Your Ultimate Guide to Fleas and How to Get Rid of Them

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Fleas are wingless, external parasites that have been present in mammals with fur and feathers for millions of years. They might be small and range about 1⁄8 inch long, but they are incredibly adaptable and evolved to be resilient and fast.

While fleas prefer dogs, cats, rats, and other mammals with fur or feathers, there have been many cases where the flea feeds on human blood. Considering they exclusively need blood from mammals, they are not too picky about the menu.

Fleas don’t have wings but move quite efficiently with strong hind legs and incredible jumping power.

There are over 2,000 species worldwide and over 300 flea species in the United States. The most common is the Cat Flea, but the name can be misleading considering they will bite and feed on various mammals, including humans.

Flea Jumping

Fleas are notoriously good jumpers.

Thanks to the specially designed hind legs a flea can jump over seven inches high and thirteen inches long. Compared to its size this is equivalent to a human jumping 1,000 feet high. But, this is not how most infestations occur, because it’s more likely for animals to pick up flea eggs and carry the specimens as they mature.

What Do Fleas Look Like?

Fleas are very flat insects with small bodies, feeding mouthparts, and big hind legs. 

They are 1⁄16 to 1⁄8 inches long and usually dark-brown or reddish in color. The flat body allows them to move through fur and feathers with ease while the claw-like legs keep them firmly attached to the host.

Fleas don’t have compound eyes like most insects, rather simple ocular dots allow them to have a better sense of their surroundings. Some species don’t have a vision at all and rely on other senses for feeding and mating.

The exoskeleton of fleas is very durable and flexible, allowing them to avoid being thrown out of the host’s fur by scratching and preventing injuries when they fall from high places.

What do Fleas Eat?

Fleas exclusively feed on blood and this type of feeding is known as hematophagy. Adult fleas have sharp mouth parts that easily penetrate the skin allowing them to drink blood from mammal hosts.

Developing fleas known as larvae, have simpler feeding parts that allow them to feed on organic matter such as adult flea droppings and skin particles from the hosts.

As the flea matures, so do their feeding organs and everything adapts for fresh blood feeding.

Are Fleas Dangerous?

Most of the time fleas are just pesky and annoying insects that leave a lot of itchy bites. But, there have been a few cases in history where flea bites transmitted terrible diseases such as the bubonic plague. It’s mostly eradicated now, but it’s not uncommon for fleas to be considered dangerous.

In addition, some animals develop an allergic reaction to flea bites known as flea dermatitis, and younger animals can even suffer from anemia if the flea infestation is severe.

Fleas also bite humans, leaving a few marks in a row and the itchy sensation and slight swelling can last for a few weeks.

Common Ways to Get Rid of Fleas

Fleas reproduce fast so it’s important to get rid of any signs of the infestation quickly. Because animals are carriers of the infestation most of the time, you need to make sure they are protected with specialized collars, sprays, and drops.

Keep in mind that even though fleas are most active during the summer months, you can still get an infestation all year round.

Getting rid of fleas means complete elimination of all the adult specimens, as well as the eggs and larvae left behind. The management of the infestation should include maintaining the lawn, yard, and the interior of your house clean. Wash the bedding of your pets often and call professionals if you notice the number of fleas is on the rise.

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