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In the Home: Something is Biting Me (or My Family or Pets)

UMass Extension receives a few dozen questions every year from Massachusetts residents experiencing what they describe as either tiny insects biting or crawling on them, their family members, pets, or inside their homes. Oftentimes they cannot see the insects, or describe them as tiny and very fast moving and impossible to capture. Some of these descriptions are given with reports of itching, dermatitis, and other physical symptoms. Some of the reports include suspected damage (created by the reported tiny insects or arthropods) on different surfaces in the home.

The UMass Plant Diagnostic Laboratory does not identify or provide management information for biting insects found in the home, on animals, or on people. For such situations, we suggest the following:

  1. For people dealing with any medically significant situations, please contact your doctor or primary care physician immediately.
  2. *Resources for insect pests in the home (on people or their pets) include, but are not limited to: 

a.    Bed Bug Information, State of Massachusetts

b.    Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory

c.    IdentifyUS

d.    Massachusetts Department of Public Health Resources

*UMass Extension does not endorse any of these laboratories or in any way guarantee the quality of their services, their prices, or their turnaround times. This is not a complete list. It is provided as a sample only and is not meant to imply that other services are not just as valuable. 

Possible Causes

Very few insects and other arthropods are parasites in or on the skin of humans. Possible examples include scabies, mites, chigger mites, or follicle mites. Scabies are very small and require magnification for a physician to observe them. Chigger mites are more common in southern states and may not be of concern in Massachusetts unless an individual was recently travelling. Follicle mites are often not noticed by people (even when they have them). Other arthropods that live on the skin include head lice and pubic lice. 

Some other arthropods may bite, but will not burrow or live on the skin of humans. These include fleas, bed bugs, mosquitoes, black flies, punkies, bird and rodent mites, and other mites. Although these insects and insect relatives are very small, they can typically be seen without magnification.

Lastly, there are non-arthropod causes for sensations that feel as if insects are biting or crawling on the skin. These include medical conditions, materials or irritants present in the physical environment (chemicals, cosmetics, detergents, etc.), and side effects of certain medications or drugs.

What Should I Do?

Contact your family physician or dermatologist and describe what you are experiencing. Schedule a medical appointment as necessary. If possible, collect a sample and bring it with you to your medical appointment.

What NOT to Do!

  • Do not apply insecticides or repellents to household items, pets, or yourself or loved ones. Pesticides and repellents should not be used without a confirmed identification of a pest. Such products may actually worsen, rather than improve, your condition or situation in the home. 
  • Do not have a professional pest control company apply pesticides to your home unless you first have a sample of the pest to show the professional (for identification) and it is a pest that can be effectively managed with insecticides.

Further Resources

Diagnosing Mysterious “Bug Bites”, Texas A&M Extension fact sheet

Is Something Biting Me? Penn State Extension fact sheet

Mystery Bites and Itches, Colorado State University Extension fact sheet 

Last Updated: 
August 27