Fleas have been around since time in memorial. They belong to a group of wingless parasites called "Siphonapter", which are characterised by their highly specialised method of sucking blood. They have survived for thousands of years by sucking blood from humans and animals.
Flea Life Cycle
Fleas undergo complete metamorphosis. Their life cycle is made up of eggs, larvae, pupae and adult male and female fleas. The length of their life cycles ranges from several weeks to several months depending upon environmental conditions.
Fleas lay between four to eight eggs after a meal, with the highest concentrations of laying occurring within the last few days of the female’s life. Unlike the eggs of some other parasites, flea eggs are not sticky and usually fall to the ground immediately upon being laid. Flea eggs hatch into larvae within one to 12 days.
Flea larvae are approximately 3 to 5.2 mm long and are semitransparent white in color. The larvae stage lasts from four to 18 days, after which larvae spin silken cocoons and enter their pupae stage. The pupae stage may be complete within three days, or it can last as long as one year depending on the environmental conditins present.
Flea larvae hatch from eggs which were laid by a female flea and have fallen off their animal hosts. Once away from their hosts, the larvae seek out shaded warm locations such as carpets, curtains and drapes, your bedding if your pet sleeps with you, your pets bedding, furniture and cracks in the floor.
Flea larvae survival depends very much on relative humidity and temperatures. Since dehydration is fatal to flea larvae, they will not survive humidity of less than 45-50 percent or soil temperatures greater than 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, if outdoors, larvae will survive in cool, shaded areas and do very well in crawl spaces. In environments of suitable humidity and temperatures, fleas will develop all year round.
Flea larvae complete three larval instars (a phase between periods of moulting in the development of insect larvae), and depending on their environment, will range in length from about 3-5mm long. Flea larvae don't have any eyes or legs.
Their bodies are maggot-like and whitish, which turn progressively darker as they feed on feces excreted by adult fleas. Other than feces, larvae will feed on various types of handy organic matter such as food particles, dead skin, dead insects and feathers. Flea larvae do not take blood meals directly from their hosts, unlike adult fleas.
A flea’s larval stage is completed within about 4-18 days depending on the enviromental conditions present. One of the last activities of flea larvae is to spin a silken cocoon and then enter the pupae stage.
The pupal stage may be completed within three days, or it can last as long as one year, depending on the environmental conditions present.
As long as they’re cocooned, fully-developed adult fleas can survive without food for several months. Otherwise, newly emerged adult fleas can only live about 1 week without a blood feast. Conditions which help them emerge from the cocoon stage are:
- vibration, e.g. family pets or humans walking close by
- carbon dioxide from pets or humans near by
- physical pressure caused by pets and humans walking near their hideout
- heat e.g. central heating being switch on, curtains and drapes being drawn or heat given off by pet or human bodies.
- high humidity
Adult fleas begin searching for food when they emerge from the pupae stage. While fleas are noted for their jumping abilities, they will remain stationery when a suitable host is located. Females begin laying eggs within 48 hours of the first feed, thus beginning the life cycle again.
Cold environments cause eggs to perish before hatching. Humidity below 45 percent will kill larvae. Fleas in the pupae stage will become adults more rapidly in the presence of warmth and high humidity.
What do fleas look like?
- body thin & flat with hair
- color dark in color, ranging from brown to reddish brown
- jump capable of jumping 200 times their own length from host to host, which is roughly 13 inches
- length, adult fleas are approximately 2.5 mm long
- legs six long legs
- mouthparts adults have mouthparts which are used to extract the host's blood
- no wings fleas are wingless
Adult fleas have flat bodies and backward-slanting spines which help them to move effortlessly between their hosts' fur or hair and makes them very hard for their hosts to dislodg them.
Newly formed adult fleas can remain dormant in their protective cocoons for up to 12 months, just waiting for the right host to come along. When something warm passes by, they are stimulated to open their cocoons and jump on the unsuspecting victim be it human or animal, fleas are not fussy.
Flea stats and facts
Within 3 or 4 seconds, fleas can jump up to 3 or 4 times, covering a distance of 3 or 4 feet. Once fleas land on their target they set about having a meal - first they inject their hosts with saliva and then they set about sucking their blood. They will also be looking for a mate to start their reproductive cycle. If they are already pregnant they will of course start laying eggs within a couple of days of feeding.
Where fleas live in your home
In a domestic situation, fleas live on pets, in rugs and carpets, in beds and sofas, in curtains and drapes, in fact anywhere inside and outside that pets frequent and sleep. In a home with fleas present, a typical breakdown of the flea population and their habitat will be:
- 5 percent on pets
- 95 percent in carpets, curtains, beds, sofas and other household furniture etc.
Contrary to popular belief, fleas don't spend most of their time on your dog's back, or in your cat's ear - an adult female flea will normally:
- Jump on your pet
- Bite it up to 400 times in one day
- Lay up to 50 eggs per day, that will drop into your pet's environment, e.g. your home and surrounds!
- Jump on and off your pet at will, sometimes only spending a couple of hours on it at a time
- Ingest 15 times its own weight in blood each day.
- Live for approximately one year and left unchecked will cause immense misery to your pets and havoc in your home.
Horrific as it may sound, one pregnant flea and her off-spring (given ideal conditions) can be responsible for infesting your home and surrounds with up to three million fleas in just two months and that is some flea infestation!
Your most effective weapon against fleas in your home is to vacuum, and then to vacuum and again and again - fleas simply hate vacuum cleaners.
And to make sure that none of the fleas or their off-spring sucked up by your vacuum cleaner it is wise to pop a Herbal Flea and Tick Collar in the vacuum bag. When full seal the bag tightly and dispose of it off your property.
This article and information forms part of the Carole's Doggie World Holistic Library and is presented for informational purposes only.The information is not intended to be a substitute for visits to your local vet. Instead, the content offers the reader information researched and written by Carole Curtis for www.carolesdoggieworld.com