How Fleas Work, HowStuffWorks

How Fleas Work

Imagine returning to your home after a long vacation. You pick up your pets from the kennel, unload your luggage and head to bed to recover from the long drive. But your sleep is anything but restful. All night, you’re plagued by tiny pinpricks and incessant itching. It doesn’t take you long to figure out that you’re being attacked by a seemingly infinite mob of hungry fleas.

­ What happened? Did your pets pick up an infestation at the kennel? Did the vampire-like insects hitch a ride on your luggage? Or did a swarm of them decide to move in while you were gone?

It’s a creepy idea, but the most likely answer is that the fleas were waiting for you. Fleas are parasites — or life forms that feed on hosts — often harming the host in some way. Fleas use their hosts’ blood as food. They generally prefer the blood of four-legged animals to human blood, so before you went on vacation, the fleas fed on your pets, not on you.

Although newly emerged fleas need to find food within a few days, adults can go for a couple of months without a meal. Flea pupae can also stay in their cocoons for up to a year, waiting to sense the body heat and vibrations that signal the presence of nearby hosts. So when you go on vacation, the fleas don’t starve to death — they simply wait for you and your pets to come back.

When you walk into your home after being away, hungry adult fleas flock to you and to anything else that has a pulse, regardless of how many legs it has. Pupae break out of their cocoons and search for their first blood meal. Your home, which seemed clean and relatively flea-free when you left, is suddenly overrun.

The ability to live without food is just one of a flea’s many adaptations. These adaptations make it easier for fleas to move around on their hosts, feed on blood, reproduce and survive when food is scarce. In this article, we’ll look at how these adaptations make it harder to kill fleas. We’ll also explore how to keep fleas from invading your home and your pets, as well as how to get rid of an infestation.

Fleas are ectoparasites, or parasites that live outside the body. Endoparasites, on the other hand, live inside the body. In addition to fleas, other ectoparasites include lice and ticks. Tapeworm are an example of an endoparasite. Parasites also cause diseases like malaria.

Plants can be parasites as well. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant, but since it has leaves and can produce food through photosynthesis, it is not a true parasite.

Unlike animals that live in symbiosis, parasites do not help their hosts in any way.

can fleas live without an animal to feed off?

12 Answers

yes they can.a flee can lay dormant and live on nothing for 2 years,this happened to me! the house i live in was empty for 2 years before i moved in,when i moved in i was dinner!! i got enviromental health in to de flea the house and they told me that fleas lay dormant,as soon as vibration is felt then they think its dinner time.i have found the best thing to use to keep flees under control is vet kem acclaim 2000 from the vets,its very good.

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It is possible for fleas to live without animals for a short period of time, but since they feed on the blood of animals they won’t last long. It is probably just the eggs that have hatched since the animals were there last. However sometimes a large infestation of fleas will start biting humans and then they can survive, but human blood is definitely not the preferred choice. I would definitely wash the clothes you wore at your friends house in warm water, but otherwise you should be okay. Fleas have a tendency to jump off quickly, so the only real concern would be any eggs on your clothing.

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Fleas like any other animal or insect adapt — if for instance a cat or dog were infested in fleas and then the animal died, the fleas would migrate to the nearest blood supply — the nearest human being possibly. So the answer is yes.

Can fleas live in a house without any pets?

We moved into an apartment two years ago. The previous tennants had a dog. We just got kittens a few weeks ago and they now have fleas. The vet said that fleas could have lived in our house dormant for two years and that’s how they got them. Is this true? If so, do we need to flea bomb the house? I have never had to do that before and don’t know what to expect.

9 Answers

Yes, this is true. I once went to see a vacant house that was for rent and when I came out there were fleas all over my legs. What I would recommend instead of bombing is a non-toxic organic called Diatomaceous Earth. It comes in a powder form and you can buy a powder sprayer and spray it all over the house. The fleas will die in a couple of days. Make sure you wear a mask when you do it, and that the kittens are taken out of the apartment until the dust settles. Leave the powder on for 48 hours and vacuum. If you don’t think that will work and want to do the bomb, remember that it is very toxic so make sure that you and the kittens are out of the apartment when you set the bomb off. Put all dishes in the cupboards. Allow some time afterwards for everything to settle and then you’ll need to go in and wipe all hard surfaces down and wash any and all bedding and throw rugs. Make sure the kittens are treated for fleas before returning them to the apartment.

