Fleas are small, wingless insects that feed on animal and human blood. It is estimated that Americans spend $9 billion annually on flea control. In Texas, the most common species that causes problems is the cat flea. This flea feeds on cats, dogs and wildlife.
The flea goes through four stages as it develops. These stages are the egg, larva, pupa, and the adult. Fleas do not travel long distances without a host so they wait until an animal goes by then they jump on. Without a host, fleas only live a few days to two weeks.
The female flea may begin laying eggs within two days of her first blood meal. Four to nine days later, she produces an average of 27 eggs per day and can consume about 15 times her body weight in blood daily.
Fleas do not survive well outdoors in hot, sunny lawns. Relative humidity of less than 50 percent or soil temperatures higher than 95 degrees can kill flea larvae. The pupa stage is the transition stage between the larva and the adult flea. The pupa can form a cocoon spun by the larva. After a week or two, the pupa becomes an adult. The adult flea may remain in the cocoon for up to five months and can emerge when stimulated by a passing animal. Once stimulated, the adult flea can emerge within seconds.
Fleas do not normally live on humans, but do bite when handling the infested animals. Patience is a virtue when controlling fleas. No one application will usually control all fleas as the eggs hatch over time. Follow-up applications will usually be needed in flea infestations to get adequate control.
Good controls for fleas include sanitation and individual pet treatments. Change pet bedding and regularly vacuum thoroughly in areas pet frequent in the home. Discard the vacuum cleaner bag to keep from re-infesting the home later. Treating the individual pet is the first line of defense. Regularly bathing your pet, as well as using insect growth regulators on your pet can help keep flea populations down. Individual treatments to pets include using insect growth regulators such as spot-on, pills, sprays and food additives. Check with your local veterinarian if you want to start flea controls on your pet to see what might work for your situation.
Insect growth regulators disrupt the normal development of the flea eggs and the larvae. When exposed to insect growth regulators, adult fleas become unable to reproduce, the eggs can fail to hatch, or the larvae can die before they complete their development. Insect growth regulators kill primarily the eggs and larvae; they usually do not eliminate adult fleas quickly.
Insect growth regulators include active ingredients such as lufernuron, imidacloprid, fipronil, methoprene and pyriproxyfen to name a few. Botanical ( plant derived) insecticides are available as well. These include pyrethrins and citrus oil extracts. Outdoors, where pets frequently lay, can be treated when there is an infestation. These areas can be treated with products containing active ingredients such as carbaryl, malathion, propoxur and pyriproxifen. With any treatment, be sure to read and follow all label instructions. Some insects, such as fire ants and other predatory insects, can eat flea larvae, but usually do not completely control flea populations.