If you have ever felt tiny but slightly painful bites from tiny orange insects while you are outside, you might have encountered an order of insects commonly known as Thrips (scientific name – Thysanoptera).

Thrips are really tiny insects that appear orange or yellow (some readers have even described them as tiny brown bugs that bite) to the naked eye.

Thrips are tiny. They measure between 0.5 mm (almost microscopic) to 14 mm (size of a typical board game dice) in length. Most North American thrips are 5 mm in length. To put that into context, 5 mm is half a centimeter or the size of a pencil top eraser.

Thrips

Thrips are mostly found outside the house. It is not uncommon to see these tiny orange bugs crawling on your skin when you are out for a walk in the summer. While they are not harmful, their bite can be a little sharp.

Over the years, we have been frequently asked questions around Thrips that we have answered below.

Do these tiny orange bugs bite?

Yes, thrips are tiny biting bugs. Normally, they prefer to suck on flowers, but if they come in contact with humans, they can bite. 

Their bite can cause Thysanoptera Dermatitis. While it sounds like a disease, thrips bites look and feel like mosquito bites and heal themselves naturally in a few days. They may cause itchy, pink-colored lesions, mostly on your hands and legs.

Can thrips spread disease?

Although thrips do not cause any known diseases in humans, they are carriers of several plant viruses of the Tospovirus, Carmovirus, Ilarvirus, Sobemovirus, and Machlomovirus genera. 

Among these, Tospoviruses are the ones that can cause diseases such as capsicum chlorosis and scape blight of onion. 

Are they harmful to humans or pets?

No, thrips are not harmful to either humans or pets.

Their bite can sting for a while, but topical lotions should be able to soothe you. You should wash the bite with soap and hot water to reduce the itchiness.

Having said that, we are not medical professionals and if you are dealing with an insect bite that is not getting better, it is best to seek professional medical attention.

Can thrips get in the house?

Yes, they can. While you are most likely to find these biting bugs in the grass or on outdoor plants, thrips can, on occasion, come inside and affect your indoor house plants too.

How to get rid of thrips?

To get rid of thrips, you can blast them with hot water to get them off your garden plants. If you find these tiny yellow bugs in your house or infesting your indoor plants, a soap water solution sprinkled on the leaves should be able to get them out.

Where do thrips lay their eggs?

Thrips lay their eggs on the soft tissues of plants. This can include places like: 

  • Young leaves, leaf buds, and leaf stems
  • Inside fruits and flowers
  • Soft-wood stems
  • Flower buds

Thrips can cause galls, a kind of bloated plant material sticking out of the infected plant. They can also lay their eggs in tiny wedges or nooks in the plant. 

Another place that you will find these tiny yellow bugs leaving their eggs on is the underside of leaves. 

One of the species (the Tubulifera sub-order) uses a special glue made of proteins and other compounds to attach their eggs to leaves. 

This glue is very difficult to remove and helps protects the eggs from falling down during rain or when it is windy.

What are thrips attracted to?

The F. Instonsa thrips are attracted to the color white. But in general, thrips are attracted to blue, yellow, and then white-colored sticky traps. These traps are designed to collect thrips and keep them away from plants to protect crops.

Readers’ Mail

Over the years, we have received dozens of emails from our readers who have been bitten by Thrips. We are reproducing some here.

Subject: These bugs were all over my children and I…

Location: Florida

May 11, 2017 3:06 pm

We live in Florida, Orlando to be exact and I felt so itchy when my son came home from his father’s house in Leesburg Florida. I noticed tiny orange/brown bugs all over my youngest son and I while near our glass sliding door.

I don’t know if they came with my eldest son and they just multiplied once inside… my partner and I thought they were bed bugs because thy were so itchy once they landed on us. We have looked up countless bugs and been on countless websites.

They are so small we had to look st them under a microscope… we ended up throwing out mattress out because that’s where I felt them the most, and since then I have not seen any… but I’m sill confused and want to know exactly what they are so if it happens again I can do something about it sooner.

Thank you.

Signature: Kay

Thrips

Dear Kay,

You and your family are being bitten by Thrips (same singular and plural), which are small insects found outdoors as most are plant feeders. According to BugGuide:

Thrips can often be found on flowers, they are especially visible on light colored flowers like daisies. Be aware that though they are very tiny, they can give a slightly painful bite.

The bite is not considered dangerous, just painful. Here is a BugGuide image of Thrips. Alas, throwing out the mattress was not necessary, but it is always so wonderful to sleep on a new mattress.

