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Ticks vs. Bed bugs: Which bite is worse?

Which would you rather have attached to your body, a tick or a bed bug? Like the majority of people, you’re probably thinking, “Neither.” However, if you had to choose one, do you know which one poses a greater health risk?

Learn the difference between a bed bug and a tick, and how you can prevent these blood-sucking pests from attaching to you.

Tick appearance

Ticks are eight-legged pests belonging to the arachnid family. Yes, you guessed it! They are in the same class as spiders. They are not insects. 

Ticks can vary in size. A deer tick (dog tick) is approximately the size of a poppy seed (1mm). A wood tick is approximately the size of a sesame seed (2.5mm). However, after feeding, ticks become engorged, doubling or tripling their body size.

Although there are several species of ticks, varying in size and color, the one thing they all have in common is their ability to transmit viruses and bacteria to people and animals.

Bed bug

close up image of bed bug

Bed bug appearance

Bed bugs have six legs and measure approximately 4mm – they’re quite a bit larger than a tick. Adult bed bugs are brown in color. After feeding, their coloring becomes more of a reddish-brown and they increase in size to approximately 8mm, about the size of a watermelon seed.

Unlike ticks, bed bugs do not transmit viruses or bacteria to people or animals.

Where ticks are found

Ticks can be found anywhere outdoors. They position themselves on long blades of grass where they stay until an unsuspecting animal or person gets close enough for them to latch on. Forests, beaches, mountains, parks, backyards, farms, and beyond. These areas are considered hot spots for tick activity and where you should be especially cautious.

Any environment that offers access to animal hosts such as deer, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, mice, coyotes, opossums, and domesticated pets, can contribute to a tick's rapid reproduction and ability to spread. 

Where bed bugs are found

Similar to ticks, bed bugs seek out environments that increase their odds of survival. In the case of bed bugs, this means wherever the highest concentration of humans are spending the most amount of time. Homes, movie theaters, planes, trains, hospitals, transportation terminals, lodging accommodations, and more, can all harbor bed bugs. And, if they don’t find an environment that offers what they’re looking for, they’ll just hitchhike their way until they do.

Strategically, bed bugs will hide in areas that are closest to their target. They will stay hidden until the time is right, usually nightfall. Once an unsuspecting human is asleep or comfortably situated, the bed bugs will creep out of hiding to feed. 

Although people tend to associate bed bugs with beds, this isn’t always the case. Bed bugs will situate themselves anywhere near a food source. In a home this could mean a sofa, reclining chair, or office chair—wherever people spend the majority of their time.


tick bite

Tick bites

Ticks are diurnal, meaning they will seek out a host during daylight hours. 

Both male and female ticks feed exclusively on blood. Although they prefer animals, many will readily feed on humans. They “bite” by puncturing the skin using two flexible mouthparts called chelicerae to probe and pierce the skin. Microscopic hooks on those mouthparts help the ticks get a tentative grip. Then, by repeatedly retracting and extending the chelicerae, the bloodsucking arachnids bury a stiff, well-barbed structure called the hypostome (tongue-shaped body part) in the host’s skin. Once fully embedded in the host, the tick forms a tube by holding the chelicerae and the hypostome together – one tube takes up blood and the other secretes saliva into the bite site. The saliva contains chemicals that anesthetize the bite area to allow the tick’s feeding to go unnoticed by humans.

bed bug bites

Bed bug bites

Bed bugs are mostly nocturnal and prefer to feed at night. However, when bed bug infestations are severe, they have been known to come out of hiding to feed during the day.

Similar to ticks, bed bugs also depend on blood as their food source and have a tube-like mouthpart that has a dual injection system, allowing it to take up blood through the injector while secreting saliva into the bite site. The saliva contains chemicals that anesthetize the bite area to allow the bed bug to feed undetected by the host.

Tick health risks

Ticks are responsible for transmitting an array of disease-causing organisms to humans and animals. It is important to note that different species of ticks are capable of transmitting different pathogens. 

So for example, black-legged (deer) ticks transmit the pathogen that causes Lyme Disease, while the American dog tick can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and the Lone Star tick is responsible for the Alpha-gal (red meat) allergy in humans.

The potential for a tick to harbor a disease-causing organism depends on the geographic area, the tick species, and the individual tick. But while not all ticks carry disease-causing organisms, there are populations of infected ticks throughout the United States. The bottom line is that you should take any tick bite seriously.

If you are bitten by a tick

  • Remove the tick as soon as possible. The longer it is attached, the higher the chance of pathogen transmission. 
  • Use tweezers to grasp the tick by the head, as close to the skin as possible, pulling it straight out. Avoid twisting it. 
  • Don’t squeeze it by the abdomen, it could potentially push pathogens from the tick back into the bite site.
  • Save the tick in a container so it can be tested by your healthcare provider. Avoid sticking it on a piece of tape.
  • Play it safe and contact your health care provider. At the very least, your doctor will have you watch for specific signs and symptoms of tick-borne illness.

Bed bug health risks

Although bed bugs cannot transmit diseases or bacteria, they do shed their skin, which is known to negatively impact people who suffer from asthma or respiratory issues.

Additionally, bed bug bites can cause allergic reactions in some people – ranging from mild to severe.

Tick prevention

Here are some tips to keep you safe from ticks while enjoying the outdoors:

  • Reduce skin exposure by wearing a long-sleeve shirt and pants
  • Tuck your pants into your socks
  • Wear light clothing to see ticks better
  • Apply tick repellent with permethrin to your clothing, shoes, backpack, etc.
  • Stay on trails
  • Avoid walking through tall grasses and bushes

Keep the grass mowed... and other tips for your yard.

Bed bug prevention

Travel season can definitely stir up bed bug activity and put you at risk for bed bug encounters. Even if you don’t travel, you can still harbor bed bugs. If you visit places where there are lots of people, or have people staying with you who have recently travelled, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye out for signs of bed bug activity.

Here are 4 insider tips to help you avoid the bite!

  • Become an inspector: When you stay overnight anywhere, take a look around the room. Check under and around the mattress, boxspring, sheets, and bedframe.
    • TIP: Look for bed bugs, dark colored stains, and shed skins.
  • Avoid hitchhikers: Keep your suitcase and bags off the floor and away from the bed and other upholstered furniture in the room. To be extra safe, you can store your luggage in plastic bags during your stay.
    • TIP: The bathroom is the safest place to store your luggage.
  • Checking out? Check again: Before you pack up your belongings, check along luggage seams, zippers, inside pockets, and behind handles and wheels.
    • TIP: Keep hitchhiking bed bugs from returning home with you.
  • Heat kills: Wash your clothes in hot water (even the ones you didn’t wear) and dry them on high heat to make sure no bed bugs or their eggs survive long enough to become established in your home.
    • TIP: Vacuuming your luggage will help to ensure there are no stragglers.

Western is only a phone call away!

If you're experiencing issues with ticks or bed bugs, don’t wait until it’s too late! Start controlling bed bugs and give us a call at 1-866-623-9842 to schedule a free inspection or contact us online. One of our pest control Technicians will quickly determine what the most effective solution is for protecting you, your family, and your pets from these blood-sucking pests.

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