“If you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas”
In 2011 Wil-Kil Pest Control, a Menomonee Falls based pest control company, saw a 20 percent increase in flea jobs and already this year there’s been a 10 percent increase over last year. Many times when a customer complains of bites, Wil-Kil's pest control experts can't help but jump to the bed bug as the culprit considering its current epidemic status. However, we quickly forget about the pest that had affected the entire course of human history and caused more loss of life than almost all wars combined: the flea.
Homeowners most commonly encounter the cat flea. Other species occasionally found are the dog flea and the oriental rat flea. The species are easily distinguished by using a general flea key and a good microscope. Like the bed bug, the flea is a blood-feeding ectoparasite, meaning it feeds externally on its host. Adults are one-three mm long, flattened laterally so as to move through fur and hair easily and have a reddish-brown color. Fleas are a major vector of a variety of bacteria, viruses and protozoan. Fleas are also one of the greatest jumpers in the animal kingdom. A flea can jump vertically seven inches and horizontally 13 inches, 200 times its own body length giving Olympic long jumpers a “jump” for their money.
Fleas undergo a metamorphosis: egg, larvae, pupae and adult. The adult stage of the cat flea lives on its host. The females require a blood meal to produce eggs and can produce one egg an hour or even 50 a day under good conditions. The eggs are not sticky and fall off the host. The fecal matter, which is basically undigested blood, falls off the host and will act as a food source for developing larvae in the substrate below (pet bedding, carpet). The eggs will hatch in about two days and larvae will feed mostly on the fecal matter from the adults but also detritus they encounter (skin flakes, dandruff, grain particles). This larval stage will last five-10 days in optimal conditions.
The larvae will then spin a silken cocoon within the carpet fibers and floor crevices and move into the pupal stage. This stage is relatively resistant to insecticide. The cocoons are sticky and are camouflaged by the environment. In optimal conditions, adults will emerge in two-four weeks although the process will occur faster at higher temperatures (because insects are cold-blooded most developments accelerate at higher temperatures). The flea does have the ability to stay in the pupae for12 months waiting for a host. Vibrations or increases in CO2 will stimulate the adults to emerge, sometimes en masse. Adults fleas can live anywhere between four-25 days.
Treating for fleas can be a tedious task that may take weeks to accomplish. The treatment of the animal(s) should be in conjunction with the treatment of the environment. Flea control strategies have to consider all of the growth stages as well as where the fleas are located. Treating for only one or two stages or locations almost always leads to re-infestation because any growth stage that is not eliminated will eventually find hosts and become redistributed.
Homeowners treating for fleas should abide by the following tips:
- Begin a regiment of vacuuming – this will remove many of the eggs, larvae, and pupae. Vacuuming also stimulates the pupae to enclose and quickens their contact with insecticides.
- Target vacuuming to areas where pets rest or sleep–these are the areas most of the developing flea population will be (up to 90 percent of the population will be eggs, larvae and pupae, not adults).
- In addition, homeowners should vacuum along the edges of rooms and beneath furniture, cushions, beds and throw rugs.
- Vacuum bags should be disposed of outdoors after each use to ensure no re-infestation from developing larvae and pupae within.
- Because flea pupae are difficult to kill with insecticides, follow-up treatments within 7-10 days will be required.
- Expect to see some fleas for about 2 weeks after initial treatment.
- When working with a pest control company, make sure to perform a thorough survey of living spaces to see where the pet spends most of its time.
- If there are no animals in theenvironment but fleas are rampant, be sure have the flea identified and do a thorough inspection of your property for any wildlife issues.
If you are having difficulty treating fleas in your home or yard, call a local pest control company.