Tiny, acrobatic blood-suckers: Fleas

We see the commercials on TV all the time for flea and tick repellant and killer for our pets, but do you really know what a flea is? They are the acrobats of the parasite world. Try to catch one and you will see the speed and agility that makes them perfect for their job. Knowing your enemy is essential to battle so let’s get to know our enemy.

Fleas are small, dark colored, blood-sucking insects. Their bodies are flat on each side to allow easy movement through hair and fur. They have no wings but legs that are long and allow them to be excellent jumpers. Their bodies are hard and are covered with hairs and short spines that point backwards. The mouth of a flea is adept at sucking blood from its host. Fleas will attack a wide variety of warm-blooded animals. The most common to infest pets is the cat flea. It doesn’t attack just cats but humans, chickens, mice, rats, dogs, squirrels and rabbits. Fleas do not leave their hosts voluntarily. Unless they die or are killed, a flea can live on your pet for up to four months.

Once the adult fleas have found a host, they will have a meal and mate. The female will begin laying eggs within 36 to 48 hours. She will lay tiny, pearly white eggs in the fur, hair, feathers or habitat of the animal. The eggs are not sticky so they will fall off and land all over the place. Flea eggs usually make up about 50 percent of an infestation in a home. Female fleas can lay up to 20 to 50 eggs a day. That means that they can lay up to 2000 eggs during their life. The eggs will usually hatch within 1 to 10 days. The time frame all depends on the temperature and humidity. If the humidity is fewer than 50 percent or over 92 percent the eggs will die. Most home flea killers do not kill eggs. This is why you get fleas just when you started to think you were done.

The larvae are white and worm-like. They’re sometimes referred to as flea caterpillars. They feed on organic matter and adult flea feces in their environment. The larvae move around and become darker in color as they eat. Flea larvae avoid light and prefer to move downward. This is why they are found deep in the carpet, mattress or the couch stuffing. You will also find them outdoors under organic debris like leaves and branches. They like to accumulate where the animals spend a lot of time. They are very sensitive to heat and humidity. This stage will usually last five to 11 days. It will depend on the food availability and the climate. Flea larvae will account for about 35 percent of the flea population in your home.

Once the larva is fully developed, it spins a tiny cocoon. The cocoon is sticky so it becomes covered with debris and this helps camouflage it. The cocoons are usually spun around the base of the carpet fibers or bedding which makes them impossible to remove with a vacuum. This stage can be completed within five to 14 days, if the conditions are ideal. The pre-emerged adult can stay inside the cocoon for several days to several weeks waiting to be stimulated to emerge. Many things can cause the flea to emerge: being stepped on, the presence of carbon dioxide, vibration or heat. Under ideal conditions, the life cycle of a flea can be completed in 12 to 14 days. It can be prolonged to six months or there are rare cases of up to a year and pupae usually comprise 10 percent of the flea population in your home. This is why you can enter an area that hasn’t been inhabited in awhile, like a summer home, rental home, or abandoned home, and be eaten alive by fleas.

Once the flea emerges, it instantly begins looking for its first meal. A newly emerged flea can jump on a pet walking by and begin feeding in as little as seven seconds. Adult fleas will move towards the light and like to travel upward. This increases their chance of catching an animal passing by because they move to the top of the carpet after coming out of their cocoon. A new adult can survive for one to three weeks before needing blood but once they start feeding, they must eat again within four days or they die. Once the flea has had its first meal, mating can happen and egg production will begin within 48 hours. The cycle just keeps repeating.

Fleas are designed with two purposes in life: eat and breed. A large infestation on a small animal can cause death. There truly is no way to rid your life of fleas, completely, unless you live in a completely barren world. Preventing your pets from getting fleas is the first step. Now that you know your enemy, use this information wisely on the field of battle.