Public Health Vectors and Pests

Oriental Rat Flea

Common Name Oriental Rat Flea

Scientific Name Xenopsylla cheopis
Size 1/16 - 1/8 inch long
Colour Dark reddish-brown
Description Wingless, hard-bodied (difficult to crush between fingers), have three pairs of legs. Allowing easy movement between the hair, fur or feathers of the host are excellent jumpers, leaping vertically up to seven inches and horizontally thirteen inches. They have piercing-sucking mouthparts and spines on the body projecting backward. Also, there is a row of spines on the face known as a genal comb. Spine I (first outer spine) is shorter than Spine II (next inner spine) in dog fleas. Both spines are about the same length in the cat flea. Larvae are 1/4-inch long, slender, straw-colour, brown headed, wormlike, bristly-haired creatures (13 body segments), that are legless, have chewing mouthparts, are active, and avoid light. Pupae are enclosed in silken cocoons covered with particles of debris.
Habitat They are commonly found in clothing, bedding or near areas where host animals sleep or in the fur of the host animal. Fleas spread through homes, buildings and yards.
  • Normally after a blood meal, the female flea lays about 15 to 20 eggs per day up to 600 in a lifetime usually on the host (dogs, cats, rats, rabbits, mice, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, opossums, foxes, chickens, humans, etc.). Eggs loosely laid in the hair coat, drop out most anywhere especially where the host rests, sleeps or nests (rugs, carpets, upholstered furniture, cat or dog boxes, kennels, sand boxes, etc.). Eggs hatch in two days to two weeks into larvae found indoors in floor cracks & crevices, along baseboards, under rug edges and in furniture or beds. Outdoor development occurs in sandy gravel soils (moist sand boxes, dirt crawlspace under the house, under shrubs, etc.) where the pet may rest.
  • Larvae are blind, avoid light, pass through three larval instars and take a week to several months to develop. Their food consists of digested blood from adult flea faeces, dead skin, hair, feathers, and other organic debris. Sleep. Pupa mature to adulthood within a silken cocoon woven by the larva to which pet hair, carpet fiber, dust, grass cuttings and other debris adheres. In about five to fourteen days, adult fleas emerge or may remain resting in the cocoon until the detection of vibration (pet and people movement), pressure (host animal lying down on them), heat, noise, or carbon dioxide (meaning a potential blood source is near).
  • Adult fleas cannot survive or lay eggs without a blood meal, but may live from two months to one year without feeding. There is often a desperate need for flea control after a family has returned from a long vacation
Disease Transmitted Plague
  • Bubonic plague: enlarged, tender lymph nodes, fever, chills and prostration
  • Septicaemia plague: fever, chills, prostration, abdominal pain, shock and bleeding into skin and other organs
  • Pneumonic plague: fever, chills, cough and difficulty breathing; rapid shock and death if not treated early
Type of Damage Flea bites cause a persistent, annoying itch. Scratching the area of the bite causes the skin to be irritated. Some fleas, especially the oriental rat fleas, are capable of transmitting diseases such as endemic typhus and bubonic plague. Fortunately, such instances of disease transmission to humans are rare in the southeastern United States.
Sources / Breeding Eggs loosely lie in the hair coat; drop out most anywhere especially where the host rests, sleeps or nests (rugs, carpets, upholstered furniture, cat or dog boxes, kennels, sand boxes, etc.).

Trim lawns and weeds to create a drier, less-ideal environment for flea larvae. Avoid piles of sand and gravel around the home for long periods of time. Fence yards to prevent dogs from roaming freely in heavily infested areas or contacting other infested animals. Discourage nesting or roosting of rodents and birds on or near the premises. Screen or seal vents, chimneys, crevices, etc. where rats, mice, squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks, etc. may use to enter crawlspaces and buildings. Wash or destroy pet bedding, regularly groom pets and vacuum frequently to remove up to 95 percent of the flea eggs, some larvae and adults. Only about 20 percent of the larvae might be removed when vacuuming since they wrap themselves around the bottom strands of carpeting.

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