Bed Bug Bites vs. Mosquito Bites: How to Identify Them

hero image for bed bug vs mosquito bite

You wake up itchy and discover that some bug has used your arms and legs for target practice. But did these mystery bites come from mosquitoes? Or, ugh, bed bugs? Our guide can help you identify bed bug bites vs. mosquito bites and offers tips on treating bites as well as how to avoid them.

About Bed Bugs and Mosquitoes

It can be hard to see bed bugs — they’re small, about the size of an apple seed. Adults are flat, brown or reddish-brown, and have six legs. Young bugs can be white or yellow.  All bed bugs need to eat on a regular basis (about every four to five days), so people are a target for both males and females. 

Mosquitoes are also small — about ¼ to ½-inch long, though the females tend to be larger. Most are brown or black with tan or white markings. They have three sets of long legs and narrow wings. While males don’t bite people, females want your blood in order to produce a new batch of eggs.

What Do Bed Bug Bites Look Like?

bed bug bite on arm
Photo Credit: Oliver Arend / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Bed bug bites can look a lot like mosquito bites. The most common presentations of bite sites are:

  • Raised bumps in a line or zigzag pattern.
  • A pimple-like bump with a dark red center surrounded by lighter-toned skin.
  • A round bump with a blister.

Bed Bug Bite Symptoms

  • Itchiness
  • Burning  
  • Mild pain

Where Do Bed Bugs Bite?

They’ll bite any part of your skin that’s in contact with your bed or other furniture. So, you may find bites on your:

  • Arms
  • Back
  • Face
  • Neck
  • Legs

Note: Bed bugs won’t bite through your clothes, but they will crawl under them to bite you.

What Do Mosquito Bites Look Like?

Mosquito bites commonly look like:

  • A puffy, red bump that shows up immediately. 
  • A hard, itchy, reddish-brown bump or multiple bumps that show up a day or two later.
  • Small blisters.
  • Dark, bruise-like spots.

Mosquito Bite Symptoms

You may feel the sting of the bite, but the most common symptom is itching — your body’s reaction to mosquito saliva. (Though allergic reactions are possible.)  It’s difficult, we know, but try not to scratch: Bites can become infected.

Where Do Mosquitoes Bite?

Mosquitoes, lured by your body odor, will bite any exposed skin they can find, be it your arm, ankle, or behind your knee. And they can bite through your clothes, so avoid loosely woven or tightly fitting clothing.

How Do Bed Bugs and Mosquitoes Bite?

Mosquitoes and bed bugs have a couple of things in common: They’re out for your blood, and they have similar feeding habits. But their anatomy is very different.

Mosquitos: A mosquito’s mouth (called a proboscis) is made up of six spears with specialized jobs: Some pierce the skin, others probe for a blood vessel, others take your blood and add a bit of saliva that includes an anticoagulant so that they can more easily feed on you.

While we might consider mosquitoes to be pretty good marksmen, that’s not the case. A French study determined that many have lousy aim — less than half of the 200 mosquitoes used in an experiment couldn’t get a blood meal from mice. (This means you may still be bitten, but the mosquito will come up empty.)

Bed bugs:  Unlike mosquitoes, bed bugs have a single mouthpart (stylet) shaped like a straw that does double duty. During a bite, the stylet injects an anesthetic and an anticoagulant into the site, then it’s used to feed on your blood. Unlike mosquitoes, bed bugs take their time: The feeding process can take up to 15 minutes.

Where Am I Most at Risk for Mosquito or Bed Bug Bites?

mosquito bite on arm
Mosquito bites on an arm.
Photo Credit: Seney Natural History Association / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Either of these bugs can be found in odd places (bed bugs can hide in electrical outlets and loose wallpaper, for example). But there are places where you are most at risk:

Bed bugs. You’re more likely to be bitten inside. While a bed and box spring are the most obvious hiding places, you can find bed bugs in other places, too:

  • Bedding (including pillows and pillowcases)
  • Headboards
  • Bedside tables
  • Curtains
  • In the seams of upholstered furniture (sofas, recliners, chairs)
  • Sofa and chair cushions 
  • Carpets and rugs

Mosquitoes. While mosquitoes can get in your house, you’re likely more at risk outside, especially near standing water. Female mosquitoes only need a small amount of water in which to lay their eggs. But inside or out, there are a few other places where mosquitoes like to hide:

  • Carports and garages
  • Under patio furniture
  • Under sinks
  • In closets
  • In dense vegetation

How to Check For Bed Bugs

Bites may be the first indication of bed bugs in your home. But to be sure, it’s best to look for signs that they’ve taken up residence. What to check for:

  • A sweet, musty odor. This is from the chemical that the bugs produce to communicate.
  • Blood stains. Tear your bed apart to look for these as they can be in any part of the bedding. Take a good look at upholstered furniture, too. 
  • Tiny black specks. While you’re looking for blood spots, check for these, which are bits of excrement.
  • Skin castings. Bed bugs molt several times before they become adults.

