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Pest of the Month - Fleas

Cat Flea, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights March 2018. http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-March-2018
An adult cat flea, photo by Jim Kalisch; UNL Entomology

Please, No More Fleas

Fleas are small, red-orange biting pests that can cause a mighty headache for homeowners. While we usually associate flea problems with homes that have pets, fleas can pop up in pet-free homes if there is a wildlife problem near or inside the house. If you are dealing with fleas, it’s best to understand some basics about flea biology so that you can better get a handle on your pest problem.

Life cycle

Fleas undergo complete metamorphosis, starting as an egg, becoming a larvae, and then pupating to become an adult. Adult fleas take a drink of blood and then can mate to fertilize eggs. The female will lay eggs directly onto animals (pets or wildlife) but they are not glued on very well. The eggs usually fall off of the animal in the area where they sleep or spend a lot of time. The eggs hatch and out comes the larvae which feed on the debris that accumulates in pet sleeping areas. Larvae are quite small and are creamy colored. After feeding for a couple of weeks the flea larvae will reach full size and will pupate. The pupae is covered in a silk cocoon that is covered with dirt and hair particles. After 1-2 weeks new fleas emerge and begin feeding and mating themselves. In a typical home, flea development takes about a month from egg to adulthood. But this is dependent on temperature, humidity, and food availability.

Flea Lifecycle

Control

Since its life cycle is so quick and they can cause misery for people and animals, people are often desperate for control of these blood sucking critters. You must approach flea control holistically, controlling adults and larvae. If you focus just on adults you may find peace for a month, but will have new fleas appear to restart your problem. If you have a pet then your first step will be to get them on a flea and tick control program with medicine from your veterinarian. If you do not have a pet, but have fleas, you should consider hiring a pest control professional to come and check your home for a vertebrate pest infestation and to provide control. After these steps, vacuum the entire home, thoroughly. Carpets, rugs, couches, and pet sleeping areas should be prioritized. Vacuuming removes the food of the larval flea and also sucks them up too! You should also launder sheets, curtains, and pet bedding. After this, treat priority areas with a flea insect growth regulator. Insect growth regulators are effective at stopping flea development and have little to no environmental side effects. Most products will also contain a pyrethrin type insecticide to kill active fleas. These products come as a liquid and are easy to apply. You should avoid the use of insecticide foggers, they do not provide effective flea control.

Image of Jonathan Larson
Jonathan Larson
Extension Educator - Entomology

Jonathan Larson is the Nebraska Extension entomologist for Douglas and Sarpy counties. His main focus is lawn and landscape pests but he also helps with bed bugs, roaches, and any other home invader that has six or more legs. Jonathan has his Bachelor of Science in Entomology from Purdue University, and his Ph.D. in Entomology from the University of Kentucky.

Contact Jonathan at:
Douglas/Sarpy County Extension
8015 W Center Rd.
Omaha, NE 68124-3175
(402) 444-7804