How to Identify Common Insect Bites and Stings

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Even in your own home, nature finds a way. If you’re dealing with a pest infestation or you’ve noticed an unusual bite mark, it’s important to understand the threat these insects pose and know what to do if you develop symptoms of a bug bite.

By being able to identify what bug bit you and when, you can take preventive steps to protect your health and manage your pest problem promptly.

Importance of Identifying Bug Bites

Being bit by a bug is never pleasant, and sometimes it’s downright creepy. While most bug bites are harmless, some do produce bad reactions that can be painful and chronic. Identifying the source of your bug bites can be vital to your health. Caring for a bug bite right away can prevent severe infection. Though rare, some bug bites can cause diseases or infections that can lead to health complications if not treated in time. Lyme disease is one growing concern when it comes to bug bites, as bacteria-carrying ticks can infect humans and cause chronic neurological and inflammatory symptoms.

Other types of bug bites may produce an allergic reaction, which requires immediate medical attention. When left untreated, bug bites may become infected, potentially leading to illness, particularly in adults with weakened immune systems and young children. Bug bites that take a long time to heal or continue to produce pain and inflammation should always be checked by a doctor for further evaluation. Though rare, some bug bites have been known to be fatal.

By figuring out what bit you, you can also keep your family members, pets and others safe. A bug bite may indicate an infestation that needs to be dealt with to prevent others from being bit or stung as well. Because different bugs have different reproduction patterns, identifying the symptoms of a bug bite can identify the growth stage the offending insect, which helps pest control professionals apply the proper techniques to eradicate your bug problem.

Bug Bite Factors to Consider

Different bugs produce different symptoms when they bite or sting. So simply observing your symptoms might not be enough. You also need to consider other factors that can help narrow down the culprit. When determining what type of bug bit you, consider the following factors that will help you identify the insect:

  • Indoor vs. outdoor exposure: Whether you suspect you were bitten in your own home or outdoors can determine what type of insect may be involved. Bees and ticks almost always strike outdoors, while spiders, fleas and bed bugs have a tendency to take up residence indoors.
  • Season and climate: Some bugs only live in certain climates, so depending on the region of the country you live in, you might be more at risk of developing certain bug stings and bites. Additionally, some bugs are more active certain times of the year, with some moving indoors in the winter and others flourishing outdoors in the summer.
  • Symptom location: Where on your body you’ve been developed symptoms can also leave clues as to what stung you. Some bugs are more attracted to moist areas, meaning you’ll find their bites in places like the armpits and groin.
  • Allergies and bug bite history: If you’ve been bitten in the past or have known allergies to certain insects, your symptoms might be indicative of the type of bug you’re allergic to.

Identifying Common Insect Bites and Symptoms

If you’ve recently noticed a bug bite or sting on you or your child, you can identify its source by familiarizing yourself with the different types of insect bites and their symptoms. From bees and spiders to ticks and mites, common bug bites produce different symptoms. Depending on what bit you, you might experience severe pain or you might not even notice a bite until you see it. By using the following insect sting identification guide, you’ll be closer to figuring out what bit you so you can seek appropriate treatment right away.

1. Ticks are common North American insects known for their blood-sucking attacks. While they most often affect animals, they’re also known to bite humans. What makes tick bites so dangerous is that they burrow themselves into the skin and stay there, feeding off their host’s blood. As they continue feeding, ticks grow and can migrate to other sites on the body, including the scalp, armpit or groin.

Depending on the stage of the tick’s growth, you might be able to spot a full-sized tick on your skin or it might go undetected. After a tick has bitten you, the most common symptom you’ll notice is redness and irritation at the bite site. Depending on your body’s reaction to the bite, a tick bite may be accompanied by pain and inflammation and may even produce a burning sensation. Ticks don’t bite in clusters as other insects do, so a tick bite will almost always be found in a singular location.

While most tick bites are harmless, some ticks do carry diseases and can infect their hosts. Lyme disease is caused when a tick infects a person with the Borrelia bacterium. Ticks carrying Lyme disease produce a unique rash that’s identifiable from non-diseased tick bites or other insect bites. A tick carrying Lyme disease will produce a rash in the shape of a bull’s eye at the infection site that gradually expands outward. Symptoms of a Lyme disease tick bite will usually appear within a week of initial infection. Always follow up with a physician regarding a tick bite to make sure there’s no infection.

2. Fleas are tiny, black, wingless bugs that can leap from surface to surface. It’s important to identify fleas because finding one typically indicates an infestation. Households with pets are more likely to host fleas, but they can reproduce under other conditions too. Observe your cat or dog and their scratching habits to diagnose a potential flea infestation.

