How to Spot 5 Types of Common Bug Bites

Deer fly crawling on a person's jeans

Matt Reinbold / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

When the weather warms up, we're not the only ones out in the backyard. Unfortunately, some pesky critters have a different idea of what it means to enjoy the outdoors. Insects can be a nuisance year-round, but with outdoor festivities beginning, it’s the perfect time to get a bug bite education.

Here are some tips to help identify what type of bug is ruining your fun, where its favorite spots are, and what to do when this particular kind of uninvited guest crashes your party.


tick biting skin
Smileus / Shutterstock

The most distinctive aspect of ticks and their bites is that a tick will attach itself to you after it’s sunk in its teeth. Most people will notice the bite simply because the tick is still there.

Like many other bugs, ticks reside in the grass or woods, though they have specific spots they like to haunt on humans. Ticks are fond of damp, warm areas of the body such as the armpit or groin. Ticks generally are not dangerous, but some carry certain diseases such as Lyme disease. If you are allergic to ticks or contract a tick-borne illness, you may experience headaches, nausea, rashes or flu-like symptoms. The best way to handle a tick bite is to remove the tick as soon as you spot it using tweezers. Then wash the area with warm soap and water. If the bite is irritated, apply some antibiotic ointment.

Insect repellent can be used as protection, but if you want to avoid ticks altogether, it’s best to just stay away from the areas where they live.

Deer Flies

deer fly biting a person
Bruce MacQueen / Shutterstock

Deer flies like to rear the heads just as the warmer weather begins. They can be found along trails near streams, lakes, ponds, marshes and swamps. Deer fly bites are extremely painful, and have a large, swollen and red appearance. If you’ve been enjoying a day at the lake and notice such a bite, there’s a good chance you’ve fallen prey to a deer fly.

Deer flies are some of a number of flies that transmit disease. This includes tularemia, with symptoms that include headache and ulcers on the skin or mouth, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tularemia can be treated with antibiotics, but if left untreated, tularemia can be fatal. Because the disease can be hard to diagnose, let your doctor know if you think you've been bitten by a deer fly. For immediate relief, put ice on the bite and soothe it with anti-itch cream and antihistamines.

Deer flies are most active during spring and summer, so be prepared with insect repellent if you're at the lake on hot days. If you’re out on a swamp expedition, wear protective clothing that covers all your skin.


Chigger bites on a woman's leg
theivorytower / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

What the actual chigger bite lacks in pain, it certainly can make up for later with intense itching. When a chigger bites, the initial chomp goes unnoticed. You'll only be aware once the tiny, red, grouped, blister-like welts show up, and you experience extreme and intense itchiness.

Chiggers tend to reside in grassy areas or berry patches. So if you want to avoid these little red critters, then maybe cloud gazing in the grass or berry picking on a warm day isn't a good idea.

Luckily with chiggers, there is no risk of disease and the itch can be treated with over-the-counter medication. Just be careful not to constantly scratch, or you may be at risk for infection.


Flea bites on a man's ankle
anamariategzes / Getty Images

We typically associate fleas with pets, but fleas have no qualms with feasting on humans as well. Flea bites are small, red and they appear in clusters. They are extremely itchy, and can also be painful upon impact, soon after the bite has occurred. You can help ease itching with over-the-counter anti-itch creams and antihistamines. Try not to scratch the area, because that can lead to infection.

Flea bites are usually harmless and will go away on their own, but sometimes you may experience a rash surrounding the bite. If you notice a rash or any other sign of an infection, see your doctor.

Fleas prefer tall grass, and can show up in your own yard, or in other outdoor areas. If you have a dog or cat, the best prevention method is to have your pets regularly treated with veterinary approved flea medication. If you don’t have pets and come across fleas in your yard, have your yard treated by pest-control professionals.


black widow spider bite on a person's finger
David~O / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Spiders aren't aggressive towards humans and don't seek us out for dinner. They typically only bite defensively, reports the Bohart Museum of Entomology. In fact, of the 45,000 or so species of spiders, most don't have fangs long or strong enough to even break human skin.

Most harmless spider bites cause some localized pain and swelling. You may have some itching, pain and a rash around the bite and symptoms can last up to a week.

In the U.S., only the brown recluse and black widow spiders have enough venom to hurt people, reports the CDC.

Brown recluse spiders can be identified by a violin-shaped spot behind their heads. They are often found outdoors beneath woodpiles or leaves, because of their preference for dark, covered areas. They can also be found indoors under clothes or in cabinets.

Typically the bite is not felt at first, so you may not know you’ve been attacked. Symptoms tend to begin within the first few hours. The bite, shown above, is a purplish or blue color, surrounded by a white colored ring. An ulcer may develop, and symptoms such as a fever or rash can occur. The bite is not usually fatal, but can be in rare cases for children or older adults. If bitten, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Black widow spiders have a red hourglass shape in the middle of their shiny, round, black abdomen. They're found mostly in southern and western states and they like secluded places like garages, woodpiles and fallen leaves.

The first signs of a black widow bite are two red marks, later followed by swelling and pain that spreads throughout your body. It can be accompanied by fever, chills, and nausea. Eventually, the area around the bite can become redder and more swollen. It's important to see a doctor as soon as possible.

View Article Sources
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  6. "Tularemia Frequently Asked Questions." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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