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See also:  Flea Beetles: How to Identify, Eliminate, and Prevent This Garden Pest

Yes, fleas can live in a house where there are no pets. You need to take your kittens to a vet and have them treated for fleas. During this time, set off bombs that will kill fleas in the house. After you do this, you need to do it again in 14 days whether you see fleas or not. Reason being is because bombs do not kill the eggs that are in the carpet and will soon hatch and reinfest your house. Good lluck!

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Yes they can live without pets but I am not sure for how long they can remain in egg/larval/pupae stage. They normally continue to hatch and use humans as food when there are no pets. More likely that you have brought them in with the kittens when you got them or even on your clothing of from a visiting pet. All it takes is one to start a cycle.

You need to deflea the cats ask your vet for advantage, deflea your house with bombs or one of the other multitude of products made to sprinkle on carpets and rugs, and if their are fleas in your yard deflea it so you don’t bring in any more hitchhikers.

Make sure you repeat treatment of the house/yard to kill all stages and try to get a product for the house that contains a growth regulator, it will help break the cycle.

Diatomaceous Earth would be a good thing to use in the future (it won’t kill adult fleas or eggs you have already). It is microscopically sharp (similar to lava rock) and as larvae crawl over it, it scratches them and they dehydrate.

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Fleas live in carpets and bedding. They only jump onto animals or people to feed or lay their eggs. It’s possible that the fleas were already there. It’s also possible that you brought them in somehow. You don’t have to have a pet to bring them into your home. You will need to take some measure to rid your home and kittens of the fleas. Frontline Plus is a great product. There is also a Frontline Spray. Ask your vet what he/she recommends to use for your home.

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My ex would come to visit and brings his dogs and they left fleas, my daughter would have flea bits all around her ankles where the fleas went through her socks. You may need to do a flea bomb

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Yes, they can live in carpets and mattresses. Give your pets a flea treatment and spray your house for insects.

How Long Do Fleas Live Without a Host?


Betty Lewis

A flea passes through four stages to become the blood-sucking parasite he is. The entire cycle can last as short as a few weeks or as long as months, depending on the environmental conditions. PetMD states the ideal conditions for flea propagation are temperatures ranging between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit and 70 percent humidity. An adult flea can live up to two weeks without a host.

Eggs: The First Stage

A female flea must have a blood meal from her host — such as your cat or dog — before she’s able to lay her eggs. She’s a productive parasite, laying up to 40 eggs in a day. She lays her eggs where she feeds — in your pet’s fur — and eventually the eggs drop from your pet’s coat as he goes about his daily routine. Eggs can hatch as quickly as two days or take as long as two weeks, depending on the environment. They hatch quicker if it’s warm and more humid.

Larvae: The Second Stage

When the eggs hatch, blind larvae emerge and survive eating organic material such as dead skin, flea egg shells, adult flea feces and other debris. Larvae won’t develop in sunny places, such as outdoors in an open, grassy area. Instead, they require cool, dark spots, such as shaded areas outdoors and in baseboards and in carpeting indoors. Their development depends on temperature and humidity. Generally, a flea will spend between 5 and 20 days in the larval state.

Pupae: The Third Stage

The larvae won’t make it to the pupal state if the humidity is less than 50 percent or the temperature exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise, the adult flea remains in his cocoon waiting for the right conditions to emerge. A flea may emerge within days or, depending on the species, may wait weeks or almost a year to appear. When a potential host passes by, such as a person, dog or a cat, the flea is alerted to its presence through vibrations, body heat and increased carbon dioxide. The flea can emerge within seconds to jump onto its potential host.

Adults: The Final Stage

Generally, adult fleas bite humans but don’t feed on them unless they’re of a species that specifically feeds on humans, such as Pulex irritan, or the human flea. A flea must feed on its host within a few hours if it’s going to survive. If the flea emerges and doesn’t find a suitable host, or if it’s dislodged from its host, it can survive as little as a few days or as long as a couple of weeks.

