It’s aggravating when you are being bit repeatedly at home and can’t figure out what is biting you.
I’m not a proponent of identifying bites themselves.
Skin afflictions that resemble bites may in fact be from infection or damage to the skin. The signs can be misleading.
If you believe that you are being bit, the first step is to try to determine if the pattern of bites matches a biting pest and to determine if that biting pest is actually present.
Bites are normally found around the ankles.
The biting stage is small, but visible. An easy way to inspect for fleas is to walk around the problem area in white socks. If fleas are present, you will most likely see them on the socks.
Bites often happen on skin that is exposed while sleeping. Most bites also happen while sleeping.
Adult bed bugs are similar in color, size, and shape to an apple seed. Inspect the areas where you sleep for pests that match this description. They will most often be found in cracks and crevices near the bed, on the bed frame, and in folds and seams on the mattress and box springs.
If you are finding bed bugs, but they aren’t showing up where people sleep, it’s possible they are a look-a-like pest. The two most common look-a-like pests are swallow bugs and bat bugs. In either case, they are coming from the associated wildlife, which must be removed from the home to get control.
Ticks attach and feed for multiple days and can grow several times larger than when they started feeding. If you are being fed upon by ticks in your house, you will most likely find the ticks while they are feeding, rather than finding mysterious bites.
If you have bats or other wildlife living in your structure, it is possible to get reoccurring bites from ticks. If this is the case, the most important step is to eliminate the wildlife from the structure.
Noseeums will bite exposed skin when you are outdoors. Their bites are normally quite painful.
Despite the name, noseeums can be seen. They appear as small black gnats. They distinctly look like small flying insects and cannot be confused with dust or lint.
Noseeums breed in marshy areas outdoors and seek out blood meals. They are rarely found indoors in the United States. If you are being bit indoors, it is unlikely that you are being bit by noseeums.
Rodent Mites and Bird Mites
Mites often seek out areas where clothing fits tight, such as around elastic areas. These are the spots where you are most likely to be bit by mites.
Mites are tiny, but they are not microscopic. You can see them with the visible eye. They tend to be beige or a dark reddish brown color. Often you will see large numbers at once.
If you suspect that you have mites, the first step is to determine the source. Mites are normally present because a host is present. Most often that will be a bird nest on your structure, a pet bird, a pet rodent, or a pet rabbit. When you inspect the areas around the host, such as the bedding and cage for a pet, or the area around a bird nest, you will find a noticeable amount of mites. If the problem is coming from a bird nest, the solution is to remove the bird nest and treat the area where the bird nest was found with a pesticide. If the problem is a pet, the pet will need to be treated by a veterinarian, the bedding and cage need to be cleaned, and oftentimes the area where the pet was kept needs to be treated with a pesticide.
Many spiders are not normally able to penetrate our skin with their fangs and will only bite when they are trapped, such as if you roll over on one in bed, where the weight of your body can help their fangs pierce your skin.
Spiders are the only pest on this list that do not feed on blood or the human body. Because of this, they do not actively bite humans. Bites are only a defensive response. If you are repeatedly being bit in your home, it is unlikely that spiders are the culprit.
Lice will be found in human hair, either on the head (in the case of head lice), pubic region (pubic lice), or on other parts of the body (body lice). Rather than finding bites, most people, at first, report an itchy sensation. Upon closer inspection, lice can be found, as well as their eggs, which are glued to the stalks of hair and often referred to as nits.
Lice cannot live more than 24 hours off the human body. Pesticide treatments in rooms are normally not required.
Scabies are extremely small mites that burrow into the skin. They cause characteristic signs on the skin that can be readily identified by a physician. If you suspect you have scabies, you should see your physician.
Similar to lice, scabies live on the human body. Scabies are transmitted through contact with another person who has scabies. Pesticide treatments in rooms are normally not required.
Chiggers are small mites that burrow into the skin, especially in the lower legs.
You can pick up chiggers outdoors in parts of the country where they are found. The burrowing stage is the young. Once they are ready to molt, they will come out. Adults do not feed on people. They do not infest indoors – if you are having reoccurring bites indoors, they will not be from chiggers.
It’s infuriating and humiliating when you are finding mysterious bites on your body. If you don’t know where to start and can’t find good information, you can become hypervigilant. Lint balls can begin to resemble cocoons. Small objects in the air that seem to move of their own accord look like tiny bugs. You feel things crawling on your body and find bumps showing up that were never there before.
Take a deep breath. Step back from the issue and try to consider if what you are seeing matches with the pests listed. Biting pests are not microscopic. Some can be good at hiding, but if they are present, a detailed inspection will reveal them.
Be cautious with forums and other internet sources. You don’t know the people posting. Just because their problem sounds similar to yours does not mean that it is. If they are recommending killing the pest using spray deodorant, farm chemicals, or other unusual solutions, it’s best to move on.
There are many causes of symptoms that resemble bites. A quality pest control company or an entomologist specializing in household pests can help inspect for biting pests. If you cannot get a positive identification of biting pests in your home, you should not have a pesticide treatment. If you aren’t able to find a pest responsible for the bites, then you need to see a physician to determine the cause of the symptoms.
by Ted Snyder, Board Certified Entomologist
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