Fleas are often mistaken for several other bugs. If you are wondering, “what are some bugs that look like fleas” you are in the right place.
Last week, one of our clients thought a baby roach was a flea. Since they are both tiny, it’s essential to use a magnifying glass or microscope to ID the bug. We will cover some more common bugs that look like fleas below. But first, let’s go over some facts about fleas.
Flea Identification: What Do Fleas Look Like?
Fleas are small thin wingless parasitic insects that vary in color. Some of their disguising features help them survive and adapt to living a life in hair. Adult fleas are about 3mm long, dark brown to reddish-brown.
Furthermore, their glossy surface allows them to move with ease through hair. At the same time, their long legs help them jump. They brace themselves on the ground and launch up to 100 times their body length into the air.
The thing about fleas is that they go through a metamorphosis. After the egg hatches, flea larvae munch on flea feces and flea eggs.
At this time, you might see a flea infestation with mattress worms. So if you see mattress worms, you may have a flea problem, a carpet beetle problem, or a moth issue.
- Flea Identification: What Do Fleas Look Like?
- A List of 13 Bugs That Look Like Fleas
- Bed Bug
- Bird Mites (Ornithonyssus spp)
- Roach Nymphs – Very Commonly Mistaken for Bugs That Look Like Fleas
- Minute Pirate Bug Nymph – Commonly Mistaken for Bugs That Look Like Fleas
- Carpet Beetles
- Flour Beetles
- Flea Beetle (Altica species)
- Fruit Flies (Drosophila melanogaster)
- Gnats (BITING MIDGES (Family Ceratopogonidae)
- Lice (Body Lice and Head Lice) – Bugs That Look Like Fleas
- Springtails (Collembola) – Popular Bugs That Look Like Fleas
- Final Thoughts for What Are Some Bugs That Look Like Fleas?
Check Out These Three Pictures of Fleas to Help You With the ID
A List of 13 Bugs That Look Like Fleas
A professional pest expert will not mistake these bugs for fleas, but many of our clients often do. However, if you do have a flea issue, then you may want to figure out how bad the flea infestation is before treating it.
Bed bugs and fleas are often confused for one another, particularly in the nymphal stages when bed bugs are tiny. Without a magnifying glass, it can be difficult to tell the difference.
Both bed bugs and fleas are parasitic insects that feed off the blood of humans and animals. Bed bugs, however, tend to be slightly larger than fleas and have a more oval-shaped body.
The bed bug is between 5 and 7 mm, whereas the adult flea is 3mm.
Reddish-brown to brighter red to dark blackish-brown depending on when they last fed.
Here are some of the significant differences:
- Size: fleas are smaller.
- Ability to Jump: bed bugs do not jump like fleas.
- Body shape: fleas have a laterally compressed body shape.
- Behavior: fleas live on their host, whereas bed bugs live near the host. While you may see a flea in your bed, they mainly live on the host.
Bird Mites (Ornithonyssus spp)
Unlike fleas, bird mites cannot generally reproduce on human blood; they need the blood of a bird to complete their life cycle.
Most bird mites can survive ten days without a bird host. Furthermore, they have a shorter life cycle than the flea.
You can get bird mites in your home if you have an abandoned bird’s nest nearby. How it works is that the mites will leave the nest and look for a new blood meal. Using one of the best vacuums for fleas we recommend will help with bird mites and/or fleas.
The bird mites are 1mm long, whereas a flea is 3mm.
The most common mite, the Northern Fowl mite, will vary from grey to red, depending on when they last had a meal.
Here are some of the significant differences:
- Bird mites will complete their life cycle in 7 days. In contrast, it will take a flea 20-30 days to go from egg to adult. Furthermore, fleas can overwinter for up to 20 months if there is no host around. Learn more here: do fleas die in the winter?
- Fleas are vectors of tapeworms, whereas bird mites are not.
- A fleas life cycle includes egg-larvae-pupae-adult; in contrast, a bird mite’s life cycle goes from egg-nymph (a few stages) -adult.
