Pet-owners are often plagued by fleas: tiny, bloodsucking hitchhikers that are most commonly found living in the coats of cats and dogs.
These hopping, biting insects are prolific breeders and can lay up to 50 eggs per day in the fur of your beloved pet, meaning infestations can soon take hold! So, if your pet is carrying large numbers of these passengers, it won’t be long before you start seeing them around your home.
However, these tiny, wingless insects are so small that they can easily be mistaken for other, similar-looking critters.
Some of the most common bugs that look like and are therefore often mistaken for fleas are springtails, bed bugs as well as flea beetles.
Which is why in this article, you will learn more about these three insects that look like fleas (but aren’t!), so you can establish once and for all what type of invader you’re dealing with.
What are fleas, and how can you identify them?
Fleas are small, light to dark brown insects that usually measure between 2 and 8 mm in length.
These wingless, flat-bodied bugs are most easily recognized by their impressive leap, as adult insects can launch themselves up to 30 cm into their air. This phenomenal skill allows them to spread quickly and means they can easily be transferred from pets to humans.
Fleas are known for leaving small, itchy bites on the skin of their hosts which, besides driving the afflicted creature crazy, can also transmit diseases. These minuscule insects have a fearsome reputation for their role in the spread of diseases, most notably the Black Death of the 14th century. This gruesome plague was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, wiping out around half the total population of Europe at the time, and was spread through the bites of infected fleas.
Nowadays, the plague isn’t such a pressing concern. However, studies have found that the majority of fleas still carry pathogens that can cause illness in both animals and humans. Getting rid of these insects as soon as you see them should, therefore, be a top priority for any pet-owner!
Unfortunately, flea identification isn’t as easy as you may think. There are several flea lookalikes that are often mistaken for this jumping, biting bug – but how can you tell them apart?
So, which insects are most commonly mistaken for fleas?
What are springtails?
Springtails are small, jumping insects that get their name from their ability to leap long distances. They are typically no more than a few millimeters long, and most are brown, gray or black in color.
These tiny jumping bugs are most commonly found in areas of high moisture such as soil, where they feed on mold and fungus. They are often mistaken for fleas due to their hopping behavior. However, there are some differences between the two that should help you tell them apart.
How are springtails similar to fleas?
Springtails and fleas are both tiny. Like fleas, springtails are very small and usually only measure a few mm in length. This can make them harder to identify, as it can be difficult to get a close look at them!
Springtails and fleas are both brown. Springtails come in a range of muddy colors, and it’s not uncommon for them to appear brown. This and their small size can easily lead to their being mistaken for fleas.
Springtails hop like fleas. The most distinctive trait of the flea is its superhero hopping power. However, they aren’t the only bug able to launch themselves over incredible distances, and the springtail is so named because it, too, can leap a long way.
Springtails and fleas are both wingless.
How are springtails different from fleas?
Springtails don’t bite. Unlike fleas, springtails feed on decaying organic matter and fungus. Therefore, they don’t bite or sting and are, in fact, completely harmless to both humans and animals.
Springtails and fleas have different body shapes. If you manage to capture one of your jumping invaders, try to look at it under a microscope for identification clues. Whereas fleas have a flattened body, springtails have a more rounded, soft body. They are also easier to squish than fleas, which famously resist crushing.
What are flea beetles?
Flea beetles are yet another example of small jumping insects that are not fleas. These bugs may hop like fleas, but flea beetles are found on plants, not pets. These herbivorous insects are most commonly found chomping holes in the stems and leaves of garden plants, rather than hanging out in your dog’s coat. However, they are similar in appearance to fleas and are often mistaken for the bloodsuckers – so, here’s how to tell them apart!
How are flea beetles similar to fleas?
They are a similar size and color. Flea beetles are tiny, just like fleas. They come in a range of colors from blank to metallic gray, though a good number of them are bronze or brown – just like fleas!
Flea beetles and fleas all jump. Flea beetles are most often mistaken for fleas because of their jumping abilities. Just like fleas, these tiny beetles can catapult themselves a long way; especially when disturbed!
How are flea beetles different from fleas?
Fleas and flea beetles have different habitats. While fleas are most commonly found in the fur of cats and dogs, flea beetles are usually found on plants. If you found your ‘fleas’ in the garden, chances are they’re actually flea beetles!
Flea beetles don’t bite. Unlike fleas, flea beetles live off plant material. This means they don’t bite animals or humans, making them easy to tell apart from their bloodthirsty counterparts.
What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are often found infesting bedrooms. Their small, flattened brownish bodies are similar in appearance to those of fleas and, like fleas, their bites are maddeningly itchy. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to tell the two apart!
How are bed bugs similar to fleas?
Bed bugs and fleas are both small and brown. At first glance, bed bugs and fleas have a very similar appearance. Both are small (just a few mm long) and brown in color.
Bed bugs and fleas both have flattened bodies. The flea’s flattened body may help you tell them apart from springtails but, as bed bugs also sport this body shape, it won’t be of much help
Bed bugs and fleas both bite. Like fleas, bed bugs feed exclusively on blood and both are well known (and hated for) leaving itchy bites on your skin.
Bed bugs and fleas are both wingless.
How are bed bugs different to fleas?
Bed bugs don’t jump. Unlike fleas, bed bugs can’t hop or jump. This is one of the most reliable ways to tell these insects apart – if it can’t leap, it’s not a flea!
Tell them apart by their eggs. Whereas the eggs of bed bugs are black in color, those of fleas are pearly white.
Their bites look different. Another way to determine if your invading insects are bed bugs or fleas is to examine their bites. Flea bites will appear in a cluster, and resemble mosquito bites, whereas the bites of bed bugs will look like a raised, flat red welt.
Finding fleas in your home or on your pets can be a nightmare. These tiny, hopping insects are bloodthirsty pests that can leave you with insanely itchy bites, and can even put your health at risk. However, not every jumping bug is a flea! There are several insect species that look (and hop!) like fleas, so learning to tell them apart is very important for effective control.