Bugs That Look Like Ticks, But Are Not

Written by Peralee Knight
Published: June 2, 2022
Image Credit Photopen/Shutterstock.com
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We all hate ticks, and just the idea of these little bloodsucking fiends is enough to make your skin crawl. But in the wild world of bugs, insects, and arachnids, there are a lot of imposters out there! There are a ton of bugs that look like ticks but are not. Some of these imposters are harmless but some are parasites like ticks. Identification is key to unmasking these bugs and telling them apart from the nine hundred tick species worldwide!
This article will identify bugs that looks like ticks and the distinguishing factors.

Common Bugs That Look Like Ticks

Close up female rhipicephalus sanguineus on recycle paper. They get their common name from its overall reddish brown color.
All 900 known species of ticks will always have eight legs, whereas insects and bugs only have six!

7th Son Studio/Shutterstock.com

There are quite a few beetles, weevils, and even other arachnid species that are confused with ticks! Honestly, the first step is to know what ticks look like. Ticks are arachnids, so they always have eight legs! To streamline the identification process, we will focus on the bugs and insects most mistaken for ticks. Then, we will investigate what to look for to quickly tell the difference between these imposter bugs and the tick.

Weevil Beetles

Types of beetles - Weevil
Weevils in their nymph stage lack the trademark shield-shaped body of the adult stage and are smaller as well.

iStock.com/nechaev-kon

Weevils are often confused with ticks. This is particularly true in the case of the poplar weevil due to its mahogany brown or black coloration. Weevil species still in the nymph stage of development are significantly smaller than adult weevils as well. In this nymph stage, most species also have yet to develop the recognizable shield-shaped body of an adult. This nymph stage can make them quite hard to distinguish from ticks.

How To Tell A Weevil From A Tick

Weevils are not a threat to humans, though species like the poplar weevil are dangerous to trees and plant life. To tell a weevil nymph from a species of tick, the first thing to look for is the number of legs present. Ticks are arachnids, and all tick species will have eight legs like spiders and scorpions. Ticks will also lack wings, meaning a tick will not be able to fly. Weevils are winged insects, and a nymph weevil will have wings!

Spider Beetles

Species of spider beetles look a lot like an arachnid, but a closer look will reveal that this beetle is an imposter! Spider beetles have eight legs, but it is their long antenna that creates the illusion. These antennae are placed close together near the top of the beetle’s head and mimic an arachnid’s front legs. Their smooth, round carapace also creates the illusion of a fused body. Some species of spider beetle are a noticeable deep red color overall, which is highly like the coloring found on the deer tick. Other species may have a white dot marking common in the female Lone Star tick.

How To Tell A Spider Beetle From A Tick

While these insects in disguise can be annoying household pets, they are not considered to be dangerous to humans. To tell a spider beetle from a species of tick, look closely to see if it is a true eight-legged arachnid or a six-legged beetle in disguise! Additionally, the shiny and glossy carapace of the spider beetle is noticeably different from the dull coloring of most tick species.

Mites

Dust Mites vs Bed Bugs
Mites are minuscule, often no, larger than the head of a pin.

Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock.com

Some species of mites, the clover mite and the red velvet mite, are often confused with ticks. This is due to their bright red coloration which is blood when they are crushed. While these mites are members of the arachnid family and are not insects, they are often confused with ticks. Both the clover and red velvet mite species are extremely small and are most mistaken for seed ticks or nymphs.

Telling A Mite From A Tick

Since the clover mite and the red velvet mite are both small enough to fit on the head of a pin, size is the first clue. Even the smallest tick species is visibly larger than these mites. However, even if both are compared side-by-side, the vibrant red coloring of both clover and red velvet mites is a dead giveaway. There are no known tick species in the world with that fiery red coloring!

Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs

While brown marmorated stink bugs are not dangerous to humans, they are highly invasive and are devastating to plants and crops. Also, for something that isn’t poisonous, they smell foul when squished! During the winter months, stink bugs invade human homes to survive the cold. In the same late spring and early summer months that ticks reach maturity, the marmorated stink bug is in its nymph stage. This is when they are commonly confused with ticks. A nymph stink bug has not yet developed the trademark shield-shaped body that identifies a stink bug.

Telling A Brown Marmorated Stink Bug From A Tick

The mottled brown bodies with reddish-orange markings that are common in many tick species are also present in this stink bug species. Combined with the missing shield shape of the nymph stage, the brown marmorated stink bug nymph is difficult to tell from a tick. Thankfully, the legs give this bug away! Ticks will always have eight legs, remember. The brown marmorated stink bug nymph also has wings, which a tick will never have in any stage of its life cycle.

Carpet Beetles

close up of a carpet beetle
Carpet beetles have similar coloring to many tick species, and their outer carapace can give the illusion of the tick’s round fused body.

Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock.com

Carpet beetles are common household pests that are not dangerous to humans. As the name suggests, species of carpet beetle larvae infest natural fabrics and fibers containing keratin to consume. Getting rid of carpet beetles can be challenging, but at least they are not parasitic! Carpet beetles have round carapaces and are mottled brown and white in color, which makes them look remarkably like ticks.

Telling A Carpet Beetle From A Tick

While their shape and coloring can make a carpet beetle appear to be a tick, once again the legs are key. Beetles always have six legs, and ticks always have eight. Additionally, the carapace of the carpet beetle is glossy and shiny, whereas the body of a tick is matte and dull.

Fleas And Head Lice

These two parasitic insects may not be visually mistaken for a tick, but the bites they inflict often are. Fleas and head lice are parasites too, but both are insects, not arachnids. Fleas can be identified by their laterally flat and segmented bodies and translucent brown coloring. Head lice have long segmented bodies, crablike legs, and a transparent body. Both fleas and head lice are quite small, but fleas spread dangerous diseases while head lice are more annoying than dangerous.

Telling Fleas Or Head Lice From Ticks

Visually, it once again goes back to the legs. Ticks have eight legs, and both fleas and head lice only have six. Ticks can also be identified by their fused round bodies and opaque coloring. Additionally, a tick bite will leave a significantly larger wound than a flea bite due to the prolonged feeding time for ticks. Fleas often bite a host several times rather than attach to the host. Both fleas and head lice cling to the hair or fur of the host instead, whereas when a tick is done feeding, they leave!

Bed Bugs

bed bug infestation
Bed bugs are larger, more oval, and flatter than ticks overall.

Bed bugs may not carry the dangerous and life-threatening diseases some tick species do, but they are parasitic bloodsuckers. Bedbugs are reddish-brown in color, oval-shaped, and at first, are commonly confused with ticks. The body of the bed bug also gives the appearance of fused middle and bottom body sections like a tick. Bed bugs also inflict a painful and extremely itchy bite and are highly invasive.

Telling A Bedbug From A Tick

Apart from the eight versus six-leg comparison of the insect bed bug and the arachnid tick, bedbugs are bigger. Even an adult engorged tick is often smaller than an adult bed bug. Also, the overall body of a bed bug appears flattened, whereas ticks are very round comparatively. Additionally, you will often only see one or at most, three or four ticks on your body or clothing, bed bugs cause infestations. The bed bug breeds quickly and often require professional extermination to remove.

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