How to Tell the Difference Between Bug Bites

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Arm yourself with information to recognize and treat bug bites.
Arm yourself with information to recognize and treat bug bites. (Image: Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Bites from different types of bugs often present similar symptoms. Some are painful, some leave distinguishing marks and others leave nearly no visible signs. While many are harmless, it can be helpful to determine which kind of bug you have encountered. You can usually deduce this by thinking carefully about several aspects of your bug bite, learning more about the natural world and your body in the process.

Things You'll Need

  • Antihistamines
  • Cold compress
  • Soap
  • Anti-bacterial ointment

Analyzing Your Bite

Determine the size of the bites. Spider bites are largest, and on average are about the size of a dime. Mosquito bites are small, generally the size of your pinky fingernail. Fleabites are the size of the head of a pin. If you’ve been bitten by a tick, you won’t be able to locate a bite, but you will find a small black fleck that resembles a mole.

Examine the appearance of the bites. Spider bites are often red bumps, though they can sometimes be white, and usually have a visible mark in the center, like a pinprick. Mosquito bites are pink bumps, although some people develop hard lumps about the size of a quarter, which is a sign of a mild allergic reaction. Flea bites are small pink bumps.

Count how many bites you have and establish their location. If you’ve been bitten by a spider, you may have as many as 10 bites in a single region, as spiders usually bite as they walk over your skin while you sleep. These bites can be anywhere on your body, even beneath clothing. Mosquito bites usually occur a few at a time on exposed skin, such as the arms. Mosquitoes can even bite through thin fabric. Flea bites occur in great frequency on skin such as your legs, which is closer to the ground, pets and furniture, where fleas live. As for ticks, you’ll probably only pick up one at a time, most likely in a skin fold.

Consider when you got the bite. Most spider bites occur while people sleep as spiders forage for water. If you’ve spent a lot of time outdoors near bodies of stagnant water, you are likely to incur mosquito bites. Flea bites usually happen in homes with pets, in parks and at beaches. Ticks attach to your body when you walk through tall grass or spend time in a wooded area.

Monitor the course of the bites. Spider bites become larger, redder and increasingly painful for several days before they begin to shrink. Mosquito bites will itch for a while and gradually disappear. Flea bites get increasingly itchy before they heal, and if your home is infested, you will notice recurrent bites. Ticks must be physically removed. You may have to hold a match up to the skin, not close enough to burn yourself, but close enough to heat the tick until it drops off. If you use tweezers to pull the tick out, make sure you grab it as close to its head as possible, so that the tick is removed whole.

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