Fleas are found all over the world. There are an estimated 1,600 species, but fortunately, man encounters only a few of these. Fleas infest birds and mammals, including man, and are particularly abundant on rodents.
The most common species encountered by humans is the cat flea. Others, such as the dog flea, human flea, oriental rat flea and numerous other rodent fleas, are encountered only occasionally by the homeowner.
Fleas are medically important because of their abundance, worldwide distribution, irritating bites and ability to transmit diseases.
The bodies of fleas are well-adapted for their particular way of life. They are small, wingless insects that are flattened from side to side. Their legs are relatively long and modified for jumping, particularly the hind pair. They can jump 7 to 8 inches vertically and up to 14 or 15 inches horizontally.
Their mouthparts are adapted for piercing the skin and sucking blood. The smooth body is hard and covered with backward projecting bristles and spines that permit the flea to move easily through the hairs or feathers of the host.
Fleas are easily distributed while feeding and may run quickly or jump away to escape. The larvae are whitish, legless, blind, and worm-like. They are sparsely covered with bristly hairs and have brownish heads fitted with well-developed chewing-type mouthparts.
The pupae are enclosed in cocoons that become encrusted with soil particles and debris, making them almost impossible to detect and get rid of. Because of their size the egg, larval and pupal stages are rarely seen.
Environmental conditions, mainly temperature, humidity, and type of host, strongly influence flea development. The time required for development may be lengthened or shortened when these conditions vary from the optimum. A female flea can lay 4 to 8 eggs after each blood meal, and usually can lay several hundred eggs during her life.
Some eggs are laid off the host in the dirt or in the bedding or nest of the host. Most eggs are laid on the host, but since they are not glued in place or attached in any way, they easily drop to the ground or into the nest or bedding of the host. This generally is how homes become infested.
The eggs hatch into larvae in 2 days to 3 weeks, depending on temperature and humidity. The larvae feed on organic debris or feces of adult fleas for about 8 days to a month.
Larvae then spin silken cocoons in which to pupate. Flea larvae are quite active. They can be found in floor cracks, rugs, upholstered furniture, kennels and pet bedding. They can develop in homes throughout the year, though moisture and warmth are needed. During the summer they often develop in the yard, and crawl spaces under the house or in other places frequented by flea-infested animals.
The pupal period may last from 5 days to a year. Newly formed adult fleas remain inside the cocoons until the proper stimulus initiates their emergence. For instance, the cat flea will emerge in response to vibrations and pressure. Most fleas require 30 to 75 days to complete a life cycle when optimum conditions exist.
Fleas move about readily on the host and frequently transfer from one animal to another. Adult fleas are long-lived and able to survive several weeks off the host without feeding. Both sexes suck blood.
Indoors, breeding may occur continuously. Many species, including those that attack man have preferred hosts but will feed on a variety of animals. Cat and dog fleas also may be found on humans, rabbits, squirrels, rats and poultry. Human fleas also attach swine, dogs, cats, rats, coyotes and skunks.
Successful flea control must include treatment of the following sites: infested animals, indoors, outdoors. These treatments must be done simultaneously in order to be effective. Leaving one or more sites untreated will provide a reservoir of fleas from which new infestations will arise.
How to get rid of fleas on pets
Pet bedding should be washed thoroughly or discarded. Insecticides containing carbaryl, dichlorvos, pyrethrin, rotenone, malathion, or propoxur are commonly used to get rid of fleas on pets and animals.
Dust formulations generally are preferred over sprays for getting rid of fleas on pets. Dusts should be applied with a shaker or rubbed into the hair by hand, keeping the dust out of the animals’ eyes, nostrils and mouth. Treatment should be particularly thorough around the cars, between the legs and around the tail.
Flea collars with dichlorvos are somewhat effective for getting rid of fleas on pets. Before using these products, always read the label for information that may be important to the health and safety of your pet. Having a veterinarian treat pets for fleas is probable the most convenient and safe method.
How to get rid of fleas outside
Infested outdoors areas such as garages, porches and yards should be treated thoroughly to prevent reinfestation of pets. Pets and other animals should be prevented from getting under houses so that these areas don’t become infested. Rats and mice should be eliminated and a good flea control program should be used in areas frequented by these vermin (such as rat and mice burrows, etc.)
Getting rid of fleas in your house requires considerable effort on the part of the homeowner. The first step is to thoroughly inspect the premises. If there are adult fleas present, you can usually find them by walking through the house wearing white stockings. The adult fleas will jump onto the white stockings where they can be more readily spotted.
Control measures inside the home should begin with thorough cleaning to get rid of as many of the flea eggs, larvae, pupae and adults as possible. A vacuum cleaner in good working condition can be used to clean carpets, rugs, cracks and crevices in floors, baseboards and under furniture.
Afterward the vacuum bag should be burned or placed in an airtight plastic bag and discarded. A course spray (large droplets) of insecticide should be applied to floors, molding and baseboards up to height of one foot.
Also treat overstuffed furniture and specific areas where pets rest or sleep. The effectiveness of pesticides is directly related to the thoroughness of applications. If the house is on pier and beam foundation, treatment under the house is necessary. Retreatment in about 3 to 6 weeks may be required to get rid of fleas that had not hatched at the time of treatment. The application of an approved aerosol insecticide following the application of the wet spray is often helpful in eliminating adult fleas.
Pest control companies offer effective flea control services for those who do not want to apply pesticides themselves. Insect growth regulators (IGR), such as methoprene, are synthetically derived hormones similar to those found naturally in insects. When applied in the early flea larval stage, they inhibit growth and maturation.
Insecticides, on the other hand, kill larval and adult fleas by direct poisoning. The pesticide user is always responsible for the effects of pesticides on his own plants or household goods, as well as problems caused by drift from his property to other property or plants. To get rid of fleas successfully, make sure you always read and follow carefully the instructions on container labels.