Updated: May 25
Let’s face it, no one wants to learn that they are unwitting hosts to ‘unwelcome visitors’ who can make their way into the cleanest and most well-maintained homes or offices. The occasional house fly or yellow jacket is one thing, but ticks, bed bug infestations, mites, or fleas are quite another.
The problem is that most of us would have difficulty telling a tick from a from a flea.
Then, there are the pests that are all but invisible to the naked eye. You suspect you have some sort of infestation, you’re just not sure what. But knowing what to look for is important if you’re going eliminate the problem effectively.
Here are a few tips to help you identify pests - so you can get rid of those pesky critters.
How to Identify Ticks
First of all, ticks are not insects. They are Arachnida, a class that includes spiders, scorpions, spiders and mites. The easiest way to identify a tick is by how many legs it has. Like other arachnids, ticks have eight legs in the nymph and adult stages. (They only have six legs in the larval stage.) They have flattened, tear-shaped bodies and when they are engorged will have a rounder, lighter-colored body.
Ticks generally wait for host animals on grasses and shrubs. When an unsuspecting victim brushes against them quickly, they let go of the vegetation and climb onto the host. Ticks can only crawl; they cannot fly or jump.
Keep in mind that there are different types of ticks. Deer ticks, for instance, are smaller than their counterparts, the dog and lone star ticks. Deer ticks usually range in size from 2 to 3.5 mm (.078 to .137 inches) and are generally the size of a sesame seed.
However, an engorged tick can measure up to 10 mm long. On the other hand, hard ticks, such as the deer tick, have a shield (or scutum) covering the body. Soft ticks do not.
Ticks are so-called external parasites and live by feeding on the blood of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. While some ticks tend to be selective in their choice of hosts, others will feed on almost any accessible host. They may seem relatively benign, but they’re not; they can actually be dangerous and have been linked to infections such as typhus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, as well as Q fever, tularemia, bovine anaplasmosis, and tick-borne meningoencephalitis.
Read more about how to get rid of ticks.
How To Identify Mites
So, how do you know if you have a mite infestation? With some difficulty, unfortunately.
The main problem with mites is that most of them are microscopic in size, so much so that some of them are practically invisible to the naked eye. Adult mites have four pairs of legs while larvae have three pairs. Plus, there are literally thousands of species of mites, although the most troublesome ̶ to both humans and pets ̶ are dust mites, itch mites, clover mites, tropical rat mites, tropical fowl mites, and scabies mites (more about these later).
Clover mites are roughly 0.75 millimeters long and can be identified by their long front legs. Dust mites and female scabies mites are smaller at about 0.3 millimeters. However, most mites are less than 1 mm in length, and like the arachnid group to which they belong, possess the same characteristic body: prosoma, the abdomen, and four pairs of legs. While mites are quite hard to see without the aid of magnification, you can sometimes detect their movements across a surface.
Like their bed bug comrades, mites can be found virtually everywhere: in bedding, carpets, air ducts, dusty attics, plants, and on animals of various kinds. But they seem to have a special fondness for busy, congested spaces such as nursing homes, day care centers, and college dormitories.
Read more about how to get rid of mites.
How to Identify Scabies
Scabies mites, for their part, usually signal their presence via bite marks, which can look very much like bed bug bites. (Here are 5 ways to tell bed bugs and scabies apart.)
Scabies is a skin infestation that’s caused by tiny, virtually invisible, eight-legged mites which share the same lineage as spiders and ticks.
Even though bed bug bites bear a resemblance to scabies, they do look different. Bed bug bites are raised, flat red welts, normally in rows of three, while scabies bites are more rash-like in appearance and can swiftly turn into reddened, swollen welts that can become infected. Look for the signs on the wrists, joint areas, finger webs, and the back.
Bottom Line: If you think you might have scabies, you need to take action immediately, particularly because scabies mites are highly contagious. See your doctor right away.
How to Identify Fleas
Fleas ̶ like mosquitos and bed bugs ̶ subsist by consuming the blood of their hosts. However, various types of fleas seem to prefer to prey on particular animal species. That being said, cats, rabbits, squirrels, ferrets, rats, mice, birds, and, of course, humans are all well-loved, universal targets.
Flea bites create elevated, bloated spots (often with a puncture spot at their center) and often grow in groups, or lines, of two or three bites, which can sometimes remain irritated for weeks at a time.
Adult fleas are normally about 0.12 inches long (roughly 3 millimeters) and are dark reddish-brown in color. Even though fleas, lack wings they do have large hind legs, which helps them jump up to 50 times their body length. They are also somewhat flat in shape, which permits them to move effortlessly between the fur, hair or feathers of the host.
Adult fleas may seem to be more annoying than dangerous to humans and pets, but in fact they can cause a variety of medical problems, including flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), the transmission of tapeworms, secondary skin irritations, and, in rare instances, anemia.
Read more about how to get rid of fleas.
How to Identify Bed Bugs
Last, but by no means least, we have perhaps the most unpleasant of these critters, the bed bug! Determining whether or not you have an infestation of bed bugs may sound easy, but the fact is that they can be easily mistaken for other insects, such as carpet beetles. And that can be a real problem because the longer it takes you to identify a bed bug infestation, the more time the bugs have to spread to other areas of the house ̶ or hitch a ride to start a new infestation somewhere else.
Apart from the fact that you may have them, the biggest problem with bed bugs is that they can hide anywhere. Starting with the bed, obviously, they can be found around the piping, seams and tags of the mattress and box spring, as well as in cracks on the bed frame and headboard. However, you might also find bed bugs in the seams of chairs and couches, between cushions, in the folds of curtains.
In drawer joints. Also check electrical receptacles and appliances, as well as under loose wall paper and wall hangings. At the junction where walls and ceiling meet is another must-look area.
Just make sure that when you go bed bug hunting that you know exactly what you’re looking for. Adult bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed (5-7 mm or 3/16 - 1/4 inches long), and, if it hasn’t fed, long and brown, with a flat, oval-shaped body. If the bed bug has fed recently it will appear to be balloon-like and reddish-brown in color.
The final clue may be the ‘smell taste’, which is to say that bed bugs tend to give off a distinctive “musty-sweetish” odor, which is produced through glands on the lower side of the body. More telling, perhaps, may be the rusty, reddish spots found on bed sheets or in bug hiding places.
What to Do When You've Identified the Intruder
Whether you have fleas, ticks, bed bugs, mites or even mold, Sterifab is an ideal insecticide, deodorizer and disinfectant to help you get rid of the bugs and clean your home. Find a Sterifab Dealer near you and treat your bug problem today!
Still want to learn more?
Find out how to get rid of bed bugs.