When Do Bed Bugs and Mosquitoes Bite?

Bed bugs are most active at night. Scientists believe that bed bugs are attracted to the heat and carbon dioxide that a person gives off while asleep. If you see bed bugs during the day, they may have been hit with pesticide, or they haven’t fed for a while and are looking for a host. 

While some species of mosquitoes will bite during the day, most are active from dusk until dawn. If you’re outside at those times and not using repellent, their receptors can target you by the carbon dioxide from your breath or the scents that you give off or wear.

How to Treat Bed Bug Bites

If there are no signs of a serious reaction, the American Academy of Dermatology says you can treat bites on your own.

  • Wash bites with soap and water; this will reduce the itch and help prevent an infection.
  • Apply an OTC corticosteroid cream to the bites.

When to Call the Doctor

  • If you have a large number of bites on your body.
  • If the bites should blister.
  • If you see signs of infection (pain, discharge).
  • If you have an allergic reaction (red, swollen skin or hives).

How to Treat Mosquito Bites

Generally, mosquito bites go away on their own. But if you’re uncomfortable, the Cleveland Clinic suggests you use:

  • An ice pack to relieve swelling in the affected area. Apply for 10 minutes.
  • A paste of water and ground oatmeal or baking soda to help relieve the itch.
  • An OTC corticosteroid (anti-itch) cream.
  • An OTC antihistamine.

When to Call the Doctor

Mosquitoes can spread diseases like West Nile virus and Zika virus, so get medical help if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Nausea
  • A rash
  • Fatigue

Also, get medical attention if you have any signs of an allergic reaction:

  • Hives
  • Swollen throat
  • Wheezing


How Can I Avoid Bed Bugs When I Travel?

The New York Department of Health has suggestions for a bed-bug-free trip:

• Consider using hard-cased luggage.
• Pack your clothes in resealable plastic bags.
• In the hotel, place your luggage on a hard surface off the floor. If you can’t, put bags in a dry bathtub. 
• Pull up the sheets at the corners and sides to check the mattress and box springs. Check behind headboards and inside bedside tables, too.
• Leave your clothes in your bags during a short stay.
• If you see any sign of bed bugs, tell hotel management immediately and ask for another room.
• At home, unpack in the bathroom and shake out clothes; inspect your luggage, too.

Will Mosquitoes and Bed Bugs Bite My Dog and Cat?

Yes, bed bugs and mosquitoes will target your pets. Bed bugs don’t transmit disease, so Ollie or Champ will be left with red welts or itchy patches, according to PetMD. However, your pet can develop secondary infections from scratching. 

Mosquito bites, on the other hand, can be serious, as they can transmit disease to your pets. The biggest disease threat is heartworm, which can be fatal. Some prescription flea and tick medications can repel mosquitoes; talk to your vet.

The best thing you can do to protect your dog or cat is to ensure they get a monthly heartworm preventative. Also, consider the best dog mosquito repellents to keep Fido safe and itch-free.

How Can I Protect Myself From Mosquitoes?

While you may not be able to escape all mosquitoes, there are a few things you can do to make yourself less of a target.

Use mosquito repellent, preferably one with EPA-registered ingredients. If you prefer an alternative, natural mosquito repellents are also available.
Cut back on scented products. Mosquitoes can hone in on the scent of your shampoo or cologne.
Wear loose-fitting, densely woven clothes in light colors. 
Stay inside when mosquitoes are active. The little biters are usually active from dusk to dawn. If you want to be outside at night, apply repellent, or use deterrents such as mosquito incense on your patio or porch.

When to Call a Professional

If your efforts to banish mosquitoes aren’t working, or you have a bed bug infestation, Pest Gnome can connect you to the best pest control experts in your area. Your local pest control company will have the tools and the knowledge to rid your home of these biting pests.

Main Image Credit:
Bed bug bites: James Heilman, MD / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Mosquito bites: ChrisAt / Canva Pro / License

Linda Wolfla-Thomas

Linda Wolfla-Thomas is a Midwest-based writer who got a crash course in home maintenance when she bought her first house. She enjoys learning new repair skills, like replacing light fixtures and fixing a leaky toilet, but she’s learned that some things, like putting down floor tiles, are best left to the pros.