Roach Nymphs – Very Commonly Mistaken for Bugs That Look Like Fleas
Sometimes people send us a photo of bugs that look like fleas, and often these are, in fact, roach nymphs. Because the German cockroach nymph is often tiny and slender, it is mistaken for a flea.
Learning what cockroaches eat is an essential facet of making a proper ID. Unlike fleas, roach nymphs are not blood-sucking parasites. Instead, they are foragers.
Roaches do not jump. Instead, they crawl and fly. However, the cockroach nymphs do not have wings, which is why they are sometimes mistaken for flea.
A roach nymph is 3 to 14 mm, depending on their nymphal stage, which can overlap with the size of an adult flea, which is 3mm.
Baby roaches are amber brown – reddish brown.
Here are some of the significant differences:
- A flea is a parasitic insect, whereas a roach is not.
- Adult cockroaches have wings, and in contrast, fleas do not have wings.
- Fleas can jump, over a foot; up to 100 times their body length, whereas cockroaches do not jump.
Minute Pirate Bug Nymph – Commonly Mistaken for Bugs That Look Like Fleas
Since the Anthocoridae family of bugs are sometimes amber to reddish brown, the nymphs can be mistaken for flea. Not only that, but they are also one of the bugs that look like bed bugs.
I have had two recent inspections where the client found a minute pirate bug on their skin. One client thought it was a bed bug nymph, and the other was sure it was a flea.
So they are high up on our list of mistaken bugs that look like fleas! However learn more about whether cat fleas and dog fleas are the same. Plus how to tell the difference: Hint you’ll need a microscope or hand lens.
The minute pirate bug is a predator and keeps other insects in check; they will feast on spider mites. If you are an avid gardener, you’ll know that spider mites are not one of the insects you want in your garden.
The minute pirate bug nymphs are about 2.5 mm in length.
A pirate bug nymph is amber in color, which is why it can sometimes be mistaken for a flea.
Here are some of the significant differences between fleas and pirate bugs:
- A pirate bug eats other insects and plants, whereas a flea drinks blood for nutrients.
- Adult pirate bugs have wings, whereas all stages of fleas are wingless.
- The adult pirate bugs are purplish to black to brown. At the same time, adult fleas are reddish brown amber.
Unlike fleas, carpet beetles feast on fabrics, stored food products, and carpets. I have often seen them along the seams of mattresses and under box springs.
The fact that they have a larval stage is why their larvae are often confused with flea larvae. If you see a black bug that looks like a flea, it might be a carpet beetle.
Carpet beetles, roaches, fleas, bed bugs, and spider beetles are among the more common NYC apartment bugs. It’s essential to vacuum around your bed frame and mattress at least once a month, reducing the chances of carpet beetles infesting your bed.
Depending on what carpet beetle species you find, they are between 1.5 mm – 6 mm.
Carpet beetles come in a wide variety of colors. They can be black, tan, spotted, or variegated.
Here are some of the significant differences between carpet beetles and fleas:
- Carpet beetles go through a hairy larval stage, which can cause dermatitis in some people.
- Most carpet beetles are more significant than fleas.
- Carpet beetles have hard exterior shells with wings, whereas fleas do not.
- Carpet beetles feast on fabrics, whereas fleas feast on blood.
Flour beetles and fleas may seem like they have a lot in common. Both are small, reddish-brown insects that you can find in various locations. However, there are some critical differences between these two pests.
Flour beetles gravitate towards flour, grains, and cereals, while fleas live on animals like dogs and cats. Additionally, you’ll find flour beetles and fleas in various locations, including beds and carpets.
One of our number one calls is for someone to find one of these grain beetles in bed. Ultimately, flour beetles and fleas may look similar to some people, but they are quite different creatures.
The red flour beetle is 3-4mm.
The grain beetles are reddish-brown like fleas, but their body shapes differ.
Here are some of the significant differences between flour beetles and fleas:
- Grain beetles feed on flour, grains, and nuts, whereas fleas feed on blood.
