What Bit Me? The Ultimate Bug ID Guide
Updated: May 24, 2022
In a previous post, Insects Mistaken for Bed Bugs, we talked about how difficult it is for most people to recognize various bugs. Few of us can readily tell a blacklegged tick from a brown marmorated stink bug, or a cockroach from a giant water bug.
Given our collective ignorance on the subject, it follows that most of us also have trouble identifying bug bites. But while not knowing a hover fly from a paper wasp probably has little impact on your life, knowing what insect bit you can be very important. In fact, if you’ve been bitten by a tick or a spider, it can be a matter of life or death.
Your Bug Bite Guide
With this in mind, we've created a brief guide to identifying bug bites, and what to do if you've been bit.
One caveat here: I am not a physician or an entomologist, so please don’t take what follows as medical advice. This is simply a guide, nothing more. If you have been bitten or stung and think you need medical attention, consult with your doctor immediately.
Fleas are small, wingless parasites that survive off of blood from hosts. In addition to dogs and cats, they can also feed off of humans or even the rats in your attic, if their available. In other words, they’re equal opportunity pests and will take their next meal wherever they find it.
Flea bites appear as small, red bumps in clusters of three or four, usually in straight lines. In some cases, the bite site might be surrounded by a red corona, or aureole. Like most parasitic bugs, fleas tend to zero in on their own favorite parts of the human body, e.g. the armpits, the groin, the waist, or the elbows and knees.
Learn how to get rid of a flea infestation.
Bed Bug Bites
Bed bugs can be found virtually anywhere: in homes, offices, retail stores, restaurants, health care facilities, and even on trains and in taxis. There's no end to the places they can go!
If you've fallen victim to bed bugs, you will probably see red, swollen marks with a dark spot at the center. There will likely be several bites and they will be extremely itchy! It's important not to scratch them, as they can quickly become infected. Learn how to kill bed bugs.
Mites are really quite small, which not only makes them hard to detect, but also difficult to know when you've been bitten. Fortunately, mite bites are usually harmless, although they can sometimes cause swelling and pain.
Like flea bites, mite bites are also hard to identify. However, if you develop red, rash-like marks on your skin and they quickly become inflamed, chances are you’ve been on the wrong end of a people/mite interaction. Once irritated, these bumps can become itchy and painful, eventually becoming swollen or blistered.
Note that while dust mites don't bite, they can cause a severe allergic reaction. Here's our extensive overview about the different types of mites.
Learn how to get rid of mites.
If bed bug and/or flea bites rate an eight on the Yuck Factor Scale, then scabies bites definitely score 11. The problem is that scabies and bed bug bites look quite similar, and it’s hard for most people to differentiate between the two.
Both bugs are parasites; bed bugs feed on the surface of the human skin, whereas scabies tunnel under the skin where they feed and lay their eggs.
What makes this even worse is that once the eggs have hatched, they tend to burrow back under the skin of the host, thus setting up the whole nasty cycle again. Scabies burrows look like grayish-white, raised lines. And if you detect them, get to your doctor right away! Apart from being utterly gross, scabies is highly contagious, so you can give it to virtually anyone with whom you come into contact.
Find out how to get rid of scabies.
If you live in the suburbs or an urban area and you think you’re insulated from the predations of the many species of ticks, think again. These nasty bugs spread a number of diseases including anaplasmosis, babesiosis, heartland virus, powassan disease, tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF), and tularemia. Perhaps worst of all, they are responsible for the growing spread of Lyme disease!
“Most tick bites,’ says the Mayo Clinic, “are painless and cause only minor signs and symptoms, such as redness, swelling or a sore on the skin.” In fact, the majority of tick bites are fairly harmless and rarely transmit diseases. But a bite may still create a red papule at the site and can occasionally bring on hypersensitivity. The main problem is that there are so many different types of ticks, each with their own disease vector, so it can be hard to know what type of tick is to blame for a bite.
