Affiliate Disclaimer: All products and services featured are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Ticks and bedbugs look similar but pose different risks and require unique approaches to treat them. Telling them apart can be difficult, but proper identification is important for effective pest control. In this article, we’ll explain how homeowners can distinguish between ticks and bedbugs and explore the best way to deal with each.
Both ticks and bedbugs are small, brown, and wingless with flat, oval-shaped bodies that balloon after a blood meal. The key difference is that ticks are arachnids, which means they have eight legs, while bedbugs are insects and thus have six legs.
Counting the legs on these small bugs, however, is nearly impossible. Tick larvae only have six legs, like bedbugs, which further complicates identification.
The easiest time to identify these bugs is after they feed. Bedbugs turn reddish-brown, and their bodies become more elongated. Engorged ticks, on the other hand, have noticeably inflated abdomens and become lighter in color.
In addition to being mistaken for each other, ticks and bedbugs are often confused with other insects and arachnids, such as the following:
- Carpet beetles: Carpet beetles have visible wing covers and thicker bodies.
- Fleas: Fleas are much smaller than ticks or bedbugs and can be recognized by their exceptional jumping abilities.
- Immature stink bugs: Though similar in size and shape, immature stink bugs do not have the same dark brown coloring as ticks and bedbugs.
- Lice: Lice generally have lighter coloring, a different body shape, and a smaller size than adult bedbugs or ticks.
- Mites: Mites are arachnids, like ticks, but they are much smaller than adult ticks and have different coloring.
- Pseudoscorpions: Pseudoscorpions have eight legs like ticks but also have a pair of oversized pincers that ticks lack.
- Spider beetles: Spider beetles may resemble engorged bedbugs in color, but their bodies are more bulbous.
- In general, you can distinguish ticks and bedbugs from their lookalikes by noting their color, body shape and size, and absence of wings.
Ticks and bedbugs differ more in their behavior than appearance. The most important difference is that ticks are primarily outdoor pests, while bedbugs spend their entire lives indoors. Here are some key differences:
- Eggs: Female ticks lay eggs by the hundreds or thousands in shiny red or black clusters about an inch across. The eggs remain stuck together until they hatch into grain-sized larvae. Bedbug eggs are pale, semi-transparent, and roughly the size of a pinhead. They may be seen in loose, less voluminous clusters.
- Feeding habits: Ticks typically bite their hosts only once and feed slowly over the course of several days. They may secrete saliva that numbs their hosts or cements their attachment. Bedbugs also inject an anesthetic when they bite their hosts. However, they finish their meals in a matter of minutes and may feed nightly.
- Habitat: Ticks are typically found in tall grass and wooded areas, where they patiently wait for hosts to brush past them. Though they may end up inside after attaching to a host, they do not infest buildings. Bedbugs are indoor pests that often infest mattresses, couches, and suitcases.
- Hiding places: When not feeding, ticks prefer to hide in nature, often in leaf litter, on the ground, or on shrubs. Bedbugs, meanwhile, stay inside between feedings and can be difficult to find. During the day, they often hide in mattress seams, in box springs, behind wallpaper, or in other cracks or crevices.
- Host selection: Ticks will attach to nearly any mammal, bird, reptile, or amphibian. They detect hosts by their breath, body odor, body heat, moisture, vibrations, or shadow. Bedbugs prefer human hosts but may also use birds or mammals as a food source. They sense the carbon dioxide exhaled by their hosts.
- Life cycle: Ticks live about two to three years and have a standard four-stage life cycle of egg, larvae, nymph, and adult. Bedbugs generally have a shorter life span. They start as eggs and progress through five nymph stages before reaching adulthood. Both species need at least one blood meal during each life stage.
- Movement: Both ticks and bedbugs crawl. They cannot jump or fly. Ticks climb grass or shrubs and extend their front legs, ready to latch onto passing hosts. Bedbugs travel from one building to another by hitching a ride on their host, a piece of luggage, or secondhand furniture.
Several species of ticks—including American dog ticks and lone star ticks—carry diseases that can be transmitted to people or pets through their bites. According to the CDC, tick-borne diseases in the United States include the following:
- Bourbon virus
- Colorado tick fever
- Heartland virus
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF)
- Lyme disease
- Powassan disease
- Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI)
- Tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF)
Ticks transmit pathogens from one host to another as they feed. If a host animal has one of the diseases above, this blood-sucking pest will ingest the pathogen and potentially transmit it to its next host through its saliva and mouthparts. Because of the seriousness of these diseases, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention if you develop a rash or fever in the days or weeks after removing a tick.
