THE LIFE CYCLE OF THE FLEA
The flea is a blood-feeding parasite which can be transferred from host to host. H owever, once
a host is located, the flea prefers to remain on that host until it is dislodged or dies.
Adult fleas have an exoskeleton. They do not
have wings and their body is compressed laterally (vertically). Their eyes are very simple, and they have
piercing, sucking mouthparts. Fleas as a group are cosmopolitan, and have been found everywhere in the world except the
southern-polar cap. They are active and reproduce year-round (contrary to popular belief) but all life processes are slowed by
various degrees of cold weather.
In addition to fleas biting the pets (and often people), they can also cause several related
medical problems. Flea Allergy; both dogs and
cats can be allergic to certain toxins in the flea's saliva. This reaction is usually characterized by intense
itching, chewing and scratching on their rear legs, tail, and upper back area. One flea bite can cause allergic reactions in
sensitive animals for up to two weeks, regardless of whether a flea is still present. Any animal with hair loss should be seen by a
veterinarian to determine the cause. (also known as flea bit dermatitis).
Tape Worms: Tapeworms are intern parasites of both
dogs and cats, for which the flea is the intermediate host. This means that the only infectious stage of the tapeworm is the larval
stage inside the infected flea, i.e., fleas can be carriers of tapeworms. Tapeworms are usually identified by the owner as
white worm segments, about the size of a grain of rice, that are stuck on the fur of the
animal or that have dried up and fallen on bedding, etc.
Pets can only become infected with tapeworms by chewing on and swallowing
the worm segment. Once again, a veterinarian
should be consulted for diagnosis and de-worming, but prevention of further tapeworm
infection can only be accomplished by flea control.
THE FOUR STAGES OF THE FLEA LIFE CYCLE
* The flea egg represents approximately 34% of the total flea population at any given time.
* They are smooth, oval, pearlescent, approximately 0.5 mm or 1/64 of an inch long, and are
visible to the naked eye (a little smaller than a grain of sand).
* They hatch in 1.5 to 6 days, depending on temperature and humidity.
* Eggs are generally concentrated in area frequented by pets; i.e. bedding, dog houses, favorite
resting area, etc., but can be deposited anywhere the pet has been.
* The larvae account for approximately for 57% of the flea population at any given time.
* The larvae emerge from the egg using a special "egg-buster" spine on the head. The spine is lost during the first larval molt.
* They are legless, whitish and maggot-like in appearance, having a single row of bristles on
each side. They are about 3 mm long or 1/32
to 5/32 of an inch long, and are very active, using the bristles to move.
* The larvae molt through three larval instars, lasting from 6-36 days, depending on temperature
and humidity. Each instar is slightly longer than the last.
* They are very susceptible to humidity, with low humidity being detrimental to the larval.
* They feed primarily on adult flea excrement, which is more less dried blood from feeding on the
host. This is often called "flea dirt", and is often mistaken for flea larvae or eggs. This is the dark specks that is seen on the animal or left behind where an
infested animal lays. The larvae need this in order to survive.
* Although very active, larvae do not range far from the area in which the larvae hatch.
* Larvae are negatively phototactic, which means they avoid sunlight, hence they are more
likely to be found in dark, shaded, or protected places.
* Larvae will be mainly found in the pet's favorite resting areas.
* Accounts for approximately 8% of the flea population.
* Larvae form cocoons by secreting a stick substance and incorporating debris from
surrounding areas for camouflage.
* The cocoon provides a protective barrier which makes it resistant to chemicals and pesticides.
* Pupa progress from larval form to a recognizable flea inside the cocoon.
* Development takes place in about 7-10 days; however, the cocoon will lie dormant in the
environment until the outside temperature and humidity is high enough, and it senses a
certain degree of vibration. A passing host
subjects enough vibration for the cocoon to hatch.
* Cocoons may remain dormant over years if they are not stimulated to hatch. This accounts for the "VACATION
SYNDROME", when people and pets return to the home the vibrations begin immediately
which can start a massive wave of flea emergence.
