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The difference between bed bugs and ticks

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).

Ornithodoros hermsi

Ornithodoros hermsi, a soft tick

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 bug

Common bed bug, Source: Wikipedia

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.

Brown dog tick, Source: Michigan State University

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.

26 Responses

  1. Nice explanation. Another easy to see difference is that bed bugs also have antennae, ticks do not.

  2. I’ve never dealt with them before but going through my licensing I’ve read about the brown dog tick and that they invade the home like bed bugs. I read that they will lay their eggs throughout the home in cracks and crevices on ceilings walls and floors. I don’t know which would be harder to treat the brown dog tick or the bed bugs. Have you ever dealt with the brown dog tick?
    Pest Control Yuba City

  3. Hello, just wanted to mention, I enjoyed this article.
    It was helpful. Keep on posting!

  4. Thanks for the informative post I always think that tic’s are more
    ” spidery ” looking than bed bugs which is a quick way to identify which is which.

    Great info thanks again


  5. ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww makes mhy flesh crawl

  6. I have bug bombed my home alot n i found the flat bed bug just recently is there any good way to get rid of them for good , cheaply?

    • Try this link: http://citybugs.tamu.edu/factsheets/biting-stinging/others/ent-3012/ if you are positive you’re dealing with bed bugs. This link: http://citybugs.tamu.edu/factsheets/biting-stinging/others/ent-3013/ will help you identify them for certain. If you find you still have an infestation after trying the suggestions, call a pest control professional.

    • Mean green sprayed in corners of the house on anyfabric around house wash all clothes. And vacuum every day and put mean green in your steam cleaner and steam clean every day. If problem continues pull up carpets, and I hate to say this but buy all new furniture.

      • I hate to say this but if you are for certain you DO have bed bugs setting bombs and the such will only chase them into further crevices in your home, or even worse if you live in an apartment complex, they will go to other units…. you have to call a professional exterminator!! 1 bed left alone can become 1 million in about 1 years time….leave it to the experts cause you could make this problem way worse if you try to DIY…..

  7. Use of organic methodology is such, that bed bugs can’t get resistant to it.
    The benefit of bed bug do it yourself kits is generally that you do not have to bay
    the sometimes exorbitant fees that exterminators
    want. The longer you wait to treat the problem, the more likely you are to have a serious
    infestation occur.

  8. What are the benefits of using a professional pest control
    services for household pest infection problem. Bear in mind,
    anyone of those pests may result in numerous extra to return. Pest control uses many tools and
    pesticides to control the pest population in the house; this can be dangerous to humans.

    • I used diatomaceous earth to get rid of bedbugs in my house. You must get the food grade type; it is nontoxic. The bedbugs die because it slices up their bellies when they crawl over the powder and they dehydrate. They can’t develop a resistance to it because it is not a chemical interaction. It worked for me. I kept the powder sprinkled around my bed and next to the walls for months after I saw the last bedbug.

  9. Thank you so much for your post, I was able to identify a tick I found in my bed by the eight legs and put my mind to rest that it is not bed bugs. My dog sleeps with me and she must have brought it in from outside but why it was crawling on me and not her I still don’t understand.

    • Sometimes ticks can actually attach to people from outside, and it might have been crawling because it really wanted to attach to your dog. I’m so glad you found the information useful!

  10. OK in the past we did have bed bugs in our home (almost 2 years ago to the date) but here recently I’ve found during the day time 2 bugs that had blood in them after I smashed them, the thing I found odd is that both bugs 1 being on the wall next to my bed, the other was on the ceiling above my bed. I know they can climb!! I observed both and the did have that “leaf like pattern” which is typical with the bed bugs we had in the past. But why would they be almost stuck to the wall…I mean they didn’t even seem to move, especially the 1 I found above my bed…is there any other bug that would resemble this behavior I’ve explained? The only thing that has changed is we have a cat and a dog that do go outside, but mostly come right back inside…
    Thanks to anyone for possible suggestions, I really hope it’s not those damn bed bugs again cause it was almost $500 the 2 times they came to spray

    • I was wondering if you have found a solution for that problem… It’s happening to me as well.. I have never dealt with this before… I tried roach spray thinking it was a roach.. But roach spray doesn’t kill them.. And when I smash them they are full with blood, but I haven’t been bitten. Please help

  11. Hello. I found your site by trying to look up information about what has been biting me at night. It doesn’t happen every night, and, it’s only been going on in the last week and a half, or so.

    They don’t look like the photos you have here, at all, though. They are very soft and squishy, move fairly fast, definitely feed on the blood of humans. I know, because, the first one I noticed was hooked to my lower abdomen and I only noticed it because I went to scratch, encountered something soft and squishy, scratched it off and was bleeding down there, afterward.

    They look more like really short worms and move like inch worms (from what I have seen of them represented in animated films), are a tan or cream color with darker reddish brown spots or hairs (hard to tell which, as they are small and my eyesight is not that good), and, unlike the other bugs around here, they don’t seem to be bothered much by diatomaceous earth. They do have what looks like hooks on one end.

    My roommate has found them attached to the sofa where he sleeps. At that point they look like ticks. When I see them, they are always moving quickly across my pillow or crawling on me.

    Does anyone know what these are/ might be, why they would suddenly get so active when they were not any sort of problem, before, and, how to kill them?

    • Bed bugs are flat on the top looks like they have round wings and they are reddish in color are drawn to the body heat of us they mostly come out at night if you check on your bed look good the lip of the bed is look at any other Kravitz they can hide in they lay eggs so in the eggs hatch they can come straight to you and bite you they normally bite in threes like a triangle in shape from the point of the bite marks but that’s only if there’s many of them otherwise device will be sporadic and itch really bad, look on your walls and sometimes the crawling your ceilings the only way to try to suppress them to throw all the laundry in your room in the dryer on high heat that will kill them but does not guarantee to get rid of them

  12. destroy the bedbug and tick race

  13. If anyone can answer we found what we thought as bed bugs but now that I look interesting it it might be ticks.. I went into this room and there as about ten I one area visible looked like a tick.. a dog was previous living in that room .. we took the chkd to the doctors r they said it was scabirs . I don’t think it was scan rs.. it want in one bed gst I was sleeping on the boy has had seziers … No w tst we moved got be stuff he had not had one and not bits
    What was this

  14. […] are most typically found in the , the mattress and the box spring. […]

  15. Can you get tick bite fever from bed bugs?

  16. People are not aware of how hard bedbug to get rid of from the home they are ashamed to speak about it because it gives the impression they are dirty people carry them on their body and their clothes and whatever they sit in public they can spread them this is a very serious issue and I think the World Health Organisation needs to have a policy internationally because this is not going to go away or they are becoming resistant to chemical sprays by The Professionals it costs thousands for the professionals to do it properly and a lot of people can’t afford that and they will try and do it themselves or they move to another house leaving the problem for someone else they sell old furniture passing the problem on when they buy new furniture this needs to be addressed on an international level because this problem is only going to get worse as they become resistant to the sprays that the professionals use it is labour intensive it has to be done properly we assume the professionals do it in a very detailed way they even remove skirting boards around the bottom of the walls and clean behind there because that’s where bugs hide. People have to be discouraged to try to do it on the cheap because they cannot do it in that details way that the professionals do or we hope they do I need to have a guarantee so that they do have to come back again they have to come back for free and that will give them the incentive to do it properly in the first place.

  17. Very impressive, thank you so much for sharing your tips with us.

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