Fleas are wingless insects that survive by feeding on the blood of mammals. These parasites have mouths that can penatrate the skin of your dog, cat, or even you! Not only can their bites cause severe itching and swelling, but they can also transmit viruses and bacteria such as: typhus and myxomatosis. They have even been linked to transmitting the bubonic plague in the past.
Common fleas that feed on humans are
-Human Fleas (Pulex irritans)
-Dog Fleas (Ctenocephalides canis)
-Cat Fleas (Ctenocephalides felis)
A full grown flea can vary from 1.5 to 3.3mm long. They are dark in color and become lighter with the more blood they’ve ingested. Their hind legs are long, and are meant for leaping and jumping. They can jump as high as 7 inches and as long as 13 inches. Fleas have a hard exoskeleton with hairs and spines pointed backwards to increase their leaping ability.
Their bodies are very resilient, which makes them extremely hard to kill. Squishing them with your finger pads alone will not cut it. Better techniques are to use the back of your finger nails to squish them, to submerge them in gelly substances like vaseline, or to drown them in soapy water. Regular water without any soap are ineffective, because the flea will simply be able to jump out.
Fleas lay houndreds to thousands of small white eggs. The eggs then give birth to small pale larvae which feeds on the blood filled feces of adult flees. Flea feces, also known as flea dirt, are small dark pellets that may turn brown or red when in contact with water. The presence of flea dirt is a good indication of a flea infestation.
Fleas go through a four stage life cycle. These stages include:
1). Egg (50%)
2). Larva (35%)
3). Pupal/Cocoon (10%)
4). The Blood Sucking Adult (5%)
After a female flea feeds, she is able to lay eggs in groups of around 20 and a total of 500 or more before she dies. The eggs are usually found on the host, or in common areas where the host rests (couches, beds, etc). Eggs can take anywhere from two days to two weeks to hatch. After hatching, the larvae will feed on any organic substances available such as flea dirt/ feces, vegetables, or dead bugs. Flea larvae like to hide out in dark places like cracks in your floors/walls, bedding, etc. After 1-2 weeks of the flea larva stage, they form a cocoon and begin developing into the blood sucking adult form. The adult flea is fully developed within the cocoon within one to two weeks and is ready to start jumping around looking for a host. Adult fleas are able to rest within their cocoon stage until signs of a host arises. Signs may be heat, CO2, sounds, and vibrations.
Many Fleas stay in the larva or pupal stage during the winter and begin looking for a host when the weather turns warmer. Because of this, flea populations are much higher during spring, summer, and fall than it is in the winter. Their ideal environment consists or warm temperatures (70-85 degrees F) and high humidity (70% humidity).
After an adult flea leaves its cocoon, it can survive for about a week. However, if the flea is able to feed even once within that time, it can live another two to twelve months before its next meal! Because of their ability to lay hundreds to thousands of eggs and survive extended months between meals, flea control can be very difficult. Don’t be discouraged, with the right flea control techniques, you can keep fleas from infesting your home!