Fleas are ectoparasites, meaning that they live on the exterior of a host animal. The survive off hematophagy; feeding off the blood of their host. Fleas are part of the Siphonaptera order and go through complete metamorphosis, progressing from egg to larval stage, then the pupal stage and then finally becoming an adult. Similarly to mosquitoes, females must have a blood meal before they can reproduce. There are over 2,500 species of flea, with each individual species feeding off a different host animal.
Fleas are a group of small (usually 2 – 3 mm long), flattened, brown coloured insects.
BIOLOGY AND BEHAVIOUR:
All adult fleas are parasitic and spend much of their time hidden on the host animal, feeding on its blood. Each animal (rat, mouse, pigeon, cat, dog etc) usually has its own species of flea.
Whilst hidden in the host’s hair or feathers, the female flea lays eggs which usually roll off the host animal onto the ground or nest, where the animal is resting. A small larva hatches from the egg, which then feeds on organic debris on the ground, but especially on the faeces of the adult flea. The larva eventually constructs a cocoon from fluff and debris in which it pupates. The entire life-cycle takes about 2 – 3 weeks.
Adult fleas prefer to stay on the host, but will take large jumps powered by its strong rear legs if it needs to regain contact with the host.
BITES – With people, the first sign that their home is infested is usually the appearance of irritating bites on the lower leg.
VISUAL SIGHTINGS – Fleas can be seen crawling in the hair of pet cats or dogs.
DISEASE-TRANSMITTERS – Fleas on pets can cause dermatitis, and act as carriers of tapeworms. Some species of flea can carry serious human diseases such as murine typhus, and the bubonic plague which still occurs sporadically in Asia.
Pets frequently become re-infested with fleas when outdoors, and will then bring fleas into the home. To enable problems to be detected early, pets should be examined regularly for fleas, and veterinary products used if required. Areas of the home frequented by the pets should be vacuum cleaned frequently, as this will help to remove the presence of fleas.
If fleas are noticed indoors, professional help should be sought immediately, so that the fleas can be eliminated before they grow into a serious problem.
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