If you have pets, fleas are a huge risk. It’s very easy to see tiny black bugs that look like fleas and immediately think it’s an actual flea. The good news is, your suspect may be the victim of mistaken identity.
Proper identification is essential to effective pest control, and it can save on a lot of potential stress to know just what you’re facing.
Let’s take a look at some bugs that look like fleas and how they’re different.
Bugs That Look Like Fleas
First, here’s what a typical flea looks like up close:
And here are some bugs that are frequently mistaken for fleas.
#1 – Bat Bugs
A close relative of the bed bug, bat bugs have adapted to feed on the blood of bats. They’re not as common in homes as their cousins, however. Thus, you’ll rarely encounter them without a bat having visited.
Bat bug infestations often occur because one or more infested bats were killed, at which point the bat bugs will seek a temporary host while awaiting the next bat. This can include humans and pets.
Even though human and pet blood lacks the exact nutrition they need, a hungry bat bug will bite and feed on non-bat hosts to temporarily satiate its hunger.
#2 – Bed Bugs
If there’s one nightmare critter that is commonly mistaken for fleas, it’s the bed bug. Oddly enough, while these little flat, dark insects have a lot of similarities to fleas at a glance (and also share many of the same look-alikes), they’re actually quite different.
For example, while both are flat, bed bugs are aligned horizontally while fleas have vertical bodies. Additionally, fleas jump while bed bugs can only scurry. Their eggs are also black instead of white like flea eggs.
Two other important differences are the type of bite marks each leaves behind and where they tend to be found. Adult fleas can attack humans but will generally remain on a host animal as much as possible or in your pet’s bedding.
Meanwhile, bed bugs hide where people tend to spend long periods without moving, such as the bed (which fleas also like). They don’t care much for your pets and are rarely found where cats or dogs tend to lay.
#3 – Bird Mites
These tiny mites infest poultry and other birds. As there’s a species of flea that can attack poultry as well, this can lead to mixing the two up.
Add to that the fact they can bite people and their translucent bodies can turn the same color as fleas after eating and you can see why the two are easily confused.
See Also: 11 Bugs That Look Like Earwigs
#4 – Black Bean Aphids
Normally found in the garden, aphids will make their way into homes to infest houseplants and can be brought in accidentally. The black bean aphid prefers vegetable crops and has an elongated body with bright yellow legs. Of course, they’re so small you might not even notice the legs without a magnifying glass.
You’ll find these pests hanging around on plants, a trait very unlike fleas. However, if one gets dislodged from the plant by your pet and lands on the floor, it might look as though a flea fell off said pet.
#5 – Booklice
Now here’s a critter that commonly infested homes, yet isn’t spoken of that often. Young booklice may not look much like fleas, but their size and the fact that they’re a lesser-known (yet pretty common) pest can result in them being mistaken for fleas.
These critters feed on fungi and especially love the kinds of mold that tend to grow on paper products such as books or cardboard. Of course, one of the biggest differences between fleas and booklice is that the latter won’t last long in normal household humidity.
#6 – Carpet Beetles
Carpet beetles can be a huge problem, as they’ll feed on just about any textile they can find. They’re tiny and round, with some species looking like little black poppy seeds while others are more brightly patterned.
It’s easy to mistake these critters for both fleas and bed bugs because they’ll attack bedsheets or pet beds. However, they’re not in the habit of actually getting on people or pets, which is one of the easiest ways to identify they’re not fleas.
See Also: 9 Bugs That Look Like Termites
#7 – Chiggers
While they may not look very similar, chiggers are bugs that jump like fleas. These nasty little arachnids are found in the south and tend to hide in tall grasses or in flower beds. They are notorious for their bite, but unlike fleas, they don’t drink blood. Instead, they inject a dissolving saliva.
Chigger bites are itchy and painful, and can sometimes result in an allergic reaction. They’re also known to hide in animal fur, which can result in them finding their way indoors.
#8 – Clover Mites
Clover mites have bright red bodies and can infest homes in winter. They’re a common plant pest and are more likely to appear in homes that have indoor greenery. When they invade, it’s often in huge numbers.
One would think that the brighter color is a dead giveaway, but most people have only seen these tiny arachnids outside on plants without giving them a second thought. Thus, spotting them in a home with pets can lead to instant panic that fleas have arrived.
Only after you catch a breath will the coloration and other differences often register.
#9 – Cricket Nymphs
While you certainly wouldn’t mistake a full-grown cricket for a flea, the nymphs can be quite tiny. Many species are dark brown to black. Even worse, while the nymphs cannot fly, they already have the ability to jump.
This makes it easy to get the two critters confused. However, it’s pretty rare for a cricket nymph to wander indoors.
#10 – Flour Beetles
Flour beetles get their name for the fact that they feed on grains and grain products – such as breads, cereals, and flour. They more closely resemble tiny cockroaches than fleas, with an elongated body and shiny brown exoskeleton.
However, it’s not uncommon to get a fleeting glimpse of a flour beetle and think it’s a flea because these little guys aren’t as common as they used to be. It’s also not uncommon to confuse them for fleas because they’re often found in homes with pets where they sometimes feed on dry pet food.
These little nasties are highly resistant to pesticides, making an infestation difficult to eliminate.
#11 – Fruit Flies
What looks like a flea but flies? Why, a resting fruit fly, of course! These pests are attracted to rotting fruit and other decomposing matter instead of blood, but their tiny size makes it easy to think otherwise.
If you see what appears to be a bunch of fleas congregating on your kitchen counter, fruit flies are probably the real culprit.
#12 – Gnats
Gnats are an entire category of flies that tend to be extremely small. Some, such as the sandfly or biting midge, are known to bite, although most species feed on fruit or nectar.
It’s not often that gnats wander indoors. When they do, they can easily be mistaken for a flea infestation, especially while resting.
#13 – Lice
Of all the parasites out there that can be confused for fleas, this is one of the most common. Lice can infest both humans and pets. They’re also around the same size as fleas, feed on blood, and can be found in human hair.
Species of lice are named for the parts of the body they infest on humans, such as head lice and pubic lice. Body lice tend to hide in bedding or clothes instead of living on the human skin, giving them a very similar lifestyle to bed bugs.
One of the biggest issues with lice being confused with fleas is the old wives’ tale that fleas don’t attack humans. There are actually numerous species of flea, often named for their preferred host. But there’s one species which recently had a name change.
It used to be known as the house flea, but is now called the human flea because its preferred blood source is – you guessed it – humans. As this type of flea is still relatively unknown to the general public, it’s one key instance where a flea is often mistaken for lice.
#14 – Springtails
These jumping black bugs that looks like fleas are actually quite different and aren’t interested in blood. The main similarity is their ability to jump, which is facilitated by a tail that’s held tightly under the body.
When startled, the springtail will release its tail, which causes it to spring into the air (hence the name). They also have long, slender bodies as opposed to the shorter, flat bodies of fleas.
#15 – Ticks
Ticks can be a real problem if you live near woodlands, although there are several kinds of ticks out there. These little arachnid parasites are generally brown to black and about the same size as fleas. As with both fleas and bed bugs, they have flat bodies and feed on blood.
A tick can crawl quickly and is also known to remain attached to a host while feeding. They’re notorious for carrying several diseases which can affect humans.
#16 – Flea Beetles
Flea beetles are a curious lot that get their mistaken identity in the same way as black bean aphids. These pests usually infest your garden but may infest potted plants, especially if you’re growing spinach or other small vegetables in the kitchen.
You might also discover them on the floor if you tracked in leaf litter. Thankfully, these little insects don’t want a blood meal, but you may need to treat your plants.