What do fleas look like?
Fleas belong to the order Siphonaptera. They vary in size from 1mm, such as the rabbit flea, to the mole flea that can be up to 8mm. Fleas vary from being light brown in colour to nearly black although most encountered are a reddish brown. They are flattened from side to side in appearance, allowing them to move easily through hair and fur and are covered in backward facing bristles. A single female Flea is capable of producing several hundred eggs in her life span. The eggs hatch after about a week and the legless, white thread-like larvae feed on organic waste including undigested blood and excreta left by adults. The larvae are about 1.5mm long at this stage and are identified by their eyeless, brown head, biting jaws, 3 segmented thorax and 10 segmented abdomen covered in bristles, with peg-like protrusions on the final segment. The larvae become grey in colour as they grow and after about 2-3 weeks, having moulted twice, reach a length of 5mm. At this stage they begin to spin silken cocoons in which they pupate. These cocoons are tent shaped and incorporate dust particles etc, which help to camouflage the pupa.
Why are fleas so successful?
They have well developed muscles in the hind limbs and a unique skeletal structure, which are special adaptations for jumping. Fleas have no wings (although transitory wing buds may appear in pupae of some species), reduced or no compound eyes and piercing and sucking mouth parts. Adult fleas live as parasites on warm-blooded animals and although they show host preference they will feed on sources of blood in the absence of their normal host. Some flea species are unable to breed without the presence of the blood from their definitive host.
Where do fleas live?
There are around 2500 different species of fleas described worldwide with another 500 awaiting classification. The predominant flea of modern homes in the Western World is Ctenocephalides felis – the cat flea – responsible for around 70% of all flea complaints. Other species include the dog flea, Ctenocephalides canis found on humans and pets, particularly in their bedding, and the human flea, Pulex irritans is also found on humans, in bedrooms and is capable of breeding on pigs, badgers, foxes and hedgehogs. The human flea is however rare. Others that may be encountered include the rabbit, bird, hedgehog and mole fleas.
What do fleas eat?
Fleas are parasites that feed on blood and will readily bite humans. If an animal is untreated large numbers can develop.
What attracts fleas?
Fleas are attracted by food sources, warmth, heat, blood and carbon dioxide in the air. Animals give off carbon dioxide into the surrounding air when they breath, so this is a good indicator to parasites that a potential host is nearby.
How do I know if I have fleas?
Examine your skin for bites. This is usually the first sign noticed when you have a flea infestation. Often you will feel a bite as it happens but fleas jump so quickly you may not see the actual flea. However after a few moments you will see a raised red bump. These bumps can be any size. Most are small, but in some people that have allergies they can be a lot bigger. There will be a reddish colour to the skin around the bump and most of the time they will itch. Flea bites will usually be on the ankles and legs. They can also be on other parts of the body, particularly if they are in your clothes or bedding.
Are fleas harmful?
Fleas will often go unnoticed until, towards August and September, either people are bitten or pets begin to suffer. When very hungry, fleas will jump onto people (not their preferred host) feed a little on blood, and then leap off again to await a more suitable host. Bites to humans can cause intense reddened irritation around a central red spot, which can last for up to 2 days. First bites are not usually responsible for serious reactions although subsequent ones may lead to hypersensitivity among some people. It is thought that up to 50% of all skin diseases suffered by cats and dogs are caused by allergic reactions to flea bites which attack all pets at one time or another during their life. Fleas are capable of spreading serious disease. The most critical of these being the infectious Bubonic plague, transmitted to man by the rodent flea that carries the causative bacillus from infected rats. This flea is responsible for carrying murine typhus. While disease transmission is still prevalent it is now the case that fleas are considered more of an irritation and the cause of much social stigma. On occasions, psychological problems arise in the form of delusory parasitosis (a condition where the victim imagines that he/she is infested with insects).
How do I get rid of fleas?
The correct flea control measures can only be decided once the level of flea infestation has been determined. In many cases, infestations (even of spotlessly clean homes) can usually be attributed to pets, which may well have picked up fleas from outside sources. Other possible hosts need to be identified should this not be the case. Birds’ nests for instance are a common source of fleas outside the home. Before applying any treatment, floors and furniture must be thoroughly cleaned and vacuumed. Particular attention should be given to pets’ bedding and places where pets frequent. Domestic pets should also be regularly treated with an appropriate veterinary product. Infested clothing, beds and bedding should be destroyed or thoroughly cleaned and accumulations of debris destroyed. Thoroughness is vital when treating any flea infestations as problems can quickly re-surface if an area is not treated sufficiently.