When I check out the stats on our blog, I often look at the search terms that people use to find our blog. A couple of days ago, I noticed that someone searched for “the difference between bed bugs and ticks,” and I thought, that’s a great question! So I’m going to try to answer it.
**NEW 7-18-2013: The following information refers to HARD ticks in reference to the differences between ticks and bed bugs. There are two types of ticks: hard ticks and soft ticks. Most people have seen hard ticks attached to their dogs, cats, children, selves. Soft ticks have more of an oval shape (but are still flat) and, unlike hard ticks, tend to reside in a nest near their preferred host (typically a mammal or bird) and feed when the nest is disturbed. The feeding of some species feeding is brief and painless, and they tend to feed at night like bed bugs (a few species deliver painful bites, so this can’t be said universally).
There are 37 species of Ornithodoros alone, and 170 species of soft ticks. The Ornithodoros species transmit tickborne relapsing fever and are typically encountered in mountain cabins and vacation homes rather than urban dwellings. However, if you are bitten at night and can’t find the insect, and you develop a fever or flu-like symptoms soon afterwards, see a doctor and let the doctor know about the bite. Soft ticks generally reside in animal nests, so they are most likely to be encountered in heavily wooded areas where there is a lot of wildlife.
Bed bugs and hard ticks have a few similarities, but very few. They both are flat, wingless, bite people and feed on their blood. That’s where the similarity ends. I assure you: if you go to any reputable university web site and look at photos of bed bugs and ticks, you will hopefully have enough information to identify them.
Bed bugs are members of the Insecta class, so they have six legs (as opposed to eight legs, as members of the Arachnida class have). They are tiny, rusty or deep red, and round in shape. They reproduce rapidly. They are usually found indoors. Although they are nicknamed “bed bugs” because they typically feed on people while they are sleeping, they can live in any type of furniture, including hard surfaced furniture such as a bed table or dresser.
Bed bugs are most typically found in the bed, between the mattress and the box spring. They feed at night, and although the bite feels like a tiny pin prick, most people are not aware of being bitten until after they’re awake. Bed bugs feed for 3 to 10 minutes and move to another place, so they can bite you several times in one night. They can live without feeding for over a year.
Bed bug infestations are much more common now because of increased travel and hotel stays. Although you’re most likely to encounter bed bugs in a hotel (any hotel, not just the cheap ones), you can be exposed to bed bugs in office buildings, restaurants, airports, and though used furniture or clothing.
In an earlier post, I gave detailed information about how to check for bed bugs, how to avoid transferring them to your home, and ways you can eradicate them if you do get an infestation. In that post, there are several links to Web resources that have reliable information about bed bugs, so we recommend that you start there if you think you have bed bugs.
Aside from their flat, rounded shape and blood-sucking behavior, ticks are vastly different from bed bugs. You will most often encounter them outside in the grass or other areas close to the ground. Unlike bed bugs, which do not transmit any serious human diseases, ticks transmit some serious human diseases including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease. Ticks are from the Arachnida class, which has eight legs (that’s one easy way to tell the difference between bed bugs and ticks—bed bugs have six legs). They also hang onto the same bite site for days after their initial bite, unlike bed bugs, which feed for a short time and then move on. Ticks also typically feed on animals but will feed on humans if an animal isn’t available.
The most significant difference between bed bugs and ticks is that while you will typically see only one species of bed bug, you will find several species of ticks, all depending on where you live. The best resource on ticks in the South is at Texas AgriLife University, http://tickapp.tamu.edu/. The site is a downloadable phone “app,” so if you have an Android or Smart Phone, you can download the information in the site, helpful if you’re in the middle of the woods (assuming you are somewhere that has cell service) and you get bitten. Remember that ticks DO carry disease, so you will need to identify the tick and keep an eye on the bite for several days.
UPDATE 7/24/12: Another excellent resource for identifying ticks is http://www.tickencounter.org/tick_identification. This web page shows some of the most common species of ticks in various life stages (even engorged), BY REGION.
So in a nutshell, here are the differences between bed bugs and ticks:
- Bed bugs are insects (6 legs), while ticks are arachnids (like spiders) (adults have 8 legs)
- Bed bugs feed mainly on human blood but can bite animals, while ticks feed mainly on animal blood but will bite humans
- Bed bugs are usually found indoors, while ticks are usually outdoors, especially in grassy or wooded areas
- Bed bugs feed in several places on your body, mainly at night, while ticks attach to one spot and hang on for a few days until they are fully gorged
- Bed bugs do not carry diseases (but they can carry bacteria); ticks carry serious diseases, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease. Read more about tick-borne diseases in this blog post.
- Most people see only one species of bed bugs (there are others, so they’re fairly easy to identify once you know what they look like. UPDATE: the two most common species of bed bugs, Cimex lectularius L. in temperate climates and Cimex hemipterus in semitropical and tropical climates). Ticks, on the other hand, have several species, so you need to know which kind of tick you’re dealing with, as each species carries different diseases.
Want to read a story about a tick’s life and find out how to prevent ticks from making a meal off of you? Go to stoppests.org and read Allie’s blog post.