The 7 Bugs That Are Most Likely to Bite You While You're Sleeping
If you wake up itchy, one of these creatures is most likely to blame, pest experts say.
If you've ever woken up with a strange bump on your body and no sign of the culprit, you have to confront the uncomfortable likelihood that a bug snuck in and snacked on you in the middle of the night. Between the popular myth that you swallow eight spiders a year in your sleep and the knowledge that there are actual bed bugs, it's no wonder people are nervous about unwelcome visitors overnight. To learn what really may be going on—and how worried you should be—read on to hear from pest experts about the seven bugs that are most likely to bite you while you're sleeping.
It's no surprise that a creature called a bed bug is one of the insects most likely to bite you while you're sleeping. Entomologist and pest control expert Ryan Smith says bed bugs are probably the most common nocturnal bug and they love hiding out in your mattress. "A bad infestation of bed bugs can cause people to wake up and have trouble sleeping as a result of their biting," he says.
According to Vulcan Termite and Pest Control, one way to know if you have bed bugs is by identifying dark stains left on the sheets from where they've excreted or fed. "Bed bugs are most active an hour or two before sunrise when you're still fast asleep," according to Vulcan. "Once the sun comes up, they hide away under the mattress and in nearby crevices."
Pest expert Jordan Foster says these bugs only feed for a few minutes, but you could wake up with multiple bites if a host of them are feasting on you. Per Foster, bed bug bites are often painless at first but can turn into itchy welts, most commonly found on exposed skin. These pests prefer nibbling armpits, around the neck, behind the knee, and the inner thighs.
If you have pets in your home, you're more likely to get bitten by fleas at night, especially if your furry friend sleeps with you. "Fleas are always searching for easy prey, which means they might feast on you while you sleep," Smith says.
Unlike bed bugs, fleas tend to bite around the ankles. These bugs leave extremely itchy, red, and sometimes sore bites behind. According to Foster, flea bites can even lead to hives or a rash. He warns against scratching flea bites because it could result in an infection.
RELATED: 9 Cleaning Habits That Attract Spiders.
The good news: "Spiders are predators that typically eat bugs, so their mouth parts are adapted for that, and not for biting people," according to Charles van Rees, conservation scientist and editor-in-chief of Gulo in Nature. The bad news: When they do decide to bite a human, it can cause a lot of problems.
"Spider bites are almost always the result of a spider feeling threatened, being injured, or otherwise trying to defend itself," van Rees explains. "Because of their predatory habits and need to subdue prey, nearly all spiders are venomous. While for the most part, their venom is intended for much smaller and very different prey than large mammals like us or our pets, it can sometimes be pretty harmful. This is especially true for species like the brown recluse and black widow. Even bites from common house spiders, however, can cause a lot of irritation and potentially tiny amounts of necrosis (local tissue death)."
So, what attracts spiders to your bed? According to van Rees, it's other pests that initially draw them in. "Avoid having crumbs, food packaging, open water (like left-out bottles, cans, glasses), large piles of clothes, or other items around your bed. These are all likely to attract insects, which in turn will attract spiders to hunt them."
You've probably woken up with the familiar itch of mosquito bites many times before. Once one of these pests begins feeding on you with its long tube-like mouth, it's likely to keep going, which can result in a fair amount of itchy bites.
"Most species are most active in early morning or dusk," notes van Rees. "Female mosquitoes bite people to get the nutrition that they need to make eggs. They cue in on movement, color contrast, and most importantly, the carbon dioxide from our breath to find us."
In van Rees' experience, the way most modern households encounter mosquito bites at night is that the insect actually arrived during the day. "Getting by unseen on corners of the ceiling or perched on the wall, they can come find you at bedtime when you're in one place for hours, giving them time to hone in on your smell."
For more pest content delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Ticks are especially dangerous, as their bites can lead to Lyme Disease. While you're not likely to have a tick in your bed, if one attached to you during the day, "it would embed at night," says Megan Wede, co-owner of Done Right Pest Solutions.
According to Andrew Greess, owner of QSpray, which sells pest control, landscaping, and termite equipment, you should be concerned about ticks if you've gone hiking or live in a wooded, grassy area. "These small arachnids feed on blood and are likely to hitch a ride on your shoes or clothing—waiting for a time when you're relatively still or sleeping to dig their tiny, sharp teeth into your skin," he says.
To prevent a tick bite at night, Greess recommends checking yourself thoroughly after being in outdoor areas and having someone else check the body parts you cannot see. If you have a dog, you'll want to check them, too.
According to WebMD, "Mites are tiny bugs in the tick and spider family" of which there are thousands of species, each with its own "eating, biting, and bloodsucking habits." Pest experts say, however, that certain species are more likely to bite you while you're sleeping.
"One of the more common biting bugs that we find in people's beds are bird mites or rodent mites," says Diana Ludwiczak, a NYC-certified bed bug and pest inspector and owner of Doctor Sniffs Bed Bug Dogs. "These are blood-sucking parasites that start biting humans when their host either leaves or is killed." She notes that their bites are often misidentified as being from bed bugs.
As the names suggest, rodent mites feast on mice or rats, while bird bites may get inside "if you have birds or a birds nest on the balcony/deck of your bedroom," explains Wede.
John Melchior, owner of Kapture Pest Control, notes that mites bite people at night because they are "easy targets (not moving) with a slowed blood flow."
A specific type of mite, chiggers are tiny red bugs that can result in very itchy bites. "People are the main source of food for chiggers," Foster says. "This small, minuscule insect attaches itself to the skin, remaining tight for a few days, and then falls off."
Vulcan notes that you're most likely to get a chigger bite during the spring, summer, or fall while camping or sleeping outdoors. But Wede adds that, since they're often found in yards with taller grass and/or a backyard pool, they "can come inside on clothing or towels."
Wede adds that chigger bites can be "misdiagnosed as a dermatological or skin condition," since they're very tiny and appear almost like a rash.