The pest that all pet-owners are conditioned to hate, these wingless insects are best known to be irritating, blood-sucking, and – in some cases – painful for pets. Pet owners are often alerted to their presence when their dog or cat suddenly starts scratching. However, though it is less commonly known, there is a specie of flea that favors humans over cats and dogs.
Being external parasites, fleas live off the warm blood of mammals and birds. They are true parasites, as they are the only ones who benefit from whatever relationship they form with their chosen mammal.
Fleas may be wingless, but they are excellent jumpers. An average flea can jump up to a height of 7 inches (18 centimeters) and a length of 13 inches (33 centimeters). Translated into human perspective, that would mean an average 6-foot person could easily jump a distance of 295 feet long and 160 feet high.
Aside from the fact that these high-jumpers are serious pests, they can also trigger asthma and allergy attacks. Their bites can leave itching sensations that are extremely uncomfortable and can often lead the host to scratch repeatedly at that spot. This, in turn, can irritate or break the skin.
There are several ways to tell a flea bite apart from a regular insect bite. Flea bites usually result in the skin rising or swelling, and there is often a single puncture point found in the center of the bite. Of course, fleas will bite more than once. Flea bites appear in tight clusters or small rows, and they can remain inflamed for up to several weeks.
In animals, fleas are serious irritants. They can move rapidly up and down an animal’s body. Adverse effects of their infestation include itching and hair loss. In extreme cases of prolonged, high-volume infestations, fleas can cause pets to collapse due to anemia, or severe blood loss.
ARE THEY NEAR YOU?
Much like a dozen other tiny pests, fleas can survive virtually anywhere. As long as they have a warm body to latch on to and a steady supply of fresh, warm blood, they can thrive. If you have a lot of pets at home, or if you live somewhere near an animal population, you’re bound to come across them eventually.
Part of what makes fleas so annoying is that they’re almost as resilient as cockroaches. They mate and reproduce up to the thousands, making it extremely difficult to keep them under control. There are powders and flea collars available on the market, but even these are temporary solutions. Flea collars must be changed regularly, and the powders must be applied at least once a week.
Flea bodies are laterally compressed, making it easy from them to maneuver their way through the hair or feathers covering their host body. Their bodies are also extremely tough, able to withstand great pressure. Scientists feel this is a survival adaptation, making them almost invulnerable to mashing or scratching. Indeed, when a pet scratches, there’s very little chance that they killed the flea. The best they can probably achieve with all that scratching is to momentarily dislodge them.
Squeezing fleas between fingers is often an ineffective way to kill them. It would take crushing them with a sharp rock or rolling them back and forth several times to disable their legs, eventually killing them.
Fleas are wingless insects, 1/16 to 1/8-inch (1.5 to 3.3 mm) long, that are agile, usually dark colored (for example, the reddish-brown of the cat flea), with tube-like mouth parts adapted to feeding on the blood of their hosts.
Their legs are long, the hind pair well adapted for jumping; a flea can jump vertically up to 7 in (18 cm) and horizontally up to 13 in (33 cm), making the flea one of the best jumpers of all known animals (relative to body size), second only to the froghopper. If humans had the jumping power of a flea, a 1.8-m (6-ft) person could make a jump 90 m (295 ft) long and 49 m (160 ft) high.
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Distinguishing Characteristics: Cat fleas are typically a reddish-brown colour and are extremely thin, making it near impossible to find them in an animal’s fur. This flea (Ctenocephalides felis) has the honour of being perhaps the most abundant and widespread of all flea species. Their chosen host body is the domesticated cat, although they have been known to occasionally infest dogs.
Cat fleas are notorious for their jumping ability and their ability to maintain their life cycle on other omnivores. This simply means that they can jump onto humans if the need arises. Of all the flea species, their bites hurt the worst. The only upside is that they cannot be sustained long enough on just human blood.
Distinguishing Characteristics: While the dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis) closely resembles the cat flea, this species – unlike its feline-dwelling counterpart - can only survive on domesticated dogs. In some extremely rare cases, they can live on cats, but only to a certain extent. While the cat flea can live for an extended period on other mammals, such as humans, the dog flea cannot.
What makes the dog flea particularly troublesome is that it can spread Dipylidium caninum – a type of tapeworm that can reach up to 18 inches long. This is partially why veterinarians recommend bringing your dog in for a flea treatment once you notice that the fleas are plentiful.
Distinguishing Characteristics: This particular specie of flea can live on all sorts of mammals and birds. They’re tinier than dog fleas but are far more vicious. Unlike the cat and dog flea, this specie can live on undomesticated animals, making them particularly threatening in the wild. Their bites result in swelling and inflammation, and scratching at the bite area can result in skin breakage or rashes.
Aside from humans, the human flea can also prey on monkeys, chickens, black rats, wild rodents, pigs, bats, and other warm-blooded animals. They are small and quick. On humans, they rapidly move between areas such as the eyebrows, eyelashes, and pubic reasons. Hair loss as a result of itching is more common, however, in animals than it is on humans.