When a flea finds an appropriate host, it will begin feeding almost immediately. A female flea will begin laying eggs about 24 hours after enjoying her first blood meal. Fleas pass their time on their host eating, breeding and laying eggs. Usually, an adult flea will live for two or three months.

Eliminating Fleas

Fleas are more than irritating; they can cause tapeworm as well as flea allergies in pets. Understanding the flea’s life cycle empowers you to keep you and your pet flea-free. A variety of flea preventive products on the market provide flea control for different stages of the flea life cycle. Topical spot-on and oral medications are formulated to kill adult fleas and some include ingredients to keep eggs from hatching and kill larvae and pupae.

Washing pet bedding in hot water will eliminate eggs, larvae and pupae and repeated, thorough vacuuming of rugs, furniture, cushions, beds and baseboards will remove some eggs and larvae. Discard the vacuum bag as fleas can live on inside the bag to re-infest. While good housekeeping is important, ensuring your pet isn’t a hospitable environment is your best defense against fleas.

10 Fascinating Facts About Fleas

Interesting habits and traits of fleas that you should know

  • B.A., Political Science, Rutgers University

Fleas?! They’ve (literally) plagued humankind for centuries, but how much do you know about these common insects? Let’s start with these 10 fascinating facts about fleas.

Fleas Are Infamous for Their Role in Transmitting the Black Death

During the Middle Ages, tens of millions of people died of the plague, or Black Death, as it spread across Asia and Europe. Cities were particularly hard hit. London lost 20% of its population to the plague in just two years during the mid-1600s. It wasn’t until the dawn of the 20 th century, however, that we identified the cause of the plague – a bacterium called Yersinia pestis. What does this have to do with fleas? Fleas carry the plague bacteria and transmit it to humans. An outbreak of the plague often kills a large number of rodents, particularly rats, and those bloodthirsty, plague-infected fleas are forced to find a new food source – humans. And the plague isn’t a disease of the past, either. We’re fortunate to live in an age when antibiotics and good sanitation practices keep plague deaths to a minimum.

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Fleas Lay Their Eggs on Other Animals, Not in Your Carpet

A common misunderstanding about fleas is that they lay their eggs in your carpeting and furniture. Fleas actually lay their eggs on their animal host, meaning if your dog Fido has adult fleas living in his fur, those adult fleas are doing their best to keep him infested with their offspring. Flea eggs, however, aren’t particularly sticky or well suited for staying put, so they mostly roll off your pet and land in his dog bed or on the carpet.

Fleas Lay a Lot of Eggs

Without intervention, a few fleas on Fido can quickly become a maddening flea infestation that feels impossible to defeat. That’s because fleas, like bed bugs and other bloodsucking pests, will multiply quickly once they’ve found a good host animal. A single adult flea can lay 50 eggs per day if it’s well fed on Fido’s blood, and in its short lifespan can produce 2,000 eggs.

Adult Fleas Poop Blood

Fleas feed exclusively on blood, using their piercing, sucking mouthparts to siphon it from their hosts. An adult flea may take as many as 15 blood meals in a single day. And like any animal, a flea produces waste at the end of the digestion process. Flea feces are essentially dried blood residue. When they hatch, flea larvae feed on this dried blood waste, which is usually left in the host animal’s bedding.

Fleas Are Skinny

Fleas typically inhabit the fur or feathers of host animals. If they were built like most bugs, they would quickly become entangled. Flea bodies are quite thin and smooth, making it easy for a flea to move freely between pieces of fur or feathers on their hosts. A flea’s proboscis, the straw-shaped beak that enables it to pierce skin and siphon blood from its host, remains tucked under its belly and between its legs when not in use.

Most Flea Infestations in Homes Are Cat Fleas, Even in Homes Without Cats

Remarkably, scientists estimate there are over 2,500 species of fleas on the planet. Within the lower 48 U.S. states, flea species number approximately 325. But when fleas infest a human habitation, they’re almost always cat fleas, Ctenocephalides felis. Don’t blame kitties for this annoyance, though, because despite their common name, cat fleas are just as likely to feed on dogs as they are on cats. Dog fleas (Ctenocephalides canis) can also be a pest problem but are mainly found on dogs that spend all or most of their time outdoors.

