Fleas are some of the most problematic bugs pet owners need to worry about.
These bugs affect dogs and chickens, among other animals. They don’t live on humans as ticks.
You need to take immediate action as soon as you see fleas on your pets or animals.
Correctly identifying fleas and not misidentifying them for another species is important from this perspective.
Table of Contents
What are fleas?
Fleas are small parasite insects of the Siphonaptera family.
These insects are parasites of various mammals and birds.
Growing to a size of up to 3mm, fleas are known parasite bugs that feed on the blood of their host (not people).
They are common on pets and wild animals. Immediate action is needed whenever you find fleas on your pets.
What do fleas look like?
Fleas are easy to identify as they aren’t the smallest bugs that live on animals. Some fleas can even be removed by hand.
- The color of fleas
Fleas are a brown color or a red-brown color.
Fleas can sometimes have other colors, but they always appear dark.
They can be seen on the host’s skin, under fur or feathers, when they try to pierce the skin to drink blood.
- The size of fleas
Flees grow to a maximum size of 3mm.
However, they can be even smaller depending on the presence of a host, since they can survive a short period without a host.
The smallest fleas measure around 1.5mm.
- The shape of fleas
Fleas have narrow bodies that are flattened to the sides. This bulbous body has a very small head.
Long tarsal claws (also brown) are also characteristic of fleas.
Fleas are commonly found in dogs and cats. They also live on squirrels, rabbits, birds, and rodents.
They move from one host mammal to another by jumping.
Common flea misconceptions
Fleas are common on pets. There are a few misconceptions about these insects.
Fleas don’t crawl
Fleas move by jumping. They are some of the most efficient jumping insects as they can jump up to 100 times their body length.
Fleas don’t crawl. If you see crawling bugs on your pets you need to know these aren’t fleas.
Fleas aren’t attracted to bright colors
Fleas are found on all types of animals. They are attracted to bright colors, however.
Fleas jump on white clothes and towels as they’re attracted to bright white colors.
Fleas only live on animals and people
Fleas are parasitic insects that live on host mammals. However, they sometimes survive on their own.
Fleas can survive up to 6 weeks without food or whenever they fall from animals.
19 Bugs That Look Like Fleas
The following bugs are routinely confused with fleas. While similar and sometimes even known to drink blood, the following bugs aren’t fleas.
1. Bed bugs
Bed bugs are most commonly taken as fleas. They have a similar size and a similar color.
Bed bugs have a small brown and flattened body, similar to fleas.
You can further tell the difference between bed bugs and fleas by analyzing moving patterns, habitat, and egg color.
Fleas jump but bed bugs don’t jump. Bed bugs crawl as they cannot fly either.
Fleas are common on pets and animals. They might only be seen indoors whenever you bring them in or when they live on pests such as rodents.
These species also differ in egg appearance. Flea eggs are white. Bed bug eggs are dark brown to black.
Preferred habitats also differ in these species.
Bed bugs don’t necessarily need a host to live on as they survive on beds, mattresses, and other furniture items.
Similarities include the capacity to bite humans. Both bed bugs and fleas bite people.
These bites are known for having similar symptoms.
Itchy skin is common after each bite. Red skin is also common in the area of the bite.
2. Ticks – Tiny Black Bugs That Look Like Fleas
Ticks are mostly brown and similar in size and shape to fleas. Some ticks might be black, but they resemble brown ticks as they also have 8 legs.
Ticks grow to a similar size to fleas which is why many people confuse them
Female ticks are larger than male ticks. The female grows to 2.5mm while the male grows up to 2mm.
Small ticks or nymphs have a 1mm body size.
Ticks also feed on the blood of animals which means they are normally seen on pets and other animals around the house.
Brown dog ticks live on dogs.
These types of ticks are sometimes seen attached to the skin of dogs and they can also sometimes bite people and attach themselves to human skin.
Some ticks are known for carrying Lyme disease while others carry other types of diseases such as the Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
This type of fever can affect both animals and humans.