Thrips

Oh my goodness thank you so much, we figured that is what they were after searchig for hours online, we do have a lot of plants in the house and around our bed, so no wondering that’s why I was seeing them mainly there. And oh yes the new mattress was the perfect Mother’s Day gift either way ! (: thank you!

Subject: What is this?

Location: Windsor, Ontario, Canada

April 27, 2017 5:43 am

I would really appreciate your help, I was sitting in my vehicle with the doors open and kept feeling little bites i then noticed multiple bugs like this one on my arm. The have wings and can jump/fly. I also noticed them on my white vehicle. Can u help identify them?

Signature: Sarah

Thrips

Dear Sarah,

This looks like a Thrips, which is used for both singular and plural.  According to BugGuide:

Some are wingless; where present, the wings are narrow with few or no veins and fringed with long hairs. Mouthparts asymmetrical (no right mandible), suitable for piercing and sucking. Antennae relatively short, 4- to 9-segmented; tarsi 1-2-segmented, with 1-2 claws and are bladder-like at the end.”

Subject: Small, very small, winged and spiked

Location: Northern California east bay

May 11, 2014 2:40 pm

I have these all over the kids play set and they are by the millions! Super small. They bite and fly. I have one on the end of the tweezer to compare the size. Please if you could help us! Plus they were all over the tree trimmings that were sitting for two weeks…
Signature: Elizabeth and fam

Thrips

Thrips

Dear Elizabeth,

These are Thrips in the order Thysanoptera.

Subject: thrips

October 25, 2013 8:39 pm

No info was provided on how we can get them out of our hair/head and to quit biting us. I have already been to the emergency room for an infected bite and nothing I try has helped. Many years ago (1984), we had an infestation in our home because of weeds on our acreage, and these tiny things blew threw the window screens. It cost us over $300 in pest control, and in addition, we had to get rid of our carpeting, mattresses and sofas/chairs with fabric coverings.

Recently our Bexar county extension service identified my samples as “thrips” again.  Cattle need to be considered if pesticides are used on property where they eat/drink, as well as any other livestock.

Signature: Lonnie

Thrips photo from our archives

Thrips photo from our archives

Dear Lonnie,

We are sorry, but we haven’t any suggestions.  We do not really provide extermination advice.  Perhaps one of our readers will be able to provide you with some assistance.

Subject: Biting Bugs

Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

August 8, 2012 12:38 pm

I live in Iowa and I was just outside (it rained earlier today) and I kept feeling little bites all over my hands and arms. At first I couldn’t see anything but if I looked very close I saw a TINY, no bigger than a dot of a pen, orange bug possibly a little blackish brown on it’s bottom with 6(?)legs crawling on me.

And there wasn’t just one, they were everywhere and they all were bitting me. I didn’t sit in the grass or touch anything so I have no idea how they got on me or if they even came from the outside. Help!

Signature: Melissa

Possibly Thrips

Hi Melissa,

Based on your detailed description, we believe you might have had an encounter with insects from the order Thysanoptera, commonly called Thrips. There is not enough detail in your photograph for any definitive identification, but the photograph does support our supposition. 

According to BugGuide

Thrips are small:  0.5-14 mm (typically 1-2 mm, NA species under 5 mm). Some are wingless; where present, the wings are narrow with few or no veins and fringed with long hairs. Mouthparts asymmetrical (no right mandible), suitable for piercing and sucking. Antennae relatively short, 4- to 9-segmented; tarsi 1-2-segmented, with 1-2 claws and are bladder-like at the end.

This is the BugGuide statement that supports our identification:

Thrips can often be found on flowers, they are especially visible on light colored flowers like daisies. Be aware that though they are very tiny, they can give a slightly painful bite.

 

Springtails are tiny bugs that love moist areas (your kitchen sink, bathtub or swimming pool). They jump when disturbed. So if you try to kill them, it will appear that they are jumping as a response to that.

Springtails are harmless.

But because of their nature to congregate (it is not uncommon to see thousands in damp places or on rotting wood), they can appear fearsome at worst and a nuisance at best.

While it is common to find springtails outdoors, they tend to move inside the home as their natural conditions outside become drier.

Springtails

We received this email in May of 2004.

Subject – Flea like bugs that jump but are not fleas

Dear Bugman

I have these flea-like bugs in the thousands that thrive on my outside window sills (which are rotten and soon to be replaced) but these nasty little guys have found their way into my house!

And every night I have to do a mad spree of “containing” them (trust me, I don’t even pick flowers because I don’t believe in hurting living things! But these guys are smushed habitually! if they don’t jump away first!).