It’s easy to identify flea bites on you or your pests as they typically bite in clusters of three to four pinpoints or in a straight line. Compared to mosquito or spider bites, flea bites remain small and don’t become swollen, but may produce a red ring around the affected area. On humans, you’ll commonly find flea bites on the legs or ankles, but they can also affect the torso, armpits, underneath the breasts or within the crook of your knees and elbows.

Some humans and animals are particularly sensitive to flea bites and may develop an allergic reaction that produces red welts. Though flea bites don’t usually cause infection, they have been known to carry bacteria. If a flea bite has become infected, you may also experience fever or difficulty breathing. Scratching and itching a flea bite excessively may lead to an infection. After a flea bite on you or your pet, continue monitoring its appearance to ensure it’s healing properly and not becoming more inflamed.

3. Bed Bugs, Like ticks, bed bugs are blood-sucking parasitic insects that thrive on human blood. Known to become active during the night, bed bugs infiltrate a person’s bed and then bite them while they’re asleep. Bed bugs can be easy to miss since they are the size of an apple seed and commonly hide in small cracks in the bed frame and mattress.

While bed bugs don’t typically carry diseases like ticks do, having a bed bug infestation is often more damaging to a person’s mental and emotional well-being than their physical health. Being preyed upon as you sleep can be upsetting.

Bed bug bites often look like a rash or appear similar to other types of insect bites. The small, red bites usually appear in a small cluster or line. Bed bugs can bite anywhere, but typically the face, neck, back, arms and hands will be exposed. Bites can also be quite itchy and uncomfortable if you develop an allergic reaction. Severe reactions to bed bug bites can result in hives or blisters.

If you suspect you have bed bugs, look for small red or brown stains on your sheets or their dried exoskeletons around your bed. If you suspect signs of bed bugs, it’s important to have them controlled quickly, as living with bed bugs is distressing and can cause sleep deprivation and decreased well-being.

4. Chiggers, also called berry bugs or red bugs, are small larvae that live outdoors in grass, berry patches and forests. If you spend time outside, they might attach themselves to you with their claws and inject their saliva into your skin. Their saliva liquefies the affected part of your skin, causing the cells to harden and creating a convenient tube for the chiggers to use to access your skin cells. Chiggers feed on your skin cells, not your blood, and they don’t carry diseases.

Chiggers are drawn to moist and warm parts of the skin, where they feast in clusters. Typically chigger bite locations are the ankles, waist, armpits and groin, leaving behind a patch of red bumps. Chigger bites can be quite itchy, and if you over-scratch them, they can become blistered and crusty. Intensely scratching skin bitten by chiggers can lead to infection, so apply a calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to reduce the itchiness.

After a few days, chiggers will naturally stop eating and fall off your skin. When you do notice chigger bites, it’s important to wash the area with soap and water, which will encourage the chiggers to detach and fall off.

5. Bee or insect sting identification can sometimes be difficult since different species of bees can produce similar symptoms when they sting. Bees sting by inserting their barbed stingers into your skin and delivering a dose of venom, causing an inflammatory reaction.

Bee stings are acutely painful and temporarily uncomfortable but aren’t usually a severe concern. If you’ve been stung, you’ll instantly feel a sharp, burning or pulsing sensation at the sting site, followed by inflammation and redness. Different people react differently to bee stings, and the pain from a mild sting typically subsides within a few hours. If you’re prone to more moderate or severe stings, your swelling and inflammation may last or get worse over a day or two. In severe cases, bee stings cause anaphylaxis and can be life-threatening if left untreated. Extreme allergic reactions to bee stings can cause the throat and tongue to swell and impair breathing.

In some cases, such as if you disturb a beehive, you might experience more than one bee sting at once. Bee venom naturally attracts other bees, so one sting can increase the likelihood of subsequent stings. If you’ve been stung, try not to panic, but leave the area immediately and head indoors.

6. Spider bites aren’t nearly as common as other types of bug bites and stings. Of the thousands of species of spiders in the United States, only two are known to cause noticeable symptoms from bites. The black widow and the brown recluse are two species of spiders that have fangs long enough to puncture human skin and leave a bite mark. They also insert venom upon biting, which causes inflammation.

Spider bites can be mistaken for other common bug bites. Both black widows and brown recluse spider bites cause pain, redness and inflammation at the bite site. However, these bites can cause additional reactions, including fever, chills and body aches. Black widow bites are also known to cause abdominal cramping and pain that moves into the belly and chest. You might also experience excess sweating after a black widow bite as your body tries to eliminate the venom.

