flea on a strand of hair

All you need to know about fleas 

What is it when people start talking about fleas; it’s weird, you just can’t help yourself and immediately you’ll start itching, of all the pests I deal with, fleas ARE without any doubt, my absolute nightmare. I deal with a lot of animal pests on my daily rounds, so rats, mice, squirrels, and even moles, and all these animals have fleas, the fact that moles have them surprised me at first. 
 
I remember the day when I pulled out a mole from someone’s back garden and found in covered in fleas and I’m not just talking about any old fleas, these were huge! Moles have the dubious honour of being the host to the UK’s biggest flea, and these grow up to 6mm in length. 
 
Of all the pests that I deal with, it’s the grey squirrel that in my opinion carries the highest number of fleas, if you watch squirrels for any length of time, even for just a couple minutes, you’ll see them scratching. I’m on the hairy side, thankfully its just arms and legs but as I deal with squirrels nesting in lofts and many, many times, as you climb into the loft through the hatch you’ll feel fleas moving through your arm and leg hairs, and it’s not a very pleasant sensation I can tell you! 
 
Recently I dealt with a very large rat infestation in a house in Earley, this property had a major fault allowing rats into the interior and particularly the kitchen as they were coming up through the floorboards. This meant that I was catching rats on a daily basis and one thing I noticed they all had lots of fleas on them, which was worrying as rat fleas still carry bubonic plague. So I thought its time to do a blog on my most hated pest, the flea. 
 
rat with fleas
 

Whats so horrible about fleas? 

Err, the fact that they’re bloodsucking insects is where I’d start, Ok, mosquitoes are bloodsuckers but does anybody really like them? I think its our sensitivity to their bites which is what most people don’t like; nothing itches like a flea bite and when you’ve got several it brings on broken sleep, irritability and potentially, infections if you’ve got dirty fingernails. 
 
Why do flea bites itch so much? 
 
In order to drink your blood as efficiently as possible, the fleas’ mouthparts are designed to puncture the skin where a central needle like part then enters a capillary and another part of the mouth releases saliva into the wound to act as an anticoagulant to prevent the blood from clotting, and you thought teenagers were messy eaters. 
 
It’s the saliva or flea spit as I prefer to call it as it’s a bit more gross, which creates the itch and the inflammation around the bite, your bodies a clever machine and recognises the flea spit so it releases histamine into the area. The idea is for this reaction to trigger your immune system into action to combat the ‘foreign body’ – the flea spit that’s in your system. 
 
How can I stop being bitten by fleas? 
 
If you suffer from the occasional or even regular flea bite, take a look at the family pet, they’re probably responsible for bringing them inside and so, any treatment will start with whatever pet you’ve got. 
 
Even if you regularly give your pet a flea treatment, you can still find yourself scratching away at your ankles and the reason for this is chemical resistance. We have been waging chemical warfare against fleas for years and like many other insect pests, the fleas are countering our attacks by becoming resistant to the active ingredients that we use in those treatments. 
Another reason for seeing fleas after a treatment or, that you’re still getting bites when the pets had its latest flea riddance is down to the lifecycle of the flea. Find out more about insecticidal resisitance by clicking on the link button. 

The lifecycle of a flea 

Fleas. How I hate fleas. To really get down in the weeds of any flea infestation, you have to understand their lifecycle and these horrible little insects have four life stages: adult, egg, larvae and pupa. 
 
So, what happens in an flea infestation? Let’s start with a single adult female flea, she’s been carried home in the fur of Max or Felix or whatever your pet is called and being pregnant she’s started laying eggs on your animal. An adult flea lays around 40 eggs a day and they don’t stick to the hair like human head lice, they’re designed to fall off, and that way there’s a better chance more will survive. Adult fleas will live around 3 months so that’s a lot of eggs that are produced and they’re scattered anywhere your pet spends time; sofas, beds, carpets, just about anywhere. 
 
These eggs will hatch within two or three days, and this is now the larval stage of the infestation and in true flea form their eating habits are disgusting. Flea larvae don’t bite like the adults do, they eat pre-digested blood or rather flea poo. They’ll also eat other organic matter so dander, bits of skin, did I say that I hate fleas? 
 
After a week or two of eating bits of dried skin, hair and flea poo the larvae are ready to pupate and they spin themselves a highly protective silk cocoon, these cocoons are so good they are even resistant to the chemicals that us pest controllers use. No matter that we’ve been in and sprayed your carpets, the flea larvae are safe and sound in their little sleeping bags. I did mention that I hated fleas, didn’t I? 
 
By far the biggest problem with fleas is that they will stay in the pupation stage until the right conditions present themselves, its not uncommon to get called out to a previously empty house where newly moved in tenants or new owners suddenly find themselves being consumed by hordes of hungry fleas. 
 
So, just to recap flea eggs will last for just a few days, the larvae eat adult flea feaces and other matter, their pupation stage is between days or months and during this time, they will not be effected by pest control treatments. 
 
flea closeup
 

How do you break the flea lifecycle? 

Firstly, know your enemy, fleas have incredibly poor eyesight, and they rely on vibration, movement and even your animal’s breath as they can pick up differences in air temperature. So, pull out the sofa, the bed, that big old cupboard and vacuum the floor to remove any adults, just remember that the vacuum cleaner won’t kill them so empty it straight away – outdoors. 
 
You can try a dehumidifier in seriously infested rooms to see if you can destroy fleas in the pupation stage; experiments have shown that they are very susceptible to dry (and cold) living conditions. As fleas are really active in the summer, there’s little point in thinking about room temperature. 
 
Ensure that your pets are treated with a proprietary flea treatment, you can try additional flea bath treatments and flea combs if your pet will accept it. Make sure that you wash any pet bedding, if this isn’t an option, you could try freezing it if you have access to a big enough freezer. 
 
Finally, call out a pest control company to carryout a residual flea spray, it won’t do anything to the pupas but in areas like those dark, untouched spots beneath that furniture, it’ll last for weeks. The main thing is don’t expect a magic wand to get waved over your home, you still may have to wait awhile for the infestation to die off, I’m sure that I said I hate fleas? 
 
Fleas on hair
 
Tagged as: Fleas
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