The most common species encountered by pest controllers is the Cat Flea, (ctenocephalides felis) which is known to attack dogs, rats, and humans. The Cat Flea is small (1–2 mm in length), dark and reddish-brown. The Dog Flea, (ctenocephalides canis) is similar in appearance to the Cat Flea, will also attack a wide range of mammals but is not as common as the Cat Flea.
Fleas are capable of transmitting tapeworms from dogs and cats to humans. Their bites are painful, and they cause extreme discomfort to many pets. Fleas belong to the insect order Siphonaptera, they have piercing and sucking mouthparts that contain several independent parts that can cut into the skin. The adult flea feeds on one thing and one thing only…blood! Both male and female fleas take blood from a variety of animals called “hosts”, but generally prefer one host over another. It has been shown that a Cat Flea will produce many more viable eggs when feeding on cat blood rather than human blood. After taking a blood meal the male and female will mate, the female will start to produce eggs reaching maximum production after only 4 days and can produce hundreds of eggs in her lifetime.
A typical flea population consists of 45% egg, 40%, larvae 10% pupae, and 5% adults. The eggs are sticky and adhere to a host temporarily and normally drop from the host into the environment and will hatch within 5 days. The larvae that look worm like feed on available organic matter in the form of crumbs, human skin scales, and other debris that may accumulate in carpets, furniture, pet’s bedding, cracks between floorboards, lawns, gardens and sub floor soil.
The adult fleas have six legs, the hind legs modified for jumping the same as a grasshopper. These not only allow the flea to escape from enemies but more importantly allow the flea to jump onto its host. Fleas have a tough skeleton consisting of several overlapping "plates". These plates protect the flea against scratching by the host. The overlap of the plates allows the flea to expand as it sucks in large quantities of blood. Coupled with backwardly directed bristle, lateral flattening enables fleas to move forwards easily on their hosts. Fleas show many adaptations to the parasitic ways of life.
Given the concerning risks of fleas to human and pet health, plus the potential consequences to mental health, it’s important to prevent and control fleas in the home. When potential clients say they have fleas it is imperative to establish it is a flea infestation you are dealing with and not something else. Flea bites can present as itchy red or swollen lumps on the skin, typically occurring within 30 minutes. In some cases, a bite may further develop into a blister leading to infection.
Generally speaking, a quick walk through the house will indeed reveal the presence of fleas. Before carrying out any treatment it is essential all carpets be thoroughly vacuumed, this will not only remove flea eggs but will also stimulate adult fleas to emerge from their cocoons. Floors should also be washed. All items should be picked up off the floor to allow for good access. Ensure pets are treated using approved animal specific products such as shampoos and medication. Wash pet bedding in hot water and allow to dry outside.
Outdoors, the lawn should be mowed as short as possible to enable a thorough treatment. Explain the breeding habits of the flea to the homeowner and how treatment of the animal is essential in getting good control. Without a good Integrated Pest Management plan the chances of getting client satisfaction is greatly reduced.
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