There are, in fact, more than 2000 species of fleas- the small parasitic insects that feed on the blood of their hosts. This enormous figure might make it sound impossible to identify exactly which type of flea you are dealing with, but some fleas are actually far more common than others.
Fleas can grow up to 3mm and are, therefore, visible to the naked eye. Though fleas may look black at first glance, they are usually a dark reddish-brown. Fleas do not turn red after consuming blood and, if a flea appears to have some lighter stripes across it then it is most likely an adult female carrying eggs. Fleas can lay up to 50 eggs in a day and, though they do not have wings, they can jump up to 200 times their own body length making it easy for them to spread very quickly.
Types of fleas
Common species of flea which you might have heard of include dog fleas (Ctenocephalides canis), cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis), and rat fleas (Zenopsylla cheopis). Whilst all these fleas have very similar attributes, allowing them to jump long distances and clamp down when they bite, they are slightly different which is why they are categorised into different families. On a microscopic level dog, cat, and rat fleas have differently shaped heads and legs, allowing them to be identified as a specific genus. Other common fleas that are less well known include the sticktight flea (Echidnophaga gallinacea), the rabbit flea (Spilopsyllus cuniculi) and the human flea (Pulex irritans).
But there are lots of flea species that you don’t need to worry about. Many types of fleas will only live on one specific host group, such as armadillo fleas, bat fleas, and the fleas that live on elephant shrews.
Common flea species near you
Whilst all flea species have their own point of origination, most of them have spread around the globe in the thousands of years since their evolution. This means that there are many different types of fleas local to you and your area, though some will be far more common than others. By far the most common species of flea in America is cat fleas, whilst in Europe dog fleas are more common, with other types of fleas (human, sticktight, rabbit, and rat) coming in much lower down the ranking.
However, this doesn’t mean that fleas exclusively affect cats in America and dogs in Europe; both cat fleas, dog fleas, and other types of fleas can live on a variety of warm-blooded hosts. Dogs can get cat fleas, humans can get dog fleas, cats can get rat fleas- the names don’t really mean much when it comes to who is getting infected. So, what types of fleas do you need to be on the lookout for?
Types of fleas to look out for
Cat fleas – the most common type of flea across America. The cat flea is happy to feed on cats, dogs, humans and other available hosts. Though cat fleas prefer to live on cats and dogs, they will adapt to feed on humans. So it is important to treat all your animals and yourself if you have a suspected cat flea infestation.
Dog fleas – the most common type of flea across Europe. The dog flea is even more adaptable than the cat flea. Dog fleas can survive on dogs, cats, humans and a range of other warm-blooded animals including wildlife and livestock. If you find that you have livestock infested with fleas as well as your own pets, then dog fleas may be the most likely reason as to why.
Rat fleas – responsible for spreading the infamous Bubonic Plague that caused the Black Death. Rat fleas prefer to live on rats but will use humans, cats and dogs as hosts too. It is their adaptability to new hosts that allows rat fleas to carry infections across species.
Sticktight fleas – also known as ‘tropical hen fleas’ and ‘chicken fleas’, the sticktight flea mainly affects poultry but is also able to use other hosts.
Rabbit fleas – rabbit fleas can affect rabbits, cats and dogs. These fleas specifically feed on their ears. This can cause the animal’s ears to become sore, itchy and red.
Human fleas – these fleas primarily target humans as their hosts but will live on other animals if needs be.
With all this information, how can you possibly hope to identify the type of fleas you are dealing with? Well, it’s not actually all that crucial to know the exact genus of flea in order to deal with the problem.
If you’re concerned that you, your pet or your environment might be harbouring fleas, then seek a flea treatment and maintain prevention methods. These ought to be enough to combat whatever type of flea it is. If you’re worried about fleas in your livestock or in wild animals that may be passing them onto your pets, then the above information might help you make an educated guess as to the type of fleas you’re trying to get rid of.
Getting rid of fleas is the most important thing
The most important thing when it comes to fleas is dealing with them. Whatever the type of flea, they can have a harmful impact on you, your pets and your environment. All types of fleas can carry diseases that can spread between different species as bacteria is transferred via flea saliva. Your cats and/or dogs can get tapeworms, anaemia and suffer allergic reactions from fleabites. And pet owners know all too well the itchiness and sores that fleas can cause to human skin.
All this means that careful and regular observation of flea prevention treatments is crucial. Keep you, your pets and other animals as safe and happy as possible. Stop any type of flea from getting under your skin.
It can be hard to tell at first glance – fleas differ in anatomy on a microscopic level but their habits, chosen hosts and commonality in your area might be helpful clues
There are more than 2000 species of fleas
The types of fleas you will most likely encounter include cat fleas, dog fleas, rat fleas and human fleas
Dogs can get many different types of fleas, but the most common to affect dogs are dogs fleas and cat fleas