Getting bitten by a mosquito sucks. They literally suck your blood, can leave you itching for days, and worst of all, you may never realize that you got bit until you’re itching like crazy.
Bed bugs are a whole other story. “Sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite.” Most of us grew up hearing that nursery rhyme. But have you ever paused for a moment to think about how terrifying it is to get bitten by bed bugs while you’re sleeping? Talk about a boogey monster but in real life, and you can barely see them since adults only reach 5-7 mm in length while immature bed bugs are even tinier.
So why would bed bugs bite in the first place? Like mosquitoes, bed bugs actively hunt for a blood meal so they can reproduce. While female mosquitoes are the only ones that bite humans or other animals, both male and female bed bugs can come after you or your pets. Ouch!
But have you ever wondered if the itchy insect bites on your skin are from mosquitos or bed bugs? Find out in this blog!
The differences between mosquito and bed bug bites
Bed bugs mainly come out and feed at night (but they’ll also feed in the daytime if given the chance). So if you’ve been getting itchy and notice bites on your skin after getting out of bed, and you haven’t been outside much, chances are that bed bugs bit you. But don’t forget that mosquitoes are also active at night (usually dawn and dusk). If any mosquito made its way inside your house, they’re smart enough to find you while you’re sleeping since they’re attracted to the CO2 we release when we exhale at night.
The way that mosquitoes and bed bugs bite people is very similar. They both use a proboscis or sharp tube to pierce our skin. Both of their bites can then lead to itching (due to histamine release). But sometimes, neither mosquitos nor bed bugs leave any marks on your body at all.
If you’ve been bitten by mosquitos, unless you could capture and examine them closely under a microscope, it can be difficult to tell exactly which species bit you. With bed bugs it’s simpler since there are only two main species that bite people. Cimex lectularius is the common bed bug that you’ll find almost anywhere around the world, while Cimex hemipterus is mainly found in tropical climates.
So what exactly distinguishes a mosquito bite from a bed bug bite? Both mosquito and bed bug bites can have a similar appearance (being swollen and red), but there are a few key differences:
- While mosquito bites can appear randomly around your body with no specific pattern, bed bug bites usually appear in a straight line, zig-zag, or cluster pattern (triangle, circular or bunched). These patterns occur since the same bed bug will typically bite more than once. That’s the main difference that you should take into account if you’re debating whether bed bugs or mosquitoes are biting you at night.
- You’ll typically notice a mosquito bite fast since it appears and produces itching shortly after the bite. Bed bug bite marks can take up to one or a few days to show up.
- If you wake up one day with a bunch of bites on your body that you don’t remember getting the night before, it’s very possible that you’re dealing with bed bugs since they’re mainly night feeders.
- And if you notice any reddish or dark stains on your bed sheets, it could signal blood and feces from bed bugs that you would’ve crushed while sleeping.
Just remember not to scratch any insect bite too much. Whether it’s from a mosquito or bed bug, resist the urge to scratch the bite mark since you could break the skin and cause a bacterial infection to occur. If you’re looking for some fast relief from mosquito bites, check out the solutions we discuss in our other blog post. Those same exact solutions can be applied for bed bug bites as well.
Should I be worried about the bites?
Unless you live in parts of the world where mosquito-borne illnesses are common, chances are you’ll have nothing to worry about. A majority of mosquito bites only produce itching and don’t cause any disease at all. In a separate blog we cover some details on three deadly mosquito groups that can cause serious illness or death however.
Bed bug bites on the other hand are generally harmless. Up until today scientists haven’t found bed bugs to directly transmit diseases to humans the way mosquitoes can. But one study did find that bed bugs have a potential ability to transmit the deadly Chagas pathogen, which can lead to Chagas disease. Don’t be too alarmed since we currently don’t have any known cases of Chagas from bed bug bites.
So rest-assured, the only damage bed bug bites can cause is some itching, along with mental stress and paranoia knowing that you’re getting bitten at night by some creepy bugs. And if it makes you sleep any better, know that bed bugs are able to survive over a year without eating, whereas most mosquitoes will die within a month or two.
So if you really want to sleep tight and not let any bed bugs bite you at night, what are some actionable steps you can take? And what about the mosquitoes too?
How to prevent yourself from getting bit
In order to prevent yourself from getting bit, you need to first understand how mosquitoes and bed bugs are two bugs with radically different lifestyles.
Mosquito adults can land on any part of your body where there’s exposed skin since they actively fly around. They can also bite through your clothing if it’s thin enough. Bed bugs however don’t actually have wings (not all insects do), and they’re restricted to crawling on the ground. They typically can’t bite through any clothing, so if you’ve ever been bitten even with pajamas on, it’s likely that they just crawled under your clothes. And even though mosquitoes and bed bugs can’t jump around, that’s something that fleas are masters at, so be careful if you have pets around since fleas can spread between pets and people and bite both.
We cover how to prevent mosquito bites in greater detail in this blog here. But in short summary, to prevent mosquito bites (especially around your home) you should do the following:
- Remove any source of standing water. Since mosquitoes breed wherever there is a pool of water, you can knock out part of your mosquito problem by getting rid of their prime habitat.
- Use an insect repellent with 30% or less DEET, or consider non-toxic alternatives to DEET that contain essential oils like citronella and lemongrass. And use these repellents outside, never spray indoors!
Since bed bugs are hard to get rid of due to their small size and behavior (they can hide almost anywhere!), to prevent yourself from getting bit, you’ll need a little more sophisticated approach:
- Bed bugs are notoriously good at hiding in places that you would never expect, like the inside of picture frames, electrical outlets, and tiny cracks and crevices that you wouldn’t find with a quick glance. You may need to do more than a simple spring-cleaning, by eliminating any excess clutter and organizing the space in your home to reduce the possible areas where bed bugs can hide.
- Remember to wash any bedding (bed sheets, blankets, etc.) frequently and heat-dry them to kill off any bed bug adults or eggs that may have been laid. And don’t forget to clean out the laundry containers you use to transport your clothes, since bed bugs can hang out there too.
- If you ever stay at a hotel, make sure you keep your suitcases off of the ground, since bed bugs can easily hitch a ride and end up unexpectedly at your house. Consider wrapping your suitcase in plastic as well during your travels since bed bugs are commonly spread by other travelers unknowingly.
- If your bed bug problem is too big to handle on your own, you may need to call a pest control company so they can figure out where the bed bugs are hiding and breeding in your house. If you decide to go with professional pest control, try to find a company that minimizes the use of synthetic chemicals that can be harmful to your health and that of your family and pets. Some pest control companies are starting to embrace natural, organic pest control, so look for those with a solid track record of using safe and effective products.
After reading this blog, you should now feel confident enough to tell the difference between mosquito and bed bug bites. You’re also armed with some practical knowledge of reducing your chances of getting bit by these pesky bugs.
For more information on dealing with everyday insect pests like mosquitoes, fruit flies, gnats, and others, check out our blog.