Identifying Insect Bites. A Guide to Common Types

October 31, 2022

We’ve all experienced bites or stings with no idea where we got the injury or which insect was responsible. However, knowing what has bit or stung you helps with knowing how to treat the bite and deal with any associated pain, swelling, or blistering.


Tired of bug bites being a mystery? Our guide aims to help you identify what kinds of bites or stings you have, and how to deal with symptoms safely and appropriately.


Mosquito Bites


Bites from mosquitoes are usually small, slightly raised bumps that are annoyingly itchy. Often, they only swell after you have scratched them, and the more you scratch, the itchier they become.


These bites require close monitoring as they can become infected if scratched excessively enough to break the skin. When this happens, bacteria from your fingers or under your nails can enter the wound. This is a particular concern with young children who have been bitten as they do not have the self-control of adults.


Infections can sometimes be fairly mild and can be treated with an ointment such as bacitracin and anti-itch creams. Slightly more serious infections can lead to “skeeter syndrome” which results in painful and swollen bites.


On a more serious note, mosquitoes can carry the Zika and West Nile viruses and encephalitis. These viral diseases have similar symptoms such as high fever, headaches, joint and muscle pain. 


Encephalitis symptoms include lethargy, confusion, photosensitivity (extreme sensitivity to bright light), nausea, vomiting and seizures.


The symptoms of West Nile virus include muscle weakness, tremors and jerking muscles, seizures, stupor, and coma.


The symptoms of the Zika virus are a body rash, itching all over the body, pain behind the eyes, conjunctivitis, and a pain in the lower back.


If you or your family are displaying any of the symptoms of encephalitis, the Zika or West Nile viruses, you should seek medical treatment immediately.


Tick Bites


Tick bites are very easy to identify as the culprit is usually attached to the bite site. Once they have bitten you, ticks can stick around from 2 days to 2 weeks. The actual bites are often painless, and you invariably will not feel them.


Ticks favor warm and dark areas of the body such as the groin and underarm areas. They also like the hairline. In fact, ticks will seek out any crease on the body. A typical tick bite will not cause a reaction, but some species do carry diseases.


Symptoms are also not immediate and some only raise their heads after about a couple of weeks. You need to watch for the symptoms of Lyme Disease, amongst which the “bulls-eye rash”, which is spread by the Deer tick is a common one. This rash forms in a circular red area with a clear circle in the middle (the bull’s eye). Other symptoms of Lyme Disease are loss of appetite, aching muscles, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting. and diarrhea.


Bee Stings


Stinging insects such as wasps, hornets, or bees can cause varying reactions when someone gets stung. Once a bee has stung you it will die. But wasps and hornets can sting you multiple times with no ill effect to themselves.


The actual sting is immediately sharply painful followed by a burning sensation. Stings may even become itchy in time as well. Reactions among individuals can range from the moderate to severe, especially if the person stung has an allergy.


Most people experience a raised welt with some swelling and mild discomfort or pain. Others experience increased swelling and redness which last for days. Severe reactions can result in anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. This can be dangerous as symptoms include difficulty in breathing, extreme swelling (particularly of the face, throat, or tongue), nausea and vomiting, dizziness and fainting, diarrhea, and even lead to loss of consciousness.


These symptoms of anaphylactic shock are usually immediate or occur within minutes which is what makes it scary and important to seek medical help urgently. Anaphylactic shock is caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure in which the body’s cells are not receiving sufficient oxygen. It is potentially life-threatening so seeking medical attention quickly is crucial.


Stings should be removed, and the area cleaned as quickly as possible thereafter. A cold compress or pack can also be used to relieve the pain. Some people treat stings by taking over-the-counter medicines such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories or allergy medication such as antihistamines.


Fly Bites


There are numerous species of flies that bite in the US, such as the horse fly, black and deer flies. Their bites usually present as a welt of bump, but there are differences. Some bleed while others just swell.


These bites are usually itchy, painful, or both. Some people experience an inflammatory response in which the bite area is painful accompanied by a rash. Some fly species insert an anticoagulant containing saliva during a bite and this is what causes the inflammatory response in some victims.


Certain species of fly are more dangerous than others as they carry and transmit diseases such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and equine infectious anemia.


Fire Ant Stings


Fire ants originate in South America but have migrated northwards into the US and are currently invasive in most southern states. These insects both bite and sting and they resemble carpenter ants, so they are often confused. They live in dirt mounds and are usually found in sunny areas.


Fire ants use their mouths to attach themselves and then they sting from their back ends. Unlike bees, they don’t lose their stings when they sting, and they don’t die. They also often attack in groups, which is why their bites tend to appear as clusters. Their stings look like a small blister surrounded by a red and swollen spot. Often the blisters have a small amount of pus in them, resembling pimples. 


Again, there are different reactions for different people. Most people experience itching and burning for about a week, with these symptoms being the strongest after a few days after the sting. The symptoms usually go away after a while and no treatment is required. But some people experience severe burning and itching around the site and anaphylaxis may present the classic symptoms. As with bee stings, these include trouble breathing, swelling of the face, throat and tongue, dizziness, confusion, and even loss of consciousness. 


People who have been the victim of a repeated number of stings have reported hallucinations and other neurological symptoms.


Bed Bugs


Bed bugs are surprisingly common and equally difficult to get rid of. These bugs leave small red bites that may go undetected for a few days. Their bites are more of a nuisance and usually do not cause severe reactions in people.


Bed bugs can be brought into the home in numerous ways as they hitch a ride in boxes, in backpacks, on pets, and in luggage. They don’t only live in bedding and mattresses, they are also found in clutter, old furniture, and unused spaces such as attics.


Bed bugs carry no diseases, and the biggest risk is developing an infection from excessive scratching. Treating the bites with an anti-itch cream should solve the problem.


Stop Getting Bitten


Now that you know more about identifying bites and stings, you can work out what pests are causing you the most problems. If you’re getting bitten a bit too often, call the experts at Twin-Boro and get rid of whatever’s biting you the proper way.