Fleas are commonly found in yards and homes across Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky. They are very small parasitic insects that have 6 legs, antennae, no wings, and are reddish-brown. Fleas only measure about 2.5mm, have very flat hairy bodies and mouth parts designed for feeding off the host’s blood. They feed on human and animal blood and are vectors for certain diseases. They can jump up to 8 feet high into the air. While the average life span of fleas is only about 100 days, females can produce between 400-500 eggs. The larva’s diet consists of organic debris such as fleas’ feces. Adults prefer furry animals and pets such as rodents, dogs, and cats. The eggs of a flea do not hatch on the host, they fall to the ground and can usually be found in carpets, rugs, floor cracks, upholstery, bedding and even on curtains. It takes only roughly 2 days for an egg to hatch. Interesting to understand is that a rodent such as a mouse or rat can bring a flea infestation into the house. If the animal then either leaves the home or is being removed, the fleas would most likely move to the pets or humans to feed. Exclusion and sealing practices are a good start to avoid an infestation by preventing the pest to gain access to the home. However, flea control requires the cooperating of the homeowner, treatment by a pest control professional and flea control products for pets.
While adult fleas are easy to identify, seeing eggs, larvae and pupae are more difficult to locate because of decreased activity. Generally, they can be found on, behind or under furniture, on bedding, in floor cracks, carpets, and rugs. In the average home eggs make up 50% and larvae 35% of the entire flea population. After hatching from the egg, the larva takes between 5 to 20 days to build a cocoon for the pupal stage, which make up for about 10% of the population. Adults can stay inside of the cocoon for months and do not emerge if environmental conditions do not support development. Movement of a pet or human causes vibration in the carpet. Moreover, elevated carbon dioxide and body heat levels signal the pupal to hatch. An adult will feed within the first or second day and mate afterward. This explains why an infestation can quickly get out of control.
Signs of an infestation include constant scratching and grooming of pets, which is the result of the skin irritation from bites. Another indication is flea feces that looks like coarse pepper and is usually found anywhere where the pet rests. Pets should also be inspected for fleas and droppings. After an infestation has been detected the pest control professional cooperates with the homeowner to establish a management plan that includes extermination as well as a good house cleaning. Carpets should be vacuumed and pet bedding washed with a special flea treatment product and dried to eliminate the eggs. Store bought over the counter products are ineffective because they do not eliminate the cause of the problem. To control an infestation, fleas in all stages of the life cycle must be treated. A professionally trained exterminator can assess the situation properly, detect all areas in a house that the problem occurs in and identify the species.
While the cat flea is the most dispersed species in North America, other common types include the dog, human and oriental rat flea.
Although fleas prefer to feed on pets and rodents, humans are not safe. Flea bites can cause allergies in humans. They also carry a multitude of diseases that can be transmitted to humans: plague, murine typhus, bartonellosis, tapeworm, and tungiasis.
Adult fleas have no wings and can therefore not fly. To move around, fleas wait for a host to pass by and then jump on it. Larvae are capable of crawling slowly to environments with favorable conditions that employ enough nutrition, moisture, shade, and shelter to further develop.