How to Tell the Difference between a Bed Bug Bite and a Mosquito Bite

I was chatting with an old friend over the weekend. She’s living out of state now, and has just moved into a new apartment. It’s an older building, an early 1900s mansion that’s been turned into flats. She had fallen in love with the place, at least until she started talking to some of her neighbors. That’s when the bloom fell off the rose, so to speak.

It seems the building had a history of bed bug problems. The landlord apparently was quick to call in a professional bed bug removal service, and by all accounts the problem was taken care of. However, once the thought of bed bugs gets into your mind it’s hard to shake. To make matters worse, my friend began to notice the odd bug bit on her arms. The trouble was, she wasn’t sure if it was a mosquito bite or a bed bug bite and it was, understandably, causing her some concern.

Mosquito Bites vs. Bed Bug Bites

This got me to thinking. I imagine most people who have never had to deal with a bed bug infestation first-hand might have trouble distinguishing between a common mosquito bite and bed bug bite, and it might be a good idea to work up a short guide that compares and contrasts the two. That way, if you’re wondering just what kind of bug bite you’re scratching at you won’t have to call an old friend in the middle of the night to ask them.

Signs of First Contact

There’s more to distinguishing bed bug bites from mosquito bites than simply knowing what insect is harassing you. More often than not the first sign of a bed bug problem is the appearance of bites on areas of exposed skin. It’s usually then that people go in search of other telltale signs of an infestation. So knowing the difference between a bed bug bite and a mosquito bite can be more than handy. It can mean the difference between mild irritation and panicked calls to an exterminator service.

So, let’s get down to brass tacks and talk about how you can tell the difference between a simple mosquito bite and bloodthirsty bed bug bite.

Similar Traits

Mosquito bites and bed bugs bites share some similar traits, and that can make it difficult to distinguish between the two. What’s more, not everyone reacts the same to a bed bug bite. Some people seem to be immune to them, showing little if any sign of contact. Others will experience intense itching accompanied by welts or blisters. Still others might react with little more than an unsightly rash.

With that being said, there are some distinguishing characteristics that will help us tell the difference between the bite of a mosquito and the bite of a bed bug. 

Bed Bug Bites Appear in Clusters

One of the best ways to tell the difference between a bed bug bite and a mosquito bite is location and formation. Bed bug bites tend to appear in clusters, often in a zigzag pattern that aligns with the edge of a sheet or mattress. 

Mosquito bites, on the other hand, typically appear in random and isolated spots. It’s also worth noting that unlike bed bugs mosquitos tend to hit and run, so you are more likely to see a single bite mark as opposed to a cluster.

Duration of the Bite Marks

Another good indicator is the duration of the bite marks themselves. Mosquito bites, as itchy and irritating as they may be, generally don’t last for very long. Once bitten you will start to feel the itch and notice the pink or red mark on the skin. But if left alone they generally go away pretty quickly.

Bed bug bites, however, can last for days before they heal completely. If you are unsure which insect has bitten you, the duration of the irritation is a sure sign.

The Telltale Itchiness Factor

While both mosquito bites and bed bug bites can produce itchy red marks on the skin, the time it takes for the bite to become irritating is another distinguishing trait. Mosquito bites usually start to itch immediately after the encounter. It’s not unusual to feel the itch even before you see the red bump that accompanies the bite.

Bed bug bites are different, however. With a bed bug bite you will most likely notice the red welt or telltale rash before you start to feel the itch. In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatologists people bitten by bed bugs will tend to see the welts or rash within days of the bite while it can take 7 to 14 days before the area begins to itch.

The Bed Bug Rash

Everyone reacts differently to bed bug bites, and that can make it difficult to distinguish between bed bug and mosquito bites. Part of the what makes a bed bug bite so irritating is the natural allergic reaction people have to the anticoagulant bed bugs inject into the skin when they feed. Those people with a lower tolerance to the anticoagulant often develop an accompanying rash around the bitten areas of the skin. This is a sure sign that the bite is from a bed bug and not a common mosquito.

If you do develop a rash it is important to avoid scratching the affected area. Use calamine lotion to sooth the irritation and, if necessary, consult a physician.

Bed Bugs Leave Traces

Finally, because bed bug bites occur in the home there should be evidence that you can collect which will indicate once and for all that you have a bed bug infestation. After bed bugs feed they will tend to excrete some of the digested blood as they return to their hiding places. This leaves telltale black or dark red stains on mattresses and bedding. 

If you think you may have been bitten by bed bugs look for these signs of nocturnal activity. If there are blood trails, your problem is bed bugs and not mosquitos.

The Upshot of the Conversation

Getting back to the phone conversation that started all of this, it’s important to point out that my friend likes to sneak a cigarette now and then. But house rules bar smoking in the building. So, my friend heads out into the night to grab a sneaky smoke. 

Of course, with summer holding on and the humidity as high as ever there are always mosquitos around. It seems her surreptitious cigarettes are making her a prime target for hungry mosquitos. So I was able to reassure her that it looked like her bed bug worries were unfounded – at least for the time being.

Published by Scott Palatnik

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