Fleas can be a big problem to both pets and humans. Learn all about fleas, including how they get into your house, how to control a flea infestation, and ways that you can prevent them.
What Are Fleas?
Fleas are a group of bloodsucking, wingless insects that can potentially cause and spread diseases. These common parasites survive by feeding on warm-blooded mammals, animals, or humans. As biting insects, fleas cause inflammation of the skin and potentially cause serious illness in the host. Although these pests are quite frequently associated with family pets and people who deal with outdoor animals, anyone can be affected by fleas.
Fleas can jump huge distances to go from one host to another. With a flattened, sleek body that allows them to maneuver fast in fur, feathers, and hair, they are quick pests that may seem impossible to contain.
What Attracts Fleas?
Fleas are attracted to different things as they go through their life cycle. However, there are specific things that will always be drawn to. Warmth is one of these factors that fleas will always actively seek. Most common in the spring or summer, they love body heat and warmer climates. That’s why your dog or cat's fur makes such an appealing place for these pests when they are out enjoying the sun. However, your skin can also be a place where fleas soak up warmth.
Carbon dioxide is another thing that appeals to fleas. This happens to be the gas that all warm-blooded organisms create when they exhale. If one person is producing more CO2 compared to others in the household, they might find themselves covered with more bites than the rest.
Dark places appeal to flea larvae and eggs. Mostly to stay hidden, these young fleas burrow for safety until they reach a mature age.
Fleas are also attracted to outside spaces that allow them to be hidden. This means tall grass and wooded areas that aren’t frequently cleaned up, or yard clutter can help them hide in your backyard. Puddles and other watering spots might also lure fleas into your yard.
Fleas often catch rides from other animals. If these animals are visiting your yard, they might be leaving some of these pests behind for you or your pets to pick up.
Are Fleas Harmful to Humans or Pets?
Fleas will bite humans and animals. Their bites often cause small, itchy red bumps. Painful and grouped in a small area, these bites are found on humans near the ankles, legs, waist, groin, armpits, elbows, or knees. In animals, fleas will infest and bite areas around their neck, ears, lower back, abdomen, and base of tails. Flea saliva can cause dermatitis in pets and allergic reactions in people.
When it comes to flea bites and humans, they typically go away without any treatment. As for animals, they can cause some serious concerns. Besides dermatitis, flea activity can result in anemia and tapeworms. The anemia occurs because fleas typically eat about 15 times their body weight in blood. Tapeworms can happen if an animal swallows a flea that contained a tapeworm egg. They can then hatch and mature in the intestines of your pet.
Animals will also itch at the fleas, and it could cause irritation and hair loss. Plus, a secondary skin infection could develop if the scratching and itching at the fleas are bad enough.
Flea-borne diseases in the United States include:
- The Plague – transmitted to humans from infected squirrel fleas
- Flea-Borne Typhus – transmitted to humans by infected cat fleas
- Cat Scratch Disease – transmitted to humans by a cat scratch when the cat is infected by flea or flea feces
What Do Fleas Look Like?
Fleas are small pests that vary between 1/12th to 1/6th of an inch in length. Ranging from dark red colors to dark brown colors. They have flat bodies, two antennae, and six legs. Slight hair covers their body that helps them stay on the host. Fleas don’t have any wings, but they can jump long distances with their strong lengths. They are small pests but can be seen with the human eye.
The Flea Life Cycle?
The flea’s life cycle has four main stages, which are eggs, larva, pupa, and adult. This species easily and quickly infests homes and other areas because they rapidly reproduce. Their life cycle has evolved to allow for faster reproduction.
Eggs fall off the host on which the adult flea laid them on. They are white and oval-shaped. Eggs can land inside the home on carpets, furniture, and any other place the host travels. This stage only lasts two days, as they hatch in about 48 hours after they are laid.
Larvae come out of the eggs, looking like small worms. They feed upon feces in the surrounding environments. This stage lasts about 15 days. During these days, the larvae will molt three times before creating cocoons. This takes up about 35% of the flea population in general.
Pupae are the larvae that are transforming into fleas. In this stage, they can remain dormant for many months. The pupae can sense motion, heat, and carbon dioxide – only coming out of the cocoon when sure that there is a host nearby. However, if there is a host nearby, the flea can come out of the cocoon just after a few days. When you go from seeing no fleas to a bunch of fleas at once, it could indicate that they’ve been cocooned and waiting for a host for a while. When in this stage, they represent 10% of the flea population.
Adult fleas live on hosts and feed on blood. While feeding, they also provide fecal matter for the younger fleas for nourishment. Adult fleas live for about four to six weeks. Females lay eggs a day or two after the start of feeding and can lay between 20-40 eggs each day. They make up only 5% of the flea population.
What Do Fleas Eat?
Young larvae will eat the feces of adult fleas, which is typically made up of dried blood. If they don’t get enough of this, they won’t grow up properly. Adult fleas will feed on any warm-blooded mammal, ranging from birds and pets to humans.