Updated on March 4, 2022
There’s nothing worse than a friend telling you there have been some local bed bug reports, only to wake up the next morning and discover strange red marks on your skin. Of course, the first thing that goes through your mind is a panicked “Oh, no! We have bed bugs!”.
But that might not actually be the case. Before you put your family in quarantine and spend your savings on an exterminator, stop and take a deep breath. In… out. In… and out.
Now let’s take a closer look at those marks to figure out just what bit you during the night – if they’re even bites. Once you know the cause of those morning tattoos, you can decide how to deal with the source.
Identifying Different Bug and Spider Bites
#1 – Bed Bug Bites
Let’s start with the most common (and most often wrong) conclusion: bed bugs.
Bed bug bites don’t work the way most people think. The little red circles you see are a histamine response that might happen in a few minutes, a few days, or not at all, depending on your level of sensitivity.
As a result, you may have been bitten while at someone else’s home or even at work without bringing any of the little buggers home with you.
On average, bed bug bites can be easy to identify due to the way they often form little lines or tracks. This happens because bed bugs aren’t very good at holding on and tend to slip when you move.
The marks themselves can appear as tiny red circles, but they can also be accompanied by a rash or itchiness. In some cases, the spots will swell while they might be flat at other times.
Because of their lack of claws, bed bugs will only go after exposed skin, so seeing marks under your pajamas can be an easy way to rule bed bugs out.
If you’ve examined the marks and still believe they’re caused by bed bugs, check your sheets closely for tiny black specks that expand into little red puddles when you wet them. This is likely bed bug frass (poop) and one of the most visible signs of a bed bug infestation.
See Also: 22 Facts About Bed Bugs (and Some Myths)
#2 – Fire Ant Bites
While many common ant species are harmless, fire ants really do live up to their name. These little critters are quite territorial and aggressive.
Invade their space and they’ll bite, although the bite isn’t the real problem. Instead, they’ll use their jaws to hold on, stinging you multiple times until they’re killed or dislodged.
These stings are packed with venom and very painful. The stings will result in small pustules for some, while others have a painful inflammation around the sting sites. Fire ant attacks can leave you in pain for days or even weeks, sometimes even requiring medical attention.
#3 – Flea Bites
One would think fleas and bed bugs are very similar, but they’re as different as night and day. Fleas climb, jump, and can navigate dense fur or hair with ease. They also have vertical seed-shaped bodies, whereas bed bugs are horizontal. Their bites are also very different.
In most cases, a flea will go after your legs and feet, although they can attack other areas if you’re sitting or lying down. The reaction tends to be instantaneous – a tiny, itchy bump surrounded by a red halo. The bites are rather itchy, and scratching can lead to a rash or even pain.
The easiest way to verify their presence when you suspect fleas is to see if your pets are scratching more often than usual. If you don’t have pets, spotting fleas may be a bit more challenging, and you likely won’t have a very large infestation to deal with.
#4 – Fly Bites
It might seem silly to think that a fly can bite, but many species can and will. These bites can be quite painful and form red patches that may raise, form welts, or even bleed. Sometimes they’ll also become itchy when the pain subsides.
A few of the more notorious biting flies include blackfly, deer fly, horse fly, and stable fly.
#5 – Midge Bites
However, unlike other flies, midges use saw-like mouthparts to slice into the skin, resulting in quite painful bites and leaving behind tiny welts or blisters. There’s also a decent risk of disease and severe allergic reactions, so a midge attack shouldn’t be taken lightly.
#6 – Mosquito Bites
Mosquito bites can be easy to identify compared to many other bug bites. The bite creates a light, generally round welt that’s usually itchy and may become painful for some individuals.
It’s rare to get multiple mosquito bites unless there’s been a population explosion. However, mosquitos are a prime vector for West Nile virus, so pay attention to any flu-like symptoms after a bite.
#7 – Scabies Bites
Sarcoptes scabiei may be tiny, but these little mites are an absolute nightmare. They burrow into the skin to lay their eggs, causing itchy red spots where the mites dug in. Scabies is highly contagious and tends to be especially itchy at night.
The condition is easily treated, but the high risk of transmission means your entire family and those who came in contact with you will need to be treated as well.
#8 – Spider Bites
Spider bites can vary quite a bit from one species to the next. In most cases, the bite will be a little red or swollen, and you’ll see two tiny puncture wounds if examining the site with a magnifying glass.
Allergies to spider bites are far from uncommon and may result in a number of symptoms, some of which may be life-threatening.
Of those spiders considered dangerous, hobo spiders are actually quite harmless to humans and most animals. Their bites are most common in summer and carry the same symptoms as most common spiders. The same can be said of wolf spiders and some species of tarantula.
The brown recluse will leave a small bump that can become necrotic if untreated. The necrotic ulcers can be serious enough to require skin grafts or even amputation.
Black widows can be deadly but are actually very shy. Their bites are red with a white center, and the venom can cause muscle spasms, tremors, fever, and a whole host of other nasty symptoms.
#9 – Tick Bites
Due to their tiny size, you likely won’t hear these pests yelling “Spoon!” before attacking, and you might not even notice they’re there at all.
A tick can latch on and feed for several days, leaving behind a small red lump that can become itchy or form a bruise or blister. The bite will generally heal in about three weeks, but the real threat is Lyme disease, which can become very serious if left untreated.
#10 – Hives
Also known as urticaria, hives are caused by a reaction to one or more substances and are often associated with allergies. They appear as red, itchy welts and usually go away on their own but may come and go during the course of the reaction.
While hives may be a side effect of bug bites, they can also be caused by food allergies or contact sensitivity to dyes, perfumes, or other substances.