A flea infestation can be a real occasion of misery for your household. Besides causing serious irritation to your pets, they can spread into carpet and other upholstered areas and may begin feeding on the resident humans for their blood feasts. Historically, fleas have also been transmitters of major diseases, most notably the Black Plague in the late Middle Ages. This article will explore the biology of the flea and provide recommendations for flea treatments for your home, yard and pets.
Understanding Flea Biology
The most common species of flea in the United States is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis. However, the United States is home to many types of flea, over 325 species, as a matter of fact.
Adult fleas typically are about 1/8 inch long, oval, and reddish-brown. They are wingless, and their bodies are very thin, so thin that they can move freely through fur or feathers of their host. They possess very large hind legs that are used for jumping and a very slender proboscis (beak) that extends forward when the flea takes a blood meal. At rest, the proboscis projects downward and backwards between the legs, but it cannot be seen without the aid of a microscope. Similarly, recognition of flea larvae and pupae typically requires the use of a microscope. To the unaided eye, the legless larvae resemble tiny whitish “worms.” Flea pupae most likely would not be recognized at all because they are encased within a sticky cocoon covered by incorporated soil particles and small items of debris from the habitat in which the larvae develop.
Flea eggs usually hatch 2-5 days after being laid. To the human eye they will appear like tiny white specks. On your animal, these will usually be found in the creases or folds of the skin: in the armpits, around the groin, under the neck, etc. Another very common location for flea eggs is at the base of the tail.
Once fleas hatch, they go through a larva period lasting around eight weeks. They then go into a pupa and emerge as adults after a week or so.
The interesting thing about flea biology is they have the capability for “delayed emergence.” If conditions are right, they can emerge from the pupa in a few days; but if conditions are harsh or inadequate, a flea can remain “suspended” in the pupa for up to a year. This is why an effective flea treatment must be able to destroy flea eggs as well as adults, as we will discuss below.
Fleas need regular blood meals to survive. They prefer furry animals as hosts, but will certainly bite humans. A fully formed adult flea can only survive for a week or two in the absence of a blood meal. Flea bites appear as small, reddish dots or circles.
One other sign of fleas is “flea dirt.” Flea dirt is flea feces composed of digested blood. It will appear on your pet as little black dots.
Treating for Fleas
Flea treatments are tricky because the timing has to be just right. The infested pet needs to be treated either at the same time as the home or else he needs to be kept away from the home until he has been treated and the home has been treated. If the pet still has fleas and is brought back into a treated home, the fleas will simply re-infest the home. Similarly, a clean animal cannot come back into a house that is not yet treated or else the animal could pick up more fleas. A clean animal needs to come back a clean home, so the treatments for the animal and the home ought to be done simultaneously.
To prep a home for flea treatment, all carpet should be cleared and vacuumed; this includes rugs and mats near doors. Furniture in carpeted areas should be pulled away from the wall at least a half foot. Recliner chairs should be left reclined so that carpet beneath them can be accessed.
Most pest control professionals these days do not use the old fashioned flea bombs and foggers, simply because these methods have no targeting and are a kind of pesticide overkill. Why cloud the entire house up with a pesticide fog when the fleas are only in the carpet? Most modern treatments will be a liquid-spray application directly to the carpet.
It is important to make sure that the pesticide being applied contains both larvacide and adulticide components. An adulticide is a pesticide that kills adults. But in the case of fleas, a larvacide is essential. Larvacides kill larvae and destroy eggs. Without a larvacide component, the flea problem will merely re-spawn once the eggs hatch. Make sure your pesticide or the pesticide being applied by your pest controller has both a larvacide and adulticide components. All Creature Control flea applications contain these two components, destroying adult fleas and breaking down the flea eggs.
In severe infestations, more than one treatment may be necessary. If follow ups are needed, this is usually done within two to four weeks of the initial treatment.
What if I Don’t Have Carpet?
It is possible for your pet to contract fleas even if you do not have carpet. We get calls all the time from people who are mystified because their pet has fleas but there is no carpet in the home for the fleas to live in. This certainly can and does happen.
The most common explanation in these situations is that the fleas are not living in your home but in your yard. Fleas prefer living on furry host animals, but they can breed and thrive outdoors as well. How can you find fleas in your yard?
Fleas prefer shady, cool, moist places, like beneath shrubs. They do not like areas in the open sunlight. The easiest thing to do is search in areas your pet frequents, especially if that area contains dirt. Sometimes the dark fleas are easier to spot if you wear high white socks when looking, as they stand out easier. Fortunately, yards can be treated for fleas just like homes.
Prepping The Yard for a Flea Treatment
As in the case of a flea treatment in your home, your animal should be free and clear of fleas before treating the yard. Until the yard is treated, they need to be kept away from the infested area, otherwise the infestation could begin all over again. Mow the grass, pull up weeds, clean up any debris – in general, de-clutter the yard to remove opportunities for fleas to hide.
Once the yard is prepped, the affected areas can be sprayed with the same mixture used in treating the home. You may not need to treat the entire yard, just the areas where the fleas are found or where your pet frequents. If you want a more natural solution, you can use diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring soft sediment that is usually sold in the form of a finely ground powder. Because of its abrasive structure and high sorptivity (capacity to absorb) at the molecular level, it is very effective in killing fleas and other insects by acting as a desiccant. Diatomaceous earth is readily available and can be purchased online from a variety of retailers – click here to purchase diatomaceous earth.
After the yard has been treated, consider laying down decorative cedar chips in the affected areas. Fleas have a strong dislike for the smell of cedar.
Creature Control Flea Treatments
For flea treatment pricing and availability, please contact Creature Control. Flea treatments may not be available in all service areas.