- The flour beetles have chewing mouthparts, while the adult fleas have piercing-sucking mouthparts.
- Fleas will bite humans and animals; in contrast, a flour beetle does not.
- Flour beetles take approximately 1.5-3 months from egg to adult. On the other hand, a flea lifecycle can be as short as three weeks and as long as a year.
Flea Beetle (Altica species)
Flea beetles are small, dark-colored beetles that get their name from their powerful hind legs, which allow them to jump like fleas. So if you see a small bug that jumps, it might be a flea beetle, spider, a flea, or a springtail.
Furthermore, flea beetles, also known as leaf beetles, can cause severe damage to plants by eating holes in the leaves. Even though they can cause damage to crops, they are also seen as beneficial insects because of their ability to devour weeds. Each species will forage on a different set of plants.
A flea beetle is between 1.5–3 mm; their size depends on the species.
These insects come in various colors, from blackish, bronze, bluish, or brown to metallic gray.
Here are some of the significant differences between flea beetles and fleas:
- Fleas will never be a metallic grey color, whereas a flea beetle can have a metallic shine.
- Fleas feed on blood, whereas flea beetles feed on plants.
- While both flea beetles and fleas have a hard exoskeleton, the flea beetles are more rounded. In contrast, the fleas have a slender, laterally compressed body shape.
Fruit Flies (Drosophila melanogaster)
Most of us have had a fruit fly infestation as some point. So, you know how unfortunate and difficult to get rid of they can be. But what exactly are fruit flies, and how do they differ from other types of pests?
For starters, fruit flies love moisture, so they often lay their eggs in moist fruits or vegetables. This habit is one of the main ways they differ from fleas, which tend to infest animals rather than fruits or vegetables.
Another key difference is that fruit flies can fly, whereas fleas are not able to.
Do fleas have wings? No, but fruit flies are often one of the flying bugs that look like fleas.
Finally, fruit flies do not bite, whereas fleas are known for their bites. So if you’re dealing with a fruit fly infestation, take steps to get rid of them as quickly as possible! Flying makes it easier for fruit flies to spread their infestation to other areas.
A fruit fly is similar in size to a flea, around 3mm.
Most fruit flies are tan, whereas fleas range in color from red to brown.
Here are some of the significant differences between fruit flies and fleas:
- A fruit fly has wings and can fly, whereas a flea jumps and crawls.
- Fruit flies find their way to fermenting fruit and vegetables. In contrast, a flea needs the blood of animals.
- Additionally, a fruit fly can lay up to 500 eggs in her lifetime, but a flea will lay up to 180 eggs in a lifetime.
Gnats (BITING MIDGES (Family Ceratopogonidae)
Various types of gnats are among some of the flying bugs that look like fleas. Biting midges are one type of gnat that bite and suck blood. They are similar to fleas in that they drink blood; however, the similarities stop there.
For example, biting midges are small, flying insects, while fleas are wingless. Additionally, fleas have long legs designed for jumping, whereas gnats do not.
Finally, biting midges typically give painful bites, while fleas bites are itchier than painful. While both biting midges and fleas drink blood, they are different insects with different characteristics.
A biting midge and most other biting gnats are between 1mm and 3mm.
A biting midge will turn from grey to red, depending on when their last blood meal was.
Here are some of the significant differences between gnats and fleas:
- A biting midge will lay 25 to 150 eggs once, whereas a flea will lay 4 to 8 eggs.
- With a biting midge, it’s only the female that sucks blood. However, with a flea, both sexes feed on blood.
- Gnats have wings and can fly, whereas fleas do not have wings but instead can jump.
Lice (Body Lice and Head Lice) – Bugs That Look Like Fleas
Body lice tend to live within our clothing and travel onto our skin for a meal, whereas head lice live in our hair. Lice on a mattress are not that common because they can’t live off the host for very long.
Even though head lice and fleas can live within the hair, they are very different parasites. They are one of the common bugs that look like fleas to the untrained eye.
