A common question we receive is, “Do I have fleas or bed bugs?” These two pests share some similarities, like their small size and desire to feed on a warm-blooded host. However, there are also some key differences between them. Fleas and bed bugs have different patterns of infestation, preferred locations, and motivations for infesting. They also have unique physical characteristics, with varying colors, shapes, and sizes.
Distinguishing between the bites of these two similar pests can be difficult as they may happen without our immediate awareness. This blog is aimed at providing a comprehensive understanding of both pests, highlighting their similarities and differences, to assist you in evaluating the issue if it arises in your home.
Which Is It?
Although appearance isn’t the only factor when identifying pests, it can play a significant role. As the popular saying goes, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.” This is known as the “duck test,” and it can also be applied to pests.
There are several notable characteristics of fleas and flea infestations that set them apart from the bed bug. Additionally, their habits, life cycle, and mode of transmission are distinguishable from the bed bug. Let’s explore!
- Fleas are brown to black in color. May have a reddish color after feeding.
- Six long legs, making them excellent jumpers.
- Around 1/16 to 1/8 inch long.
- When viewed from above, the flea’s body is laterally compressed giving it a very thin appearance.
- The body is small, but very hard.
- Their exoskeleton is covered in tiny hairs and short, backward-facing spines.
- Able to withstand extreme pressure without fatality.
- Adults live primarily on their host.
- Eggs, larvae, and pupae are found mostly in nests, bedding, or burrows of a host.
- Most common hosts are dogs, cats, raccoons, squirrels, opossums, rats.
- Both sexes bite and suck blood from their host.
- Unable to fly but can jump as much as 8 to 16 inches, or as far as 150 – 300 times its body length.
- The larvae feed on dried blood on the host or host’s bedding (carpet fibers, straw, etc.).
- Pupae are insecticide resistant.
- Fleas are known to overwinter in the larval or pupal stages.
- The primary objective of an adult flea is to find a blood meal, with only one week to do so after initial emergence.
- A blood meal is required for reproduction.
- Flea populations are distributed as follows: 50% eggs, 35% larvae, 10% pupae, and only 5% adults.
- Fleas do not prefer a human host.
- Adults feed at all times of day.
- Fleas can live and thrive without humans.
- The lifecycle begins when the female lays eggs after she has fed.
- Eggs are laid in groups of 20 or more.
- The female usually lays her eggs on the host.
- Female does not attach or affix eggs to the host, and they can easily roll off.
- Females may lay around 500 eggs in their lifetime.
- Most eggs can be found where the host rests or sleeps.
- Eggs take between 2 days and 2 weeks to hatch.
- Larvae hatch from the eggs and feed primarily on dried blood (flea feces).
- The larval stage is blind and avoids bright light, typically residing in dark places like cracks and crevices.
- 3 larval stages will be completed within 1 to 2 weeks and then a silk cocoon will be woven for the pupal stage.
- The pupal stage lasts between 1 to 2 weeks before an adult flea emerges but can last up to a year, awaiting the signals that a host is present. (Flea pupae are more likely to hatch quickly when light, sound, vibration, heat, and carbon dioxide are present).
Mode of Transmission
- Fleas are primarily moved about while on their host.
- Flea eggs, larvae, and pupae may be transported on infested materials like bedding, carpeting, clothing, furniture, and other similar items.
Adult fleas live primarily on their host, within their fur coat. Like this gray-haired dog coat.
- Regular vacuuming and cleaning (especially when pets are present).
- Pet owners should use flea and tick-preventative treatments on their pets.
- Avoid known areas of infestation.
- Reduce conducive conditions for wildlife such as raccoons, squirrels, opossums, etc.
- Quickly eliminate rats at their first sign (or call a pro to do it).
- Avoid feeding or housing stray animals.
Side view macro image of flea.
Fleas can be difficult to eliminate for several reasons. If pets aren’t properly treated, floors aren’t regularly cleaned, areas are cluttered, or the host animal is bedding nearby, flea populations can wax and wane, making treatments appear unsuccessful.
Additionally, the nature of flea pupae makes them 100% immune and resistant to all known insecticides. After treatment, these will eventually emerge as adults. If proper treatments have not been applied, the infestation will continue.
While there are many over-the-counter DIY insecticides for fleas, most people report treatment failure. It may be beneficial for you to contact a professional pest control company like Four Seasons Pest Solutions if you have experienced fleas, especially if you have experienced failed treatments.
- Adult bed bugs are brown to reddish-brown or dark brown in color.
- Nymphal instar stages are semi-transparent to a yellowish or light tan color.
- Bed bug adults are about the size of an apple seed (3/16 – 1/4 inch long).
- Oval-shaped if not recently fed.
- Balloon-like, elongated shape if recently fed.
- Bed bugs are “true bugs” which means they undergo gradual metamorphosis (hemimetaboly), and have piercing and sucking mouthparts,
- Cannot jump or fly.
