Those Bloodsucking Fleas - Part 1

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Those Bloodsucking Fleas

Lee S. Yudin, Ph.D.
Pacific Daily News
November 29, 1997

Fleas are insects that are solely bloodsucking in their adult stage. Control of fleas in and around the household and on pets can be expensive and if not controlled, a recurring problem. However, successful control can be achieved if the homeowner is willing to take the time to understand how an integrated flea control program works. It is important therefore that the homeowner has some understanding of the flea’s life cycle, its preferred environment, hosts, and methods of control.

Fleas go through 4 different stages of development: egg, immature stages, pupa, and adult. Flea eggs a re pearly white, oval and are about the size of a grain of sand. Eggs are usually deposited in the dog’s or cat’s resting area. Places where the pet spends most of its time will have the greatest numbers of eggs deposited. This is where control measures should be concentrated.

Flea larvae (more than one flea larva) are slender, yellow to brown in color, and about 1/8 of an inch in length. Larvae are free living and feed on organic debris found in their surroundings. Larvae do not like direct sunlight and live deep in carpet fibers or under organic debris (such as grass and leaves) or soil, looking for food. After completing development, the mature larva will move to an undisturbed site to produce a silk-like cocoon and pupate.

Adult fleas are stimulated to emerge from the cocoon by heat, vibrations, and carbon dioxide. The cat flea, which is commonly found on Guam, attacks both cats and dogs. Young adult fleas are drawn to pets by the warmth of the animal’s body, movement, changes in light intensity, and exhaled carbon dioxide. The adult flea have very powerful back legs, which they use for jumping onto their host. Newly emerged adult fleas that are found in carpets or outside resting places of pets will jump towards the source of stimulus (warmth, movement, etc.) and try to attach to a suitable host Even though humans are not preferred hosts, newly emerged adults will bite humans while seeking their preferred host (either dog or cat). Adult fleas are dependent upon a constant blood source for their survival. Once feeding has started the adult cat flea must have access to a blood source almost continuously.

Methods of Control A complete flea control program must involve the treatment of the pet, indoor control, and outdoor control.

            To learn the methods of controlling fleas, including treatment of pets, indoor and outdoor control, read next month’s issue of Pacific Homes.