Identification and Life Cycle
The more common type of flea is the cat flea, Ctenoephalides felis. Fleas occur on both cats and dogs and will bite humans and other animals. These parasites live on a host and will pierce the skin and suck the blood to feed.
Adult fleas are very small, about 1/8 – inch long, and dark brown in color. They are wingless insects with a vertically flattened body that enables them to move easily through body hairs. They have well-developed long back legs for jumping as high as 16- inches.
Fleas have four stages of metamorphosis; egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The adult flea spends most of its time on the host, and lays eggs on either the pet, in the pet’s bedding, or in cracks and crevices of floors. The attached eggs soon fall off because they are not sticky, and can end up in carpeting, upholstered furniture, or in the pet’s bed. The larvae are wormlike and white in color. They feed on dried blood and excrement left by the adult. In about 12 days, the larvae is fully grown and change to the pupal stage (pupae are inactive and do not feed). The pupae stage can last from one week to a year depending on its environment before changing to an adult.
Habits and Damage
In addition to the flea living on cats, it also lives on wild animals such as opossums, skunks, and rodents. There are several factors that determine the onset, length, and end of flea season. Temperature and humidity are the primary limiting factors in the fleas’ development and survival. Usually, a wet spring can indicate a season abundant with fleas.
When you have an infestation, the first sign you normally will see are bites on your skin. The bite will leave an itchy, small raised red bump, which can be as large as a dime. Bites are mostly found on the ankle and lower parts of your legs, but can be found on other body parts, particularly if they are living in your clothes or bedding.
Fleas can also transmit a number of diseases, such as Murine Typhus. This disease primarily affects rats and mice and can be transmitted to a person.
Common Signs Of Flea Activity
- Bites. An itchy, small red tiny bump on the skin, usually in groups of 3 or 4.
- Visual sightings. A size of a flea is tiny, and is no larger than the head of a pin.
- Eggs. These look like white specs and can be found where it is warm and near a food source, such as your pet’s bedding.
Prevention and Management
The best strategy for a flea infestation is prevention. An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program can control fleas by combining indoor and outdoor treatments to your home.
If you suspect you have fleas, the below methods can be used to determine your level of infestation.
- Check your pets. Look in hard to reach areas such as around the ears and the upper part of the leg
- Inspect your floor. Rub a wet, white cloth along your floor or carpet. Any flea droppings on your floor will show up as tiny red streaks on the cloth.
- Check your pet’s bedding. Fleas prefer warm areas near a food source.
- The “white sock test”. Walk across your floor in clean white socks. If you have fleas, they will jump on and you can easily see the black or brown fleas.
The following tips are recommended to help manage a problem with fleas.
- Screen crawl spaces and other locations to keep out wild animals that can carry in fleas.
- Vacuum carpet and upholstery weekly to remove both flea eggs and droppings of adult fleas. Empty the vacuum promptly after vacuuming.
- Bathe pets and wash their bedding weekly in hot, soapy water during flea season.
- Treat indoor carpet for management of fleas as well as the use of non-toxic chemicals directly on pets and their bedding.
- Treat outdoor pet areas such as locations where pets spend most of their time. This includes sleeping areas and pathways.