Pet owners are not strangers to fleas and the problems they can cause. But these pesky little insects are capable of being an issue even for those without pets.
Contrary to their names, it is possible to find either type of flea on cats, dogs and other furry mammals. They can also be found on birds.
Compared to other insects, the life cycle of a flea is not that long. The flea life cycle goes from egg to larva to pupa before the final adult stage. The process can take anywhere from two to three weeks to several months, depending on the conditions. Adult cat and dog fleas can live up to one year in ideal situations, but only about one to two weeks if no host is present.
Female fleas lay eggs while attached to the host. Because these eggs are unattached, they will slowly drop to the ground where they remain until hatching. Flea eggs typically hatch in two to 12 days. The resulting flea larvae are small, whitish in color and have no legs. While they lack appendages, these larvae do have strong, well-developed mouths. The larval stage is shorter in the summer, taking four to 24 days to enter the pupal stage. For the rest of the year, the process can take up to 200 days. Flea larvae eat their own skin sheddings, waste from adult fleas and organic debris including hair and dead skin cells. They are often found burrowed into or under pet bedding or in deep carpet to avoid light.
A full size flea larva spins a cocoon to enter the pupal stage. This stage typically takes five to 14 days, but may take longer under poor conditions. When ready, adult fleas emerge from the cocoon and wait for a host to pass by.
Adult fleas are roughly one-eighth of an inch long. They can be reddish-brown to black in color, appear flattened and have no wings. These insects have long back legs to aid them in jumping from host to host.
Hopping to it
Adult fleas jump off and on hosts as they become available. Fleas survive on animal blood, and they need a meal in order to reproduce. A hungry flea will jump onto the next animal it sees; this is why people are often bitten around the ankles.
An adult flea will look for a blood meal in the first 24 hours after it leaves the cocoon. It will begin to feed within 10 seconds of landing on a host.
Despite their need for a host, a flea may spend up to 90 percent of its life on nearby surfaces, instead. They do not typically make large leaps, but it is possible for them to jump up to 13 inches high – or about 200 times their body length.
Location, location, location
Much of the flea life cycle depends on proper temperatures and humidity. They are commonly found in carpets, on upholstered furniture or near pet bedding.
Fleas need a relatively humid environment to flourish. Humidity lower than 50 percent and temperatures higher than 95 degrees Fahrenheit will kill flea larvae. If you suspect you have fleas in your yard, check in shaded spots with plenty of moisture near areas your pet enjoys.
Prevention and treatment
Making sure that these pests don’t invade your home requires a multipronged plan of attack.
Proper regular bathing and grooming of pets will cut down on the number of fleas brought into your home.
Changing or washing pet bedding frequently, vacuuming surfaces and discarding vacuum cleaner bags will also make your home less flea-friendly. Flea eggs and larvae are capable of developing inside the vacuum cleaner bag and reinfesting the home.
Vacuuming, according to Texas A&M University’s Extension Office, can remove up to 30 percent of the larvae and 60 percent of the eggs from a carpet. It will also remove their food source.
In addition to these methods, it may be helpful to use flea collars or treatments on indoor and outdoor pets. It is recommended that you treat your home and yard for fleas at the same time as you apply the treatment to your pets. There are a wide variety of natural and man-made options available. If you are unsure of the safest, most effective way to treat fleas in your home or yard, call Terminix® and a Service Technician will help you find a solution.