9 Ways To Tell Bed Bugs From Fleas (With Pictures)

by | Bed Bugs, Fleas, Insects

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If you’re getting bitten or you need to find out what insects are hiding in a house, you need to know what to look for and how to tell if the insects are bed bugs or fleas.

In this post, you’ll get:

  • A table with 9 differences between bed bugs and fleas, for quick reference
  • Then more details on each difference, with pictures to guide you
  • How to get rid of bed bugs
  • How to get rid of fleas

Bed bugs versus fleas

Picture showing a bed bug and a flea side by side for comparison
In the picture above, you’ll see a bed bug on the left and a flea on the right.

The following table gives 9 ways to quickly tell the difference between bed bugs and fleas:

Bed BugsFleas
Live close to where people sleep or sit, such as mattresses, box springs, headboards, and couches.Live on pets, but can hide in the house, yard, or on a person while waiting for an animal host to walk by.
Crawl around.Hop around.
Oval body that’s flat, like it’s been squashed from the top. Body is red and swollen after a meal.Thin, long oval body that looks like it’s been squashed from both sides.
Bite people, but will bite animals if the bed bugs are hungry enough.Bite animals, but will bite people if the fleas are very hungry.
Bite areas exposed when people sleep. Bite people on the top half of the body, such as the face, neck, and arms.Bite people on their legs and feet. Bite animals, especially in the armpit and groin areas, and at the base of the tail.
Usually bite when it’s dark, at around 4 a.m.Usually more active at night, but can bite any time of the day or night.
Bite every 3 to 10 days.New bites daily.
Often multiple bites in a line or zig zag.Multiple bites found randomly in an area.
Don’t spread or transfer diseases.Can spread disease, though it’s not very common.
© Backyard Pests

Keep reading if you want to know more and see pictures of these differences…

9 ways to tell bed bugs from fleas

You can tell the difference between bed bugs and fleas by:

Where they hide

Fleas live on host animals and lay their eggs in the animal’s fur. As the animal moves around, the eggs fall off and hatch where they land, when the conditions are right. Baby fleas then lie and wait for an animal to walk by, so they can jump onto their new host.

Young fleas can fall and hide pretty much anywhere, such as in floorboards, in wood furniture, in the yard, in pet beds, etc. But flea eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults can all be found on animals, as they go through their lifecycle on the animal.

Bed bugs hide in cool, dark, humid places, where they’re not likely to be found. Bed bug hiding places are always close to where people spend a lot of time either sitting or lying down, which is why most bed bugs hide in a mattress, box spring, or couch.

Click here for a list of ways to get bed bugs to come out of hiding, so you can catch one and identify it.

Photo showing all the areas to check for bed bugs, including the seams, under the mattress, and inside the box spring
If you have a box spring bed, check all the places shown in the picture above for bed bugs.

As the bed bug population grows, the bugs start spreading out. Click here for the pattern that bed bugs follow and where they hide in a house as their numbers increase.

How they get around

Bed bugs crawl around, often about 3 feet (1 m) a minute. When spreading out or moving from one house to the next, bed bugs can travel up to 100 feet (30 m) a night.

Fleas have long, strong legs and mostly hop around. Young fleas do jump high when they need to leap onto a host, usually about 5 inches (13 cm) into the air, but they only jump when they have to – the rest of the time they’re hopping.

Bed bugs and fleas don’t have wings so they can’t fly.

The shapes of their bodies

From above, a bed bug’s body is oval and resembles an apple seed. From the side, the body is flat and usually brown, if the bed bug hasn’t eaten. You could say it looks like the insect has been squashed by a book from above. If a bed bug has eaten, the body is red and swollen round with blood.

Photos of bed bugs that have eaten blood and not for identification
The pictures above show the swollen and flat body shapes to look out for with bed bugs.

Fleas have an oval-shaped, slender body from above. From the side a flea’s body looks quite flat, as though it’s been squashed between two books – one book on either side of the flea.  

Photo of a flea with labels on traits of a flea for identification
The labels above show you all the things to look for to identify a flea.

What they bite

Both bed bugs and fleas bite, the difference is that bed bugs prefer to bite people and fleas look for animals to bite. If people in the house are getting more bites than pets, you probably have bed bugs. If the dogs or cats have more bites, you might have fleas.

Photo showing that bed bugs bite people and fleas prefer to bite pets
Bed bugs are more likely to bite the woman in this photo and fleas are much more likely to bite her dog.

This is only one of the many ways to help you tell whether you have bed bugs or fleas – it is not an exact science. Not all animals and people react the same way to bites, and some show no symptoms at all!

Where they bite

Bed bugs usually bite people on their upper body, where skin is exposed while they sleep or sit somewhere for a long time. Bites on the shoulders, arms, hands, face, and neck are often a sign of bed bugs.

Fleas tend to bite people when they’re walking around the house or outside. Flea bites often show up behind the knees, on the ankles, the lower legs, and feet. Fleas also hide and bite people in skin folds where it’s warm and dark, such as in the armpits or in elbow bends.

What time they bite

Bed bugs like to bite in the dark, when people are sleeping. These bugs are most active at 4 in the morning, but if people in the house work shifts and sleep during the day, bed bugs adapt their schedule to bite when the sun’s up.

Fleas are more active at night, but they do bite whenever they’re hungry and there’s an opportunity to feed – day or night.

How often they bite

Fleas live on a host, whether it’s animal or human. They feed freely on this host, whenever they’re hungry. New flea bites show up daily, and the number of bites increases as the flea population grows.

