BEHAVIOUR AND BIOLOGY
If we had the assignment of picking an insect to resemble a new superhero, we would pick the flea. Since we already have heroes based on spiders, bats, cats and flies, why not the flea? When you consider that fleas have an incredible ability to jump two hundred times their own body length (imagine a human having the ability to jump over an eighty storey building in one leap!); they’re heavily fortified (you can step on them or try and squish them, but they’ll just jump right out of the spot you attempted to kill them in, unscathed); they can live for several months without food (which, incidentally, is blood); are able to effectively hide in any area because of their small size and flattened body, making them almost invisible.
For those that are unsure what fleas look like, they’re tiny (about 1/8” or 2mm), oval shaped, reddish brown insects that are really difficult to see, given their small size. They’re usually hiding in carpets; under baseboards; in closets; under beds, furniture and desks; in clothes that might be stored on the floor or on animals such as cats, dogs, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, rats or mice. Just because you don’t have pets doesn’t mean you can’t have fleas!
The female flea lays between four to eight eggs after each blood meal, leaving behind about four to five hundred eggs in her lifetime. Eggs are usually deposited on or between the hairs of an animal, or in the nest or bedding material. Once an egg hatches, under optimal conditions (i.e. there’s an abundance of hosts nearby), can reach adulthood in about one month.
Many people believe that if they leave their home unattended for a period of time (for example, going on a vacation for a couple of weeks), that this would starve out the population. Unfortunately, fleas, including all stages of their life cycle, have the ability to wait long periods of time for their host(s) to arrive. Once hosts are again present, vibrations and increases in temperature stimulate the hungry flea population, and before you know it, you’re hosting an all you can eat blood buffet!
The risks that fleas come with may ruin our case for portraying them as the next crime fighter, as they have quite a dark side. They can transmit diseases such as plague and endemic typhus fever, as well as have the ability to transmit tapeworm. Hair loss from pets continually scratching, as well as skin irritation and rash are common symptoms from flea bites. In extreme cases, they can cause anemia. Fleas have caused tenants to move out, staff to refuse to work in a specific location and homeowners to scratch themselves crazy. At the very least, fleas are very uncomfortable to live or work with, and need to be controlled for health and sanity reasons.
The key to controlling fleas involves following these three steps:
1. Remove any animals or wildlife from your home, and prevent them from being able to get back in. These animals may include squirrels, skunks, raccoons, mice or rats, all capable of introducing fleas (and a variety of other problems) into your home.
2. If you have any pets, you must arrange for them to be treated for fleas by either a veterinarian, grooming parlour or yourself on the same day as your home will be treated. This will prevent your pet from reintroducing fleas into your “flea-free” home.
3. Treat your home or workplace. This involves either hiring a professional or doing it yourself. Treating involves a three-step process, including preparing, treating and vacuuming.
Pick up all toys, books, dvds and clothes up off the floors, closet floors, from underneath the beds and furniture, and place items up on top of counters, tables, beds but not on upholstered furniture (such as couches or armchairs). Vacuum and/or shampoo all carpets, including closet floors, under beds and behind furniture, pet bedding or resting areas (if you have a cat, this may include window sills and the tops of furniture and/or appliances) and all upholstered furniture (especially underneath the cushions). Once vacuuming is completed, seal the vacuum bag and dispose of it in an exterior garbage can. Pets should be removed from the home at this time, and as mentioned earlier, arrangements need to be made to have the pets treated for flea control.
Treatment should involve the use of an appropriately labelled flea product and an “IGR” (insect growth regulator). If you are treating on your own, be sure to wear all appropriate safety (including respiratory) devices, and treat all appropriate areas with the proper application equipment (such as a hand held compressed air sprayer). After the treatment is complete, be sure to stay out of the premises for the required length of time according to Ministry of Environment and Worksafe BC regulations.
After the required stay out period is reached, upon entry, it is recommended to open some windows to ventilate the area.
Frequent vacuuming after the treatment is recommended, as it will control any fleas that manage to emerge post treatment (the flea residual left on the floors will kill off any larvae or adult fleas, but not immediately, and vacuuming will help speed up this process). Do not shampoo your carpets for at least three weeks, as this will remove any flea residual you have on the floors.
If flea activity is still noticed after three weeks, a reapplication may be necessary.