The Flea

Ron BjorkPest Archives, Pets

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Fleas are tiny flightless insects from the order Siphonaptera. They are external parasites of both mammals and birds, and live off the blood of their hosts. Adults usually dark brown and about 3 mm long. They have a sideways flattened body allowing them to move through the host’s fur easily and have mouth-parts designed for piercing skin and sucking blood. Their long back legs are designed for jumping, allowing them to leap around 50 times their body length!



  • -min
  • Closeup of Flea
  • fleas and mites on a dog


Description – what it looks like; size, coloring, etc.

Most people notice fleas when they find them on their pets, or themselves, however fleas tend to prefer shaded areas where they can hide. They prefer moderate temperatures, disliking extreme heat or cold, as well as areas with high humidity. They can often be found in carpet and other fabric materials including bedding, couches, animal bedding, curtains, and more. In the yards, they are most common in areas where pets spend the most time, and in shadowy areas such as near trees and bushes or the fence line. Adult fleas feed on fresh blood from their hosts, however their larvae feed on any organic material, including {GROSSNESS ALERT!} the feces of adult fleas.

Life Cycle

Fleas undergo a complete metamorphosis, meaning that they begin life as an egg, hatch into larvae, spin a cocoon and become a pupa, and finally emerge as adults. In order for a flea to mate and lay eggs, they must first consume a blood meal, which they will usually do within the first 48 hours of their adult life. After mating, the female will lay her eggs, which will then typically fall off the host onto the floor or ground. Those eggs typically hatch within 2 to 14 days. The flea larvae emerge from the eggs and feed on any organic material they can find, including adult flea feces. These larvae will eventually weave a cocoon, and later emerge as adults.

Nerd Moment!!

Ctenocephalides Telis, aka the Cat Flea, is the most common flea encountered in the United States. Ctenocephalides Canis, aka the Dog Flea, is rare in the U.S. but is very common in Europe. Ironically, even though they have specific species in their name, both types of fleas are non-species specific (meaning, they do not care what kind of mammal they are feeding on as long as it has blood!).

Fleas and Your Pets

Most people notice that their pets have fleas when they see them scratching, or sometimes when they find the fleas on themselves. If you determine that your pet has fleas, it is important that you act quickly. Get your pet on a flea preventative, and do this for all the pets in your house, even if they do not appear to have fleas. Cats especially can be difficult to spot fleas on because most cats frequently groom themselves. Fleas can cause a number of health issues for both your pets and yourself. Many fleas carry a parasite called Dipylidium Caninum, also known as the tapeworm, and can transmit this parasite to their hosts through ingestion. If a dog or cat, or even a human, eats a flea, typically because it was scratching or grooming itself, they can get the tape worm. Many humans and animals are also allergic to flea saliva, a condition called Flea Allergy Dermatitis, which can cause an outburst of itchy skin irritation. It only takes a single bite from a single flea to cause this reaction in allergic individuals.

Fun Fact (or Maybe a Scary One)

The Black Plague, which arose in the 1300’s and decimated a large portion of the Earth’s population at the time, was largely spread through the bites of infected fleas, which contracted the bacteria from rats.

Prevention and Control

When you find fleas on your animal, you are only seeing about 80% of the flea population. The rest exist in the egg, larval, and pupal stages of the life cycle, are are very difficult to find or see. It is important to keep all of your pets on some type of flea preventative even if your pet does not spend much time outside, this includes cats. Many preventative options can be bought over the counter or from your veterinarian.  There are a number of different kinds, ranging from flea collars, topical solutions, and even pills.  Some preventatives kill adult fleas, while others sterilize them.  Once all the animals are on preventative, treating the house is necessary to remove the infestation.

 

  1. Vacuum the entire house, especially carpeted areas, and any fabric material in the house such as couches or rugs (Vacuum both before and after any treatment is done to the house, and ensure that you clean out the vacuum after each vacuuming).
  2. Wash and dry all of your personal bedding.
  3. Wash and dry or dispose of all pet bedding.
  4. Bathe your pets before returning them to a treated home, so as not to reintroduce healthy adult fleas to the house.
  5. Hire a professional to treat both inside your house and the yard to ensure the best possible results.

Even after all of this, it can take as long as three months to fully resolve a flea infestation, and reinfestation is still possible due to wild animals such as squirrel or stray cats and dogs entering the yard. Keep your animals on preventative even after the flea issue is resolved, and always monitor them carefully to ensure that if the fleas do return, you catch them as early as possible.

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About the Author

Ron Bjork

Ron is a Certified Applicator for Pests and Termites in the State of Texas. He is a lover of grand adventures, great reading, and anything bug related!