Although we all have a common idea of the unassuming flea (think cartoon dogs scratching their ears), most of us actually know very little about them.
This lack of knowledge can be especially dangerous for pet owners who not only want to keep their loved animals clean and healthy, but also prevent any cross-infections or infestations of the house. And if you’re trying to get rid of a full-blown flea infestation – knowing how they work is key to getting rid of them for good.
Read on for must know flea facts that’ll help you defeat these buggers!
Can you see fleas?
Fleas are pretty tiny. How big are fleas? They usually measure around 1 to 3 mm in length, with the females being bigger than the males – while a female flea can be larger than 2 mm, the average male flea can be less than 1 mm long.
Their tiny size makes them difficult to spot but they are visible to the naked eye, as you can see from the pictures…
That being said, it’s really difficult to notice individual fleas. Most often, you won’t notice you have a flea problem until it’s already infestation, at which point you’ll be able to see multiple fleas hopping around your pets or your house.
What do fleas look like?
Fleas look like tiny black specks with thin and flat bodies that make it easy for them to move through your pet’s hair. But there’s no point in describing them when pictures say a thousand words…
Where do fleas come from?
Oh so many places. The most common source of fleas is your beloved pet(s). If your cat or dog has been hanging around outside, there are a lot of potential places they could’ve picked up fleas.
Fleas thrive in moist, shady and cool places which could be many spots that your pet likes to hang out in. Wildlife can also bring fleas into your yard, making it easy for your pet to pick them up – watch out for raccoons, squirrels, rodents and feral cats as they can all carry fleas into you yard.
Once the fleas are inside, they can make themselves at home pretty much anywhere, including on your pets, in your carpet or on your furniture.
Where do fleas live?
Fleas live on bodies. It sounds like the stuff of horror films, but adult, fully grown fleas require a ‘host’ body in order to lay their eggs – an adult flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day!
Just about any warm-blooded creature will do the trick – although the ideal hosts for flea eggs tend to be cats and dogs (due to their thicker fur).
But don’t worry – Rover and Whiskers aren’t walking around with flea eggs all over them. You see, flea eggs aren’t sticky so after the female flea lays her eggs on the host, the little eggs drop onto the carpet, your pet’s bed, your bed, and anywhere else they happen to fall off.
What do fleas eat?
There’s no nice way to put this: fleas feed on the blood of the host. Yup, not only do fleas use the host’s body as an ideal breeding ground, but it also supplies their meals. The little beasties actually drink the blood of their host animal to survive – some can even go over 100 days without having a meal at all!
And when they drink – they drink a lot. The female flea consumes up to 15 times her own body weight in blood daily, which isn’t too surprising consider she’s eating for 50 of her babies.
Do fleas bite humans?
Fleas aren’t the pickiest eaters so yes, they’ll bite humans for their blood. This is actually one common sign that you have a blood infestation on your hands since flea bites are extremely itchy and you’ll tend to have them around your feet and ankles.
Do fleas live on humans?
The whole question of “can people get fleas” is a pretty commonly asked one. The answer is that yes, people can get fleas although it’s pretty unlikely. There are over 2,000 species of fleas and only one species lives on the blood of humans. In general, fleas prefer to live on fur-laden pets…the downside is that if something happens to their pet hosts, they may move on to the next best thing – you.
That being said, it’s much more difficult for a flea to live on us non-furry humans so you don’t have to worry too much about that. It’s much more likely fleas will bite you but not actually live on you. Plus, it’s pretty easy to get rid of fleas on humans.
Can fleas live in human hair?
If fleas like furriness, can’t they live in human hair? Yes, fleas can live in human hair or simply use your hair as a temporary mobile home to hitch a ride on until they get to another warm-blooded species whose blood it prefers, i.e. dogs or cats.
Fleas have a strange lifecycle
A flea isn’t suddenly born with its iconic jumping legs and a thirst for your cat’s blood. The flea life cycle begins when an adult female flea has a blood meal – blood is necessary for fleas to reproduce – and lays a bunch of eggs on a host’s body. There four stages of life for the insects: egg, larva, pupae and fully-fledged adult.
The egg and larva stage are fairly self-explanatory, however the pupae section is where things get interesting – and difficult for the person who’s trying to get rid of them.
The pupae stage is, essentially, a sort of middle ground between the larva and the fully adult flea – the front mandibles have formed, but the back legs (used for jumping between hosts) have not. Indeed, a pupae stage flea can remain in this state for months on end until they find a suitable host, or the environment around them is appropriate for maturing into a full adult.
