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Flea Control

Adult fleas, which move by running or jumping, feed on the blood of the host. The eggs hatch into worm-like larvae that develop off the host and feed on detritus or the bloody excrement of the adults. The flea structure, form and life cycle show perfect adaptation to life on the host.

The Egg - Flea eggs are smooth and white. Most species lay two to six eggs per day and can lay hundreds over a lifetime. Eggs are normally laid in the host's sleeping and resting areas. When laid on the host, as do cat and dog fleas, the eggs fall out of the host coat, often at the animal's sleeping quarters. (Hatching occurs in a few days if humidity is above 70% and temperatures are between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit.) The flea embryo uses a sharp spine on its head, called an egg burster, to cut and tumble out of the egg.

The larvae, blind, limbless worms with circlets of hairs around each inter-segmental division, have three molts. Normally intolerant of light, rarely seen but quite mobile, larvae feed on debris on the floor of the nest of their parents. Adult fleas supplement the debris under the sleeping animal with undigested fecal blood of adult fleas.

The Pupa - The mature larva spins a whitish, ovoid cocoon with debris embedded in it. This resting stage allows a flea to survive for long periods until stimulated to hatch by the appearance of a host. Pupae will not survive if humidity is low (as low as 45% for the rat flea).

The Adult - The adult flea, normally 1.5 to 4 mm long, is wingless, flat and brown. The neck is short, as are the antennae, which fit into a protective groove on the head when not in use. The eyes are not well developed. Some species, such as Leptopsylla segnis, the house-mouse flea, lack eyes entirely. Many species have combs, arrays of stiff bristles to keep the flea from being pulled out of the host's coat, and hind legs adapted for jumping. Two notable exceptions to the active, jumping flea are the sticktight fleas (Echidnaphaga gallinacea of chickens) and the sand flea, chigoe, or jigger (Tunga penetrans) which parasitizes man and animals. The females of these fleas burrow into the skin of the host and remain attached for life.

Adult fleas feed by piercing the host's skin with their mouth parts and penetrating a capillary from which they suck blood, using one or more pumps to convey the blood to the gut. If undisturbed, feeding is complete in 2-10 minutes. Female fleas take up about twice as much blood as males.