Fleas are tiny, flat, dark, reddish brown insects measuring an average of 1/16 to 1/8-inch (1.5 to 3.3 mm) long. They have no wings but get from one place to another by jumping. They are well known for their ability to leap. Fleas are parasitic insects and use their tube-like mouth parts for sucking blood from their host.
There are at least 1,830 different kinds of fleas. Some of them feed on cats and dogs, some on other hosts. The fleas most likely to bite humans usually live on pigs!
Fleas give nasty bites which can become painful, itchy, red bumps. Black rat fleas are known for carrying bubonic plague. Fleas can also spread tapeworm and carry a disease called murine typhus. In pets, flea bites can lead to anemia. The flea’s saliva contains an allergen to which some pets and humans are allergic.
Life cycle of a flea
There are four stages to the life cycle of a flea – egg, larva, pupa, and adult flea. Adult fleas search for a host immediately. An adult female flea lays up to 45 eggs a day, but she cannot lay any eggs until she has had her first blood meal. The newly laid eggs may drop onto the host or into a carpet, furniture, or bedding. The larvae may grow up to a quarter of an inch long. Their main food is waste material left behind by adult fleas. The pupa stays inside a casing until the environment around it is just right. Then it hatches. Adult fleas are parasites and they feed on the blood of the human or animal host on which they live. A flea’s life span is about 100 days. A pair of fleas may produce as many as 400 to 500 offspring.
What a Flea Can Do
Fleas can jump 80 times their own height and 150 times their own length. They can also jump 30,000 times in a row without stopping.
A flea can remain in its cocoon, or casing, for up to 6 months while it waits for something to touch it. As soon as something touches it, it will hatch. It can hop onto its host in one second and begin feeding on the host’s blood within 4 seconds of hatching.
A female flea consumes 15 times its own body weight in blood each day.
A single flea can multiply into 1,000 fleas on a pet or in a home in only 21 days.
Fleas can live up to 100 days without a blood meal as long as they are not disturbed.
A flea can be frozen for a year and survive.
A type of flea that lives in Antarctica waits 9 months under several feet of snow and ice for its host to come back and nest.
Fun Facts about Fleas
An information sheet from the website bestfriendsvet.com explains that “Fleas have a ball of a substance called Resilin above their hind legs.” Resilin, the most elastic substance known, is what gives a flea its bounce. If a Resilin ball were dropped from 100 feet, it would bounce back up to 97 feet!
There really is such a thing as a flea circus. Some people actually do make tiny carriages and hitch living fleas to them with gilded wires. The tiny carriages move and jiggle around as the fleas struggle to escape.
According to the flea facts at ivillage.com a female flea can lay as many 2,000 eggs in her lifetime. A common host for a flea is a dog. There are approximately 53 million dogs in the U.S. If each of these dogs hosted a population of 60 fleas, that would mean there would be more than six trillion flea eggs on these pets. If these eggs were laid end-to-end, the line they made would stretch around the world more than 76 times!
More interesting and fun facts about fleas can be found at Healthypet.com, and Buginfo.com. Children might enjoy reading about fleas at pestworldforkids.org.