At first glance they might seem like exactly the same type of insect; in fact, at first glance, you might not even see them at all. Bed bugs and ticks are both tiny creatures that are often mistaken for one another. While the differences between the two species might seem insignificant (and no one wants to be around either of them, that’s for sure), they can actually be quite crucial. Knowing how to distinguish the difference between bed bugs and ticks can possibly help prevent against some major diseases, and might save you some serious complications further down the road.
First, let’s look at the similarities, and why people get these two insects continuously confused. The main similarity is their size; both insects are similar in dimensions, measuring roughly half a centimetre. Bed bugs don’t increase in size, and obviously ticks can get much bigger after feeding, but the basic adult forms of both insects measure about five millimetres, making them near indistinguishable at a quick glance. Both are wingless and can’t jump or fly. They’re also similarly coloured, both appearing a light shade of brown. Both can be found inside the home, and outdoors, but in different degrees. Of course, both are capable of biting humans, and are known for it; this is why many people get them confused. However, the effect of a bite between the two species can ultimately be very different.
That’s what unites these insects, but what separates them is a lot more significant. The first main difference between bed bugs and ticks is in their appearance. Although they might look the same to the naked eye, closer inspection reveals a major difference. We might refer to ticks as insects as a broad term, but in actual fact, they’re arachnids. Ticks have eight legs and bed bugs have six. However, because this is a small difference, it’s probably not the best way to physically differentiate them; it’s also compounded by the fact that tick nymphs have six legs, and don’t gain the extra pair until they first feed. The best way to visually tell the two creatures apart is by their feeding habits. Both feed on blood, but ticks will balloon to two or three times their size after feeding. They will also turn a whitish colour as the blood expands their bodies. On the other hand, bed bugs don’t change shape or size, and it would be extremely rare to find a bed bug bigger than half a centimetre.
While both bed bugs and ticks can infest homes, the latter prefers an outdoor habitat, while the former prefers an indoor one. Ticks enter the home after attaching themselves to humans or animals. From there, they can spread to other members of the household. It is much more common for bed bugs to enter a household through second-hand furniture or luggage (which has been previously infected at a former residence or hotel), and spread from there.
Infestation is also an important differentiation; the goal of bed bugs is to infest. They will look for crevices, nooks and crannies to hide in, and breed in large numbers from there. This is where they get their name from, as mattresses usually provide the perfect option. From the springs and folds of a mattress, they can then feed on humans as they lie down to sleep at night.
The breeding habits of ticks are hugely different. They won’t thrive in an indoor environment, and usually won’t breed in large numbers inside the house. Therefore, if you’re dealing with high levels of insects in your home, you’re almost definitely dealing with bed bugs. Ticks also stay attached to their hosts for many hours, slowly feeding and increasing in size for most of that time. Bed bugs feed for only about ten minutes before detaching themselves and heading home. If you discover an insect on your skin during the day, there’s a high chance it’s a tick.
The other major difference between bed bugs and ticks is the aftereffects of their respective bites. Bed bug bites are not considered to be dangerous, unless a person has a severe allergic reaction to them. They are irritating and can be itchy, but they don’t transfer disease. Ticks, on the other hand, are prime carriers of disease, and one bite from them can set a person up for years of debilitating suffering. Lyme disease is the primary disease associated with ticks; currently the amount of ticks that carry the disease are not precisely known, as it depends on where exactly you live and how long the tick was attached to you. But it is a very real and present danger, with 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease being reported to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) every year.
If Lyme disease is spotted early, then chances of recovery are good; if it’s left to its own devices, however, it will develop into chronic Lyme over time. This form of the disease is much harder to treat, and requires a two-pronged approach, tackling both the infection symptoms and inflammation symptoms. The former is achieved through antibiotics, while the latter is placated by a nutritional approach, supported by specific natural supplements produced by companies like Make Well. This makes ticks inherently more dangerous than bed bugs, despite the fact that the two are often confused. With Lyme disease on the rise all over the world, knowing the difference between bed bugs and ticks is very important.