There are a number of different flea species, including cat, dog, human, bird, and rat, with each species having a preference for a particular host, but each is often happy enough to feed on other animals if their preferred hosts are not available. The most common flea found in homes is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis). The life cycle can be completed in as little as a couple of weeks, especially during warm, humid weather.
- FLEAS EGGS: Flea eggs are white, oval in shape and about 0.5mm in length. Although small, they can still be seen by the naked eye. They fall off the animal as it moves around. Egg hatch will occur between one and ten days and is generally better in a warm, humid environment.
- FLEA LARVAE: Flea larvae are translucent, hairy, and between 2-4mm long. Being particularly susceptible to drying out they prefer warm, moist areas out of direct light. In carpet, on furniture, in cracks between floorboards, under the house or deck are preferred areas. Larvae will feed on a range of organic foods, including flea dirt (particularly digested blood excreted by adult fleas) and dead skin (from humans and pets). They will complete their development in 5-12 days, after which they spin a cocoon to form the pupal stage.
- FLEA PUPAE: Although the pupa is normally a light brown colour, it often gets coated in material from the surrounding environment such as dirt and fabric fibres. Development into an adult takes 1-2 weeks and adults will rapidly emerge from the cocoon on detecting vibrations of an animal walking by. They then jump onto the host and start feeding. However, the adults are capable of remaining dormant in the cocoon for 6 months or more, waiting for the vibrations of a suitable hot.
- ADULT FLEAS: Adult fleas require a blood meal for nutrition. After emerging from the pupa (triggered by vibration from animals) they quickly jump onto the host and will begin feeding within 10 seconds. Once they have started feeding, they will remain on that host unless removed. Female fleas will start to lay eggs around 2 days after starting to feed and can produce up to 2000 eggs during her lifetime. The eggs are laid on the host, but easily fall off into the environment, so the pet spreads the fleas as they move around the house and yard.
Flea treatments – best practice
Homeowner actions before treatment:
Wash pet bedding: Pet bedding should be washed in hot water and repeated on a weekly basis. Placing bedding in sealed plastic bags is an option after washing, as the temperature can get over 60°C and will ensure any flea life-stages still in the bedding are killed.
Vacuum the house: It is important to vacuum/clean the house to remove as many eggs, larvae, pupae and adults if possible. Particularly focus on areas where the pet spends most of the time and make sure you vacuum under the furniture and between the cracks in floor boards (which can also be mopped afterwards). The vacuum bad needs to be sealed and disposed of immediately. Vacuuming the carpet has the added benefits of providing vibration to cause pupae ti hatch and of raising the fibers to make any insecticide treatment for effective.