Flea Circus: how far can they jump, how fast can they multiply, what diseases they carry and other curious facts
Do you like fleas?
If you are like most people, the answer is a resounding NO and I completely understand. But there are moments when I love to admire the ingenuity of nature’s design and fleas are no exception!
Here are the 10 wild and crazy facts about fleas.
1. How far would you jump if you were a flea?
Fleas can jump up to 20 cm (8 inches) vertically and 41 cm (just under 16 inches) horizontally. Considering that an average flea is only about 2mm long, this jump is equivalent to jumping 170 meters, or 510 feet high, for an average person! The length of the jump would be double that, at 340 meters or over 1000 feet. Talk about nature’s perfect design!
2. How many eggs can one flea lay?
A single female flea can produce up to 2,000 eggs in her lifetime. This makes fleas much better at laying eggs than any chicken! The eggs hatch the best in temperatures around 25C (70 - 80F) in relative humidity of about 50 to 75 percent. It takes about three to 10 days for an egg to hatch into a larvae that wrap themselves into a protective cocoon-forming pupa. They can stay dormant for extended periods of time waiting for the right host.
3. Fleas are infamous for serving as carriers of many diseases
The most common disease carried by fleas is tapeworm. If your dog has had fleas, make sure that you check his or her feces for tapeworm. Fleas are also responsible for the transition of bubonic plague and typhoid fever.
4. Fleas are the source of allergies
Flea saliva is one of the reasons why humans and animals get so itchy. The longer the infestation, the worse the problem may get. The body builds up antibodies against the flea saliva and the flea allergy reaction usually gets more severe with time.
5. Fleas can grow into the millions within a year!
Considering that a flea can lay 2,000 eggs in a lifetime and the flea cycle takes about one month to complete, two fleas - Fleah and Fleo - have the potential to make your house a flea city with a population greater than Mexico City in a year’s time!
6. Where did the Latin name for fleas come from?
The most common species of fleas are Ctenocephalides Canis and Ctenocephalides Felis. The origin of the name comes from the Greek word “Cteno-“ which means a comb and the word ”cephalic” stands for the head. That means that the Latin name for fleas stands for “comb-like head.” The funny part is that indeed a flea’s head looks like a comb! The cat flea - Ctenocephalides Felis is responsible for most infestations in North America.
7. The eggs are smooth, the pupa is sticky
The reproduction of fleas is ingenious! The eggs need to fall in places like your carpet or couch and that is why they are smooth. However, once they fall and hatch into larvae they create a cocoon and turn into a silky pupa that becomes sticky. There are two reasons for that. The stickiness can resist a vacuum cleaner and it also attracts all sorts of debris that creates a form of camouflage.
8. Do fleas have natural predators?
Yes, they do! Snakes, ants, beetles, spiders, frogs and lizards eat fleas and worms eat flea eggs. However, I gather not many people would be willing to house these creepy crawlies in exchange for a flea-free house!
9. Fleas are better than any ultra-marathon athlete
Fleas can pull 160,000 times their weight, which is the same as you pulling 2,679 double-decker buses. Isn’t it wild? A flea can also jump about 30,000 times without stopping, which would make any human athlete look like a lazy slug!
10. Fleas were once a curio item
Flea groom and brides were collector items in the early 1900s and continue to be one of the curious expressions of human creativity.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM