Adult fleas are not only a nuisance to humans and their pets, but can cause medical problems including flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), tapeworms, secondary skin irritations and, in extreme cases, anemia. Although bites are rarely felt, it is the resulting irritation caused by the flea salivary secretions that varies among individuals. Some may witness a severe reaction (general rash or inflammation) resulting in secondary infections caused by scratching the irritated skin area. Most bites usually found on the ankles and legs may cause pain lasting a few minutes, hours or days depending on one’s sensitivity. The typical reaction to the bite is the formation of a small, hard, red, slightly-raised (swollen) itching spot. There is a single puncture point in the center of each spot. (Ants and spiders leave two marks when they bite. Mosquitoes, bees, wasps and bedbugs cause a large swelling or welt). Also, fleas may transmit bubonic plague from rodent to rodent and from rodent to humans. Oriental rat fleas can transmit murine typhus (endemic typhus) fever among rats and from rats to humans. Tapeworms normally infest dogs and cats but may appear in children if parts of infested fleas are accidentally consumed.
Adult fleas are about 1/16 to 1/8-inch long, dark reddish-brown, wingless, hard-bodied (difficult to crush between fingers), have three pairs of legs (hind legs enlarged enabling jumping) and are flattened vertically or side to side allowing easy movement between the hair, fur or feathers of the host. Fleas are excellent jumpers, leaping vertically up to seven inches and horizontally thirteen inches. (An equivalent hop for a human would be 250 feet vertically and 450 feet horizontally.) They have piercing-sucking mouthparts and spines on the body projecting backward. Also, there is a row of spines on the face known as a genal comb. Spine I (first outer spine) is shorter than Spine II (next inner spine) in dog fleas. Both spines are about the same length in the cat flea. The rabbit flea has a vertical genal comb with blunt spines. The genal comb is absent in both rat fleas. Eggs are smooth, oval and white. Larvae are 1/4-inch long, slender, straw-colored, brown headed, wormlike, bristly-haired creatures (13 body segments), that are legless, have chewing mouthparts, are active, and avoid light. Pupae are enclosed in silken cocoons covered with particles of debris.
Life Cycle and Habits
Fleas pass through a complete life cycle consisting of egg, larva, pupa and adult. A typical flea population consists of 50 percent eggs, 35 percent larvae, 10 percent pupae and 5 percent adults. Completion of the life cycle from egg to adult varies from two weeks to eight months depending on the temperature, humidity, food, and species. Normally after a blood meal, the female flea lays about 15 to 20 eggs per day up to 600 in a lifetime usually on the host (dogs, cats, rats, rabbits, mice, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, opossums, foxes, chickens, humans, etc.). Eggs loosely laid in the hair coat, drop out most anywhere especially where the host rests, sleeps or nests (rugs, carpets, upholstered furniture, cat or dog boxes, kennels, sand boxes, etc.). Eggs hatch in two days to two weeks into larvae found indoors in floor cracks & crevices, along baseboards, under rug edges and in furniture or beds. Outdoor development occurs in sandy gravel soils (moist sand boxes, dirt crawlspace under the house, under shrubs, etc.) where the pet may rest or sleep.
Larvae are blind, avoid light, pass through three larval instars and take a week to several months to develop. Their food consists of digested blood from adult flea feces, dead skin, hair, feathers, and other organic debris. (Larvae do not suck blood.) Pupa mature to adulthood within a silken cocoon woven by the larva to which pet hair, carpet fiber, dust, grass cuttings, and other debris adheres. In about five to fourteen days, adult fleas emerge or may remain resting in the cocoon until the detection of vibration (pet and people movement), pressure (host animal lying down on them), heat, noise, or carbon dioxide (meaning a potential blood source is near). Most fleas overwinter in the larval or pupal stage with survival and growth best during warm, moist winters and spring.
Adult fleas cannot survive or lay eggs without a blood meal, but may live from two months to one year without feeding. There is often a desperate need for flea control after a family has returned from a long vacation. The house has been empty with no cat or dog around for fleas to feed on. When the family and pets are gone, flea eggs hatch and larvae pupate. The adult fleas fully developed inside the pupal cocoon remains in a kind of “limbo” for a long time until a blood source is near. The family returning from vacation is immediately attacked by waiting hungry hordes of fleas. (In just 30 days, 10 female fleas under ideal conditions can multiply to over a quarter million different life stages.)
Flea control is best achieved by having house treated, pet treated, and yard treated. Call us to schedule an appointment. Then to prepare for treatment make sure all animals and people are out of the house the day of treatment.We Recommend You Vacuum Before Treatment Is Performed.
Before vacuuming, collect all items (toys, shoes, clothes, etc.) off the floor, under beds, furniture, in closets, etc., to ensure best access for treatment. Also cover fish tanks, remove bird cages, pet food and water dishes and wash or dry clean any pet bedding. Vacuuming carpet with a beater-bar type vacuum where the pet rests and sleeps will help control flea larvae by removing eggs and dried blood feces (larval food) plus opening up the carpet’s nap for more effective insecticide treatment. Vacuuming must be performed on a regular basis every other day to be effective. Flea larvae do not move far from the site of hatching when there is adequate food (dried blood feces from adults). Research indicates larvae spend 83 percent of the time deep in the carpet at the base of fibers frequently becoming entwined within the carpet. At pupation, the larva move up the carpet fiber spinning a camouflaging cocoon around itself. Vacuum especially where lint and pet hairs accumulate along baseboards, around carpet edges, on ventilators, around heat registers, in floor cracks, and under and in furniture where the pet sleeps.
After vacuuming, place the vacuum bag in a large plastic garbage bag and discard in an outdoor trash container. If the cleaner uses a liquid water medium in a plastic pan (rather than a dust bag) discard dirty water far away from the house.