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Fleas are pests of humans and their domestic animals all over the world. While most fleas prefer non-human hosts, many can and do feed readily on humans when infestations are heavy or when other hosts are not readily available.
Fleas are small, wingless insects, which average 1/12 to 1/6 inch long. Their long powerful legs permit them to jump as much as 7-8 inches vertically and 14-16 inches horizontally. Fleas have a complete metamorphosis. The smooth, rounded, light-colored eggs are about 1/50 – inch in diameter, only large enough to be barely seen. They are frequently laid on the host animal, but may be laid by adults, which have fallen to the ground. A female flea will lay a few eggs each day until she has laid up to 200-400. Depending on the temperature and humidity, these eggs will hatch in anywhere from 2 days to several weeks, but most will hatch within 7-14 days.
Adults feed on blood; the larvae eat “flea diet” consisting of dried blood. The flea bite caused from this feeding by the adults can become inflamed. After the feeding the flea will begin mating, starting the life cycle all over again. Eggs are laid in batches of up to 20 or so, usually on the host itself, which means that the eggs can easily roll onto the ground. Because of this, areas where the host rests and sleeps become one of the primary habitats of eggs and developing fleas. Flea larvae emerge from the eggs to feed on any available organic material such as dried insects, feces, and vegetable matter. They are blind and avoid sunlight, keeping to dark places like sand, cracks and crevices, and bedding. Given an adequate supply of food, larvae should pupate and weave a silken cocoon within 1-2 weeks after 3 larval stages. After another week or two, the adult flea is fully developed and ready to emerge from the cocoon. They may however remain nesting during this period until they receive a signal that a host is near - vibrations (including sound), heat, and carbon dioxide are all stiumuli indicating the probable presence of a host. Fleas are known to overwinter in the larval or pupal stages.
Flea populations are evenly distributed, with about 50% eggs, 35% larvae, 10% pupae, and 5% adults. Their total life cycle can be as short as one year, but may be several years in ideal conditions. Female fleas can lay 5000 or more eggs over thier life, allowing for rapid growth rates.