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Ticks vs Bed Bugs: Differences & Similarities

Bed bugs and ticks may both be pesky pests, but they have many differences. Here’s how to tell this insect apart from this arachnid.

deer tick iStock

If you’re suffering from nasty bites and worried you may be dealing with bugs, you first have to identify what you’re dealing with. Depending on your issue, you may have ticks or bed bugs. They may seem like very different types of pests, but people often mistake one for the other.

What are the Differences Between Ticks and Bed Bugs?

There are a number of differences between ticks versus bed bugs, but here are 3 of the main differences:

  • Ticks have 8 legs, whereas bed bugs only have 6 legs.
  • Ticks prefer feeding on animals over humans, whereas bed bugs prefer feeding on humans over animals.
  • Ticks live primarily outdoors, whereas bed bugs live primarily indoors.

Ticks vs Bed Bugs: Side to Side Comparison

Type of Differance Ticks Bed Bugs
Type of Differance Ticks Bed Bugs
Size 3–4 mm 8 mm
Color Dark Brown Reddish Brown
Number of Legs 8 legs 6 legs
Host Preference Animals Humans
Habitat Outdoors Indoors
Disease Can carry disease Do not carry disease

Ticks vs Bed Bugs: Differences in Appearance

When people talk about ticks vs bed bugs, they are referring to hard ticks. At first glance, these blood-sucking pests may look shockingly similar—and you rarely see them side by side. But there are several key distinctions in the appearance of ticks and bed bugs.

Differences in Size

To the naked eye, ticks and bed bugs are roughly the same size when they haven’t fed. The rule of thumb is to think about seeds. Ticks are roughly the size of a sesame seed, though it depends on the species. Bed bugs, on the other hand, are usually the size of an apple seed. A sesame seed is about 3 to 4 millimeters in length, while an apple seed is about 8 millimeters long.

Differences in Color

Bed bugs are reddish-brown to deep brown, but turn to a richer red hue after feeding. Every species of bed bug in the country shares the same color. Ticks come in a broader variety of colors than bed bugs. While typically dark brown or reddish-brown like bed bugs, depending on the species, they could have tan stripes, a white spot, or darker legs and a light body.

Differences in Shape

Ticks and bed bugs are both flat, oval- or seed-shaped, and wingless. Ticks’ bodies are marginally narrower than bed bugs, so there’s not as much of a difference between the width of their top and bottom half. Both types of pests become engorged after feeding.

Differences in Number of Legs

Ticks and bed bugs belong to different classes, each with a different number of legs. Ticks are actually arachnids, like spiders, and have eight legs. Bed bugs are insects, and have six. If you know to look for this, it’s a dead giveaway.

Ticks vs Bed Bugs: Differences in Feeding Habits

Both ticks and bed bugs are parasites, sucking blood for nourishment. However, their feeding style is quite different, from the special on the menu to how they eat it up, and what time they like to dine.

Differences in Host

Ticks tend to prefer feeding on animals, but they can bite humans if no animals are available. On the other side, bed bugs prefer to feed on humans and will only go after your furry friends if they’ve been crowded out from a fresh human meal by other bed bugs.

Differences in Bites

Ticks bury their head into their victim when getting their meal, latching on until they’ve had their fill. If they don’t get interrupted, ticks will hang onto their host for a day or so. Bed bugs will sit on the surface of your skin and expose a small area by scratching. Then, they’ll drink through a straw-like protrusion, never burying their head.

Differences in Time of Day

Bed bugs will bite a snoozing person, feed for several minutes, then move on. The same bed bug might bite them in several places over the course of the night. Ticks aren’t so simple. Soft ticks are nocturnal, while hard ticks are somewhat diurnal, meaning they can feed during the day. Bed bug bites and tick bites don’t look all that different, so the easiest way of finding out is thinking—did you get bitten at night or after time spent outside?

Ticks vs Bed Bugs: Differences in Habitat

Bed bugs’ chosen habitat is in a bed, however, they can also live in couch cushions and other furniture. You can trust bed bugs to always be indoors as they like to be close to their host.

Ticks, meanwhile, live outside in grassy, wooded areas. Unlike bed bugs, they do not infest buildings, and will wait in the wild for an animal to pass by.

Ticks vs Bed Bugs: Lifestyle Differences

While bed bugs reproduce rapidly and can quickly overtake your bedroom with clusters numbering in the thousands, ticks are solitary creatures. If you find multiple bugs crawling around your home after getting tons of bites, they are definitely not ticks.

Ticks vs Bed Bugs: Differences in Disease

A major difference between ticks and bed bugs is how much harm they can cause. No one wants any type of parasite to chow down on them, but ticks can cause serious issues. Ticks are known to carry diseases like Lyme disease. Bed bugs are not known to spread any diseases.

Ticks vs Bed Bugs: Prevention

There are several ways to prevent being bitten by ticks and bed bugs. With ticks especially, it’s better safe than sorry.

For ticks, don’t keep any wood piles in your yard where they can hide. In keeping with that strategy, mow regularly so they can’t hide in the grass. You can take precautions when hiking, like wearing protective clothing and making sure not to stray off the path into wooded or grassy areas.

When it comes to bed bugs, be sure not to take in mattresses or furniture off the street, and limit purchasing furniture from consignment shops if possible. You should inspect and even vacuum your suitcases when you get back from a trip. For long-term protection, you can purchase a mattress encasement.

Professional Pest Control

If you do detect bed bugs in your home or find a large number of ticks in your yard, you can consult professional pest control companies for a solution. We recommend Orkin and Terminix.

Orkin

Orkin takes several approaches to bed bug control after a thorough inspection and assessment of the situation. The customized solution may involve conventional pesticide treatments or heat treatments. Orkin also offers key follow-up visits.

To control ticks, Orkin will Assess the situation, Implement a solution, and Monitor. If you'd like a free quote from Orkin, call 877-868-1416, or fill out this simple form.

Terminix

Terminix provides customized bed bug treatments, including an extensive inspection of your home, removal of visible bed bugs and treatments to eliminate any hidden bugs and eggs. Terminix bed bug control is backed by the Bed Bug Guarantee. With it, if bed bugs are discovered in the treated room or areas within the next 30 days, Terminix will come back for additional treatments at no extra cost. If you purchase mattress encasements for all mattresses and box springs in your home, Terminix will extend the guarantee to 90 days.

Terminix also provides both monthly tick control and one-time tick treatment applications, using a combination of liquid and granular treatments. You can reach Terminix at 866-569-4035, or at this form.

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