Identification

There are over 2,000 described species of fleas in the world. The most common domestic flea is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis felis). The dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis) appears similar to the cat flea, but is rare in the United States. Not that it matters, but the vast majority of fleas found infesting dogs are actually cat fleas. The sticktight flea (Echidnophaga gallinacea) can become a problem if pets frequent areas associated with poultry.Eggs are oval, and smooth. They are tiny (0.5mm), but visible to the naked eye. Their white color may prevent them from being seen on lightly-colored fabric.Small wormlike larvae (1.5-5 mm in length) hatch from the eggs. They are also visible to the naked eye. They are eyeless, legless and sparsely covered with hairs. The larval body is translucent white with a dark-colored gut that can be seen through the skin.These immature fleas will eventually spin silken, watertight cocoons in which they will develop (pupate) into adult fleas. Cocoons are sticky, attracting dirt and debris. This camouflage may prevent them from being seen.Adults are about 1-3 mm in length, reddish-brown to black, wingless, and laterally compressed. Their powerful hindlegs are well adapted for jumping and running through hair and feathers.

Life Cycle & Biology

Cat flea adults, unlike many other fleas, remain on their host. Females require a fresh blood meal in order to produce eggs. They can lay up to 1 per hour! The smooth eggs easily fall from the pet onto the carpet, bedding, or lawn. Eggs hatch within 2 days, and the developing larvae feed on dandruff, food particles, and skin flakes found on the floor around them. Adult flea fecal matter consists of relatively undigested blood. This dried blood also falls from the pet and serves as food for the newly hatched larvae.Fleas prefer to develop in areas protected from rainfall, irrigation, and sunlight, where the relative humidity is at least 75% and the temperature is 70-90ºC. This stage lasts 5-15 days.Larvae spin silken cocoons within carpet fibers, floor crevices, or protected outdoor areas in which they will develop (pupate) into adult fleas. The cocoons are sticky and easily camouflaged by local debris. Under optimal conditions, new adults are ready to emerge within 2 weeks. They develop faster at higher temperatures, but can remain in their cocoons up to 12 months. Vibrations and/or increase in carbon dioxide stimulate adults to emerge. The watertight cocoon is the state of the fleas life cycle that allows flea infestations to survive applications of traditional insecticides. It also the reason traditional pest control services only offer 30-90 day guarantees for flea control. Pest control companies know the remaining fleas might not hatch from their cocoons for several months.Adult fleas are the only growth stage that actually lives on the pet and feeds on fresh blood. They live 4-25 days.In ideal environments, a flea egg can mature into an adult flea within 12 days, though the typical time period is longer.

Detection and Monitoring

Detection is as simple as seeing fleas on your pet, noticing your pet scratching, or flea bites around your ankles. Perhaps there are small black pieces of dirt covering your pet’s bedding, or perhaps you’ve noticed tapeworm segments near or on your pet. The black dirt is the adult flea feces left behind to serve as food for larvae, and tapeworms are acquired by the animal’s ingestion of fleas. Another tale tail sign is the appearance of pearly-white eggs on flat surfaces occupied by the pet. Eggs become particularly apparent when contrasted on dark-colored surfaces. Soft, liquid-
filled flea eggs can be easily distinguished from sand grains by simply pressing them.
Monitoring is more difficult than simple detection. Fleas reproduce rapidly (one female can produce up to one egg per hour throughout her 4-week adult life), so if you spot one flea there are probably more. Shuffling around your home in white socks looking for fleas jumping onto the socks can help monitor hot spots for flea infestations, though not turning up any fleas after doing so doesn’t mean much. Odds are, if you indoor animal has a number of fleas, then your home most likely has
a hidden flea problem that has started to grow.
A recent phenomenon with flea infestations is the scratching dog or cat that otherwise shows no sign of being infested with fleas. The pet is treated with monthly topical flea control products purchased from veterinarians, but continues to be bothered by fleas. What is often happening in these situations is that adult fleas are developing in the carpets or area rugs of the home and then collected by the dog or cat before being killed by the monthly flea treatment applied to the animal. Enough of these adult fleas are able to produce more flea eggs before death to sustain the flea infestation. The end result is that each adult flea replaces itself, their offspring then replace themselves, all the while remaining invisible to the pet owner because the flea treatment applied to the animal continues to kill each adult flea. The pet owner’s treat and treat their yards assuming the flea infestation is outdoors, when in reality the majority of the problem is indoors.
Take the natural approach to flea control in your home.