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Fleas are highly specialised bloodsucking parasites belonging to the order of insects called Siphonaptera, which means "wingless siphon". They have a formidable reputation of claiming more victims than all the wars ever fought, as a result of the "bubonic" (Black Death) plague they spread throughout the world in the 14th century causing the deaths of over 200 million people. Now, these insects are better known for their irritation and pest status worldwide.
Fleas are light brown to mahogany in colour and roughly oval shaped. Their laterally flattened appearance enables them to quickly move through the host's hair. Measuring 2-8 mm in length, the adults are entirely covered with a series of bristles and combs that assists them in clinging to the host. The small head is equipped with sawing and sucking mouthparts, and two tiny simple eyes. To aid in the detection of a host, fleas possess two short antennae on the head that are sensitive to stimuli including heat, vibration, traces of carbon dioxide and change in air currents and shadows. The hind pair of legs that are well developed for jumping enable fleas to be propelled 10-30cms, either to make contact with a host or avoid a threatening situation.

Fleas can enter the home in many ways, even if your pet is not or only rarely allowed outside. They can hop in from your yard, hitch a ride on you, or even be left over from previous inhabitants (larvae can remain dormant for long periods of time under a variety of conditions). Since fleas can be carriers for worms and diseases, keeping your pet flea-free helps to keep it healthy. In addition, many pets and people are allergic to flea-bites.
Both female and males fleas rely on blood for their nutrition, but can survive for several months without it.    When a flea blood feeds, it will crouch low to penetrate the host's tissue with a sawing motion of the mouthparts.

A small amount of anti-coagulatant is injected with the saliva, to permit easy siphoning of the blood. Fleas will bite only accessible parts of the body and clustered bites on the   lower limbs are diagnostic. Blood feeding maybe interrupted, and fleas will often probe several times before repletion which can increase their total body weight by 30%. Each female flea uses her blood to nourish developing eggs, and will deposit up to 4 eggs after each blood meal; most females will lay at least 100 eggs within a life cycle of several months. The eggs are oval, white to cream in colour and measure 0.5mm in length; they can hatch within 1 week, but this will be dependent on prevailing conditions as larvae are extremely sensitive to desiccation.

When the maggot-like larvae emerge, they are sparsely covered in hair and have no legs but are capable of moving rapidly in search of food, which consists mainly of skin scales or undigested blood excreted by the adults. Within a 1-3 week period, the larvae will grow and undergo 4 moults prior to pupating in a silken cocoon which they spin. The adult fleas emerge from the pupal case in 1-2 weeks but can remain dormant in their cocoons for several months depending on the availability of food and conditions. Often the emergence of adults from the pupal stage is triggered by vibrations, which occasionally happens on entering an unoccupied home of previous pet owners.

Treatment and Control of Fleas
With the increase in carpeted homes, central heating and number of household pets, flea control is a continuing problem for pest controllers and pet owners. The prolonged periods of warm, humid weather in the summer months provide ideal conditions for fleas to flourish. Typically, concentrations of the immature stages of fleas (eggs and larvae) will be found in areas where pets feed and rest, and control measures should be targeted at any such areas, in addition to their housing, basket, blankets and the pets themselves (with a quality systemic type flea treatment). Regular vacuuming of floors and washing of pets and bedding with an insecticidal preparation will aid in control. Continual reinfestation of fleas in homes may indicate the source has not been detected and may require intervention by a reputable pest controller.

Eyre Peninsula Pest & Weed Control

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