You can tell the difference between ticks and fleas by the way they move.
Ticks do not jump as they can only crawl. Fleas are known to jump over very long distances.
3. Baby Crickets
Baby crickets are sometimes seen as similar to fleas. These crickets are nymphs, as adult crickets are a few times larger than fleas.
An adult cricket can measure around ½ inches, depending on the species.
But cricket nymphs are considerably smaller without the ability to fly, which is why some associate them with fleas.
Field baby crickets are routinely misidentified with fleas as they are also mostly brown.
As adult crickets, baby crickets can jump which makes the distinction between Field baby crickets and fleas a bit more difficult.
Jerusalem crickets are also brown.
Baby Jerusalem crickets look exactly like the brown adults, but in a smaller size.
These jumping insects are also routinely confused with fleas.
The location of these bugs is important to make a distinction between the species. Crickets don’t enter homes as much as ticks.
Crickets prefer prairies and tall grass when they can jump undisturbed.
Fleas might enter homes with pests and pets.
4. Baby Cockroaches /Cockroach Nymphs
Cockroaches are some of the most common pests inside the house. They are known for having invading homes with plenty of food.
Adult cockroaches are very large and cannot be confused with fleas.
Baby cockroaches can be similar to fleas, on the other hand.
Known as cockroach nymphs can be confused with fleas due to their shiny brown coloring.
Many baby cockroaches are still larger than fleas.
A baby American cockroach nymph can measure as much as 1.5 inches, a few times more than fleas.
On the other hand, smaller cockroach species such as the German cockroach have smaller nymphs.
A baby German cockroach can be confused with fleas when seen in the house.
These nymphs can sometimes fly, which gives away their identity as fleas cannot fly.
The biggest difference between baby cockroaches and fleas is their environment and food preferences.
Seeing these nymphs crawling around the kitchen means they aren’t fleas. They look for decaying food and other food traces while fleas look for the blood of a mammal host.
5. Fruit Flies
The color of brown Fruit flies sometimes makes them appear similar to fleas.
Fruit flies are some of the smallest houseflies you can find indoors.
An adult fruit fly grows up to 1/8 inches.
While its coloring might be similar to the dark brown color of fleas, these flies remain a few times larger than the typical 0.13-inch fleas, which are considered large.
You can distinguish fruit flies from fleas by the way these insects move and by what they eat.
Fruit flies fly while fleas cannot fly.
You can see fruit flies in the house in the summer months or in warm climates, especially in the period when fruits are ripe.
Overripe fruits are some of the preferred foods of fruit flies that enter homes.
Fleas don’t eat fruit and they don’t enter homes attracted to the odors of decaying food.
Gnats are often seen as baby flies but they are a type of small flies.
Thousands of species of gnats exist around the world. Most feed on fruit, pollen, or nectar.
Biting gnats are sometimes confused with fleas.
Species such as Sandflies (family Psychodidae) are particularly known to bite. They also have a brown color similar to fleas.
Other biting gnat species such as Biting midges (family Ceratopogonidae) are black.
These are small files that have sharp teeth they can use against animals and even humans.
Biting gnats are commonly mistaken for fleas.
However, fleas cannot fly which makes for easier species identification.
Non-biting gnats share this flying capacity. Both biting and non-biting gnats cannot jump like fleas.
Springtails can sometimes be brown and similar to fleas. They can be as small as 1/16 inches and can be found inside the house or in gardens.
Springtails are elongated insects with long bodies that aren’t harmful to people or pets.
These bugs exclusively feed on organic materials such as plants, roots, and plants fungi.
Springtails cannot fly but they can jump a few times the length of their bodies.
This jumping ability is what makes springtails similar to fleas.
Diet and habitat are different in this species. If you see a jumping insect in the house with an elongated near potted plants it’s a springtail.
You will not see springtails in dry areas as these bugs prefer high and very high moisture habitats.
The texture of the body is also important when distinguishing springtails from fleas.