Although bedbugs do not spread disease, their bites can still cause a skin reaction. Bedbug bites often result in red, itchy welts on the skin and can become infected if scratched excessively. Some individuals may experience anxiety or insomnia during a persistent bedbug infestation. Severe allergic reactions are also possible.
How to Remove Ticks and Bedbugs
Discovering a tick embedded in your skin can be unnerving, but you can safely remove it yourself in most cases. Follow these steps:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grip the tick as close to the skin as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure to remove the tick intact.
- Thoroughly clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- Place the tick in alcohol, wrap it in tape, seal it in a plastic bag, or flush it down the toilet.
- Note when the bite occurred and the species of tick, if possible.
- Seek medical attention if you develop a rash, fever, or fatigue.
Dealing with a bedbug infestation is a little more involved but can often be handled with a few DIY measures. Follow these steps to eradicate them from your home:
- Identify the signs of bedbugs, such as rusty stains on your bedsheets.
- Wash and dry your bedding and clothes on high heat to kill any bedbugs.
- Use a stiff brush to scrub infested surfaces, such as your mattress.
- Vacuum your bed and the surrounding area thoroughly, disposing of the contents in a sealed bag.
- Apply an insecticide spray or fogger according to manufacturer instructions.
- Place a few bedbug traps to monitor the infestation.
If you are unable to eliminate the bedbug infestation on your own, reach out to a professional pest control company such as Orkin or Terminix. These experts have access to tools, techniques, and products that aren’t available to the average homeowner.
How to Prevent Ticks and Bedbugs
With ticks and bedbugs, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Remember that you are most likely to pick up ticks outside and bedbugs while traveling.
Preventing Tick Bites
Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when venturing into wooded or grassy areas to minimize your chances of being bitten by a tick. Spray your clothes and gear with a product that contains 0.5% permethrin or use a DEET-based insect repellent. Wearing light colors will make it easier to spot ticks that have made their way onto you.
Keep the grass around your home short and underbrush to a minimum. Treat your pets regularly with a topical or oral tick-prevention medication. Consider investing in ongoing pest control services. Many of the top pest control companies offer monthly yard treatments to address ticks.
Preventing Bedbug Infestations
To prevent bedbugs from establishing themselves in your home, reduce clutter and vacuum often. Use bedbug-proof mattress covers, box spring protectors, and pillowcases. Wash your bedding regularly using the highest temperature settings on your washer and dryer. If you purchase any secondhand furniture, inspect it carefully for bedbugs before bringing it into your home.
When you travel, inspect hotel rooms carefully before unpacking or sleeping. Check beds and furniture for signs of bedbugs, and keep your luggage on a metal rack or in the bathtub, away from the bed. Upon returning to your home, examine your luggage and wash your clothes before putting them away.
If you spot a small, brown, blood-sucking intruder in your home or latched onto a loved one, the first step is to identify the species. Once you know whether it’s a tick or a bedbug—or something else entirely—you can take the appropriate pest control measures to address or prevent a broader infestation. Seek medical attention if you develop a rash, fever, or other symptoms after removing a tick, and contact a pest control professional if you experience symptoms of bedbugs, including a rash.
Ticks vs. Bedbugs FAQ
Can ticks get in your bed?
Yes, ticks can get into your bed after hitching a ride on a pet or family member.
Do ticks stay on mattresses?
No, ticks do not stay on mattresses. They will attach to a host rather than infest your sleeping area.
How do I know if it’s a tick or a bedbug?
Ticks have eight legs and will grow lighter and rounder after feeding. They are primarily outdoor pests that attach to a host for an extended period of time. Bedbugs have six legs and will become darker, redder, and more elongated after feeding. They are indoor pests that will hide during the day and emerge at night for a quick meal.
What are the signs of bedbugs?
The signs of bedbugs include the following:Clusters of small, red bites on your skinReddish-brown wingless insects the size of an apple seedSmall rust-colored stains on beddingTranslucent bedbug eggs or molted shellsTiny dark brown or black dots on bedding (droppings)
How We Chose the Top Pest Control Companies
Our pest control research process starts with analyzing customer reviews on third-party websites such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Trustpilot, and Google Reviews. We then do a deep dive into each company’s website, service plans, and available cost information. We also secret shop the companies we review, reach out to representatives, and request quotes.
From there, we compile the information we’ve gathered and compare each company using our in-depth pest control methodology and review criteria. This process uses a series of factors that are important to our readers, and we score each company depending on how well they perform in each factor. For instance, companies that offer more guarantees for their service earned more points than others, and pest control plans with a larger range of covered pests earned more points than ones with fewer.
After analyzing dozens of residential and commercial pest control businesses through this process, we were able to determine the best pest control companies on the market.