Adults small, wingless, about 2.5 mm long.Their bodies are shiny and reddish brown in color. Covered with microscopic hair and are compressed to allow for easy movement through animal fur. Adults are parasites that draw blood from a host. Larvae feed on organic debris, particularly the feces of adult fleas, which contain undigested blood. Fleas commonly prefer to feed on hairy animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, squirrels, rats, mice and other domesticated or wild animals. Fleas do not have wings, although they are capable of jumping long distances.
Eggs are not attached to the host. Eggs will hatch on the ground, in rugs, carpet, bedding, upholstery or cracks in the floor. Most hatch within two days.
Fleas depend on a blood meal from a host to survive, so most fleas are introduced into the home via pets or other mammal hosts. On some occasions, fleas may become an inside problem when the host they previously fed on is no longer around. Then fleas focus their feeding activity on other hosts that reside inside the home. An example of such a situation is when a mouse inside the home is trapped and removed, the fleas that previously fed on the mouse are then forced to feed on pets or people.
Employing exclusion practices is important for many pest problems, but exclusion does not have a major, direct benefit for flea control. However, sealing cracks, gaps and holes to help keep rodents or other potential hosts from gaining access into the home is an important indirect way to keep fleas outside. The most effective ways to keep fleas from getting inside the home is to eliminate outdoor flea habitats and outdoor hosts, plus using area-wide flea control chemical products and veterinarian-approved flea control products on pets.
Since fleas are relatively easy to see in their adult stage, most of the attention is directed at adult fleas. Adult fleas are usually easy to locate, especially if the homeowner and their pets return to the house after a long vacation or other absence during which the resident flea adults were not able to take a blood meal. Upon returning, the homeowners are often greeted by fleas jumping around and trying to land on them and their pets.
The flea eggs, larvae and pupae are another situation. Since these stages are much more secretive and much less active, they are found in out-of-the-way places like behind, under or in the furniture; in the pet’s bedding; inside cracks and grooves in the floors; and in the carpets. Flea eggs that were deposited by the female adult, fall off your pets as they move, allowing them to be disbursed throughout the environment where a pet spends time. Flea eggs represent about one-half of the entire flea population present in an average home. Larvae make up about 35 percent of the flea population.
If conditions are favorable, the larvae will spin cocoons in about 5-20 days after hatching from their eggs. The cocoons are the flea’s pupal stage and account for about 10 percent of the flea population. This cocoon stage is the last developmental stage before the adult flea emerges. If environmental conditions are not right for emergence, the cocoon can protect the developing flea adult for months or even longer. The adult flea does not emerge until a potential host is detected by vibration, rising levels of carbon dioxide and body heat associated with the host. A pet walking by, or people moving in the house alert the flea to emerge from its cocoon to feed. Once a flea has emerged from the cocoon, it will begin taking a blood meal on a host within 24-48 hours. Shortly after the first meal, adult fleas will mate and the female fleas begin laying eggs on her host within a few days. Female fleas are not able to lay eggs until they obtain a blood meal.
Many signs can indicate flea activity. A common indication would be pets that repeatedly scratch and groom themselves. This is caused by the discomfort of the flea activity as the adult fleas feed on the pet’s blood. People also may experience bites which leave behind itchy bite marks (a medical doctor can be consulted, since there are other sources of skin irritation beside fleas). Flea dirt, the adult flea feces, also can indicate activity. Flea dirt looks similar to coarse ground black pepper and may be seen in pet beds, carpets, rugs and other areas where the animal host rests