Giant Fleas Plagued Dinosaurs as Early as 165 Million Years Ago

Compression fossils from Inner Mongolia and China suggest that fleas pestered the dinosaurs, too. Two species, dubbed Pseudopulex jurassicus and Pseudopulex magnus, lived in the Mesozoic era. The larger of the two dino flea species, Pseudopulex magnus, was an impressive 0.8 inches long, with equally impressive mouthparts capable of piercing dinosaur skin. These ancestors of today’s fleas lacked the ability to jump, however.

Fleas Prefer Humid Environments

Fleas don’t thrive in low humidity, which is why they aren’t as much of a pest problem in arid areas like the Southwest. Dry air prolongs the flea life cycle, and when the relative humidity falls below 60 or 70%, flea larvae may not survive. Conversely, the flea life cycle accelerates when the humidity is high, so keep that in mind when trying to control a flea infestation. Anything you can do to dry out the air in your home will help you win the battle against these bloodthirsty pests.

Fleas Are Skilled Jumpers

Fleas don’t fly, and they would never be able to catch your dog in a foot race (despite having six legs to Fido’s four). So how are these tiny insects able to get around? Fleas are amazingly adept at flinging themselves into the air. Cat fleas, our most common flea pest, can propel themselves a full 12 inches forward or upward. That’s a jumping distance equal to roughly 150 times its own height. Some sources compare this to a human landing a long jump of nearly 1,000 feet.

Fleas Aren’t Picky About Whose Blood They’ll Drink

In 1895, the Los Angeles Herald offered some «facts about fleas» to its readers. «The flea,» the Herald writer declared, «shows a preference for women, children, and persons with thin skins.» Thick-skinned men may have been offered a false sense of security by this column because fleas will gladly drink whatever blood is available to them. Fleas are sensitive to the vibrations that travel through the floor as people and pets walk through the house. They can also detect the presence of carbon dioxide we exhale. Should a sound or scent suggest a potential blood host is nearby, the hungry flea will jump in its direction, without considering first whether the host is a man, woman, or child.

Possible Complications of Flea Bites in Dogs

If your dog is scratching, chewing and chasing his tail, you may suspect a flea problem. Fleas can bring much more than a sudden bout of itching and scratching. Flea bites can be accompanied by a host of related issues which may lead to health problems requiring the intervention of your vet.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis

In this case, the allergy isn’t directly triggered by exposure to fleas, it’s caused by exposure to the fleas’ saliva. As the flea pierces the dog’s skin to enjoy a meal, it introduces several potential allergens including amino acids, aromatic compounds, polypeptides and phosphorus. When hypersensitivity to these compounds takes place, the skin becomes inflamed and the dog may develop intense itching and scratching, scabs and hair loss. Your dog doesn’t need to be infested with a load of these pesky critters to be symptomatic.

10 Frequently Asked Questions About Fleas

I have put a list together with the top 10 most frequently asked questions about fleas. It is pretty quick to go through and I recommend that you do that right away because understanding everything about these annoying bloodsucking parasites will make it a lot easier to get rid of them. This will in the end benefit you, your family and your pets health.

Can fleas live on humans?

Many people who have experienced flea bites wonder whether fleas can actually live on humans. The answer to this question is a reassuring no. Fleas typically found in the households consist of cat fleas also called as Ctenocephalides felis. Apart from cats, these fleas also live on dogs, but rarely on humans. That being said, fleas do like to bite humans but they generally like to hide in furry, soft and dark places. Thankfully, human skin is not covered with enough hair for the fleas to live comfortably in.

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Do fleas have wings?

Fleas are insects but they do not have wings like most others in this category. They make up for this drawback by using their powerful hind legs for jumping from host to host.

What do fleas look like?

Like most insects, the body of a flea is also divided into three parts: head, thorax and abdomen. Flea bodies are generally thin and flat and this enables them to move quickly and easily through the animal’s hair. Fleas are also covered with tiny spiky hair that helps attach them to their host’s fur. As explained above, fleas are wingless but they use their strong back legs to jump high from host to host.

What do fleas eat?

The piercing mouth parts of the fleas enable them to draw blood from their hosts. Fleas generally prefer warm blooded animals to feed on. They are equipped with anti-blood clotting saliva that enables them to easily draw blood from their hosts.

Where do fleas come from?