The lifecycle of a louse goes from egg to nymph to adult. In contrast, the lifecycle of a flea is an egg to larva to pupae to adult. All lice species are host specific, meaning that the dog-biting louse will not bite humans.
In contrast, the same flea species can bite dogs or humans. People often ask us, “can fleas live in their hair?” They can crawl through hair but do not infest human hair like lice.
An adult louse is around 1.9 mm, smaller than a flea.
Lice are greyish and can turn red when they fill up on blood.
Here are some of the significant differences between lice and fleas:
- An adult louse can only live for up to 2 days off of a host. In contrast, an adult flea can live up to 2 weeks off a host.
- Lice do not jump from person to person. However, fleas do indeed jump.
- An adult flea lifespan is a few months on a host, whereas lice tend to only live for one month.
According to LymeDisease.ORG, there are over 900 species of ticks; worldwide, they are often picked up and confused for fleas. Ticks are vectors for many diseases, like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, Tularemia, and more.
It’s the small nymphal ticks that are sometimes confused for a flea.
While ticks and fleas are both tiny, wingless parasites that feed on the blood of animals, they are pretty different.
Ticks are also more dangerous than fleas, as they can transmit diseases to humans and animals.
Ticks attach themselves to their host while fleas bite their victim. Finally, ticks are found in wooded areas, while fleas are more likely to be found in homes.
An unfed adult tick is between 2 and 6 mm.
Ticks range in color from grey to dark red to brown.
Here are some of the significant differences between ticks and fleas:
- A tick attaches itself to the host, whereas a flea bites and then lives in the fur.
- A tick has eight legs, whereas a flea has six legs.
- Each stage of the tick after the egg needs a host. Whereas the flea larvae feed on flea feces and not blood.
Since booklice are small and hard to see without magnification, I often get clients mistaking them for fleas. Booklice are small, translucent insects that love humid environments.
They feed on types of things, including mold and paper along with glue, making them hard to get rid of if you have a lot of paper. You might find them around your windowsills too.
A booklouse is between 1 mm – 2mm.
Translucent, white, or greyish.
Here are some of the significant differences between book lice and fleas:
- Booklice do not jump like fleas.
- The lifecycle of a booklouse goes from egg to nymph to adult. They do not have a larval or pupa stage like a flea.
- You can usually solve a booklouse issue by lowering the humidity and moisture levels.
- Lastly, booklice are soft-bodied insects with biting/chewing mouthparts whereas fleas are hard-bodied.
Springtails (Collembola) – Popular Bugs That Look Like Fleas
Since springtails are tiny and can jump, they are one of the number one “bugs that look like fleas and jump.” You will usually find springtails in groups, where they congregate around moisture and mold.
One thing to note is that a springtail is technically not an insect. The reason is that Springtails have a soft body, no wings, and internal mouthparts. You can learn more about this morphology and classification here.
A springtail will be between 0.2 mm and 10 mm. So part of their size range falls into the adult flea, about 3mm.
A springtail is brown, grey, or black. So if you see a brown jumping bug, it might be a springtail.
Here are some of the significant differences between Springtails and fleas:
- Springtail vs flea: springtails have a soft body, whereas flea has a rigid body.
- A springtail gravitates towards mold and moisture; on the other hand, a flea gravitates towards blood.
- Unlike a flea, springtails do not bite.
Final Thoughts for What Are Some Bugs That Look Like Fleas?
Roach nymphs and springtails are two of the most commonly mistaken bugs for fleas. Springtails are much smaller than fleas and typically jump only a few inches, while fleas are clocked at jumping up to 13 inches.
Many people also mistake bed bugs for fleas because they both bite humans and can cause itchy red bites.
Other common bugs that may be mistaken for fleas include ticks, gnats, mites, and others. We hope this list of “bugs that look like fleas” has helped you differentiate. Feel free to text us a photo of any bugs you need help IDing; we are here to help!
If this article fascinates you, check out 8 bugs that look like cockroaches.