Understanding the Flea Life-Cycle

March 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Dog Advice, Dog Health

Before you can avoid or solve a problem you must fully understand it; this is especially true when dealing with fleas. Fleas are very persistent parasites, capable of spreading disease, and killing. For evidence of just how horrible they are, look up the Bubonic Plague, aka Black Death: A disease spread by fleas carried on rats.

The flea life cycle has four stages: Egg, Larvae, Cocoon, and Adult.

Here you see a magnification of flea eggs in carpet.

An adult female flea lays eggs while she inhabits a host. Unlike many other types of insects the flea egg by design is not sticky and so it many remain on the host animal, or it can fall off. It’s this shedding of eggs that is one of the ways fleas can migrate into your yard and home. Most people blame their flea problems on wild squirrels or rabbits depositing the pest into their yard, but this blame is unwarranted. The main culprits are nocturnal animals like opossums and raccoons that explore the same routes as your cats and dogs. For example, if a flea infested raccoon checks for food left behind in a dog’s outdoor food dish he may leave behind flea eggs. Any crawlspaces, bushes, paths, walkways, and trash cans are all places that are frequented by both wild and domesticated animals giving fleas and their eggs, opportunities to migrate.

One week after they are laid the flea egg hatches and a flea larvae will emerge. Flea larvae will live by crawling around on the original host or on the ground and will consume flea dirt to survive (Flea dirt is flea feces and contains partially digested blood). During this stage of it’s life, the flea is vulnerable and can be killed if exposed to either direct sunlight or extremely wet environments. One week after hatching the flea larvae will build its cocoon.

Flea cocoons are usually located in soil, carpets, under furniture, around pet bedding, and on vegetation. The problem is that while inside its cocoon, a flea cannot be harmed by chemical treatments. This window of temporary

Magnifide flea cocoons.

invulnerability is one of the reasons why many people have a recurrent flea problem. To defeat your flea infestation you must re-administer your chosen flea killing treatment several times to rid your home and pets of these pests. Furthermore, since cocoons can be located outdoors you should treat your lawn and yard with a flea killing product as well.

Usually, after one week the adult flea emerges from its cocoon. The adult flea can survive for several days without a host, but will climb to the top of your carpet or onto plants to increase its chances. While perched on its roost the flea will use a combination of senses to detect when a host comes within reach. Fleas can sense when a host ventures too close by movement, body heat, and exhaled carbon dioxide. Once the host is within reach, the flea can use their notable jumping ability to get onto you or a passing animal. While it hitches a ride the adult flea can be carried inside to spread by jumping onto other animals, which is why even exclusively indoor pets are still susceptible to flea infestations.

Within minutes of finding a host the flea will feed. Then over the course of the next 24 hours the flea will mate and the female flea will begin laying eggs. Adult female fleas will lay about fifty eggs each day. Each of those eggs has the potential to reach maturity and continue the cycle.

Now that we understand the flea, we know why it takes due diligence to defeat an infestation. Only about 20% of a flea problem resides on your pet the other 80% is environmental. In order to eradicate a flea problem you must contend with all the stages of the flea’s life cycle and each of the challenges that they pose. In the next article, I will tell you how you can make your home and yard less vulnerable to flea infestation.

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