Fleas are capable of hitchhiking on to your pet’s body from other indoor and outdoor animals, people’s clothing, or from the bodies of rodents like rats and mice. They are generally incapable of traveling long distances without a host.

What kind of environment do fleas prefer?

Fleas like to live in warm climate and generally cannot withstand extreme hot or extreme cold conditions. Hence, our homes are ideal for them since we always tend to air condition, humidify or heat our homes to make them comfortable for us. Unfortunately, these things also make it comfortable for fleas to thrive in.

What do flea bites look like?

In humans, a flea bite is generally characterized by a red spot surrounded by a red halo. The bites itch a lot and cause a great deal of discomfort. Flea bites on pets appear as raised red dots or large areas of redness. Scratching constantly in the bitten areas may lead to flea allergy dermatitis as well as loss of hair in patches and roughened coats. Check out the flea bite pictures section to see what the bites look like.

How do you identify flea eggs?

Flea eggs are normally colorless but may have black spots on them. Certain types of flea eggs are yellow or pearly white in color. Flea eggs are very tiny and are best viewed under a magnifying glass.

How long do fleas live?

Fleas can live without a host for a few days (to up to 2 weeks). They live longer on long haired animals and shorter (up to a week) on smaller haired animals. The larvae of fleas need the excrement of adult fleas to survive. In its absence, they try to find other organic materials like dead skin cells, food particles and feathers etc to feed on.

Can fleas cause diseases?

Fleas are not only extremely annoying; they are also a source of diseases in animals. Extreme flea infestations can cause nervous conditions in your pets. Flea dermatitis is an allergic reaction that may cause the pet to lose hair or have a roughened coat. Fleas that have come from rodents can also cause diseases like the plague and murine typhus in humans.

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Itching and scratching is not a good look. Cats just about manage to get away with it.

But humans? We look pathetic as soon as we’re afflicted with one measly mosquito bite.

It’s just lucky humans can’t get fleas, or… hold on… can humans get fleas?

Well, sadly humans CAN get blood-sucking fleas, even in 2018, when we have modern medicine, insect repellents and cleaning products.

Fleas are the reason why so many humans died in plagues in centuries gone by.

Rats get a bad rap. It’s their fleas that carry those plagues, the ones that used to wipe people out, and fleas still cause people to contract devastating diseases today, in rare cases.

In 2012 a Texan man’s life turned into a horror film when he caught the black plague by helping a choking stray cat, and being bitten by a mouse’s flea in the process.

The human flea, which are generally between 1.5mm and 3mm in length, is particularly well-developed to live undetected (at least for a bit) under the skin of a human, and to reproduce quickly.

These fleas are wingless and flattened from side to side, which makes them difficult to dislodge in hair as well.

Most normal fleas are unable to live for long periods on most humans because of their lack of hair, but this specific type (there are over 2,000 flea species) has developed to happily live on us.

The best process of getting rid of human fleas is as follows:

  • Thoroughly wash all your clothes first to ensure any other fleas are disposed of
  • Have a shower and clear the fleas off your body, which should be relatively easy
  • For your hair, or beard, use Flea Shampoo (the kind designed for dogs, there isn’t one for humans), or Lice Shampoo
  • If you don’t have access to those then Dish Soap, like Fairy Liquid, will kill your fleas so apply it to the hair and leave it on for 10 minutes before combing thoroughly with a flea comb, then washing out
  • A last resort is using salt and baking soda mixed together with some water, then applying it to the area and leaving it for 10 minutes before combing thoroughly with a flea comb, then washing out
  • Make sure you clean the combs you’ve used and continue combing your hair like this for a week after you think they’ve gone
  • Spray yourself with anti-flea spray, or make your own bottle of 90 per cent boiled water mixed with 10 per cent essential oils as a spray
  • Treat your pet (be it a mouse, rat, cat, dog, bird, or otherwise) to ensure any fleas they have can’t spread back to you
  • Thoroughly clean your carpets, sofa covers and bed to ensure any cosy fleas are gone, gone, gone

To keep the fleas at way afterwards, you can add tea tree oil to your normal shampoo, as it’s anti-microbial and anti-parasitic.

Don’t then rush to touch any nearby animals that might have fleas, or people that you may have got the fleas from.

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