One of the common traits of fleas is having a hard body that’s very difficult to crush.
You need to use more force to crush fleas compared to springtails which have softer bodies.
You may not need to crush these bugs if you assess their body shape, however.
Springtails have slender elongated bodies. Fleas have round bodies flattened to the sides.
8. Chiggers – bugs that look like fleas and jump
Chiggers are commonly confused with fleas in Texas.
Southern US states are known for using the general term ‘chiggers’ to describe young Eutrombicula alfreddugesi arachnids.
These bugs are known to live in tall grass, in vegetation, and around flowers.
Chiggers can jump which makes them very similar to fleas.
However, chiggers are known to have a different bite compared to fleas.
Chiggers don’t dig into the skin as they use their sharp mouthparts to inject their saliva into the skin, mainly to decompose the skin cells.
These types of bites are different from the blood-sucking bites of fleas.
Chigger bites are still dangerous to humans, especially to people with certain allergies.
These bites lead to itchy skin and red skin.
Multiple chigger bites are possible over a small skin area.
Most chiggers don’t survive more than a couple of days on humans as people brush them off quickly.
They can survive a few weeks on animals hidden in the fur.
Chigger bites are sometimes treated with antihistamines, especially those followed by extreme itching sensations.
People report itching sensations 4 hours after being bitten by chiggers.
Booklice are a common house pest. Young booklice can sometimes be confused with fleas.
The shape, color, and diet of young booklice differentiate the species from fleas.
Booklice feed on fungi, especially fungi that grow on objects such as books and cardboard.
This is why booklice are a common sight in homes.
Fungi grow on old books as well as in homes with high humidity levels.
Booklice don’t bite as fleas. They can’t jump or fly.
Adult booklice have wings but these wings are too small to be used for flying.
Fixing water leaks and reducing air humidity is mandatory to get rid of booklice.
Water leaks, as well as poor ventilation, might favor fungi and booklice to spread in homes.
Opening windows every day is one of the practical methods of reducing indoor humidity levels.
Booklice cannot survive more than a few weeks in normal humidity levels and using insecticide against these bugs isn’t necessary.
10. Bat Bugs
Bat bugs are a common blood-sucking bug that invades homes together with bats.
As their name implies, bat bugs are a parasite of bats. They cannot enter homes without a flying bat.
Most bat bugs never leave bats as they feed on their blood.
It’s when bats die or are eliminated by humans that these bugs start to spread around the house looking for a new host.
Bat bugs can attach themselves to humans or various pets or animals around the house at this stage.
They start biting the skin until they can find blood. Most bat bug bites aren’t painful and they can even go unnoticed.
People tend to see these bites whenever the skin gets red.
11. Black Bean Aphids
Black bean aphids are small black aphids that invade crops and vegetables in the garden.
Young Black Bean aphids resemble fleas. They have an elongated body compared to the rounder body of fleas.
These aphids also have legs of bright yellow color as opposed to the black legs of fleas.
Aphids of this genus don’t such the blood of people. They suck the sap of plants and vegetables.
Sharp elongated mouthparts allow these aphids to pierce the stems of various vegetables when feeding.
Aphids of this genus can get on humans, but they don’t readily bite. They might only bite by mistake as they don’t feed on blood.
Aphids don’t feed on animals either.
Controlling these aphids is easy as they can be removed by hand since they don’t bite.
Large-scale Black Bean aphid control is based on introducing predatory species such as ladybirds in their habitat or on using biological control methods.
12. Carpet Beetles – Flying Bugs That Look Like Fleas
Carpet beetles can be as small as 1/8 inches. These small round bugs resemble fleas, especially the darker-colored bugs.
Carpet beetles can be almost entirely black but they also come in patterned colors. Black, yellow, and white patterns are common in carpet beetles which makes for easy distinction compared to fleas.
Carpet beetles feed on all types of natural fibers.
This includes wool, silk, fur, and leather upholstery.
All of these natural materials can be found in homes.
