Can You Tell the Difference Between Male and Female Fleas?

Very few are aware of the difference between male and female fleas. This knowledge can help prevent and treat flea infestations and prevent diseases they transmit. So we will discuss how to tell their differences.

The most obvious difference between male and female fleas is their size. Fleas usually measure approximately 1 to 3 mm long, and females are larger than males. Female fleas can reach a size bigger than 2 mm, while on the average, male fleas only reach a length of less than 1 mm.

Both male and female fleas appear to our naked eye as small, black specks of insects that have flat and thin bodies, which helps them move among the fur of your pets.

There are also microscopic details that differentiate males from females, but the vast majority of people have neither the capability nor time to observe them under a microscope.

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Is There A Difference In Fleas?

two fleas
Image Credit: Pest and Diseases Image Library , Bugwood.org

Approximately 2,000 to 2,500 flea species exist worldwide. The most common are dog and cat fleas, Oriental rat fleas, and human fleas. Their differences can only be determined microscopically. Oriental rat fleas have no microscopic comb-shaped genal or pronotal combs, unlike dog and cat fleas.

Similar characteristics of many species of fleas include a flat body and leg spines and hairs oriented backwards for attaching to their hosts.

Fleas are wingless, and they get around mainly through their ability to jump great heights. They can do this because they have very powerful legs. A flea is estimated to jump as high as one foot or more; this height is over 150 to 200 times higher than their height. They can also walk on the fur of their host.

Female adult fleas spend the majority of their lifetime on their host animal, where they feed and lay eggs that can number hundreds per day.

Fleas can also transmit pathogenic microorganisms which cause serious diseases. Their capacity to travel around, especially the distances that their host animal covers, allows them to spread these diseases in more places. 

We will describe the different characteristics of the most common flea species that have the most significance to humans and pets.

In the North American region, the most common species of flea that infests dogs and cats is Ctenocephalides felis, or the cat flea. This flea can also feed on humans. It also occurs in wildlife species such as foxes, skunks, opossums, and racoons.  

Dog fleas, with the scientific name Ctenocephalides canis,  also parasitizes cats, dogs, as well as humans and wildlife. This species of flea appears to be more commonly found in Europe, although it also occurs in North America. 

Both dog fleas and cat fleas are carriers of a parasitic tapeworm that infects dogs and cats. In addition, even if each of them is a distinct species, they do infest and feed on the host of the other.

The Oriental rat flea, Xenospylla cheopis, has the common name Norway rat flea or tropical rat flea. Its primary host is rats, particularly Norway rats.

This species of flea is the primary transmitter of the causative agent of murine typhus and bubonic plague. They carry these infectious organisms and transmit them to humans by biting humans after they have bitten infected rodents.

This species of flea can also carry and transmit tapeworms. Any diseases which they carry are transferred to succeeding generations of fleas through the flea eggs.

As with other fleas, their differences from other flea species can only be observed through a microscope. Their main difference from dog and cat fleas is the absence of genal or pronotal combs. This is a comb-shaped structure located below and behind their heads, respectively.

Usually, Oriental rat fleas are not found in pets or homes. However, they can still infest your home if they are carried by rats, rabbits, and mice to your yard. In addition, if you have pocket pets, such as rabbits, rats, and mice, they can also cause an infestation.

The distinguishing characteristic possessed by the female Oriental rat flea is its dark-colored reproductive organs called the spermatheca. These appear as small sacs on the abdomen.

How Bad are Fleas for Pets and Humans?

Fleas primarily live on and feed upon animals. However, they also can and do bite humans. The bites of fleas are itchy and irritating. They can cause allergic reactions and serious health problems which may necessitate medical treatment. They transmit many life-threatening infectious diseases.

Bites from fleas may look like tiny red dots bounded by a red-colored halo. Usually, there is no swelling, but if it causes an allergic reaction, it could become itchy. Scratching the bite site will worsen the affected area.

