Fleas are parasitic insects that typically feed on animals and spread disease.
Fleas are dark red or brown insects that are about two and a half millimeters long. They don’t have wings, but they can jump up to seven inches vertically and 14 inches horizontally because of their strong legs. Their body is shiny and laterally compressed aka flattened to the side. This is to help them maneuver through the hairs of their hosts. The body is covered with hair and short spines directed backward.
Fleas have four life stages: egg, larvae, pupa, and adult. Female fleas lay about 20 eggs at a time, typically on the host they’re inhabiting, and can lay as many as 500 eggs in a lifetime. Eggs easily roll off the host and hatch wherever they land in as little as two days. Flea larva eat dead skin and adult flea feces. Fleas pupate until they sense a warm-blooded food source. They can remain dormant for months. Once adulthood is reached, they will need to feed within a few weeks. After this initial feeding, they can survive months without a meal.
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Flea bites cause severe itching that can cause hair loss and even anemia in extreme cases. Animals scratch so hard that the hair falls out and may not grow back in. Fleas are most dangerous because they spread diseases and other parasitic organisms. These include bubonic plague, protozoans, endemic typhus, and tapeworms, among a myriad of other bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
Adult fleas are easy enough to see, but it’s the eggs that are the most worrisome. Fleas will typically infest an animal, domesticated or wild, outside and then make their way in. When inside, they can infest any other warm-blooded organism in the house, including humans.
Prevention techniques include regular bathing of pets and pet bedding, and regular pest control inspections.
There are several indications of a flea infestation. Pet scratching is the obvious one. Another is bite marks. They look like mosquito bites, but often appear in clusters or lines and can remain inflamed for weeks. Feces, or “flea dirt” looks like coarse black pepper is usually found on pets or in pet bedding. Flea eggs are also an indication but are harder to see.
One flea can cause an epidemic, so a pest control service is necessary to be thorough enough to eliminate the problem.