The most important thing to know with tick bites is that a bull's-eye shaped rash is a telltale sign of Lyme Disease. If you see this, contact your doctor right away. Additionally, if you have been bitten by a tick and the tick is still attached to your body, there are important steps you can take. First, try and remove the entire tick from the site with tweezers, making sure to grasp the head and keep in tact. Second, you can choose to send the tick to a laboratory to test for the presence of Lyme Disease and other dangerous illnesses.
If you have a bulls-eye rash or part of a tick stuck under your skin, see a doctor or health care provider immediately.
Learn more about what to do if you've been bit by a tick.
These flying pests are among the most widespread insects on the plant. And while sometimes nothing more than a nuisance, they can transmit dangerous diseases including chikungunya, dengue, malaria, West Nile Virus and Zika, to name but a few. Mosquitoes are also parasites who live off the blood of their host(s).
Most of us have probably had more than a few mosquito bites, but here's a review of how you can recognize them:
A puffy, white and reddish bump that appears a few minutes after the bite
A hard, itchy, reddish-brown bump, or multiple bumps, appearing a day or so after the bite or bites
Small blisters instead of hard bumps
Dark spots that look like bruises
If you've been bitten by a mosquito and develop a fever, headache, body aches or other signs of infection, contact your doctor.
As you might expect, there are many, many types of spiders crawling around North America. The number of species has recently been put at 3,000; worldwide that number climbs to 35,000! And, because they are so many different types, from black widows and brown recluse siders to jumping spiders and wolf spiders, their individual bites can look quite different.
So how do you know if a spider is to blame for your bite?
According to health.com:
“Although all spiders are different, spider bites do share some common symptoms. Most appear as tiny, red bumps on your skin that are sometimes painful and itchy. For most people, that’s as bad as it gets. A few people do have allergic reactions to spider bites. That might include swelling around your face, itching over a larger area, and even trouble breathing.”
Generally speaking, a spider bite looks a lot like any other bug bite; in fact, you may not even notice that you’ve been bitten. That is certainly not true for bites from black widow or brown recluse spiders. Those will require a quick visit to the doctor! If you’re not sure which kind of spider bit you, go anyway. You can’t be too careful.
Learn more about which spiders are friends and which are foes.
Bees, Wasps or Hornet Stings
As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m a big fan of bees! In addition to giving us honey, which they’ve done for millennia, bees are essential to agriculture because of their activities as pollinators. Without them we’d be lost! However, bees can sting, just like their relatives, wasps and hornets. So, I sympathize with those of you who don’t share my enthusiasm. If you’re stung by a bee its barbed stinger will remain lodged in your skin. You should remove it as soon as possible, especially since the stinger can release venom for anywhere up to a minute after the bee has stung you. This is not true for wasps and hornets. They are able to sting you and retract their stingers without harming themselves. Alas, bees die after stinging you.
Sting sites will therefore look different according to which of these types of insects have attacked you, and your reaction will depend both on the species and your own particular sensitivity to such stings. Medical experts divide reaction types into three: mild, moderate, and severe.
Levels of Bee Sting Reactions
MILD REACTION: You will see a red welt and slight swelling at the sting site.
MODERATE REACTION: Look for extreme redness at the site and swelling that usually continues for a day or two.
SEVERE REACTION: For people with an allergy, a bee sting can quickly lead to anaphylaxis, which is potentially life-threatening and requires emergency treatment. Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include: Hives and itching; difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat and/or tongue; a weak or rapid pulse; nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; and loss of consciousness.
How Sterifab Can Help
Sterifab is great for getting rid of bugs and insects on furniture, floors, carpets and more. The go-to choice for pest control professionals, Sterifab is EPA-approved, leaves no trace and works as a multi-purpose pesticide, insecticide, sanitizer, and deodorant that also functions as a disinfectant. (Just make sure not to spray it on your bug bites or stings, or directly on a person or pet.)