Get Rid of Fleas in Your Home or Business
There are more than 2,000 species of fleas worldwide, including over 250 in North America. In New England, the cat flea ranks as the type most frequently encountered. Other types of pest fleas include the dog flea, the human flea, and the oriental rat flea.
Members of the order Siphonaptera, fleas do not always exclusively affect the host animal specified in their common name. In fact, most dogs carrying the parasitic insects actually have cat fleas.
In addition to affecting household pets on a regular basis, fleas are often found on birds, rodents, and other warm-blooded animals. The diminutive insects feed on the blood of host animals and cause problems ranging from itchy bite marks to the spread of serious diseases.
Appearance & IdentificationWhat Do Fleas Look Like?
Adult fleas generally measure between a sixteenth and an eighth of an inch in length, with females typically growing slightly larger than males. Dark and reddish-brown in color, the body of a flea is wingless, hard, and flattened from side to side to facilitate ease of movement through the fur or hair of host animal. The insects also feature bristles or spines that cover the body and point backwards, further enabling the parasites to attach to a host.
Adult specimens boast three pairs of spiny legs. Larger than the other pairs, the powerful hind legs of fleas enable the tiny insects to jump extraordinarily great distances relative to the small size of their bodies. Before developing legs, fleas go through a larval stage in which the insects are white in color, measure about a quarter-inch in length, and resemble maggots or worms.
Habits & Habitat
Fleas can live either indoors or outdoors, though the insects develop quickest in warm, relatively humid environments and are therefore more commonly found inside in temperate zones like New England. During the larval and pupal stages of the life cycle, fleas often take shelter in:
- Cracks between floor boards
- Pet bedding
Outdoors, flea larvae and pupae overwinter in similarly protected areas. Only adults live on host animals, which the insects detect by sensing body heat, movement and vibrations, and exhaled carbon dioxide.
Fleas gain access to host animals by jumping up to the host. Raccoons and other wildlife living under porches, decks, and sheds can harbor these insect populations.
Do Fleas Fly or Jump?
The primary means of mobility for fleas is to jump or leap from point to point. While some mistake the flea's jumping abilities as flight, the insect lacks wings and is incapable of moving through the air for any longer than a bound, jump, or leap.
Research suggests that fleas possess the capacity to jump between 11 and 13 inches both upward and outward. The tiny insects feature six elongated legs (with highly specialized/modified hind legs), which prove optimal for jumping/bounding. Fleas take advantage of their ability to jump when moving between different or on to new hosts.
Fleas also crawl through the hairs on hosts. The flattened bodies of the insects allow for easy passage between hairs.
DietWhat Do Fleas Eat?
As ecto-parasitic insects, adult fleas feed on the blood of other animals. They normally feed on wildlife like squirrels, skunks, raccoons, and similar fur bearing animals.
They typically feed multiple times per day, with mated females gaining the ability to lay eggs only after consuming a blood meal (need specific proteins from the blood). After emerging from the pupal stage of development, new adults can survive for up to a week without eating.Once fleas take their first blood meal, the they can live for months or even years before feeding again. While adults feed on the blood of host animals, larvae consume the dried blood excreted by adults. Larvae also feed on organic particles found in the cracks of floors or bedding areas of animals.
Like other insects, fleas complete a multistage life cycle consisting of egg, larval, pupal, and adult phases (complete metamorphosis). After ingesting a blood meal, adult females lay eggs directly on the host animal in batches of up to 25 at a time. Depending on the species, female fleas will lay between 600 and 1,000 eggs over the course of a lifetime.
Though initially deposited on the host animal, the eggs eventually roll off as the host moves or lays down to sleep. Flea eggs, which measure less than a millimeter in size, are therefore often found in:
- Pet bedding
Larvae emerge from the eggs within two or three weeks, with the eggs of some species needing only a day or two to hatch. Fleas remain in the larval stage for a period of time ranging from a week to several months before fashioning a protective case (similar to cocoons) and developing into pupae.
The pupal stage lasts for one or two weeks, or longer depending on environmental conditions or the detection of a potential host animal. Adult fleas generally live for a year or longer.
Problems Caused by Fleas
When fleas pierce the skin of host animals to gain access to blood meals, the parasitic insects often cause an itchy red welt to form at the site of the bite. Dogs and cats, especially ones with sharp claws, are at risk of scratching the flea bites excessively and creating open wounds prone to infection.
More seriously, fleas are traditionally known as transmitters of various diseases that have adverse, and sometimes fatal, effects on humans and pets alike. Fleas can spread the bubonic plague which, though rare today, was responsible for the deaths of roughly 25 million people in Europe during the 14th century. The parasites can also transmit murine typhus to humans by first feeding on the blood of an infected rodent.
Additionally, since tapeworms sometimes use fleas as intermediate hosts, dogs and cats may unknowingly ingest the tapeworm larva contained within an infected flea. The tapeworm will then continue developing in the digestive system of the cat or dog.
Signs of Infestation
Though small and frequently hidden, fleas often leave behind evidence of their presence. Flea eggs, which are white and visible to the naked eye, are a telltale sign of an infestation.
Adult fleas also regularly produce defecations of dried blood, which look like dark, cylindrical flecks measuring about a sixteenth of an inch long. The presence of flea bites on humans or pets indicates a potential infestation, as well. Pets often indicate a flea problem by scratching incessantly.
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For serious infestation problems, consider using the services of a pest control specialist. Professionals specializing in pest control have experience in eliminating infestation and can access a wider range of products used to combat flea infestations effectively.
Flea Prevention for Pets
Prevention methods for pets include:
- Avoid letting pets run free in woodland and un-landscaped areas with weeds.
- Bathe and groom pets regularly and wash pet bedding frequently.
- Take advantage of veterinary treatments used to prevent and kill fleas on dogs and cats.
- Use on-animal treatment products for pets allowed off a leash outside.
Other Prevention Methods
Other ways homeowners can help prevent infestations include:
- Consider wearing insect repellent clothing treated with the active ingredient Permethrin.
- Keep lawns trimmed and eliminate potential habitats for rodents, which often carry fleas into the yard.
- Vacuum regularly to remove eggs.