Fleas are wingless insects - reddish-brown to mahogony in colour between 1.5-8mm long. They have long rear legs specifically designed for jumping - an adult flea can jump as high as 17-18cm vertically and 30-35cm horizontally. They have claws on their legs designed for latching onto hosts. They have small basic eyes on a small head upon which is mounted some fairly impressive mouthparts designed for sawing, cutting and piercing skin
Fleas a laterally compressed (super skinny!) for the pupose of being able to move through host hair quickly and easily. Fleas are incredibly tough. They are shiny, almost polished in appearance with tiny hairs facing backwards. Most insects are able to be crushed or mashed with a swat, a scratch of a slap. Fleas require an incredible force to crush their bodies and can withstand some incredible pressure.
The flea also has an array of short detector antennae attached to the small head and can detect carbon dioxide, heat, vibrations, and even slight changes in shadows.
Fleas are parasite blood suckers. Their mouths are fairly incredible creations with the ability to saw and cut through skin and then with a siphon type mouth inject anti-coagulant with a valve system then designed to syphon the blood. Adult fleas will feed primarily on blood, at other stages through the life-cycle (larvae) it will feed on other matter. The flea can survive for several months without a meal. When a flea feeds it crouches low and uses it's mouth-parts to saw into the skin. The flea can increase it's body mass by 30% in any given meal. That's the equivalent of a male of 80kg eating 24kg of food in one sitting!
Fleas have 4 stages in their life-cycle. Egg, Larvae, Pupae and Adult. The flea population is mostly made up of eggs with only 5% being adults at any given time.
The female will lay eggs usually after each blood meal. The blood ingested nourishes the eggs and they are usually laid on the host. The eggs are oval in shape similar to a chicken egg and unlike other parasites like headlice are not sticky and will roll off the host easily. The host moves around and the eggs roll off and fall in areas that the host frequents. For dogs this may be close to it's bedding, a hole or dirt patch or a fence line. The eggs are oval in shape and are laid about 4-20 at a time. Depending on conditions, the eggs can take from 48 hours to 14 days to hatch.
The second stage of the flea life-cycle is larvae. There are actually 3 developmental stages within the larvael stage. The larvae are semi transparent white colour with small hairs prodruting from their bodies and can move. The larvae is completely blind and avoids direct sunlight preferring cracks and crevices or carpet and bedding. The larvae will usually emerge from the egg and attempt to feed immediately. The larvae will consume adult flea feaces (poo) which is usually just dried blood, along with dead insects and even other organic material such as dog food fragments. The survival rate of the larvae in some research actually depends on the diversity of this meal. The blood only meal see a very small proportion of larvae survive compared with larvae with a more diverse diet. This stage is completely dependent on the environmental conditions along with food sources but on average lasts between 5-18 days.
Conditoins being right the larvae will pupate (become a pupa) and spin a cocoon in which it will reside transforming into an adult flea. Home owners are sometimes frustrated at the re-emergence of flea problems, this is because the pupa stage can be as short as 3 days or can last over a year. Laying dormant awaiting stimuli, the pupae will emerge from it's cocoon ready for it's first meal. The stimuli can be the detection of carbon dioxide, vibrations of a potential host walking by or even changes in temperatures indicating a warm body. The adult flea will burst from it's cocoon with 10 times the thrust of the NASA space shuttle, do a complete somersault facing backwards towards the host and latch on using the claws and hairs on it's body.
This would be the equivalent of a human being jumping from a closed coffin, jumping 40 metres vertically and 100 metres laterally latching onto a passing FA18 Fighter Jet. Incredible.
The adult having attached itself to a host will begin to feed and to reproduce. If the host was missed in the initial emergence from the cocoon, the adult flea can survive about 7 days without a meal, usually surviving only a few days. The adult in ideal conditions can live for a year or even a year and a half however the average flea will live for around 100 days, the female producing 3000-5000 eggs in that time. When it dies, it will usually fall off the host or die around the area and potentially become food for the larvae.
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