The sticktight fleas or the echidnophaga gallinacean are popularly known as hen fleas. However, they do not just infest poultry; they are also seen on cats, dogs, people, horses, rodents, rabbits etc. Recently, a sticktight flea was found embedded in the cheek of a 2 year old kid from western part of USA.
The reason behind the moniker ‘sticktight’ is due to the fact that the echidnophaga gallinacean attaches itself firmly to the host as it engorges with blood. The sticktight fleas remain embedded in the host’s integument for prolonged periods. Chickens are known to have dark colored flea patches due to these especially in areas beneath their eyes, near the combs and wattles etc.
The sticktight fleas are common in many parts of the United States and have been seen on dogs in South Africa. In many parts of New Mexico, the echidnophaga gallinacean has been known to infest cottontail rabbits as well as rodents.
Physical description of Sticktight fleas
Like other fleas, mainly cat and dog fleas, the echidnophaga gallinacean fleas are characterized by laterally compressed bodies. However, unlike the other two kinds of fleas, they lack a ‘moustache area”. Additionally, the protonatal ctenidia (combs present on the backside of their heads) of the sticktight fleas are half the size of those of the cat flea.
Sticktight fleas have anteriorly flattened and square shaped heads, shorter thoraxes and 2 pairs of hairs behind the antennae. They use their stiletto shaped cutting extensors of the maxilla region to embed themselves in the host’s body. They measure about 3mm in length.
Echidnophaga gallinacean bites and effects
Worldwide, the sticktight fleas are known to affect mainly the poultry. However, it is not uncommon to see dogs infested by it. The fleas attach themselves to the hairless parts of the animal’s body such as areas around the eyes, anus, etc.
- Echidnophaga gallinacean bites can cause a great deal of skin irritation in the animal. Pruritic papules on the lower parts of the animal’s body (especially the exposed upper and lower extremities) are a sign of flea infestation.
- Bullous lesions can also result from the bites of sticktight fleas. Young fowls and birds can die from the echidnophaga gallinacean infestations mainly due to anemia.
- Many birds get swollen eyelids when bitten by the sticktight fleas. This prevents them from hunting, which leads to starvation and death.
- Sticktight fleas are known vectors of deadly diseases such as the plague and murine typhus. They are also known to be intermediate hosts of dog tapeworms.
- These wingless fleas are not too fussy about the hosts they attach to. They are capable of jumping onto furniture and attaching themselves to humans. Once they have found an incidental host, they remain attached to it for prolonged periods of time. They tend to be rather difficult to remove as they embed firmly in the host’s skin.
Treating echidnophaga gallinacean bites
- Treating the sticktight flea bites can be challenging as they embed themselves deeply into the host using their laciniae. They must be firmly grasped with tweezers and pulled out.
- Malathion 5% liquid or gel can be applied topically to the site of the bite.
- Outdoor bird pens and nests must be treated with insecticides to ensure there is no re-infestation.
- Organophosphates may be used on fabrics and carpets in areas where sticktight fleas are suspected.
- Dogs that have been infested by the echidnophaga gallinacean must be treated by a knowledgeable vet.
- Typically, agents like fipronil, Selamectin, Imidacloprid, and Methoprene have been known to be highly effective in eliminating Sticktight fleas.
The next time you suspect a flea infestation, it is important to first distinguish the species of fleas present. This can help you determine the action to take, and if need be, call in the professionals to do the job.