To make it even worse, during the pupae stage, fleas are wrapped up in a silken cocoon that’s resistant to insecticides and often spun around the base of the fabric fibers they’re on – they can be very difficult to kill or remove.
How long do fleas live?
The average flea lifespan is usually 2 to 3 months. With a plentiful food supply, a flea can last for around 100 days! The good news is that female fleas can’t lay eggs until they’ve had their first blood meal.
How long can fleas live without a host?
As you already know, an adult flea usually lasts only 2 to 3 months. But without a host, they won’t last long. They’re at their most vulnerable when the flea emerges from its pupa as it only has about one week to find a blood meal – aka, host – otherwise, it will die.
Getting rid of fleas can be a pain
As a result of the lifecycle signposted above, it can be especially difficult to get rid of the little suckers. Different methods of killing them are required for each part of the life cycle (something you use for flea larvae is unlikely to kill off any remaining pupa-stage fleas, for example).
To fully eradicate a flea problem, with your pets, you’ll need a multi-faceted treatment plan that kills eggs, larvae, pupae, and the adult fleas.
How do fleas reproduce?
Fleas breed like crazy.
It’s thought that a female flea can lay over 2,000 eggs within the course of her lifetime (although, interestingly, it can’t do so until it’s had its first blood meal). Bear in mind that the average life-time is around 3 months.
Although the eggs are laid on the host itself, they often fall off, which can lead to the infestation spreading throughout the environment – read: your home.
Even worse? The fleas that you actually see jumping and biting represent only a small part of a flea infestation – flea eggs make up around 50 percent of an infestation in a home while flea larvae and pupae make up 45 percent of a flea infestation.
That means the adult fleas you actually see are only 5 percent of the flea infestation. This is probably one of the most disturbing flea facts on this list.
Fleas like to share the love
Fleas are historically known for spreading the bubonic plague, and can also transmit a wealth of other diseases and health issues: murine typhus to humans, transfer tapeworms, cause anaemia in animals and, simply, cause very annoying itchy lumps around their bites.
Do fleas fly?
It’s easy to think that fleas can fly since they jump so high, it looks like they’re flying. But no, fleas cannot fly. They’re wingless and incapable of flight.
What they are ridiculously good at is jumping…
How far can a flea jump?
Fleas are the Olympic jumpers of the insect world, capable of jumping up to 7 inches (18 cm) vertically and up to 13 inches (33 cm) horizontally – that’s around 100 times their own height and length, which is like a human being able to jump over 300 meters!
This is how they manage to switch hosts with such relative ease (given that, although they are insects, they have no wings). As well as the reason why when you treat for fleas – you must do it absolutely everywhere. Otherwise, they’ll just jump back on you or your pet when you walk past the couch.
Can fleas kill dogs or cats?
Fleas aren’t just an annoying, itchy nuisance – they can cause serious harm to pets. There have been cases where fleas actually killed puppies and dogs who were already weak and vulnerable from other health issues.
Fleas are also number one cause of skin disease in pets, which can cause a wide array of problems from simple itchiness to weeping sores.
To top it all off, fleas can transmit tapeworm to dogs and cats and if your pet is allergic to flea bites – well, just one bite can set off terrible reactions.
Make sure you take the steps necessary to prevent your pets from fleas and inspect their fur regularly for any signs. The most common sign of a flea infestation is itchiness around their bite areas (although larvae and some health conditions transmitted by the flea can also cause skin irritation) – if your cat or dog is recently scratching themselves more than you’d expect, then you may already have a problem.
Fleas have adapted to survive
Although they’re small – nearly undetectable at times – fleas have hardy little shells which make it difficult to crush them. Additionally, they’ve adapted to harsh conditions in their environment, meaning nobody is safe from the threat.
To cheer you up, here’s one of the happiest flea facts: They might be tough, but they still have to eat. If a newly mature flea doesn’t find an appropriate host or have a blood meal within a week, they will likely die off.
Seal up any unwanted openings
Fleas are much, much easier to prevent than eliminate so if you have pets or a potential rodent situation, begin your flea control before you see fleas.
Apart from pets, one of the other major sources of home infestation is through foreign bodies, such as rodents finding their way into the house, or gaps in the flooring providing ideal locations for eggs to hatch.
So seal up any cracks, openings or gaps in walls, doors, windows, flooring etc. this will help to keep things like infested rodents at bay, and lower your chances of an infestation in the first place.