Fleas: What they are, what to look for, and how you can prevent them

Fleas are a nightmare pest to deal with. They are tiny, naturally camouflaged, evasive, multiply quickly, and have a ferocious appetite for blood, in fact, fleas will bite humans as well.

But what if you don’t have pets, can fleas still be an issue in your home? Yes. Fleas can still make their way into your home through shared walls, rodent infestations, and on other critters like racoons or squirrels, which make their way through your property.

Rarely will a flea jump between pets or leave the safety of a nesting area once they establish themselves, that is unless they need a blood meal. Since the flea lives a short lifespan and is driven to reproduce their focus is to find shelter and food.

Let’s get to know this parasitic pest a little more.

Name: Flea

Insect order: Siphonaptera

Most common specie: Cat fleas (Infests both Cats and Dogs)

Claim to fame (shared with lice): Research has shown that the Oriental rat flea is known for spreading the Black Plague, otherwise known as “Black Death”, by feeding on infected rat’s than human blood.

*Fleas are a vector for bacterial, rickettsia, and viral diseases transmissible to humans and animals.

Description: wingless, flat in shape, 1/12 to 1/6 inches long, dark reddish/brown in color, has antennae, six legs, and powerful mouthparts for piercing and sucking blood.

Special Abilities:

Jumping: Fleas can go from still to liftoff in one millisecond and cover 7 inches vertically and upwards of 13 inches horizontally. This means a flea can jump 100 times its length and can do so with lightning fast speed.

Camouflage: The fleas hard shelled body contains many bristles and combs that allow it to move effortlessly through hair, and they’ll hide, jump from, or move about hair quickly if detected. Fleas will jump from a pet if discovered, conceal itself in the fibers of your carpet, then jump back onto your pet when they see an opportunity.

Accelerated Reproduction: An adult flea only lives for a few months, yet they can lay between 2,000 and 5,000 eggs in their lifetime. These eggs are roughly 0.5 mm in size, oval, and smooth. Flea eggs fall from fur easily, so once you see one flea, you can assume that there are many more.

If fleas find their way into the home they can survive the winter months, but fleas typically appear after rain, with higher-than-average humidity, and when temperatures exceed 60 degrees, which means that Spring through Fall are a fleas most active period.

In outdoor environments, the flea dwells in cool, moist, and shady spaces around the property, such as tall grass, leaves, shrubs, and trees.

Inside the home the flea prefers to continue living on your pet, but even without a pet to call home, a flea is comfortable inside the cracks of floors and behind, under, and inside bedding, carpet, and furniture.

There are a few things to look out for when dealing with a flea infestation:

  1. You notice your pet scratching frequently.

  2. Hair loss on your pet from biting and itching.

  3. Irritated skin showing small red dots.

  4. Dried bits of blood that resemble pepper, also known as “flea dirt”, on your pet, bedding, furniture, or carpet.

Flea Prevention

There are many things a homeowner can do to help reduce the likelihood of a flea infestation. If you are a pet owner you should periodically check and wash your pets bedding, bathe and brush regularly, spot check for fleas when grooming, and consult your veterinarian about any flea related control products or hair/skin regimens.

There are several other important things homeowners, and non-pet owners should do to prevent a flea infestation from spiraling out of control:

  • Take away the flea’s outdoor habitat by keeping grass cut, raking up leaves, and trimming back shrubs and other heavy vegetation.

  • Maintain the home against rodent infestations.

  • Vacuum regularly (including hardwood), ensuring to clean under furniture cushions.

  • Wash bedding and other linens using high heat.

Flea larvae are even more difficult to find as fleas are careful to store these in more secretive areas, which includes the crack of floors and deep behind cracks and crevices along flooring.

A fleas rapid production cycle, small size, quick speed, and secure nesting make dealing with an infestation a challenging task. Given the fleas lifecycle it could take months to finally rid of an infestation.

If you are experiencing fleas in your home or business, then a call to a professional pest control company is highly recommended. Give us a call to learn more about how we can effectively control your flea related problems.

Scott Hinesley

WSDA Pest Professional

Sources: https://www.cdc.gov/fleas/avoid/on_pets.html

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