Fleas are considered as a medically important insect pest species as they are vectors of disease in many parts of the world such as the Black Death, bubonic plague pandemic that struck Europe during the late Middle Ages. These were caused by bacteria spread by rat fleas. Around two-thirds of the European population were killed during these pandemics.
Fleas are small, wingless and laterally flattened insects. They have six legs; the hind legs are long and powerful and are used for jumping, which allows them to jump up to 100 times their height. Majority of flea species feed on the blood of mammals (including humans) while the minority of them feed on birds’ blood. Both male and female adult fleas take blood meals, and they rely on blood for nutrition. Fleas are able to survive for more than 3 months without feeding. Fleas tend to avoid light, and they are frequently found sheltering in hair, under clothing and in beds. After feeding, they will excrete faeces composed of semi-digested blood of their previous meal.
Common Fleas in Singapore
CAT FLEA (Ctenocephalides felis)
Around 3mm in length with flattened sides and long legs, cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) are selective with their choice of host. This is because they are unable to determine the suitability of the host until it has bitten them. If the host is unsuitable, the flea drops off and finds another host. These fleas will nest in the usual resting place of a host, meaning they can be found in cat baskets or even cat towers. Cat fleas are not exclusive to cats and can be found on dogs, and occasionally feed on human blood.
DOG FLEA (Ctenocephalides canis)
Similarly to cat fleas, dog fleas (Ctenocephalides canis) are not exclusive to dogs, but can be found on cats and humans. Dog fleas are brownish black in colour but appear reddish-black after a blood meal, and measure 1 to 4mm in length. Their laterally flattened body allows for ease of movement through an animal’s fur. Dog fleas’ spines also project backwards, which helps them in holding on to a host during grooming.
HUMAN FLEA (Pulex irritans)
Wingless and a black to brownish-black colour, human fleas (Pulex irritans) measure about 1 to 4mm in length. With long, fine proboscis, they can pierce the skin of their host blood feeding. You’ll often find these fleas biting people around the ankles and legs with 2 to 3 bites in a row. Moving from one host to another, they do present a risk of transmitting diseases to humans. Their bites can be felt almost immediately and the area can feel sore for around a week. Human fleas can be found on dogs and rats.
Do you know…
Once adult fleas emerge from their puparia, they have approximately 7 days to find a blood meal or they will die.
Female fleas can lay about 2,000 eggs over the course of their lives, but are incapable of laying eggs until after their first meal.
Once they have had their first blood meal, female fleas will lay their eggs within 35 to 48 hours.
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