Most carpet beetles found indoors can be confused with fleas whenever they’re seen on the bed.
These bugs might get on the bed to feed on natural fiber bedsheets such as those made from silk.
Carpet beetles are also known for resorting to these natural fibers alone, they don’t bite people or pets.
You can identify carpet beetles by watching them moving around. These bugs crawl and don’t jump such as fleas.
Carpet beetles are almost always found next to their natural fibers such as carpets, clothes, and upholstery as they don’t attach themselves to animals or humans such as parasitic fleas.
13. Flour Beetles – Pantry Bugs That Look Like Fleas
Flour beetles are known for their resemblance to roaches and partially for looking like fleas.
These beetles are common in dry areas and they like to eat dry foods, such as those based on wheat.
Common in pantries and the kitchen, these beetles might be confused with fleas.
You can identify them clearly by their elongated body with a shiny brown exoskeleton.
These beetles are always found around food sources such as flour, bread, and biscuits but not on people or pets.
Flour beetles are very resilient and even heavy insecticide use is not going to kill all of them.
This extreme resilience also makes them come back to the same food sources.
Most invasions happen in homes with pets, which is one of the reasons people might associate them with fleas. But flour beetles are only interested in dry pet food and not in biting dogs or cats.
14. Flea Beetles
Flea beetles are black as adults and brown in their nymph stage.
Young flea beetles can be confused with fleas due to their color and name resembles.
These beetles don’t bite humans as they’re only known to eat plants and vegetables.
Flea beetles eat the foliage of vegetables such as cabbages.
Soon after they become adults they also gain the capacity to jump long distances which might make some people think they are fleas.
Flea beetles are known for jumping to escape a predator or to run away when seeing people.
Insecticides are frequently used to keep flea beetles out of crops.
15. Drugstore Beetles
Drugstore beetles are some of the smallest beetles with pest status. Reduced body size and uniform brown coloring make these beetles resemble fleas.
As their name implies, Drugstore beetles are known for feeding on pharmaceutical products.
These bugs love certain herbal extracts used in medicine.
Bugs of this genus are also common in museums where they feed on old exhibited textiles.
Drugstore beetles don’t jump or fly. They crawl through pantries and around shelves, which makes them distinct from fleas.
These beetles aren’t eliminated by the use of an insecticide.
Most infestations are dealt with by vacuuming and cleaning.
As with fleas, some of the most infested items such as old clothes might need to be sealed in a plastic bag and thrown away.
16. Bark Beetles
Bark beetles feed on the inner part of tree bark.
They have an elongated shape and they grow up to 5mm. These beetles have a dark color or a black color as opposed to fleas.
Bark beetles are mostly found under tree bark.
Various species of trees are preferred by this beetle. You can find this bug in fruit trees as well as in ornamental trees in parks.
They are seen as pests on trees. They are common in pine forests across North America.
Most importantly, Bark beetles only infest trees already suffering from various diseases.
These beetles don’t bite people or animals.
Lice are parasitic insects that feed on the blood of people or animals. These parasitic insects move from one host to another by close contact.
You can get lice from another person and you can get lice by touching animals with lice. Various types of lice resemble fleas.
- Head lice
Head lice only grow and feed on the scalp. You can see head lice by looking through hair or when they move around the ears or the neck.
- Body lice
Body lice live on clothes or bedding. They only make contact with the skin when feeding. Body lice are common in homeless people.
- Pubic lice
Pubic lice are types of lice that only live and feed around in the hairs around the pubic area. They don’t migrate to other areas of the body such as the head.
18. Clover Mites
Clover mites are types of small pests seen around the house in cold weather.
Unlike fleas, clover mites enter a dormant state in May. They only start to become active in cold weather in September.
These insects are red and they invade homes in their thousands.
Clover mites have a bright red color, as opposed to the brown color of fleas.
These mites are also known to have a very soft body.
19. Bird Mites
You can find bird mites in chickens and other birds on farms.
