FleaIf you've ever owned, or currently own, a pet you've more than likely encountered that dreaded, pesky nuisance of an insect: fleas. A wingless, external parasite, fleas live and thrive off the blood of their host, like mammals and birds. And you're probably even more familiar with the bites and constant scratching that comes with meeting a flea.

You probably didn't know that there are also different types of flea species with specific capabilities and different preferences in its host. Learn about the characteristics, behavior, and prevention of fleas.

A Flea's Characteristics

Fleas are wingless, agile and dark-colored insects that can be anywhere from 1/16 to 1/8 inches in length. Their tube-like mouth is built for the consumption of blood. Fleas have long, thin legs with a hind pair that's made for jumping. A flea can reach a vertical length of up to 7 inches, with a horizontal length of 13 inches when jumping. This make a fleas one of the best jumpers compared to other animals its size, with the exception of the froghopper.

A flea's body is laterally compressed, which allows it to easily move along the hairs or feathers on the host's body. Their bodies are hard and polished, covered with tiny hairs and short spines that are directed backward. Larvae, however, are small and pale and covered with bristles.

A flea's body is also capable of withstanding considerable amounts of pressure as protection against elimination attempts like smashing and scratching. Even if you were to squeeze a flea between your fingers it would most likely live.

Diet

Flea larvae will fees on a variety of organic matter, such as the feces of mature fleas. Adult fleas primarily feed on fresh blood.

Diet plays an important role in the life span of a flea. For example: if a flea is newly emerged and is unable to locate a source of food, it won't live that long.

Life Cycle and Habitat

Fleas will go through a total of four stages during their life cycle. In short: eggs, larvae, pupa and adult. Adult fleas have to feed on blood before becoming capable of reproduction.

First stage-Eggs: A flea's life cycle begins when a female lays her eggs after feeding. These eggs are laid in batches; those batches can reach a count of up to 20 or more eggs. Eggs are generally laid on the host itself, meaning they can easily roll onto the ground. This is why a host's sleeping area can become an egg's primary habitat. Eggs can take anywhere from two days to weeks to hatch.

Second stage-Larvae: The larvae will emerge from eggs to feed on whatever organic material is available, including dead insects and feces. Since they are blind, the larvae will try to avoid sunlight, hiding in the cracks and crevices of houses.

Third stage-Pupae: If there's a sufficient supply of food available, flea larvae will pupate, weaving a silken cocoon that occurs up to 2 weeks after the first three stages. After an additional two weeks, an adult flea is fully developed, ready to emerge from its cocoon. The flea can remain resting until a host is available. Stimuli such as sound vibrations and heat can indicate to a flea if there's a potential host nearby.

Fourth stage-Adult Flea: Upon reaching adulthood, a flea's primary goal is finding blood and reproducing. Their life span can last up to a year, or a year and a half assuming it's under the right weather condition and there's a reliable source of food.

During the course of her lifetime, a female can lay more than 5,000 eggs, averaging a growth rate between 30 and 90 days. Generally speaking, however, an adult flea will only live from 2 to 3 months. If there's no host or food available, the life span can be as short as a weekend. Newly emerged fleas will live only one week if a blood meal isn't obtained. But a fully developed adult flea that's already passed its emerging stage is capable of living for several months. Ideal temperatures for a flea's lifecycle ranges from 70 degrees to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Different Species of Fleas

While there are several different species of fleas, such as the northern rat flea and the moorhen flea, there are others which are much more common that you might be familiar with. Like fleas that you've encountered in your home or have found on the family dog.

Cat Fleas

Cat fleas are small, reddish/brown insects that primarily feed on domestic cats and can even maintain its life cycle on other domestic animals such as dogs.

Cat fleas will share the same characteristics and life cycles as any other specifies of fleas. What they prefer in terms of a viable host is different, as their name has implied.

Humans are definitely capable of being bitten by cat fleas, but are not a sustainable source. However, if the female is able to source her food reliably for up to 12 consecutive hours, the cat flea is very capable of laying eggs.

Cat fleas are capable of transmitting other parasites, as well as infections, to dogs, cats and humans. Infections such as tapeworm and murine typhus can be transmitted by immature fleas that are swallowed.

Treatment in regards to cat fleas needs to be done not only to the host, but to its environment as well. Vacuuming and washing clothing and linens in hot water should be done upon immediate discovery of any cat fleas and, if possible, should be done consistently.

