Fleas are tiny, laterally-flattened, wingless, parasitic insects whose adults feed on blood. Fleas are pests of humans and their domestic animals all over the world. There are many species of fleas, most of which are named after their preferred hosts. The “dog flea,” Ctenocephalides canis, pictured here, is one of the two most common fleas infesting homes in the Portland and Vancouver areas. The other is the “cat flea,” Ctenocephalides felis. But fleas aren’t particularly picky eaters: when their preferred hosts aren’t around, they’ll happily dine on any convenient animal - including humans.
Flea control is one of the more challenging jobs faced by professional exterminators. Because of their tiny size, fleas can hide in practically any crack or crevice, or in other hard-to-treat places like carpeting and upholstery. And because they feed on blood using specialized mouthparts, adult fleas don’t take in residual insecticides as readily as many other insects do.
What this means to consumers is that do-it-yourself flea control is rarely successful. Even professionals consider fleas to be a challenging pest problem.
Fleas and Public Health
The most common human health problem associated with fleas is flea bites. People vary in their sensitivity and reaction to flea bites. Most people experience small bumps as in the picture shown here, accompanied by itching that can range from mild to intense. People who are more sensitive may suffer welts and severe swelling. In either case, scratching the bites can break the skin, leading to secondary infections.
Rashes, however, are far from the worst harm that fleas do. The truth is that fleas are right up there with rats in terms of their importance as vectors of disease. In fact, both rats and fleas are involved in the transmission of bubonic plague, whose epidemics that have snuffed out countless human lives throughout history. Their ignoble history has earned fleas a shared place of dishonor right next to rats in the Disease Vector Hall of Shame.
In addition to plague, fleas are also involved in the transmission of murine typhus, tapeworms, and several protozoic diseases. Almost all human cases of tapeworms involve the accidental ingestion by a human (often a child) that is carrying the tapeworm parasite.
Most flea species are obligate parasites, meaning that they can’t survive for very long without their hosts. Typically they’ll spend their entire lives living on the same animal. If they fall off, they’ll either hop back on or wait for another suitable host. Most fleas live for about three months, although there is wide variation.
Fleas undergo complete metamorphosis, which means they pass through four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
Adult female fleas usually lay their eggs on host animals. The eggs are not fastened to the animal in any way, however, and can be shaken off rather easily. If a flea lays her eggs on a dog or cat, the animal can become a walking flea egg dispenser, scattering the eggs throughout the home as it travels about.
After a few days, the eggs hatch into larvae, which feed on organic matter in their environment. Usually this means on the host animal’s body. The favorite food of larval fleas is the droppings of adult fleas, which may be more than you ever wanted to know about young fleas’ culinary preferences, but it does help illustrate what disgusting little insects fleas are.
After a number of “instar” stages that varies with different flea species, the larvae will form cocoons and go into pupation. When they emerge as adults, the fleas will immediately look for a host to feed upon. Like most parasitic insects, they cannot reproduce until they have at least one blood meal.
On average, it takes about a month for a flea to develop from an egg into an adult flea, and the average flea life span is between 90 and 110 days. Adult female fleas start laying eggs within 24 hours of taking a blood meal, and lay an average of between 40 and 50 eggs a day for the rest of their lives; so assuming a normal life span, a female flea will lay a total of between 2,500 and 3,500 eggs.
A proper flea control job consists of four parts:
- Thoroughly vacuuming and cleaning the inside of the home
- Treatment of your pet(s) by a veterinarian or pet groomer, or the use of oral and/or topical medications prescribed by a veterinarian
- Treatment of the interior of your home including the garage and basement
- Treatment of the outdoor areas of your home, which most likely is where you or your pet picked up the fleas
Fleas are tiny insects with great jumping abilities and a habit of falling off their host animals. What this means in terms of flea extermination is that they can be pretty much anywhere in a home. They can hide in all sorts of areas, including cracks and crevices, carpeting, draperies, upholstered furniture, human and animal bedding… pretty much anywhere, in fact. That means that the Bugaboo Pest Control technician will need access to treat pretty much everywhere.
That means that before we arrive to perform the treatment, you’re going to have to do a few things to make it possible for the technician to do his or her job. Specifically, you’ll need to:
- Clear all floor surfaces, including any items on closet floors, under beds, and under furniture, to give the technician unobstructed access.
- Right before the treatment, thoroughly vacuum your carpets, rugs, drapes and upholstered furniture.
- If you were thinking about shampooing your carpets and/or furniture, this would be a good time to do it. But make sure to do it in time for it to be completely dry by the day of the flea treatment.
- Vacuum wood and tile floors, paying special attention to grooves and cracks.
- Vacuum and/or mop the basement and garage floors.
- Seal the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag and dispose of it outside, and thoroughly rinse out any mops that you used t remove fleas or their eggs.
- Clean or dispose of your pet’s bedding on the day of the treatment.
- Remove all human and animal bedding on the day of the treatment, and wash it in detergent and the hottest water the fabrics can stand.
- If we will be treating outside your home, mow the lawn and clear it of toys and other items, especially in and around the doghouse or other areas that your pets frequent.
- Right before the treatment, cover fish aquariums and turn off the air pumps.
- Arrange for any pets to be treated by a vet or a pet groomer at the same time that we’ll be treating your home.
It also will be necessary for you to be out of the house during the treatment, and for three hours after the technician has finished the job. In order to help you prepare, the above checklist is available as a printable PDF file, and can be downloaded here.
But I Have No Pets!
If you have no pets but still have fleas, then you probably have some sort of animal problem in your home, most likely raccoons or squirrels. Another possibility in multiple dwellings is that a neighbor has a serious flea problem, and you picked up a few stragglers that took a liking to you.
It’s also possible, though unusual, to have a flea problem with no animals in the home, especially if you just moved into a new place previously occupied by someone else who had pets. Another possibility is that you have another pest problem, such as bed bugs. Or finally, your problem may be a rash or skin condition that has nothing to do with pests at all.
In cases of suspected flea problems in a home with no pets, please give us a call. We’ll talk about the possibilities and, if appropriate, schedule an inspection to try to narrow down the problem. In face, please contact us if you have any questions at all about flea control or any of our quality services.