions in some people, so severe they need medical treatment.
You can call your local CDC to find out if these diseases are an issue where you live.
Bed bugs are not known to spread disease. Scientists thoroughly monitor bed bug epidemiology, and if they learn anything different, they will tell us. There was misinformation about the spread of Chagas. While scientists were researching it, some reporters jumped the gun.
They created a rumor that bed bugs can spread the disease. They used incomplete information to draw their conclusions. Now that the U.S. and Peru have finished their joint study, we know that bed bugs can not spread Chagas.
The antigen that mosquitoes use is not nearly as long-lasting as that of bed bugs. That means that a mosquito bite will not continue to bother you the way a bed bug bite will.
People with mosquito allergies have severe reactions to bites compared to those who are considered to be mosquito sensitive.
While bed bugs don't spread disease, they can cause financial disaster. Even though they are less dangerous, you must still discover everything you need to know to solve your problem.
Preventing bug bites is better than getting them. If you suspect you have a bed bug infestation, take action immediately. The longer you wait, the harder (and more expensive) getting rid of them becomes. If not then it may be time to look into alternatives.
It isn't uncommon for people to pick up bed bugs, spiders and roaches at hotels or while staying in other peoples' homes. To keep unwanted travelers from returning home with you, then inspect the bed and mattress where you plan to sleep.
If bitten by what you think is a bed bug while traveling, unpack your suitcase outside of your home. Carefully run laundry through a wash and hot dry cycle. Take steps to dis-infest your suitcase, too.
If you are staying in a hotel or vacation rental you should always check the room for bugs before you settle in.
But maybe you're not traveling, and you are seeing hives, bites or rashes. You are in need of other biting pest prevention methods.
The following are ways to prevent being bitten by flying and crawling insects and spiders:
- Use a good insect repellent that contains DEET on skin. Some good products are OFF!, Total Home Insect Repellent CVS brand, Avon Skin So Soft, Cutter and for little kids California Baby insect repellent.
- For clothes, tents, and other outdoor structures use a pesticide with permethrin in it.
- Clear spider webs, weeds, ant mounds, and standing water from outdoor areas.
- Try wearing light colors.
- When traveling or outdoors try wearing tightly woven underclothes to prevent bugs from getting tot he skin.
Poison Oak Rash
Poison Oak or Poison Ivy Rash vs. Bed Bugs
Bed bug and mosquito bites have very little in common with poison oak/ivy. Mosquito bites do not resemble poison oak or ivy. MedicineNet has some great pictures of the beginning of poison ivy and oak rashes.
All three types of rashes have the same reddish coloring and appear as a cluster of raised welts. However, bed bug and mosquito bites do not usually cause puss filled blisters the way that poisonous plants do.
A normal bed bug bite reaction will not have puss blisters or seep liquid, but a serious bed bug bite reaction that has been scratched might cause an open wound that looks like poison ivy.
Poison oak and ivy are creeping rashes that appear over time. If you rinse the affected area immediately after expose, then you may never get a rash.
Poison Oak vs. Bed Bugs Symptom Comparisons
Poison Ivy/Oak Rash
Bed Bug Bites
Comes in clustered groups
No, unless scratched and infected
Itchest at onset
No, unless infected
Which Is Worse?
The problem is that a seeping poison ivy rash may not be serious, where a seeping bed bug rash is. An oozing bed bug rash is a sign of a serious allergic reaction that should be treated by a medical professional.
Poison Ivy and Oak can spread. When a poison plant rash is oozing, it is still contagious. Even people with minor reactions will be in a serious state if it is spread to the eyes or respiratory tract.
These plants leave a residue on skin and clothing. If you think you have poison oak, ivy, or sumac, then carefully wash all clothing items that may have come in contact with the surface.
Poison Ivy Rash
Identifying Spider Bites
Spiders are often referred to as poisonous when in reality they are venomous. Identifying spider bites is important if you live in an area with a venomous spider such as the Black Widow or Brown recluse.
Most people won't be bitten by the dangerous kind considering that there are more than 20,000 different types of spiders in the U.S. alone, and because each kind of spider bite looks different and causes a different reaction, it's hard to make sweeping generalizations about spider bites as a whole.
But still, it's important to recognize a spider bite when you see it. If a spider bites you, it usually won't cause a serious problem. You may see a visible reaction, it may hurt or itch, and you may even develop a blister, but that's the extent of it, and it usually disappears within a week or so.
Of course, it's much easier to diagnose and treat a spider bite if you saw the spider that bit you, but sometimes you may not even notice the bite until hours later. Look for things like pain, itching, burning, inflammation, redness, and skin damage. Sometimes you can see two puncture marks on the skin at the center of the reaction.
Look for the following spider bite symptoms:
- Skin damage or puncture marks
- Bump or group of bumps
If you have the following symptoms you may have been bitten by a venomous spider and should call your doctor:
- Severe headache
- Raised BP
- Inflamed lymph nodes
- Rapid Heart Beat
- Difficulty breathing
Spider bites take longer to heal than those of mosquitos and bed bugs. Spider bites may affect skin tissues in a more destructive manner. It's important to keep the bite clean to reduce the risk of infection. Unlike bed bugs, spiders are solitary creatures and usually only bite once, so if you see a cluster of bites, it was probably not a spider.
Mild spider bites are treated with over the counter creams. Venomous bites are treated with antivenins such as Anascorp, Anavip and Crofab.
Which Is Worse?
The answer depends on the type of spider. As noted, most spider bites are relatively harmless and will heal within a week or so, but if you notice any of the symptoms listed above, you'll want to see a doctor immediately.
What About You?
What kind of bite or rash do you think you have?
Bed Bug Bites vs. Other Skin Conditions
Mysterious Skin Condition. Not Bed Bug Bites.
The number of rashes in the world is endless. The above picture is of an unknown dermatological condition.
This mystery condition is made up of small red circles. The difference between this and a reaction to bed bugs is that they are raised bumps, not flush with the skin. They have also been there for over a month.
A rash that vanishes, then reappears in the same place is unlikely to be a mosquito bite.
Bed bug bites have usually disappeared well before then. A person might get new bed bug bites in the same location, making them think that bed bug bites linger, but they do not. Of course, the exception is with someone who has a serious allergy.
If you have an unidentified rash, it is important to see a doctor. Children must always see a doctor for a mysterious rash. They are more likely to get one of the five major rash diseases, which can be dangerous.
© 2012 Melody Trent