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August’s Invading Pests: Fleas

The Cat Flea



Summer may be coming to an end, buy viagra but some of New Jersey’s more noxious pests are just starting their boom season.  The mid-summer heat and humidity have been working hard to produce favorable conditions for all insect pests, but some benefit more than others from the conditions.  For years pet owners and pest control professionals have seen flea activity climb throughout the summer and peak in late July and early August.  Let’s take a quick look at these parasitic insects.

The Cat Flea (Ctenocephalides felis.) is the largest single representative member of the  fleas that become pests.  Fleas thrive in areas of poor sanitation and living conditions, they are highly mobile and quickly reproduce and can find its way indoors in very short order even in homes without pets.  It’s important to note that, to an extent, flea activity on outdoor pets is inevitable, keeping them from invading your home is key.  Once the life cycle of the flea begins in earnest indoors, it can be a difficult and time consuming task to eradicate them from the structure.

All fleas are from a highly specialized and specifically adapted insect family called Siphonaptera).  As with many other highly evolved insects, fleas undergo complete metamorphosis (Also known as Holometabolism) to fulfill their development from egg to adult.   After the egg hatches, the flea larvae that emerge are tiny, wormlike and look nothing like adult fleas.   The flea larvae will stay in dark and moist areas as it feeds and get ready to pupate.  Pupation is an inactive phase of development where the insect will stay within a cocoon like structure and begin its final transformation into the adult insect.  Other insects that undergo complete metabolism are quite familiar to us; insects like butterflies, moths, beetles, mosquitoes and dragonflies all share this developmental process.  This amazing growth process allows adults and immature insects of the same species to utilize more resources during their lifetimes without competing with each other.  Another byproduct of complete metabolism is that in most species of insect, and especially the flea, the pupae or cocoon is extremely durable, able to withstand both temperature changes and chemical applications.

Scanning Electron Microscopy of a Cat Flea

Once the adult flea emerges from the pupae, it is fully grown and now has the unmistakable flea body shape, flattened from side to side with large legs perfect for jumping, anywhere from 1 to 3 feet depending on species.  To look closer, with an electron microscope as in the photos below, we see a strange and alien form, a very complex insect with an unfamiliar shape.

Flea biology, as well as its pest status, tend to revolve around furry mammals, both pets and wildlife, but fleas can feed on humans and birds as well.  Ideally, adult fleas look to infest an animal, hiding comfortably in their fur until population levels become too high to be sustained.  Once population levels reach a certain point, or if the animal is removed from the area or dies, fleas will seek out an alternate host, sometimes biting humans in the process.   While fleas have no problem biting humans, they cannot infest a human like they would an animal due to human’s relatively hairless bodies.  Fleas are not known to infest either head or body hair on humans for an extended period of time.

While fleas have been known to transmit different types of diseases, their access to viral reservoirs (animals that are carriers of a certain disease) in the New Jersey Area is somewhat limited.  While fleas have been known to transmit Plague and Typhus, the conditions required to transmit those diseases are absent in our area and occurrences are rare if ever.   The most common vector transmitted by fleas in our area is the Dog Tapeworm.  Tapeworms can and do attack humans but infection is rare and easily dealt with through proper medical treatment.

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