Fleas (Order: Siphonaptera) are small, dark, wingless insects that are flattened from side to side. These insects are usually found buried in the hair, on the skin of mammals. When infestations are large, adult fleas may be found in carpeting and around pet resting areas. Fleas are covered with many backwards facing bristles and hairs. These help the flea anchor themselves in the hair of their host. Adult fleas have piercing-sucking mouthparts they use to pierce their host’s skin and feed on blood.
The most commonly encountered flea is known as the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis). However, this species of flea will feed on dogs, cats, and even rodents. Fleas can be detected on pets by rubbing animal fur backwards and looking for their presence next to the skin, however they are hard to spot on dark fur or hair. Bites and excessive scratching on both pets and humans is an indication of a flea infestation. Flea bites appear as small itchy red bumps on the skin. In heavy infestations, bites on humans generally appear on the ankles or lower shins.
Fleas are medically important insects due to their ability to transmit diseases through their bites. A famous example of this is the bubonic plague or black death which was transmitted by the rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) and was responsible for the deaths of 25,000,000 people in the Middle Ages! Now days, the more common diseases vectored by fleas include typhus and tapeworms. Flea allergy dermatitis is also a problem with pets. The flea’s saliva, injected when a flea feeds on pets, may cause severe allergic reactions on sensitive animals. In addition to the allergic reactions, itchiness from the flea bites causes excessive scratching, leading to hair loss and an unhealthy appearance.
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