- The body of a bed bug is neither hard nor durable.
- Easily squished when pressed.
- Emit a smelly, almost musty-sweet odor from their glands.
From this side view it is easy to see how flat the body of a bed bug is.
From this front view it is even eaier to see how flat the body of a bed bug is.
- Do not usually live on their host.
- Eggs, nymphs, and adults can be found anywhere in a structure on virtually any surface or item.
- Prefer a human host. Have been known to feed on animals.
- All stages and sexes (except the egg) bite and suck blood from the host.
- Unable to fly or jump.
- Will travel 5-20 feet or more from their harborage for a blood meal.
- The primary objective of a bed bug is to find a blood meal.
- Blood meals are required for molting and reproduction.
- Eggs and nymphs within an infested area can greatly outnumber adults.
- Bed bugs do not thrive well without humans.
- Primarily nocturnal.
- Lifecycle begins when the female lays eggs after she has fed.
- Eggs may be laid in clusters or singly.
- Bed bugs usually lay their eggs near, but not on a host.
- Eggs or egg clusters are covered in a sticky substance produced by the female, so that eggs may be laid on, in, or under nearly any surface without falling off.
- Females can produce up to 500 eggs in their lifetime.
- Most eggs will be found near the area where the host sleeps, the headboard, mattress, couch or other furniture, walls, curtains, etc., and in cracks and crevices.
- Eggs usually hatch within 7 to 10 days.
- Nymphs (miniature version of the adult) hatch from eggs and need a blood meal within a few weeks, and cannot molt until fed.
- 5 nymphal instar stages are completed to reach maturity. About 37 days.
- Nymphs and adults alike will hide in tight cracks and crevices.
Mode of Transmission
Humans and human belongings are the primary source of transportation for the bed bug.
- Household items
- And many other items
Bed bugs are easily tranferred from place to place on mattresses, bedding, furniture, clothing and most any household items or personal belongings.
Clothing and other materials like towels and bedding can make easy work out of transferring bed bugs from one place to another.
Bed Bug Prevention
- Regular vacuuming and cleaning may reduce infestation levels.
- Inspect luggage after any trips.
- Avoid second-hand furniture or other items.
- Use mattress and box spring encasements approved and distributed by licensed and qualified pest professionals.
- Reduce clutter.
- Be on guard when using shared laundry facilities.
- Avoid travel or visits to known infested areas.
- Additionally, avoid allowing people with known infestations to visit inside your home.
- When staying in overnight facilities, take all luggage back to the vehicle after unloading, or store it in the bathroom or kitchen.
- Regular bed bug inspections (by you or a professional).
There are many other prevention methods that one could take to both identify and avoid bed bugs. However, to be sure, one might have to live in isolation from the remainder of the world. Simply taking these few mentioned steps is more than enough to prevent most infestations.
Bed bug nymphs on feces-spotted mattress.
Adult bed bug.
Close-up of bed bug nymph.
Bed Bug Elimination
Knowing where to look for bed bugs can be difficult without training. Because bed bugs are well adapted for hiding in tiny cracks and crevices where we can’t reach or see, control measures can also be difficult. Knowing how to spot the signs of a bed bug infestation is crucial. Additionally, their unique ability to develop insecticide resistances and their rapid reproduction rate make them a formidable foe that most homeowners will find control very challenging. For this reason, it is usually better to call in a professional pest control company that offers a great warranty. For instance, like Four Seasons Pest Solutions’ optional limited lifetime warranty!
Self-treatments are almost never successful and also come with risks. If you or someone you know are thinking of performing a DIY treatment, first learn the proper use of the insecticide of choice. This will help keep you and those you love safe.
So, Do I Have Fleas or Bed Bugs?
In today’s age of abundant information on the internet, finding answers can be relatively effortless. Nevertheless, one must be cautious of the misinformation present. By carefully examining this blog post and its accompanying images, and understanding the distinctive features, life cycles, primary host, and infestation patterns of fleas and bed bugs, one can identify them accurately, although you’re not likely to become an expert.
Additionally, you will no longer need to panic if you spot a pest you think might be a bed bug or a flea because now you’ll know right away. Plus, you’ll know whether you can successfully take treatment measures into your own hands or rather call a pro. Furthermore, you’ll know how to minimize the chances of ever getting either pest to begin with. And lastly, you’ll be able to be the hero when someone on social media asks for the identification of one of these two pests! (seems everyone has an answer these days, even if it’s the wrong answer!)
Call the Pros at Four Seasons Pest Solutions
Whatever your pest needs, whether fleas, bed bugs, or any other pest, Four Seasons Pest Solutions’ line of pest control services has everything you could possibly need. Furthermore, our track record and reviews speak for themselves of our outstanding customer service, value, expertise, and success! Just give us a call for any pest-related problems you may have.
It’s good to have Four Seasons on your side!