Ouch! What Bug Bit Me?

Bug bites are frustrating and irritating — and can be harmful. Learn to identify the type of bug bite or sting so you can determine whether to seek emergency medical attention, call your doctor, or treat the bite at home.


There are many different types of insects that bite or sting. Some bites and stings, like those from fire ants, wasps, hornets, and bees, are painful. Some can also spread illnesses, such as Lyme disease (black-legged tick), Rocky Mountain spotted fever (dog or wood tick), and West Nile virus (mosquito). The bites of other bugs, such as mosquitoes, mites, and fleas, are itchy and uncomfortable, but usually harmless. Learning to identify a bug bite by how it looks and feels will help you know whether to seek medical attention immediately or treat the skin bump at home.

Mosquito Bites

A mosquito bite is a very itchy round, red, or pink skin bump. Mosquito bites can spread the West Nile virus, though this is rare: Only 1 percent of mosquitoes in areas where infected mosquitoes have been found actually have been shown to have the virus. Still, it’s important to recognize the symptoms, which commonly appear 5 to 15 days after the bite: headaches and body aches, fever, and possibly swollen glands and a skin rash. People with a more severe infection may develop encephalitis, with symptoms such as stiffness in the neck, a severe headache, disorientation, high fever, and convulsions.


Bed Bug Bites

It does not hurt when the bed bug bites, but many people develop an allergic reaction to the saliva of the bug usually between 24 hours and three days later, resulting in a raised, red skin bump or welt that is intensely itchy and inflamed. Both the welt and the itchiness may last for several days. Bed bug bites can occur anywhere on the body, but are typically on uncovered areas, such as the neck, face, arms, and hands — and are often found in a row of two or more.


Spider Bites


Spider Bites

Most spider bites are not poisonous; symptoms are much like those for a bee sting, including red skin, swelling, and pain at the bug bite site. Some people may develop an allergic reaction, with symptoms such as tightness in the chest, breathing problems, swallowing difficulties, or swelling of the face. A poisonous black widow spider bite can cause a much more severe reaction. The bug bite itself may or may not be painful, but 30 to 40 minutes later pain and swelling may begin in the area and within eight hours you may experience muscle pain and rigidity, stomach and back pain, nausea and vomiting, and breathing difficulties. Always seek medical attention immediately if you could have been bitten by a poisonous spider.


Brown Recluse Bites

The brown recluse spider is another poisonous spider found in the United States. Some people feel a small sting followed immediately by a sharp pain, while others don’t realize they’ve gotten a bug bite until hours later — in four to eight hours, the bite may become more painful and look like a bruise or blister with a blue-purple area around it. It may become crusty and turn dark a few days later. Be sure to seek medical attention immediately if you could have been bitten by a poisonous spider.


Tick Bites

Some tick bites can be dangerous. Black-legged ticks, formerly known as deer ticks, may carry Lyme disease, and dog ticks may spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). Symptoms of Lyme disease include a skin rash in the pattern of rings, much like a bull’s-eye on a target, that can appear up to a month after the bug bite, fever, fatigue, headaches, muscle and joint aches, and irregular heart rhythms. Symptoms of RMSF include fever, headache, muscle aches, and a skin rash that begins on the ankles and wrists after a few days of fever and later spreads to the rest of the body.


Flea Bites

Symptoms of flea bites — which may begin within hours of the bug bite — include a small, red skin rash that may or may not bleed, itching (possibly severe), hives, and swelling around an injury or sore. Flea bites — which tend to be in groups of three or four — are more common on the ankles, armpits, around your waist, and in the bends of your knees and elbows. The rash turns white when you press on it and tends to get larger or spread over time.


Bee Stings

Bee stings cause a sharp pain — much like a shot from your doctor — that may continue for a few minutes, then fade to a dull, aching feeling. The area may still feel sore to the touch a few days later. A red skin bump with white around it may appear around the site of the sting. The area may also itch and feel hot to the touch. If you have been stung before, your body may also have an immune response to the venom in the sting, resulting in swelling where the sting occurred or in an entire area of the body.


Ant Bites and Stings

Some types of ants, like fire ants, are venomous. Ant bites and stings are typically painful and result in a red skin bump. Fire ants bite first to hold on and then sting. Fire ant stings produce a sharp pain and a burning sensation and result in a white, fluid-filled pustule or blister a day or two after the sting, lasting from three to eight days. There may also be itchiness, redness, and swelling at the site. Carpenter ants bite and, although they are not venomous, they spray formic acid into the bite, which causes a burning feeling.


Mite Bites

Mite bites do not usually spread disease, but they often irritate the skin and cause intense itching. Itch mites usually feed on insects, but will bite other animals, including people. Their bites usually go unnoticed until itchy, red marks develop, which may look like a skin rash. Chiggers are a form of mite. They bite to inject their saliva so that they can liquefy and eat skin. In response to the chigger bite, the skin around the bite hardens. The surrounding skin becomes irritated and inflamed, and an itchy red welt develops.