Fleas or bed bugs, it does not matter, they are all repulsive bloodsuckers, and people want to get rid of them. Though both are insects, they differ from each other in several ways. Bed bugs belong to the genus Cimex and are of two types: Cimex lectularius – the common bed bug, and Cimex hemipterus – the tropical bed bug. Bed bug infestation is common in high-density areas and, on rare occasions, occurs due to lack of hygiene. They can survive for months without feeding; therefore, exterminating them is challenging at best and near impossible at worst.
Fleas include 2,500 species of wingless insects (How does something so small come in so many types?). Guess how far they can jump – it’s 50 times their body length! Only froghoppers can jump a greater length. Their claws ensure they do not get dislodged easily from the host body they are sucking the blood out of. A flea’s lifecycle consists of four stages – egg, larva, pupa, and imago.
Bed Bugs Vs. Fleas
The most glaring difference between fleas and bed bugs is their respective bites. A group of small dots on one’s skin may point to either flea or bed bug bite. A flea’s bite is extremely itchy and usually found clustered around the lower parts of the body (mostly on legs and ankles), whereas a bed bug’s bite does not hurt and is found on the upper half of the body (mostly on the face or neck).
Difference Between Bed Bugs And Fleas In Tabular Form
|Parameters of Comparison||Bed Bugs||Fleas|
|Appearance||Bed bugs are flat and oval-shaped. They have a reddish-brown color.||Fleas are long, narrow-bodied insects. Some are red, while others are brown.|
|Disease||They do not spread diseases but may cause rashes and allergic reactions.||They spread diseases like endemic typhus, bubonic plague, and several other viral and bacterial diseases.|
|Size||Bed Bugs are larger than fleas and are visible to the naked eye. They are around 4 – 5 mm long.||Fleas are smaller than bed bugs. Their length is around 1.5 – 3.3 mm.|
|Host||Bed bugs prefer human blood even though they can survive on other mammals’ blood.||Fleas prefer biting animals but settle for human blood if necessary.|
|Movement||These insects crawl, and their movements have been described as ant-like.||Fleas leap and lodge themselves onto the host’s body.|
|Location||Bed Bugs like living in dark places; therefore, they spend time in cracks in walls or bed frames, mattress seams, etc.||Fleas spend time latching on to the pets, as they are the chosen hosts.|
|Behavior||Bed bugs do not live on their host’s body. They retreat to their shelters after feeding.||Fleas live in their hosts’ bodies.|
What Are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are human parasites that have been around for at least 3,500 years. Eliminating bed bugs has become increasingly challenging due to their resistance to pesticides (sometimes evolution and adaptations suck, right?). Treatment for their bites is usually symptom-oriented. However, the symptoms may resolve in one or two weeks even without medications.
Bed bugs are attracted to the carbon-di-oxide humans breathe out and to the warmth of their bodies. That is why most bed bugs bite when people are in a deep sleep and breathing heavily. These insects are capable of alternating their schedules if people start sleeping during the day (as most people who work the night or graveyard shift do). Only around 30% of the people bitten by a bed bug display any symptoms. The rest do not react to the bites, making identifying bed bug bites a tad more challenging.
Preventing bed bugs from biting again is better than merely managing the symptoms. If people suspect they may have been to a bed bug-infested area, checking their shoe soles and changing clothes before entering the house is a good idea. Of course, they must not forget to throw the old clothes into a clothes dryer conveniently kept outside the main part of the house for this purpose.
Checking the beds for bugs before sleeping in a lodge and keeping luggage on a luggage rack reduces the chances of suffering from a surprise bed bug attack. People feeling a bit more energetic may seal the cracks and crevices in their homes to seal off the bed bugs’ potential shelters.
Bed bugs are smart and have excellent survival instincts. They know when and how to stay out of sight (unless people know precisely where to look for them). Therefore, they bide their time patiently in boxes, suitcases, under floorboards, and behind wallpapers until they are near humans again. The reason why people do not wake up when they bite is that their saliva acts as an anesthetic (mild but effective) that keeps them under and increases the blood flow to the bitten area. In short, bed bugs are extremely creepy bloodsuckers.
Once a bed bug infestation takes place, trying to eradicate them is a nightmare. This fact holds true especially in apartment buildings, as the bugs may be still present in some other parts of the building. The bed bugs simply resume breeding, which aggravates the ongoing war between humans and the bed bugs attempting a hostile takeover.
Some people believe bug sprays work on bed bugs; that is a myth. Thanks to their increasing pesticides-resistance, chemical solutions/methods are strictly out of the picture. However, mechanical/non-chemical methods like vacuuming the bed bugs, sealing them in disposable bags and heat-treating or freezing them at the required temperature kill them. An exhausting process but a necessary one, as chemical control methods are generally ineffective.
The reasons for the emergence of indomitable bed bugs are numerous. The dramatic decrease in cockroach population due to insecticides is a significant factor, as cockroaches are the natural predators of bed bugs (that is, they eat bed bugs). Focus on eliminating other pests, increasing foreign travels, and exchange/purchase of second-hand furniture (second-hand furniture is a bed bug’s paradise next to cracks in bed frames. After all, they can attack people when they are dozing/nodding off on a couch) are some other reasons.
