Bed Bugs Vs Fleas: Similarities and Differences

  • Written By Dan Edwards on January 3, 2018
    Last Updated: December 28, 2020

Starting to identify and get rid of the pests in your home sometimes means facing information we’d rather not face, and that includes finding out about various pests that feed on blood and what the differences are between them.

Let’s take a look at this issue in more detail so you can learn how to identify fleas and bed bugs quickly and effectively.

What Are Fleas?

Fleas are tiny insects that cannot fly. They have six legs and antennae, and their defining feature is that they are able to jump many times their own height. They also happen to feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals, like mammals and birds. That’s why fleas tend to be a pest problem for humans.

Adult Flea
Adult Flea

Most of the time, fleas come into the home on the skin of a pet that has gone outdoors. Your pets can pick them up from wild animals in the vicinity. You can also pick up fleas yourself. Either way, fleas can start to attack you once they’re in your home.

Fleas are mostly harmless and are not known to spread diseases to humans. However, their bites can be really annoying. Because fleas tend to arrive in multitudes, they can be difficult to get rid of. Additionally, these insects prefer warm weather and humid environments, so you’re more likely to inadvertently bring them into your home in the summer.

A Feeding Flea
A Feeding Flea

One thing that you may want to know about fleas is that they tend not to leave their host. Once they pick a host to feed on, they prefer to stay there and take up residence. That means treating the pet that picked up fleas, or getting rid of fleas where you see them, can significantly help with a flea problem.

The bad news is that it doesn’t take many fleas at all to reproduce and leave behind eggs. Left-behind flea eggs can lead to recurring infestations.

What Are Bed Bugs?

Like fleas, bed bugs are also insects, and are visually similar to several different bug species. They do not fly, and they have six legs and antennae. Bed bugs do have vestigial wing pads near their heads, but they are not true wings. In fact, not only can bed bugs not fly, they cannot jump either.

CC Image courtesy of British Pest Control Association

That’s one way to tell the difference between fleas and bed bugs. If you see insects on you, your pet, or surfaces in your home, and they are jumping, then they are not bed bugs.

A feeding bed bug – CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

Some people make the mistake of thinking they see a bed bug jump, but when that happens it is usually just a bed bug falling off a wall or ceiling. Because bed bugs cannot jump like fleas, their habits are different. You will not usually find bed bugs on your pets, and they are not typically tracked in from the outdoors.

Instead, bed bugs prefer indoor environments where they can find their favorite host–humans. You’re likely to pick them up in places where people frequently sit or sleep. Common places where bed bugs are picked up include hotels, schools, movie theaters, and other people’s houses or apartments.

Bed bugs prefer to hide in dark places like cracks and crevices, and under mattresses and cushions, when they are not feeding. Unlike fleas, bed bugs do not live permanently on a host. They only crawl to a host when that person is being still, like when you watch a movie, read, or sleep.

CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

Bed bugs also reproduce swiftly and in quantity, and they can be quite difficult to get rid of. Leaving behind even a few eggs can restart the infestation.

What Do Fleas Look Like?

Fleas are tiny and dark-colored. They may look almost black because they are so small, about 2.5 millimeters, but actually their color is brown to reddish-brown. Their coloring comes in part from feeding on blood. Fleas are, in fact, smaller than bed bugs, and look barely the size of a sesame seed.

Fleas typically arrive in large groups, so when you spot them, it will most often look like lots of tiny, dark specks jumping in the air and onto you, your pets, or your furniture. You will not be able to see more distinguishing features without a magnifying glass.

Fleas are likely to be seen during the day. They do not have a time preference for when they feed, and the pester their hosts constantly throughout the day. Fleas do not hide.

What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?

You may be able to distinguish bed bugs from fleas by their size. Adult bed bugs reach sizes of about 4 to 5 millimeters, which is still really small but larger than adult fleas. To compare, an adult bed bug is about the size of a lentil.

CC Image courtesy of British Pest Control Association

Bed bugs are also reddish-brown in color, which can make identification tricky. Immature bed bugs are smaller than the adults, and it could be possible to mistake them for fleas, especially if they’re found in common flea hangouts, such as couches and carpets.

Fleas also have one pair of long, springy legs in order to jump great distances in disparity to their tiny bodies. This is in contrast to bed bugs, who have three pairs of evenly-shaped legs, as they have no need to jump.

What Do Flea Bites Look Like?

Bed bug bites and flea bites do have similarities, and both species bite their hosts in order to obtain blood to feed on. You may obtain bites from either pest without realizing that you’ve been bitten until later. That, however, tends to be less tree with fleas than with bed bugs. Fleas don’t like to jump hosts, even if the separate hosts live in the same house. That means when getting bitten by fleas, you’ll likely have several of them on you or get bitten repeatedly.

Flea bites tend to look like red spots with haloes of inflamed, slightly less red skin around the diameter of the bite. Flea bites can look like a rash, but they’ll usually be isolated to a certain point on the body.

For instance, when fleas bite people, the bites tend to be around the feet and ankles. That’s because fleas don’t wait for you to sit down before they bite.

Flea Bites

The bites will then spread up the legs and to other parts of the body. If you get fleas from sharing furniture with a pet, the bites can start anywhere. That also means that you may get flea bites in bed, despite this being typical bed bug terrain, if you allow your pet in bed with you.

Flea bites follow no particular pattern because the pests easily jump from one area to another. Flea bites are extremely itchy, and that’s why it’s a good sign that your pet may have fleas if you see them scratching more than usual.

What Do Bed Bug Bites Look Like?

Bed bug bites look similar to other insect bites. They often appear as round, red marks on the skin. They may be flat or raised. For some people, bite marks don’t appear for several days after the bite, and they may or may not be itchy.

The distinguishing feature of bed bug bites is their pattern. Because bed bugs cannot jump or fly, and must instead crawl on exposed skin, they usually leave rows of bites going in a line. They often do this at night when people are sleeping. Despite that, they are not truly nocturnal and will come out to feed at any time that you are still enough for them to crawl onto you. The face and neck are common sites of bed bug bites because those areas are readily exposed while you sleep.

Bed Bug Bites

You will not usually find bed bug bites underneath clothing, though they can crawl under loose clothes. These pests also prefer areas of skin with less hair to deter their crawling, unlike fleas that can jump over hair.

Bed Bug Bites

It can still be easy to misidentify a bed bug bite as a bite from a flea, mosquito, or another pest, however. If you find yourself repeatedly uncovering insect bites on your skin, then you should search your house for signs of bed bugs or fleas.


Fleas and bed bugs are both types of insects that may invade your home. The first step in treatment is always correctly identifying which pest you have. Although their bites look quite similar, bed bugs and fleas prefer different feeding methods and living areas.

If you happen to catch one of these pests, you may be able to make an identification by its appearance and behaviors. Knowing whether you have fleas vs bed bugs can take a bit of patience. You may want to have a professional check it out in order to start treatment as early as possible.