They are found all over my blinds, on all window ledges and even on my baseboards next to the floor. They seem to like crevices.

They are about the size of a flea, rather flat, and long, and jump like a flea but do not have an exoskeleton. They are grey with small antenna. They range in size from tiny almost microscopic to about the size of an adult flea maybe a tiny bit larger (the largest ones that is). Their size is rather inconsistent.

They stay rather motionless until you knock where they are standing and then they all scatter and/or jump. There are thousands on the outside of my windows and i usually kill at least a hundred per night. They seem to come out more at night.

They really gross me out and I even found a few on my pillow lately, as my bed backs up to a window…gross!!! My two exterminators over the last three years have no idea what they are. I live in Alabama.

Do you have any idea what these could be? Any leads would be greatly appreciated.

I found you through google by searching “flea like bugs that jump but are not fleas”!!! Can’t believe I got any hits from that!

My biggest fear is that I replace my windows (which has to be done anyhow, they’re 65 years old) and they will still be here, cause they’re on my baseboards too! Yuck! Thanks you so much for your time and knowledge.

Anna

Hi Anna,

I’m guessing Springtails, primitive insects from the Order Collembola. They can get extremely plentiful and like damp conditions. We have a page devoted to them. Go to the left side of the www.whatsthatbug.com homepage and click Springtails in the alphabatized list. Sorry, we don’t have extermination advice, but at least now you know what they are.

Subject:  Walking stick?
Geographic location of the bug:  Virginia
Date: 08/30/2022
Time: 06:26 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I found this insect on my front porch…it looks like a walking stick to me, but when I looked for images of a walking stick online, they were all thinner. What is it?
How you want your letter signed:  Curious in VA

Carolina Mantis

Dear Curious in VA,
This is a female Carolina Mantis, a native species that ranges well beyond the Carolinas.  This native predator has been declining in numbers, no doubt due to the introduction of larger and more aggressive Mantids like the European Mantis and the Chinese Mantis.  You may enjoy this comparison between the native Carolina Mantis and the European Mantis.

Subject:  Unknown Green Spider
Geographic location of the bug:  Georgia, USA
Date: 08/30/2022
Time: 11:06 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Found this green spider, I couldn’t find anything like it with google’s search. Sorry if the picture is blurry
How you want your letter signed:  Nehemiah S

Female Green Lynx Spider

Dear Nehemiah S,
This beauty is a female Green Lynx Spider and by the look of her size, she is about to lay one or more egg sacs which she will fiercely defend with her life.  Green Lynx Spiders might bite if provoked, but they are not dangerous to humans.  The venom of a Green Lynx will only hav e mild local effects on people, including local swelling and tenderness.  

Subject:  Bug identification
Geographic location of the bug:  Eastern North Carolina
Date: 08/31/2022
Time: 02:13 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi, would like to know what this bug is.
Thanks
How you want your letter signed:  Mr. T

Red Footed Cannibalfly

Dear Mr. T,
The dog days of summer are upon us and it is the perfect time to observe large predatory Robber Flies like your Red Footed Cannibalfly, which we are declaring the Bug of the Month for September 2022.  The Red Footed Cannibalfly has been Bug of the Month twice before, in August 2010 and September 2013.  Large Robber Flies are aerial predators that take prey on the wing, and they frequently prey upon large wasps and dragonflies.

Subject:  What is this flying insect? It was about 3” long with approx a 3” stinger (?) attached.
Geographic location of the bug:  Near Battle Creek, MI
Date: 08/20/2022
Time: 04:00 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Appreciate you identifying this insect for us. We have never seen one of these before and have live here for over 60 years!
V/r
How you want your letter signed:  Dave Hlatko

Stump Stabber

Dear Dave,
Thanks for your inquiry.  This is one of Daniel’s favorite insects to educate about,
Megarhyssa atrataa species commonly called the Giant Ichneumon or Stump Stabber.  Daniel distinctly remembers as a child seeing an impressive image of a Giant Ichneumon in his copy of Insects: A Guide to Familiar American Insects.  Your individual is a female and what you have mistaken for a stinger is her ovipositor, an organ that allows her to deposit her eggs.  In the case of the Giant Ichneumon, the ovipositor is able to drill into dead and dying wood to lay an egg near the tunnel produced by the larva of the Pigeon Horntail, a type of Wood Wasp.  Because of her ability to oviposit, the Giant Ichneumon is sometimes called a Stump Stabber.  The stingers of bees and wasps are modified ovipositors that have evolved into an organ that helps to defend the insect from threats.