Monday, August 13, 2018

Flea Biology 101

Horticulture Hotline 08/13/18
By Bill Lamson-Scribner

Fleas have been particularly bad this year.  I have been asked a lot about them in the store (Possum’s) and when I have been out and about. Judging from the amount of flea products I’m ordering for the stores, they have been busy with flea situations as well. Fleas are hard to control because they have a wide range of hosts and their life cycles are designed for survival.  Although there are 2400 different species of fleas, the one we are most concerned with is the cat flea. This week I’m going to write about the biology of the cat flea and next week focus more on the control.

The flea that primarily attacks the dog is called the cat flea.  This flea attacks dogs, cats, and several other wild hosts including rodents, rabbits, squirrels, skunks and yes, the opossum!  They will also attack humans as well.  As you treat your yard, your dog, and your house you need to realize that these other animals can re-infest your yard. 

A flea can go from the egg stage to the adult stage in anywhere from a few weeks to several months (even over 1 year).  This life cycle helps ensure their survival.  The flea will wait in the pupae stage, and emerge as an adult when the conditions are favorable for the survival of the adult. Adult biting fleas only account for about 2% of the population, the rest are in the egg, larva and pupae stage.

The flea lays eggs on its host.  These eggs are not attached to the host so they are constantly falling off.  When a dog gets up from a nap and shakes, the dog is shaking the eggs off of his body.  The egg then becomes a larva. 

The larva can live on the dog or larva also live under grass, soil, mulch or other organic matter.  Larva are very susceptible to heat and desiccation so they usually stay in shady moist areas of the yard.  Treating your flower beds is very important.  You may see the adults out in the middle of your yard; however, they are coming from your mulch beds where it is shady and moist. 

After the larva stage, the flea develops into a pupa.  This pupae stage is what makes the flea so hard to control.  The pupa is made out of a silk like cocoon that protects the flea.  This cocoon is very sticky when first developed and dust and other debris stick to it making it very hard to detect.  If someone moves out of an apartment that had a dog with fleas, the apartment could be closed for months.  When the new tenants open the door and walk in, the adult flea will emerge from the pupae stage and begin biting the person who has entered.  These pupae respond to vibration, so it is good to vacuum when trying to control fleas.  Vacuuming removes fleas and the vibration from the vacuuming brings the flea out of the pupae stage and into the adult stage that is susceptible to control products. 

All these factors make the flea very hard to control.  When using control products there are several different products to use.  Some products are used inside, some outside and some on the animal.  A pest management professional is always a good option when dealing with fleas.

Next week I will write about several different control products.  In the meantime apply Prefurred One, Petcor or Prefurred Plus to your animal, use Precor 2000 inside the house, spread Bug Blaster (or spray EcoVia EC NOP Compliant) in the yard and spray the yard with Nyguard (Growth Regulator). 

Since it takes about two weeks to control fleas, it will also take me two weeks to write about controlling fleas!

Always read, understand and follow product label. The product label is a Federal Law.