* Adult fleas only account for approximately 1% of the total flea population.
* Newly emerged fleas (from the cocoon) are often mistaken for "baby fleas"
because they are very small, dark (almost black), and flat.
These are merely new adults that have not yet taken a blood meal.
* Adults are wingless and range from 1/32 to 1/8 of an inch in length. They are black to brownish-black in color.
* After locating a host and feeding, the fleas "plump up" and turn a reddish-brown
color, and are then recognized by most owner as a flea.
* Adults are stimulated to emerge from cocoons by vibration and changes in temperature. Daily vacuuming is recommended, discarding the bag
after each use.
* Under normal circumstances the adults emerge from the cocoons in 7-10 days.
* Visual and heat stimuli are primary modes that attract adult fleas to host; carbon dioxide
causes random jumping and is a minor mode of host-seeking
* Once they locate a host, fleas will feed, mate, lay eggs and spend over 90% of their lives on
the host, unless dislodged.
* After emerging from cocoons, adults can live up to two years without a blood meal if they
have not yet fed; feeding on flea feces, fungus, and skin dander.
* Once a blood meal is taken, the adults must feed at least every 4-6 hours.
* Feeding periods are from 4-7 minutes in duration.
* Egg production begins 2 days following the first blood meal, with the greatest number of eggs
being produced on the sixth or seventh day after the first blood meal.
* Average eggs laid per day is 31-46; average number in female lifetime is 300-800.
* Average life span on host is about 12 days, with accounts of up to 113 days. If fleas are seen continuously on pet, this is
evidence of re-infestation of new adults.
* Fleas jump on a average of 9-15 inches high.
FLEA CONTROL METHODS
The number of individual treatments necessary will depend upon the degree of infestation and
the thoroughness of each treatment. A mild
infestation may only require one treatment, whereas, a medium to heavy infestation may
Vacuum all floors, carpets, baseboards, pet bedding and furniture (especially between the
cushions and the floor underneath). Vacuuming
not only removes a percentage of fleas and eggs, but it also stimulates the cocoons to
hatch. Vacuum prior to treatment and resume
vacuuming 24 hours after treatment. Recent
research indicates that daily vacuuming for two to three weeks after treatment will
expedite the elimination of fleas. Either discard the vacuum bag after each use. For flea-control on hardwood floors, begin with vacuuming the floors and
baseboards, then spray the floor including all cracks, crevices and baseboards.
Foggers are not 100% effective because the fog will not reach underneath large pieces of furniture
i.e., sofas, beds, tables, etc. To obtain 100
% coverage it is better to spray as set out below.
The first treatment should include a spray with a quick knockdown insecticide such as
Permethrin mixed with a FGR (Flea Growth Regulator), such as FleaFix Wait 24
hours to begin daily vacuuming. The growth
regulator will take about three weeks to gain control of the eggs. Some adults will hatch
during this period because the FGR will inhibit the development of the eggs and larvae,
and the insecticide will kill the adults. The
cocoons remain unaffected and will eventually hatch within 5-10 days under normal
circumstances. The cocoons require humidity,
warmth and vibration in order to hatch. When
the cocoons hatch, the adult fleas emerge, which requires another treatment of insecticide
to eliminate the newly-hatched fleas. This is
the reason for additional treatments. re-spraying with Permethrin
will get rid of the new
hatchlings but if you don't want to re-spray the growth inhibitor will stop ant further
eggs from hatching. Continue daily vacuuming for about two to three weeks. A mild infestation may not require repeat
To control fleas outdoors, spray the Permethrin, in the areas
where the pet spends the majority of time i.e., kennels, runs, beds fence lines, along
sidewalks and driveways, underneath decks, and areas adjacent to foundations, etc. A repeat treatment may be necessary after four
Frequently asked questions about flea control
Flea control with
Flea control with FleaFix growth regulator (FGR)