Types of fleas and what they look like
Fleas are parasites found on the fur or hair of many animals. Fleas are a worldwide nuisance, and easily get transferred from one place to another. They are tiny, and so often are unobserved by the human eye. You might think that fleas only bite animals, but in reality, fleas bite humans as well. These parasitic insects feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals such as cats and dogs and can be a major source of nuisance.
For most people, fleas are just random insects that bite their pets and need special shampoos for elimination. But were you aware of the fact that there are 2000 different species of fleas? Or that they have been on the planet for 100 million years? Fleas have adapted brilliantly to the current scenario, and are able to survive in a range of climates.
People in the US spend almost $2.8 billion every year for the cost of flea-related animal treatment bills! This is not just a pest that you can turn a blind eye to.
Fleas are very common across the US, with over 300 species thriving in the country. They reproduce at a rapid rate, and can easily enter homes and buildings. Fleas are known to carry diseases, although flea-related allergies (flea allergy dermatitis) are more commonly reported in the US.
If your pet is constantly scratching itself and has red bumps underneath the fur or hair, you can almost be sure that fleas are causing the problem. If your house is located close to dense vegetation, you might have frequent animal visitors (like rats, possums) that can carry fleas that will later invade your home.
Identifying a flea – what does a flea look like?
You need to know how to identify a flea to understand that they are the problem. Fleas are very small, and sometimes they’re confused with other pests like lice or bed bugs. Although there are many different types of fleas, there are a few common characteristics in all of them –
- Flat bodied (sideways flattened or laterally compressed)
- Brown or reddish in color
- 1mm to 3mm long
- Large hind legs (used for jumping)
- Tiny hairs all over the body
- Ability to jump large distances
- Mouthparts for piercing the skin and sucking blood
Fleas leave behind tiny red bumps on the skin after they have finished feeding. In humans, flea bites are commonly seen around the legs, especially the ankles. Fleas cannot fly but have an incredible jumping ability. They can jump over a foot in height and more than 20 inches in length, jumping 50 times the length of their body. They often hop from one host to another as they feed.
Fleas are initially various shades of brown-black in color, but turn reddish after feeding. They swell up after feeding and become more noticeable (if one is keenly observing). You can confirm it is a flea bite if the bites are in lines and if the skin is extremely itchy.
Fleas and their bites can cause allergies, anemia and skin infections (caused by breaking of the skin by scratching). Hair loss is also observed in some cases (especially when it comes to cats and dogs). All in all, it is always better to be on the lookout for fleas.
Common types of fleas –
Cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis):
These are the most common type of fleas. Cat fleas are found on pet and feral cats, and can even be found on dogs. Cat fleas are also known to bite humans and are regular in many US households. They stay on the host for long durations of time as they need fresh blood for reproduction. They only stay on the host when it is time for them to reproduce. Often, cat fleas are carriers of a tapeworm parasite and are also known to spread allergies. It is hard to differentiate between various types of fleas without the help of a microscope, so their habitats and feeding patterns are a big clue as to which species they are.
Dog fleas (Ctenocephalides canis):
Dog fleas are commonly seen on dogs, but are also found on cats, raccoons, skunks and other animals. They are less seen in the US and are more common in Europe. If the preferred host is not available, the dog flea resorts to feeding off whichever warm-blooded animal are available (including humans). They are known to carry the tapeworm parasite and have even known to spread typhus. Dog flea bites are often painful and can cause allergic reactions in many.
Human flea (Pulex irritans):
The recently discovered human flea is found in hairy areas of the body, such as underarms and the head. They choose to bite on the exposed areas of the body as well. Although not very common in the US (as it prefers tropical climates), it is still advisable to keep an eye out for this pesky parasite. They are also seen on wild animals, like coyotes and skunks.
Oriental Rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis):
Discovered in Egypt, Oriental rat fleas are true to their name and mostly feed off the blood of Norway rats. These fleas lack the row of spines that other species of fleas have. Oriental rat fleas are known to spread murine typhus and carry the parasitic tapeworm. They have also been found to carry the bacterium that causes bubonic plague. They are not commonly found in households but can invade your home if there are wild rats or other animals nearby. If you want to avoid this flea, make sure no type of rat can enter your house. Be careful if you have a pet mouse as well.
Less common, notable flea species:
Northern Rat flea:
Very similar to the Oriental rat flea, the Northern rat flea is common in households as it prefers human environments.
Tropical hen flea (also known as sticktight flea) (Echidnophaga gallinacea):
These fleas are seen on the skin of poultry, in the form of dozens of ‘black dots’ scattered all across. They can often affect the health of the poultry.
Rabbit flea (Spilopsyllus cuniculi):
This flea is found on wild rabbits, dogs, cats and pet rabbits as well. They can be seen feeding around the ear in most cases. The bite of this flea can cause crusts and papules.
Chigoe flea or jigger (Tunga penetrans):
One of the most dangerous fleas, the Chigoe flea is a native of Central and South America. This 1mm long flea is found in tropical climates and embeds itself in the skin of the host (mostly humans). Jigger infested food is a common phenomenon and a dangerous and painful one. Parasitic infestation of this flea is known as tungiasis. This flea usually lives under the sand.
Chicken flea (Ceratophyllus gallinae):
This flea is common in North America. It is found in places where there are poultry (such as cages or poultry farms) and birds. Around 2.5mm long, the chicken flea can also feast off the blood of other animals (such as humans). Repeated bites of the chicken flea have been known to decrease egg production in poultry. Alopecia and allergy can also be caused by this flea. The chicken flea is also a carrier of the plague bacterium.
Regardless of the type of flea species that is causing discomfort, you need to treat fleas immediately. Calling an Exterminator Near Me for the job is always your #1 option for pest control.