Bed Bugs Vs Scabies: Similarities and Differences

  • Written By Dan Edwards on January 3, 2018
    Last Updated: December 30, 2020

Pest infestations are a continuing problem for homeowners. As insects and other pests adapt to current treatments, outbreaks occur. The problem with some pests, however, is that they are so small, you never see them. Or if you do, you can’t properly identify them.

That’s what you’ll learn in this article–methods to identify scabies vs bed bugs.

Specifically, you’ll learn what scabies and bed bugs are. You’ll also find out what each of these pests look like. Finally, I’ll give you a description of the types of bites left behind by each of them so you’ll be prepared to recognize signs of a pest in your home.

What Are Scabies?

Scabies are small mites with a unique ability to burrow into the skin. Once in the skin, they lay eggs and new mites are born, causing your symptoms to continue. They are less than half a millimeter long, so it’s extremely difficult to spot them on your skin. This pest spreads easily between individuals, so it’s common for multiple members of a household to have an infestation.

Scabies mites do not survive long without a host, and the most common way they are spread between people is direct skin-to-skin contact. Scabies can be spread through sexual contact as well, though it’s not exclusively a sexually transmitted disease.

You may be familiar with the form of scabies that dogs get, called mange. It turns out there are different types of scabies mites, and they don’t tend to switch to different types of hosts. What this means is that you and your pets cannot spread scabies back and forth between each other.

You may get bites from the mites on your pet, but they cannot complete their reproductive cycle and lay eggs on human hosts. That means your own rash and itching will clear up as soon as your pet is treated. Likewise, if you have human scabies mites, your pet may get itchy, but their issues will clear up as soon as you have treated your scabies.

What Are Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are insects that, while also small, are more visible to the naked eye than scabies. Unlike scabies mites, bed bugs do not live on their hosts, and they do not burrow into the skin. Instead, bed bugs crawl onto a human host while it is still, ingest the host’s blood, and then crawl away back to their hiding place.

Bed bugs generally don’t make you sick unless you’re bitten by an extremely large amount of them in a short timespan, although mental health can sometimes become a problem depending on how much an infestation is affecting you.

CC Image courtesy of British Pest Control Association

Bed bugs almost exclusively feed on human hosts. Bed bugs may start in one room of a house but can reproduce and spread quickly, making multiple members of a household potential hosts.

What Do Scabies Look Like?

You’re probably not going to see an actual scabies mite because of their small size and the fact that they hide under layers of skin. Instead, you will see the rash that they leave behind.

If you were to look under a magnifying glass or microscope, you would see that the mites have eight legs. They are arachnids, not insects. Female scabies are larger than the males, and all scabies are unable to jump or fly. That means they cannot jump from one host to another. Skin contact must be made.

Scabies Vs Bed Bugs

What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?

Bed bugs are visible without a magnifying glass and are about the size of a lentil. They are flat and rusty brown when they haven’t fed recently. After a meal, they become thicker and elongated, and their color changes to a more reddish tone.

CC Image courtesy of AFPMB
A feeding bed bug – CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

It is unlikely that you will find bed bugs on your body since they do not live on their hosts. Like scabies, you’re more likely to only see the bites that are left behind.

You may, however, spot bed bugs in their hiding places in your home. They are commonly found under mattresses, under chair cushions, and in cracks and crevices around furniture and baseboards. They hide in colonies, and may leave behind blood stains or specks of fecal matter on furniture, bedding, or clothes.

CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

What Do Scabies Bites Look Like?

Scabies can look like a skin infection, but it’s not. It is a parasite infestation in your body. The good news, if you can call it that, is that scabies mites only burrow into the top layers of skin, making them accessible for topical skin treatments to get rid of them.

Scabies Rash

The irritation caused by having a scabies infestation leads to redness, itching, and bumpy, rashy skin. You may also develop blisters. The bites mostly look a lot like an outbreak of small pimples. Another sign that your bites are from scabies is that you might see tiny burrows in your skin. The burrows may appear gray-colored under your skin.

For many people, it takes several weeks for the bites to appear after the initial infestation.

If you’re being bitten at night with no signs of bed bugs or other insects, you should check with a doctor about the possibility of having scabies.

What Do Bed Bug Bites Look Like?

Bed bug bites also look like small red bumps or dots, which is why it can be difficult to tell the difference between a scabies infestation and a bed bug infestation if you haven’t seen any bed bugs in your home.  The hallmark sign of bed bug bites is that they tend to appear as individual bites going in a straight line.

Bed Bug Bites

This may look somewhat similar to a scabies burrow, but the causes are different. A bed bug will feed from one spot on the surface of the skin and then move to a new spot to feed more. They never burrow under the skin, and all their bites are made on the surface.

Bed Bug Bites

Some individuals do not show signs of a bed bug bite, despite a colony living in their home. Just because you don’t see bumps or a rash on your skin does not mean that you don’t have bed bugs. If you see other signs, like dots of blood or molted insect skins on your bed, then you should search for a bed bug colony and treat your home.


Bed bugs and scabies have some similarities between each other. Each of them is good at evading detection, and they both bite and feed on humans. The treatments, however, are going to be much different for scabies vs bed bugs. With scabies, you need to go to a doctor and get medication to treat your skin and kill the mites. With bed bugs, you can treat the bites like any other minor bug bite, and you’ll need to treat your home for these pests.