Fleas are pests of humans and their domestic animals all over the world. While most fleas prefer nonhuman hosts, many can and do feed readily on humans when infestations are heavy or when other hosts are not available. Fleas are small, wingless insects that can vary from as small as 1/25 to 1/3 inch long. When viewed from the front, head on, the adult flea's body is narrow from side to side. This allows it to move readily between hairs in an animal's fur into very narrow areas, such as crevices and folds of upholstery, or even below flooring and into subflooring areas. Adult fleas have piercing-sucking mouthparts to penetrate the skin of the host and suck blood. Their long, powerful legs permit them to jump as high as 7 to 8 inches vertically and as far as 14 to 16 inches horizontally. Cat fleas and dog fleas are two very similar species that occur throughout the United States. Cat fleas are by far the most commonly encountered of the two species. Dog fleas are usually found on wild hosts rather than on domestic pets. Both species prefer dogs or cats as hosts, although they may be found on a wide variety of other animals, including rodents and livestock.
Fleas have a complete metamorphosis. Since flea
eggs are not attached to the host, they will often fall
off and hatch on the ground (e.g. into carpeting, the
host's bedding, upholstery, or cracks in flooring). Flea
larvae are small, active maggot like creatures. They
feed on all types of organic debris, and develop
particularly well when they can feed on the feces of
adult fleas, which contain undigested blood. The
mature larvae spins a cocoon for pupation. Many
adult fleas emerge from the pupa within 7 to 14 days
after the cocoon is formed, but some will remain in a
pre-emerged adult state, from which they may not
emerge for several months to a year later.
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