Bed bugs don’t eat as often as fleas because it’s more work and more dangerous for them – bed bugs have to come out of their hiding place and crawl onto a person before feeding. This is why new bed bug bites only appear every three days or so.

What their bites look like

Bed bug bites show up as raised skin that’s red. They’re usually in a line or a zig zag, sometimes with 10 or more bites. Some people have no reaction or marks after being bitten by bed bugs, especially the elderly.

Photo of 3 bed bug bites
The bites in the photo above show what typical bed bug bites look like. Not all people get these bite marks or raised skin.

Fleas tend to bite around in an area randomly or in groups of three, which are known as “breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” Flea bites usually look like small, red, itchy bite marks on the skin.

Photo of flea bites
The photo above shows the typical breakfast, lunch, and dinner flea bites, which are made in groups of three.

There are many things that could be biting a person, so it’s best to look for several signs of fleas, bed bugs, or other insects to be sure. It is possible for fleas and bed bugs to coexist, so the bites could even be coming from both insects.

The diseases they spread

Bed bugs don’t spread any diseases. In the unlikely case that a person or pet gets any of the following sicknesses, there’s a good chance that fleas are to blame:

  • Typhus
  • Plague
  • Cat scratch disease
  • Tapeworms


How to get rid of bed bugs

If you have bed bugs, here’s what you can do about it and some products available on Amazon to get rid of bed bugs:

  • Take action the minute you think you might have bed bugs, before they have a chance to breed. The longer you ignore bed bugs, the worse the problem gets. Bed bugs don’t go away on their own.
  • If you want to make sure you have bed bugs and not something else, put these bed bug traps under the feet of your bed, your couch, or anything you think bed bugs are crawling on. Leave the traps there for at least a week to give the bugs time to come out of hiding for a blood meal. If there are bed bugs present, there’s a good chance you’ll find some in the traps one morning.
  • Hot wash or freeze any clothing or small material items that might be infested with bed bugs. Leave these in the sun for a few hours or at least 30 minutes, if you can. Put the clean items and any other items into sealed plastic boxes for storage, where bed bugs can’t get to them.
  • Studies have found that cimexa powder is much more effective at killing bed bugs than diatomaceous earth, which many people still use. A light dusting of cimexa powder (or diatomaceous earth) around base boards, cracks in floorboards, and bed and furniture legs will kill bed bugs that come out from these hiding places. Whatever you choose to use, be sure to follow the instructions carefully and don’t inhale the dust.
  • Don’t take an infested item outside. Moving the item could spread bed bugs throughout the apartment or house, making the infestation much worse. If you want to get rid of the item, wrap it tightly in plastic, mark it as “infested”, and dispose of it responsibly.
  • To save a mattress, wrap it in an encasement and wait at least 1 year for the bugs to die.
  • Foggers are NOT good for killing bed bugs. If you have bed bugs, even if it’s just a few, speak to the property manager or call in a pest professional to treat the house. They will probably use a combination of treatments, such as a bed bug spray, vacuuming, and/or a heat treatment.
  • If you think all the bed bugs are gone, put these sticky traps near the furniture where bed bugs were active. Leave the traps there to see if any bed bugs get stuck. If you don’t find any bed bugs and you don’t get bitten for 6 weeks in a row, you know that the area is most likely free from bed bugs.

How to get rid of fleas

Below is a list of the best methods and products from Amazon to get rid of fleas in your home:

  • Keep windows and doors shut, at least until you can get rid of the fleas.
  • Don’t bring home any second-hand goods, such as drapes, sofas, bedding, rugs, etc. If you do want to bring something home, inspect it carefully for signs of fleas and wash it on the hottest setting possible, if it’s washable.
  • Stop all wild animals, such as squirrels, rats, opposums, etc. from entering your house. If you’ve tried to stop them and are not having any luck, call in a professional pest removal company to help you.
  • Sprinkle flea powder, like this one, in the cracks and crevices of floorboards, cracks in tiles, and in carpets and rugs in your house. This powder should be left for 24 hours to kill live fleas and their eggs.
  • Vacuum the area, including the floorboards, trims, carpet, furniture, and drapes. Make sure to vacuum in the corners and under all furniture. Once vacuuming is done, seal and dispose of the vacuum bag so you don’t spread fleas to other rooms. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning a bagless vacuum cleaner.
  • Mop floorboards and tiles with soapy water and a damp mop – you can try using this homemade dish soap solution that kills fleas and other pests. If possible, use a disposable mop head that you can seal and throw away after.
  • Treat all pets for fleas using products recommended by your vet. This may include a:
  • Don’t let anyone bring their pet over to visit you, or at least check with the owner first to make sure the pet does not have fleas.
  • Find an indoor spray that kills all stages of the flea life cycle and is made from natural ingredients that are safe for the family – here’s a home spray that works. Spray it directly onto floors, pet bedding, leashes, furniture, carpets, rugs, and anywhere else you want to kill or prevent fleas. Move furniture and spray areas where the furniture normally sits.
  • Replace or seal cracks and gaps in tiles, walls, and between wood floor boards to stop fleas from settling there again. Use draft stoppers to seal gaps under doors that open to the outside, which fleas might be crawling under to get in.

I'm Monique. I love gardening and spending time in my backyard growing things. Here's where I share what I know about backyard pests and what to do about them, so you can enjoy your yard too.

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Monique loves gardening and spending time in her backyard, where she grows flowers, succulents, herbs, fruits, and vegetables.

Monique spends a lot of time researching how to protect her backyard from harmful pests and trying to attract beneficial insects and animals.

She shares everything that she learns and tests here at Backyard Pests.


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