Fleas on hair

Flea control in Maidenhead 

Why is it that as soon as people start talking about fleas; you get this weird feeling that somethings crawling over your skin and you just can’t stop yourself from scratching? 
 
Of all the pests I deal with, fleas ARE without any doubt, my absolute nightmare, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing worse than bed bugs but you’d be wrong. Because I deal with a lot of animal pests on my daily rounds; rats, mice, squirrels, and even moles, and all these animals have one thing in common; they’re infested with fleas, and the fact that moles have them surprised me at first. 
 
A flea on skin
 
I remember the day when I pulled a mole out of a trap from someone’s back garden and found in was covered in fleas, and I’m not just talking about any old fleas, these ones were huge! I found out that moles are the host to the UK’s biggest flea; the mole flea and these grow up to 6mm in length. 
 
Of all these pests that I deal with, it’s the grey squirrel, that carries the highest number of fleas, if you’re out and about and you find yourself watching squirrels, you’ll notice that they’re always scratching and that’s because they’re infested with fleas. I’m on the slightly hairy side, thankfully it’s just my arms and legs, but as I have to trap squirrels inside lofts, many times as you climb about inside the loft, you’ll feel fleas moving through your arm and leg hairs, and it’s not a very pleasant sensation I can tell you! 
 
Recently, I dealt with a very large internal rat infestation in a house in Earley, this property had a major structural fault which allowed rats to get into the cavity wall and the kitchen. This meant that in the early stages of the treatment, I was catching one or two rats on a daily basis and the one thing I noticed, was that they were all covered in fleas. Which was worrying as rat fleas still carry bubonic plague. So, I thought it was time to write a blog on my most hated of pests, the flea. 
 
rat with fleas
 

What's so horrible about fleas? 

Its got to be the itchiness of flea bites, it’s a given that if you’re outside in the summer you’ll get bitten by mosquitos’ and their bites itch but, they’re nothing compared to flea bites. 
 
Why do flea bites itch so much? 
 
Fleas feast on liquid blood and to do that as efficiently as possible, the fleas’ mouthparts are designed in two parts where a central needle like part punctures a capillary and having got through the skin, the second part of its mouth releases saliva into the wound which is an anticoagulant. This prevents your blood from clotting and allows the flea to gulp down its dinner quicker, and you thought teenagers were messy eaters! 
 
It’s the injection of flea spit which creates the itchiness and the red inflammation around the bite, because of this foreign substance that’s been injected into your body, what follows is a release of histamine into the area. 
 
How can I stop being bitten by fleas? 
 
If your suffering from the occasional or even regular flea bites, take a close look at the family pet, as they’re probably responsible for bringing them inside the house and so, any pest control treatment should begin with a thorough treatment of the pet. 
 
Even if you regularly treat your pet for fleas, you can still find yourself getting bitten and the reason for this is chemical resistance within the flea to the active ingredient found in the treatment. 
We have been fighting fleas with chemicals for years and just like many other insect pests, these insects are gradually evolving resistance to our chemical weapons. 
 
 
Another reason for continuing to see fleas following a treatment or, the fact that you’re still getting bites when the pets had its latest flea riddance, is down to the lifecycle of the flea. 
 

The lifecycle of the flea 

Fleas can be a problematic pest, to really get to the bottom of any flea infestation, you have to understand the insects’ lifecycle and fleas have four life stages: adult, egg, larvae and pupa. 
 
So, what happens when your pet brings home fleas? 
 
Let’s begin with just a single adult female flea, and she’s been carried home in the fur of Max or Felix or whatever your pet is called. For the sake of this story, our flea is pregnant she’s started laying eggs on your animal’s fur; fleas lay around 40 eggs a day and they don’t stick to the hair like human head lice do, they’re actually designed to fall off the animal host. This is a survival mechanism of fleas because adults live for around 3 months and over this period hundreds of eggs are produced which become scattered anywhere your pet spends time; sofas, beds, carpets, just about anywhere. 
 
The flea eggs hatch within two or three days, and this is now the second part of the lifecycle; the larval stage. The flea larvae don’t feed on blood like the adults do, instead they eat pre-digested blood or to put it simply, flea poo. They’ll also eat other organic matter where they live like dander and bits of shed skin. 
 
After a week or two of a diet based on dried skin, hair and flea poo the larvae are ready to pupate; stage three, and they spin themselves a highly protective silk cocoon. These cocoons are so protective and waterproof that they are resistant to the chemicals that we as pest controllers spray on your carpets when we carry out a treatment. No matter what chemical we use, the flea larvae are safe and sound in their little silk sleeping bags. 
 
By far the biggest problem with this stage of the lifecycle, is that the larvae will stay in the pupation stage until the right conditions present themselves. Humidity is a major factor and its not uncommon to get called out to a previously empty house, where newly moved in tenants or owners suddenly find themselves being consumed by hordes of hungry fleas. 
 
So, just to recap on the flea lifecycle: flea eggs will hatch out after a few days, the larvae eat adult flea feaces and other organic matter found deep in carpets and sofas, and the flea pupation stage is between days or months and all through this period, they will not be effected by pest control treatments. 
 
A flea on a hair
 

How do you break the flea lifecycle? 

Like with all pests, know your enemy. Fleas have incredibly poor eyesight, and to counter this they rely on vibration, movement and even your animal’s breath, they can also pick up minor differences in air temperature. They’ll know you or your pet is walking by from the vibration through the carpet, the rising air temperature from your body and detect CO2. 
 
So, to effectively deal with a flea infestation, pull out the sofa’s and chairs, pull out the bed, that big old cupboard in the dining room and vacuum the floor like it’s the gold medal stage at the Olympics. 
 
Vacuuming will suck up many adults and possibly some of the larvae, it won’t kill them so empty the bag or machine immediately and do this outside of the house. Because the larval and pupation stages are susceptible to humidity, you can try a dehumidifier in seriously infested rooms. Experiments have shown that fleas are very susceptible to dry (and cold) living conditions. 
 
Next, make sure that all of your pets are treated with a proprietary flea treatment, you can try additional flea bath treatments and flea combs if your pet will accept it. Make sure that you wash any pet bedding where the larvae will definitely be and this has to be a hot wash, if washing isn’t an option, you could try freezing the bedding if you have access to a big enough freezer. 
 
Cat scratching itself
 
Finally, call out a pest control company to carryout a residual flea spray, the chemicals we use are designed to be active for many weeks, because you’ve vacuumed the place thoroughly, to preserve the dried on film of insecticide we don’t want you hoovering for several weeks. 
 
The main thing with a flea infestation, is don’t expect a magic bullet that kills off all the fleas instantly, it really doesn’t work like that but together in combination you will get rid of fleas and get some peace. 
Tagged as: fleas, Insects
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