What Are Fleas?
Fleas choose one species as their host (any pet such as a dog, cat, rabbit, guinea pig, etc.) and breed on them. Most species of fleas never select another host species to breed on; however, some species are less selective and open to change. These insects have been around since the Middle Jurassic period. Their proboscis (elongated appendage from the head) is adapted to piercing skin, and their legs have claws that offer a firm grip on the host.
Pierre Andre Latreille classified insects based on their mouthparts and wing structures. According to this classification, fleas are known as Siphonaptera – siphon means tube, and Aptera means wingless. The life cycles of fleas are flexible – fleas live longer in winter than in summer. Under optimal temperature (21 – 30 degree Celsius) and humidity (70%) with sufficient food supply, adult fleas may live up to a year and a half. However, the average lifespan is only two or three months.
Adult fleas feed only on fresh blood; however, their young ones (the larvae) feed on organic matter, particularly the feces of the adults that contain dried blood (do not puke, as people say, to each their own). Female fleas can lift weights 150 times heavier than and consume blood in quantities 15 times greater than their body weight.
The eggs of the fleas are oval-shaped, tiny, and white. A single flea is capable of laying 50 eggs per day and around 2000 – 5000 eggs during its lifetime. People will not find dealing with that many fleas pleasant. Keeping the pets clean and frequently washing their beddings will help reduce the chances of flea infestation.
Flea larvae are blind and prefer the dark. They brood in cracks and crevices for four to eighteen days (the time taken for the larval stage to end). Only 12% of the larvae that feed exclusively on dried blood mature, whereas a diet involving blood and non-viable eggs results in 90% of the larvae maturing. Once the fleas reach the adult stage, their aim is to feed on blood. They move on to reproducing after they find their nourishment.
A common misconception is that fleas lay their eggs on carpets. That is not the case; fleas lay eggs on their chosen furry host (most often cats or dogs), which slide off their furs due to their relatively minimal stickiness, and fall onto the carpet. So, getting rid of the eggs is easy, but what about the adult fleas?
Cat fleas cause most cases of flea infestation despite there being 2500 species in the world. Using flea combs or applying special products designed to kill fleas (be it any species) on pets is a surefire way to get rid of fleas. Furthermore, vacuuming carpets, furniture, cracks in the floor, etc., using a flea collar for one’s pets, and mowing down the lawn ensures no fleas stick around to pester one’s pets. If nothing works, it is time to call pest control services.
Fleabites may seem to be merely annoying itchy bites. However, they can cause flea allergy dermatitis (a skin disease). The bites remain inflamed and itchy for weeks and may cause hair loss, as the pets (the hosts) keep biting or scratching themselves to get rid of the frustrating insects. In extreme cases, the bites cause anemia, as the fleas slowly drain the host’s blood.
Charles Rothschild had a large collection of fleas which is now part of the National History Museum in London. The collection consists of 260,000 specimens representing 73% of the various flea species and sub-species. Most people interested in entomology will find this collection interesting; however, pet owners will only be interested in knowing which flea species they need to squash out of existence to protect their beloved pets. After all, in America, the annual expenditure on flea treatment is four billion dollars!
Main Difference Between Bed Bugs And Fleas (In Points)
- Fleas have only four lifecycle stages, whereas bed bugs have six, out of which five are immature nymph stages.
- Bed bugs never enter the pupal stage, as their immature form already resembles that of an adult. Instead, they molt; the final molting results in the adult insect. On the other hand, the pupa is the third stage in a flea’s lifecycle.
- Fleas infest pets and then target humans when they are in the vicinity. Bed bugs directly feed on human blood by biting.
- Bed bugs are capable of carrying pathogens but do not transmit them to their victims. However, fleas are notorious for transmitting various diseases as they are vectors (living organisms that spread a viral/bacterial agent from an infected animal to other animals or humans).
- Fleas bit whenever they see a possibility, whereas bed bugs bite when people are deep asleep.
- Serious bed bug infestations may cause stress, anxiety, and difficulty in sleeping; however, flea infestations cause much more severe health problems like tungiasis.
- Several references to fleas have been made in literature, poetry, and music. John Donne wrote an erotic poem ‘The Flea’, Giuseppe Crespi painted the flea, and Augustus De Morgan wrote a comic poem ‘Siphonaptera’, with fleas as the main subject. Comparatively, only negligible references to bed bugs were made in the literature.
People need to know what pest they are dealing with before they can exterminate them. They can try getting rid of an infestation themselves or call for professional help. There is no shame in seeking a licensed professional pest controller, as these buggers (fleas and bed bugs) are extremely difficult to get rid of. Typically, Americans spend $348 million annually on flea pest control, and bed bugs are even more notorious. So, why not take it easy and let others better equipped for the job do the work?
In short, fleas and bed bugs need to be eradicated. Of course, these insects are not going to hulk out and turn against humankind. Nevertheless, they make people’s life miserable, and nothing has the right to drink one’s blood without consent! So, out with the bloodsuckers and in with a disease-free life.