You're sitting at home watching TV on the couch, relaxing with your dog.
During a commercial break, you notice that he's scratching more than normal, and rubbing his body against walls for seemingly no reason.
What's the deal?
While this may not seem like cause for alarm, the answer is somewhat disturbing:
Your dog may be infested with fleas...
Want to skip all this research and just hire a decent exterminator for your flea problem?
You haven't noticed anything flying around the house, so how did he contract fleas in the first place?
Flying pests are easy to identify when they zoom through the air around you. You think to yourself...
So, Can Fleas Fly?
Do fleas fly like gnats...?
...or maybe they jump like frogs?
Here's the thing: fleas don't actually fly.
Contrary to popular belief, fleas move by jumping. Their super-strong back legs push them up to 150 times their own height, or around 8 inches from one place to another.
There's a lot of misinformation going around with fleas and flying abilities. Gnats and fruit flies are often grouped into the same category as fleas, but they are different insects entirely.
After hatching from a cocoon, the flea begins its literal leap into the new world and acquires a host by jumping on. This is usually the only time a flea will make such a jump, as fleas tend to stay on a host until the end of their own life cycles.
Occasionally, a flea may jump from one side of the host to the other, but that's a huge gamble. One wrong move, and they could fall off the host they call home and into their own death without a food source!
Do Baby Fleas Crawl or Jump? Or...?
Here's something that's not very well-known:
There is actually no such thing as a baby flea.
As part of the flea life cycle, the flea larvae hatch from their eggs but at this time, they aren't fully-formed. These blind blobs are more like micro-slugs who need more time to develop. As a result, they construct cocoons around themselves and keep going with their development.
There is actually no such thing as a baby flea. Fleas are born as "blobs" that become cocoons, grow inside them, and then reach adulthood inside the cocoon!
Fleas actually reach adulthood within these cocoons.
This is called the "quiescent period" of a flea's life cycle:
A time when the metabolism is slowed to a point where they don't need to feed, and can focus solely on development. Fleas can actually remain motionless inside of a cocoon, waiting to hatch, for up to five months!
Once a group of fleas is "born" by emerging from the cocoon, they immediately begin their adult journey of jumping to available hosts and feeding for the first time.
So Flea's Can't Fly, But Can Fleas Swim?
In short, no, fleas also don't have the ability to swim.
The interesting thing, though, is that fleas won't sink, either. Fleas neither swim nor drown if they're trapped in a body of water.
It's not clear where animals first pick up the flea eggs, and there's really know way of knowing. Sometimes just brushing up against a plant is all it takes!
Even thought it may seem like fleas defy gravity and physics with their floating abilities, the truth is that the surface tension of water isn't broken by a flea. Being so lightweight, the flea simply sits on the water like a single thread, unaffected.
It's also worth noting that a flea's body is covered in a natural wax which repels water. Because of this wax coating, the flea will simply thrash around on the surface of the water until it dies of starvation.
Check out the video below and see what it looks like when fleas swim!
How Do Fleas Jump So Well?
So the whole theory that, "fleas can fly" stems from the fact that they kinda look like they can fly because they can jump pretty high.
...well the key to unlocking the secret of a flea's jumping abilities is to first understand the flea's body type and its traits.
Do Fleas Even Have Wings?
It's not very widely known, but these small bugs actually do not have wings (again another reason why they can't fly).
If seen under a microscope, the body of a flea actually doesn't look much like a bug at all! These species are almost like an incredibly tiny mix between an insect and a lobster, if you can believe it.
Can't believe it? Take a look below!
Fleas have a crustacean-like underbelly with six incredibly strong legs. Four legs are stationed on the sides of their bodies for short-distance crawling, and two legs are in the back which give the fleas their stellar jumping abilities.
How High Can a Flea Jump?
Fleas can jump to a maximum height of around 7 or 8 inches, and at a distance of nearly 13 inches.
While this may not seem like a huge achievement, keep in mind that the body of a flea is usually less than 3 millimeters in length. That's 150 times their body size! If a human being had the same jumping abilities, you'd be looking at a jump of over 900 feet!
What Kind of Mechanisms Propel Fleas?
Fleas have super-strong hind legs which actually catapult them toward a target. Almost immediately after emerging from their cocoons, fleas will use their spring-like back legs to push them onto their new host--at speeds of up to 4mph!
How can this be possible?
What kind of pure muscle is required to jump so fast and so far? Well, the hind legs of fleas don't rely on muscle at all; with a spring-like protein called resilin, the fleas can launch themselves to great heights, and toward incredible distances.
Why Do Fleas Jump On Dogs and Cats!?
When you run your hands through your beloved pet's fur, the last thing you want to find is a flea colony burrowing on its skin.
Combine this unsavory parasite with the itch and irritation of prolonged hosting, and you want to do everything in your power to keep these pests from your pet. Read on to find out more about why dogs and cats are prime hosting targets for fleas.
How Fleas Affect Dogs
A certain type of flea which commonly affects only dogs ("dog fleas" ) can bite the entire body of a dog which it has taken as a host. A flea actually won't emerge from its cocoon until it senses a change in thermal energy in the air around it. This change in energy signifies that a new host is nearby, at which point the fleas leave the cocoon as adults for the first time and takes its first jump.
The flea will then hop into the fur of a dog and settle in for life. The parasite will feed on the dog's blood and burrow in its fur. A dog will have bites from the places where a flea has drawn blood, and these bites will itch. You may see a flea-infested dog rub against rough surfaces or scratch its skin profusely; this is a direct result from the itch of the flea bites.
How Fleas Affect Cats
There's a species of flea that's much more common on the skin of a cat. These cat fleas have a longer life cycle, therefore they feed on your cat for a longer period of time, causing discomfort and irritation. If infested with fleas, your cat can be seen scratching obsessively and rubbing its body against corners or abrasive surfaces.
You may notice small dark speckles like dirt in the cat's fur or around the eyes. These are the actual fleas, and they will soon crawl back into the burrows of your cat's fur. In some cases, these flea bites can bring about irritated skin on your cat, or even a loss of hair in some spots.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is... fleas can't fly.
What they CAN DO, is jump, and boy do they love to jump.
Though they may seem like such small nuisances, fleas can cause extreme irritation to your pet, leading to a decreased quality of life.
By understanding the ways that fleas transfer themselves from one place to another, you can protect your animals against an infestation.
We've outlined the way fleas move around, as well as described a few misconceptions people have about fleas as a species. Hopefully with this understanding, you'll be a little better at keeping your pet and home flea-free!