Fleas

Description

Fleas are the insects forming the order Siphonaptera. There are 1000+ species, the majority of which are parasitic to one animal species only; the majority of flea bites on humans are caused by the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis). They are wingless, with mouth parts adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood. Fleas are external parasites, living by hematophagy off the blood of mammals and birds.
Fleas are wingless insects (1/16 to 1/8-inch (1.5 to 3.3 mm) long) that are agile, usually dark coloured (for example, the reddish-brown of the cat flea), with tube-like mouth-parts adapted to feeding on the blood of their hosts. Their legs are long, the hind pair well adapted for jumping: a flea can jump vertically up to 7 inches (18 cm) and horizontally up to 13 inches (33 cm). This is around 1200 to 2200 times their own body length, making the flea one of the best jumpers of all known animals. Their bodies are laterally compressed, permitting easy movement through the hairs or feathers on the host's body (or in the case of humans, under clothing). The flea body is hard, polished, and covered with many hairs and short spines directed backward, which also assist its movements on the host.

Their tough body is able to withstand great pressure, likely an adaptation to survive attempts to eliminate them by mashing or scratching. Even hard squeezing between the fingers is normally insufficient to kill a flea. It is possible to eliminate them by pressing individual fleas with adhesive tape or softened beeswax (or "cheese" wax) or by rolling a flea briskly between the fingers to disable it then crushing it between the fingernails. Fleas also can be drowned in water and may not survive direct contact with anti-flea pesticides.

Breeding

Fleas lay hundreds of tiny white oval-shaped eggs every few days. The larva is small, pale, has bristles covering its worm-like body, lacks eyes, and has mouth parts adapted to chewing. The larvae feed on various organic matter, especially the faeces of mature fleas. The adult flea's diet consists solely of fresh blood. In the pupal phase, the larva is enclosed in a silken, debris-covered cocoon.

Symptoms

Fleas are a nuisance to their hosts, causing an itching sensation which in turn may result in the host attempting to remove the pest by biting, pecking, scratching etc. in the vicinity of the parasite. Fleas are not simply a source of annoyance, however. Some people and animals suffer allergic reactions to flea saliva resulting in rashes. Flea bites generally result in the formation of a slightly raised, swollen itching spot with a single puncture point at the centre (similar to a mosquito bite). The bites often appear in clusters or lines of two bites, and can remain itchy and inflamed for up to several weeks afterwards. Fleas can also lead to hair loss as a result of frequent scratching and biting by the animal, and can cause anaemia in extreme cases.

Besides the problems posed by the creature itself, fleas can also act as a vector for disease. Fleas transmit not only a variety of viral and bacterial diseases to humans and other animals; the most well known being bubonic plague and myxomatosis. 


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