Fleas do not stay or live on human skin. Cat and dog fleas can live on their namesake hosts, as well as in birds and other wild mammals, such as livestock and rodents.

Fleas like to stay on animals due to their protective fur and feathers. They are capable of burrowing into them to feed and hide. They also lay eggs there.

Fleas are not fond of living on human skin due to the lack of fur. They find it hard to reproduce if there are no feathers or fur to protect them.

A study has discovered that fleas would need to feed on our furless skin for 12 uninterrupted hours in order to be able to lay eggs that are viable. A flea would never be able to suck blood for that duration without being discovered and disposed of by its human host.

When they attach to humans, fleas can usually be found in the areas of the legs, ankles, and feet.

They jump unto our lower extremities when we come near an infested animal, an infested pet’s beddings, or at nooks, cracks, and crevices where they hide. They can also jump onto us from tall grasses and wherever we come in close proximity to them.

People and animals likely get fleas in places where infested animals sleep and reside. They then carry the fleas home with them, which is how many fleas spread.

When biting people, fleas are known to bite three consecutive times, which has been called “breakfast, lunch, & dinner.”

A flea’s bite initially does not result in a skin lesion. However, repeated and prolonged exposure to flea bites cause a hypersensitive reaction to develop.

A lesion from a flea’s bite lasts for a number of days. This can worsen in persons with higher sensitivity and when an infection arises from the bite lesion. Fleas are therefore not just a nuisance, because they can be the source of serious health conditions that can be fatal for animals and people.

The diseases that are borne by fleas include the plague and typhus, and the allergic reactions that their bite can cause include irritation, redness, extreme itch, and hives. Fleas can also carry parasitic tapeworms.

How to Treat and Eliminate Fleas

To eradicate an infestation of fleas, your approach should be aggressive, and you should treat your home, your pets, and even yourself with various over-the-counter medications that alleviate itching and irritation as well as medications that kill fleas.

Treating flea bites on your skin requires over-the-counter medications such as anti-itch ointments, creams, and lotions.

You can treat your pet’s fur by applying anti-flea powders, shampoo, and medications. Anti-flea collars as well as oral and topical drugs that kill fleas are quite effective against them.

Treat your home as well by washing your beddings as well as your pets’ sleeping areas with hot water. The water will kill flea larvae and eggs that are present.

Fleas in the carpets and furniture can be eliminated by vacuuming them and sealing and disposing the vacuum bags which contain the fleas outside.

Flea powders and sprays can also be applied in your home. You may also use flea bombs. Make sure to follow the instructions on their label carefully. These treatments usually require that you remove all food, pets, and people from the treated areas.

You can also hire pest control professionals.

How to Prevent a Flea Infestation

Since treating fleas can be time-consuming and usually takes a lot of effort, you should invest in preventing fleas from accessing your home and your pets after successful treatment or while you still do not have a flea problem.

You can perform regular vacuuming to remove all remaining flea stages along with the dirt and debris which they use for hiding. Mow your lawn on a regular basis as well, because fleas love staying on tall, unkempt grasses from where they jump onto your pets.

Keep your pet on preventive flea medication all year in order to nip the problem in the bud. You should also monitor for fleas regularly, keeping your home and your pets clean and treated at all times.

Related questions

Will fleas drown if you bathe your dog?

Fleas do drown, but soaking your pet into a tub of water is not an effective means of getting rid of fleas. This is due to the fact that your pet has to be in the tub for at least 24 hours before all the fleas on it drown. There are also remaining fleas around the house that can re-infest your pet.

Why are fleas attracted to certain people and not others?

Researchers think that fleas may be attracted to particular chemical makeups, carbon dioxide gas emissions, or skin secretions, which differ between people. Some individuals are also more allergic to flea saliva than others so that they are more aware of flea bites than others who are not allergic.

Fleas may also send signals of the presence of a meal to other fleas so that the human host becomes swarmed with more fleas. And finally, a theory says that fleas may not have any preference; it’s just that some people are nearer to them or their skin is more exposed.

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