Dog Fleas

Like cat fleas, dog fleas primarily feed on a variety of animals. More specifically, they prefer to feed on dogs and cats. A close resemblance to cat fleas, dog fleas can live on a wider range of domestic animals and is more prevalent on a worldwide scale.

Dog fleas have been proven troublesome due to its tendency to spread dipylidium caninum. They're able to deliver up to 4,000 eggs on its host's fur, with males living up to several months without food.

Dog fleas are easily distinguished from cat fleas by its head, which is takes on a more rounded shape, unlike that of the cat flea which is more elongated. Dog fleas also have eight notches on its hind legs, while cat fleas have six. A minor difference, but still one that can help you identify which one is which.

Sand Fleas

Like the common household flea, Sand Fleas are just as much of a nuisance as any insect that feeds on blood. They're generally found in sandy areas and tend to bed during the early morning or late afternoon. However, they can't jump too high. And bites can easily be avoided by wearing clothing that covers your legs and arms, as they can't bite through clothing.

New bites tend to appear several days after an encounter with sand fleas. This is due to the anesthetic in their saliva. It's best to avoid scratching, as bites from sand fleas can cause infections.

Sand fleas will typical bite feet, ankles, and legs since those are the parts of your body that are closest to the ground.

Unfortunately, sand fleas will produce two types of bites on humans. The first one resembling a mosquito bite. The second one you'll encounter is the one which is a result of breeding females. Sand fleas will burrow themselves into your skin, remaining there until the eggs eventually hatch. You can spot these bites by looking for swollen areas that have black spots right in the middle. If you do spot one, it could be breeding sand fleas.

It is possible to experience a fever from burrowing sand fleas. And it could even develop into what is called tungiasis, an inflammatory skin disease that should be given immediate attention and treatment. Failure to do so could result in secondary infections.

The best way to prevent becoming infested with sand fleas is to avoid going to the beach while it’s raining. Sand fleas tend to be more aggressive when it's cool and moist.

Flea Symptoms

Flea infestations can be incredibly annoying for both you and your pets. But it can also be dangerous and have a significant impact on your health. Symptoms can include mild to severe itching, uncopiable skin irritations and infections. Flea bites can also result in Anemia, as well as the transmission of tapeworm and other diseases to pets.

When humans are bit by fleas, it can result in a rash that causes itching and bleeding. These rashes can occur on your armpits and the folds of your joints, such as your elbow or knee.

When cats or dogs are bit, areas such as the head, neck and tail become irritated and are being scratched consistently. This can cause your pet's skin to become inflamed.

Prevention and Treatment

To prevent and control a flea infestation takes a lot of time and multiple steps. Sometimes it can be difficult. However, the most effective way of doing this is by making sure your pet won't get infected. You need to make sure your pet is cured. As well as the fleas living on it. And the environment in which you’re pet lives. There are many pet products on the market which can help you successfully rid your pet of this terrible nuisance.

Keep in mind that every female flea on your pet has more than likely laid eggs in its environment. Therefore, effectively preventing and controlling the infestation implies that you should focus on removing fleas from environments that are both indoors and outdoors. This is what will help keep immature fleas from developing into adults.

When removing flees from indoor environments, it needs to be done mechanically: vacuuming drapes, pet areas, and furniture is where fleas will most likely be found. Vacuuming can only remove about 50 percent of the flea population, so follow that up with a treatment specifically designed for killing fleas.

Pay special attention to the bedding your dog sleeps on. You should be washing it every week. You might want to also extend the vacuuming and cleaning to your car, garage, and basement while you're at it.

Preventing a flea infestation will also include eliminating them from your yard or, if you have any, kennels. These are the two places in which fleas will most likely be coming from. Any dog houses or patios should be scrubbed clean. Also take into consideration that wild animals such as raccoons and opossums are also capable of carrying fleas. Prevent them from bring fleas into your hard by not feeding or encouraging them on to your property.

It's important to keep up with the same procedures as long as you possibly can to effectively keep fleas out of your living space. Since a flea's lifecycle can take up to 6 months, it's best to maintain that prevention routine for up to a half years’ time.

Effectively getting rid of fleas and their eggs involves not only treating your pets, but your household's exterior regions as well. Your grass, floors, and furniture are all prone to being infested by fleas.

Treatment needs to be done immediately upon signs of fleas and should be repeated on a regular basis. Delaying a treatment can result in increased flea populations.

Alliance Pest Services has several Flea programs to keep your home, pets Flea free.  Alliance is your local flea expert.