Bedbugs and scabies mites are often mistaken for each other. After all, they’re both irritating pests known to cause itchy bites. The bites may also look like eczema or mosquito bites, which can add to the confusion.

However, it’s worth noting that bugs and scabies mites are different organisms. Each pest requires a different treatment and removal method.

For this reason, it’s crucial to know the differences between scabies and bedbugs. By properly identifying the pest, you can determine the best way to treat your bites, and handle an infestation.

Keep reading to learn more about these two pests, and how to tell the difference between them.

Here are the main differences between bedbugs and scabies mites, along with the infestations that they cause.


Bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) are tiny parasitic insects. They feed on human blood, but may also eat blood from other mammals, including cats and dogs.

Physical characteristics of bedbugs include:

  • flat, oval body
  • wingless
  • six legs
  • 5 to 7 millimeters, about the size of an apple seed (adults)
  • white or translucent (babies)
  • brown (adults)
  • dark red after feeding (adults)
  • sweet, musty smell

Bedbugs don’t infest human skin. Instead, they infest dark and dry spaces, like the seams of a mattress. They might also infest crevices in the bed frame, furniture, or even the curtains.

The main sign of an infestation is presence of bedbugs. Other indications include:

  • reddish marks on bedding (due to crushed bedbugs)
  • dark spots (bedbug excrement)
  • tiny eggs or eggshells
  • yellowish skins shed by babies

Bedbugs cause infestations by traveling on items. They “hitchhike” on things like luggage, furniture, and used clothes.

But despite being a nuisance, these critters aren’t known to spread any diseases.

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An adult bedbug is about the size of an apple seed.

Scabies mites

Scabies mites (Sarcoptes scabiei) are tiny insect-like organisms. They’re related to ticks and other arthropods. The type that typically infects humans is called Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis, or the human itch mite.

The mites infest and eat human skin tissue.Theirphysical characteristics include:

  • round, sac-like body
  • wingless
  • eyeless
  • eight legs
  • microscopic size (invisible to the human eye)

During an infestation, an impregnated female burrows a tunnel into the upper layer of the skin. Here, she lays two to three eggs each day. The tunnel can range from 1 to 10 millimeters long.

After the eggs hatch, the larvae travel to the skin’s surface, where they grow and spread to other parts of the body.

Scabies” refers to an infestation of scabies mites. It typically happens due to direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who has scabies. Sometimes, the mites can spread on clothing or bedding.

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Scabies mites are invisible to the human eye. This is a microscopic image of one.

The bites of bedbugs and scabies differ in several ways.

Symptoms of bedbug bites

Bedbug bites cause:

  • itchy, red welts
  • welts in a zigzag row
  • clusters of bites (usually 3 to 5)
  • bites anywhere on the body

However, some individuals don’t react to bedbug bites. The bites may even look like mosquito bites, eczema, or hives.

It’s also possible to develop an allergic reaction to bedbug bites. This may cause symptoms like swelling and pain.

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bedbug bites

Symptoms of scabies bites

On the other hand, signs of scabies bites include:

  • severe itching
  • itching that gets worse at night
  • tiny bumps or blisters
  • patchy rash
  • scales
  • thin, raised, irregular rows
  • whitish-gray or skin-colored rows

Sometimes, scabies and eczema are confused for one another.

The irregular rows, or tunnels, are where the mites burrow. This usually involves folds in the skin, including:

  • between fingers
  • inner wrists
  • inner elbows
  • nipples
  • armpits
  • shoulder blades
  • waist
  • knees
  • buttocks
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scabies infestation
Bedbug bitesScabies bites
Colorredred, sometimes with whitish-gray or skin-colored lines
Patternusually zigzag, in clusterspatches, sometimes with irregular rows
Textureraised bumps or weltsraised lines, blisters, pimple-like bumps, scales
Itchingusual severe, especially at night
Locationanywhere on bodyfolds in the skin

Bedbug bite treatment

Bedbug bites usually go away on their own in 1 to 2 weeks. Here’s how you can manage symptoms:

  • Hydrocortisone cream. Over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone cream may help swelling and itching due to bug bites.
  • Antihistamines. OTC antihistamine pills or creams could also help.
  • Prescription medication. If you have severe itching, your doctor can prescribe stronger medicine.

It’s best to avoid scratching the bites, which can lead to infection. If this happens, you may need an antibiotic.

Scabies bites treatment

Scabies requires prescription treatment, such as:

  • 5% permethrin cream. This cream is applied topically once per week for 2 weeks.
  • Crotamiton cream or lotion. Crotamiton is applied once daily for 2 days. Often, this medication doesn’t work, and it might not be safe for some.
  • Lindane lotion. If you’re not a good candidate for other treatments, or if they don’t work, you may be given topical lindane.
  • Oral ivermectin. If you don’t respond to topical medication, you might be prescribed oral ivermectin. However, it’s not FDA approved specifically for scabies.

These treatments are designed to kill the scabies mites and eggs. The itching will persist for a couple of weeks. You can use the following to soothe the discomfort:

In addition to treating the bites, it’s also important to remove the infestations. Each type of pest requires a different approach.

Bedbug infestations

To get rid of bedbugs, you’ll need a whole-home approach. That’s because bedbugs infest the dark, dry areas of a home.

Here’s what you can do to stop a bedbug infestation:

  • Wash all clothing and bedding in very hot water (at least 120°F/49°C).
  • Dry cleaned clothes and bedding in a dryer on high heat.
  • Vacuum your mattress, sofa, and other furniture.
  • If you can’t remove bedbugs from a piece of furniture, replace it.
  • Seal cracks in furniture, walls, or floors.

You might need to call a pest control professional. They can use a strong insecticide spray to kill the bedbugs.

Scabies infestations

In the skin, scabies removal happens during treatment. There are things you can do to remove scabies from your home to prevent reinfestation.

Machine wash and dry your belongings on high heat. This includes items like:

  • clothing
  • bedding
  • towels

Also, without human skin, scabies mites will die in 2 to 3 days. Therefore, you can remove scabies from items by avoiding physical contact for at least 3 days.

Bedbugs infest mattresses and furniture. To get rid of them, you’ll need to decontaminate your home.

Scabies mites infest human skin. This requires medical treatment.

Both types of pests can bite and irritate the skin. Your doctor can recommend the best treatments and remedies to help you find relief.