Brown recluse spider bites can sometimes be quite painful. The bite mark may grow, with the pain radiating outward. An ulcer may also form on the skin, and the bite mark may turn dark blue or purple. It’s important for all households to become familiar with what brown recluse and black widow spiders look like and take preventive measures to keep them at bay. Vacuum regularly, especially around windows and doors, and don’t keep piles of lumber in the house.

7. MMites are a group of tiny wingless insects, such as scabies or Demodex. There are also specific species of mites that are parasitic to animals such as birds, rodents or pigs. Mites feed on their host’s skin, but they’re usually so small you can’t see them until you notice their bite marks. Most mites leave a similar set of symptoms on your skin:

  • A patch of small, hard bumps
  • A red rash that’s swollen
  • Irritation and itching around the rash mark
  • Inflamed skin that blisters

Mites of all varieties commonly go for the moist areas of the body, such as the groin and armpits. They may also bite around male genitals and the bottoms of the feet. Demodex and scabies mites are known to be particularly itchy and irritating and may even cause a burning sensation. If your mite bites cause excessive itchiness, it’s recommended to take an antihistamine to reduce the inflammation or apply hydrocortisone cream.

8. Wasps, Many people who spend time outdoors in the summer months will encounter wasps. Like bees, wasps also have a barbed stinger that they use for self-defense. When a wasp stings you, it sticks its stinger into your skin and transmits its poison. Sometimes, the stinger can stay lodged in the skin, which you’ll need to remove with your fingers or tweezers.

If you don’t have an allergy to wasp venom, then the sting will likely cause immediate and acute pain, which will subside over a couple of hours. Your body will also naturally produce inflammation and redness around the sting site, which will also gradually fade with the pain. People with allergies to wasp venom may develop large local reactions, which means that the sting site will be much more swollen and the redness and inflammation will last a few days.

For some people, the pain is so significant that they may develop nausea and vomiting. In extreme cases, anaphylaxis can occur, which causes the tongue and mouth to swell, as well as dizziness and weakness.

The types of wasps that sting include hornets, yellow jackets, paper wasps and cicada killer wasps. Usually, if you leave them alone, they won’t bother you. However, in some cases, you may need professional pest control if they are particularly aggressive.

9. Gnats are small, winged insects. Often mistaken for mosquitoes, gnats are much tinier and sometimes called no-see-ums. Though not dangerous, gnat bites can be incredibly annoying. Gnats sometimes bite humans because they require blood. They bite with their scissor-like mouths and inject saliva that thins the blood so it’s easier for them to extract.

Gnat bites leave behind tiny red bumps that become quite swollen, painful and itchy. Depending on the severity of the bite and your personal reaction to it, you might notice blood left behind at the bite site. As the bite heals, it may also turn into a fluid-filled blister.

Treating a gnat bite with a cold compress will help alleviate the irritation. You might also want to take oral antihistamines or apply hydrocortisone cream to reduce the inflammation. To prevent gnats from invading your home, be sure to cover windows and doors with a mesh screen. When outdoors, avoid scented products that will attract gnats.

10. Kissing bugs are the triatomine insect. They got their name because they’re known for biting humans on the face. Kissing bugs can carry a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi, which thrives in the bug’s feces and intestines. It’s possible for a kissing bug to transmit this parasite to humans, which is the cause of Chagas disease.

Kissing bugs normally feast on humans during the night. They can bite up to 15 times in one instance, and they may feed for up to half an hour. Usually, kissing bug bites don’t cause any reaction. If they do, it will leave behind mild irritation, a bit of redness and mild pain. In rare cases, a kissing bug bite may lead to an allergic reaction.

If the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite has been transmitted and you develop an infection, it will leave a hard area of redness and swelling at the bite site called a Chagoma. If the parasite has been transmitted near the eye, the eye will swell almost shut.

Kissing bugs are more common in warmer climates such as the southern United States and Latin America. Insect repellants will help to eliminate kissing bugs, but large infestations need to be controlled.

Resolve Your Pest Problem With Spectrum Pest Control

If you’re experiencing an infestation of any type of bug, it’s important to seek professional help from a licensed pest control provider. When it comes to pests, the sooner you deal with the problem, the better. Pest issues don’t tend to resolve themselves and can only get worse.

Keep your family and pets safe from bug bites. By contacting an exterminator, you can prevent serious health complications associated with certain species of insects. An exterminator will address your pest issue immediately, helping you to return to your normal life without bugs. Exterminators have the knowledge and the experience to identify the source of your pest problem and apply the right techniques to eradicate the invading insects for good.

To protect you and your family from pests, choose Spectrum Pest Control in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the surrounding area for residential pest control services. We’ll thoroughly inspect your home and develop a customized treatment plan to secure your property and prevent infestations. Contact us today for a free pest control quote.