Insect Sting vs. Insect Bite: What’s the Difference?

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on February 09, 2021

What Are Insect Stings and Spider Bites?

A sting is what happens when an insect injects poison (venom) into your skin. The venom travels through the bug’s stinger. That’s what it uses to defend itself from harm.

If you get stung, you’ll feel pain. Your skin may turn red or swell at the site of the sting. In some cases, people who are allergic to the venom can have a life-threatening reaction. Doctors call this anaphylaxis.

Among the most common stingers are:

  • Wasps (including hornets and yellow jackets)
  • Bees
  • Fire ants

An insect bite happens when a non-venomous bug pierces your skin and feeds on your blood. This may cause a bump (doctors call them “papules”) to form. The telltale sign is intense itching.

Examples of biters include:

Among arachnids (eight legs instead of six) that cause these types of bites are ticks and some spiders.

You can have an allergic reaction to a bite. Also, bugs that carry disease pass it on through their bites. This is often the case with ticks (Lyme disease) and mosquitoes (malaria, Zika virus).

Show Sources


New Zealand Dermatological Society: “Arthropod Bites and Stings.”

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Stinging Insect Allergy Overview.” “Bug Bites and Stings.”

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