June 8, 2023
Fleas seem like the bane of our existence when their populations get out of control. A female flea lays about 50 eggs per day, producing up to 2,000 eggs in her lifetime. So just one female flea can cause an infestation in your home or yard. This problem gets particularly bad in the fall and early winter after the females have been laying eggs in and near our homes for months. Sometimes we are unaware of how serious the problem in our homes is until our pets get effective flea treatment, leaving the humans as the next best host. Even a pet that never goes outside, such as a strictly-indoor cat, can harbor fleas and can cause a major house infestation.
Fleas have 4 life stages: egg, larva, pupa (in a cocoon) and adult. The average lifecycle is about 100 days but they can live indoors for up to a year if the humidity and temperature conditions are favorable. They thrive in environments where the temperature is 70-85 degrees and the humidity is about 70 percent.
The adult flea is a hitchhiker, landing on its host (that’s you, me, and your pet!). It will feed, breed, and start to lay eggs within a few days. The eggs fall off the pet, so they incubate wherever your pet spends time. The eggs hatch into larvae in 1- 14 days. The larvae are blind and avoid light. They burrow deep into fabrics, bedding and carpeting and feed on flea feces and dried blood. After 5-20 days the larva spins a cocoon around itself. The cocoon protects the developing adult flea. This stage of the life cycle can last from several days to several years if the environmental conditions are not right for emergence. The cocoon has a sticky outer coating that allows them to hide deep in carpeting and not be easily removed by light vacuuming or sweeping. It also protects the flea from chemicals.
The adult flea will emerge from the cocoon when the presence of a potential host is made obvious—by vibrations, rising levels of carbon dioxide, and body heat. They will bite and get a blood meal within a few hours of hatching. And then the cycle of feeding, breeding, laying eggs, hatching into larvae, and making a pupae that hatches again into an adult flea continues, on and on, until there is effective treatment of the problem. Flea control will be discussed in Blog #4.