Fleas are bloodsucking parasites that feed on humans and other warm blooded mammals and birds. The history of fleas can be traced to the Jurassic age, though there is no paleontological evidence supporting this theory.
Why study the history of fleas?
It is essential to study the history of fleas in order to determine ways in which one can eliminate this nuisance once and for all. By studying their life cycle, biology as well as the life history of fleas, we will be in a better position to understand their habits. This, in turn, can help us determine ways of eliminating them without harming the environment.
Common fleas and their physiology
The common type of flea is the Ctenocephalides felis. It is significant to study the life history of the Ctenocephalides felis because it is vector of many deadly diseases including the bubonic plague, murine typhus etc.
This flea is not host specific, but is known to prefer dogs and cats. In absence of these, it might feed on human blood however, it has now been seen from the history of fleas that human blood is not complete enough to fulfill their life cycle. Hence, dogs and cats are often the preferred hosts.
The cat flea’s life history also shows that it is an eclectic and cosmopolitan species having been recorded in nearly 3 dozen species including opossums, raccoons, Kangaroos and birds. Thus, it has a wide known host range and that probably helps explain why re-infestation of domestic animals occurs despite one’s suppression efforts. Since fleas tend to feed on humans and do not always show host preference or specificity, they can be a nuisance to companion animals as well as humans
The history of fleas also shows other sub species such as Echidnophagia gallinacean which is common in Southeast USA and known to feed on prairie dogs, cattle, goats and other wild and domesticated animals. The Pulex Irritans or the Pulex Simulans or the human flea is commonly associated with humans, but can also parasitize animals.
All fleas of different sub-types are similar physiologically: they are quite small measuring only about 1/4th inch in length. They have flattened, wingless bodies with strong hind legs that enable them to jump long distances in the air.
Life history of fleas
The history of fleas shows that the oldest known species of fleas have been found in Baltic amber dating back nearly 35 to 50 million years ago. Today, modern methods and scientific instruments have shown us that flea life history consists of various stages:
- The female fleas lay eggs on the host mammal. These eggs are not attached to the host and they may fall off in areas frequented by the animal.
- Under favorable conditions, which include warm temperature and adequate humidity, the eggs hatch. The larvae that come out are tiny, white and legless. These feed on organic matter such as the skin, hair, feces etc shed by the host mammal as well as their own bodies.
- The larvae of fleas tend to avoid light and hide under the animal’s bedding, carpets etc to achieve this objective. This stage of life history of fleas lasts for about 4 to 24 days in summer.
- This is followed by pupa stage which lasts for 5 to 14 days which then paves way for the final or adult cat/dog flea stage.
- The adults are long lived and under ideal conditions can survive for up to a year.
It is important to watch out for signs of flea infestations in a pet. Note how much it scratches and if and when the fleas are attempting to bite humans. If you suspect different life history of fleas stages, then simple traps and monitoring tools may be used to determine the extent of infestation and also attempt their removal.