These mites are very small and barely visible. They grow to a maximum size of 1/32 inches and they often go unnoticed.
They start to become a problem whenever they bite people.
One of the easiest methods to tell the difference between bird mites and fleas is by looking at their colors.
Bird mites have a translucent color when they go long periods without eating. This appearance changes to a darker color after they eat.
Flea Facts You Should Know
Fleas are one of the oldest parasitic bugs in the world. They even infested dinosaurs.
These bugs are capable of extraordinary achievements such as jumping a very long distance.
1. Fleas jump a few times their body length
Fleas routinely jump over 100 times their body length.
These bugs have been sometimes reported to jump as long as 150 times their body length.
Even fleas that don’t jump as good may still jump a length more than 30 times its own body length.
Fleas are known for moving by jumping. They migrate to a new parasite host by jumping on it.
These bugs can also make a quick escape due to their agile nature.
2. Fleas can survive 4-6 weeks without feeding
Many believe fleas die instantly whenever they fall off a host. But they continue living and looking for a new host for days and even weeks.
Most fleas can go without blood for a maximum of 4 to 6 weeks. During this time, most fleas can find a new host or even a temporary host such as a human.
Fleas can then feed multiple times per day again once they find themselves on a new host.
3. A high reproductive rate is characteristic of fleas
Mature female fleas can lay as many as 50 eggs in a day. This equates to a high reproductive rate.
One of the problems with such a high reproductive rate is when trying to eliminate fleas from a pet.
Adult fleas can be removed but eggs need to be removed as well.
4. Fleas transmit parasites
Fleas are known for carrying parasites. They can bring parasites into a home or spread parasites from one pet to another.
These bugs are some of the common carriers of Tapeworms.
5. Fleas go through 4 stages in their life cycle
Fleas go through 4 life stages, similar to other bugs and insects.
They appear as eggs and then turn into larva.
Larva turns into a pupa and then into an adult flea.
This entire lifecycle is typically short. It can take 1 to 10 days for flea eggs to hatch.
These bugs become adults and are ready to reproduce quickly.
Temperature is one of the important influences in making flea eggs hatch quicker.
The warm body temperature of mammals is believed to make these eggs hatch quickly.
Flea eggs can also hatch outside of a host in grass or vegetation.
Newly-hatched fleas tend to survive less than fleas that have already fed on blood. They die within 4 weeks.
Adult fleas that have already fed on blood also die within 4 weeks but they can survive up to a 6th week without food.
6. Fleas are almost blind
Most people believe fleas can see as they jump on animals and humans.
Fleas are mostly blind as they can only distinguish light and dark wavelengths. They might see dark and light patterns but they cannot distinguish between the type of host they’re about to jump on.
Poor vision doesn’t stop fleas from finding a new host since they have excellent jumping capacity.
Proximity to an infected host is the perfect occasion for fleas to jump on their following host.
7. Fleas make cats and dogs very sick
Fleas bite animals and can make them very sick.
Since fleas can lay as many as 50 eggs each per day, they can then cause serious health problems for the host animal.
Extreme anemia is one of the direct results of a flea infestation in a pet.
Iron deficiency is common in animals affected by hundreds of fleas.
An infestation is considered whenever a mammal has more than 20 fleas on it.
It’s not uncommon for an infected mammal to have anywhere between 200 and 300 fleas on it at a time in case of a serious infestation.
This serious infestation can be a matter of days after female flea land on a mammal.
Flea eggs hatch as quickly as 1 day.
Certain small bugs resemble fleas through their size and coloring or by their capacity to bite or suck the blood of mammals.
Fleas make their way around by jumping, which is one of the easiest methods of differentiating it from most other types of similar bugs.
Fleas have a small flattened body that is hard to squash, compared to bugs such as aphids.
You can identify fleas in your pets or your house.
Fleas also live on people and they can spread their infestation to a few hundred individuals per person.
Fleas spread diseases as they carry parasites. Pets can become ill quickly following an invasion of fleas.