How long can fleas live without a host animal, you ask...
Well, this is a loaded question, and to give an accurate answer hinges upon knowing all the information about a flea's life cycle and behavioral habits.
In this article, we'll walk you through the lifespan of a flea and its developmental milestones, as well as the way a flea lives in order to prolong its mortality.
The answers to common questions will be revealed, and we'll give you a clearer picture of what to do if you notice fleas in the coat of a pet!
Want to skip all this research and just hire a decent exterminator for your flea problem?
Understanding the Flea Life Cycle
If you've ever wondered how long can flea eggs last, how long can flea larvae live, or what a flea cocoon is, this section is for you.
We'll detail the complete life cycle of fleas in houses, to give you an idea of what to expect once you find flea eggs, flea cocoons, or full-grown fleas on your pet.
What Came First, the Larva or the Egg?
The life of a flea begins when an adult female flea feeds for the very first time on a new host. Once this mother flea finds a host and takes her first meal of the host's blood, she instinctively lays a cluster of eggs. It's only after this first feeding that eggs can be laid, because the blood provides the flea with enough energy to reproduce.
These eggs are in clusters of up to 20 eggs. A female flea can lay multiple egg clusters in a 24 hour timeframe, and can generally lay a maximum total of 50 eggs per day. The laying of the eggs is largely focused on how much blood the mother flea can draw from a host's skin, as blood translates directly to energy for the fleas.
The eggs are laid in the animal's fur, but they don't stay there. These eggs are small, pearl-like figures that fall out of the animal's coat as it walks around. Where they fall, they normally stay until it's time for hatching. When the eggs fall out of the fur of animals, fleas are transferred from one host to another.
What Happens in the Larva Stage?
If the mother flea chose a domesticated host like a pet dog or a cat, the eggs normally fall into the fibers of carpet or into small crevices in the home. These are the places that flea eggs thrive, since they are so well hidden and dark.
When the flea eggs hatch, legless embryos called larvae appear. These larvae are blind, and hide themselves from light sources. Normally, they burrow deeper into the carpet fibers where they emerged from the eggs. In the wild, they will burrow into dirt or the roots of plants to stay out of the light, which irritates their undeveloped sense of vision.
The larvae subsist on pre-digested blood packs from their mother flea while they develop. This helps them to grow during this adolescent stage without the need to attach to a host for nutrients.
What's the Difference Between an Egg and a Cocoon?
As they develop and move toward adulthood, the larvae spin tight webs around themselves, encapsulating themselves inside. These are called cocoons or flea pupae, and they can live in these encapsulations for up to five months without food or light.
During this time, the larvae mature fully into adult fleas with a lowered metabolism which doesn't require feeding. This period of time is the longest a flea could ever extend its life cycle, as it has reached adulthood but not yet emerged into the world as an adult (which would require feeding).
When a potential host passes by the cocoon, an adult flea will sense it due to changes in thermal energy around them. They will then emerge from the cocoon and hop on to their new host, then feed immediately.
Curious what flea eggs actually look like? Check out the video below.
How Long Does an Adult Flea Live?
In favorable conditions, adult fleas live from 1-2 weeks.
What do "favorable conditions" entail?
Well, for starters, the flea needs to live on a host. This is the absolute most important task in any mature flea's life: find a host on which to feed continuously. Also, fleas thrive in hot, humid climates and generally tend to freeze to death in cold weather. An ideal life cycle for a flea would entail easy access to a host in a muggy, mostly warm environment.
However, conditions are not always favorable. The answer of how long a flea can live as an adult is best answered by understanding more about fleas as a species, which this article will detail further.
How Do Fleas Get From A to B?
Where do fleas come from if you don't have pets? Do fleas live in grass or dirt? Can humans carry fleas from one home to another?
There's a ton of misinformation out there regarding fleas and how they move around, and we're here to set the record straight. We'll give you the full 411 on how fleas get from one place to another, and the likelihood of transference from one animal to another.
Fleas Don't Fly, Right?
No, fleas can't fly. This species is known for its distinct jumping capabilities. The height a flea can jump relative to its body size is equal to that of a human being jumping 300 meters, or 984 feet.
This is their primary mode of transport. Fleas jump from their cocoons to a host, and will often jump from one area of the host to another in order to get around. Fleas DO have the ability to crawl along the skin of a host, but it expends far too much energy to crawl for very long. Normally, fleas will only crawl in a dire circumstance, such as injury to the legs.
Well, Can Fleas Swim?
Here's something cool about fleas and water: they won't drown.
Fleas can't swim in water, but they won't sink, either.
How can this be? If something falls into water, it will either sink or float, right? Wouldn't it defy gravity for a flea to neither drown nor swim? Well, not entirely. This happens because fleas are much too light to break the surface of water. Also, they're covered in a water-repellent wax naturally all over their bodies, which means that they are essentially weightless in a body of water.
Fleas can remained trapped on water, flailing in desperation, until they starve to death.
Can Fleas Be Transferred From One Animal to Another?
Here's a common worry among pet owners:
That their perfectly clean dog can pick up fleas from another animal outside, just by close contact.
This fact may come as a relief to many dog and cat owners: an animal with fleas can't spread the fleas by contact alone.
Fleas are transmitted from the cocoon to a new host only by jumping.
Once the flea finds a host, they tend to stay there for the remainder of the life cycle. Adult fleas won't go out of their way to find a new host. Once they're on an animal, they'll stay there for life.
Now, it's possible that a flea cocoon could exist on one animal and produce brand new fleas, which would then jump to the new host.
For this to make sense, we would have to rewind the flea life cycle back to the beginning stages: eggs are laid by a mother flea and don't drop off of an animal. Larvae hatch and remain within that animal's fur, creating their cocoons where they shed their eggs.
The adult fleas will emerge from there, on the animal where they were deposited as eggs, and then PERHAPS jump onto the skin of a new host nearby.
This scenario is very unlikely for a few reasons...
- Flea eggs are very fine and slippery, which means that they will usually not stay within the fur where they are laid
- Larvae tend to create cocoons on stationary objects, not moving ones
- If both of the previous points were proven otherwise and new adults fleas DID emerge on the animal where their mother flea laid them as eggs, there's no reason to find a new host. They already have access to blood on the host where they emerged from the cocoon, so there's no reason for the fleas to jump onto a new animal
How Do Fleas Eat?
You may be asking yourself at this point, "How long do fleas live without food?"
However, are you aware of how fleas get their nutrients? It's our goal to outline exactly how fleas feed, and what different species of fleas prefer to eat.
Are Fleas Parasites?
According to Dictionary.com, a parasite is an organism that lives on or in an organism of another species, known as the host, from the body of which it obtains nutriment.
By this definition, a flea is absolutely a parasite, because it feeds on a host in order to live. Not only do fleas take blood from a host and cause irritation, but they can bring tapeworms to the host as well.
Because female fleas can lay up to 50 eggs per day on a host, the multiplication of fleas occurs rapidly and without delay.
What Are "Dog Fleas?"
As you may have guessed from the name, "dog fleas" are fleas that primarily feed on dogs. They can sense the thermal energy that dogs give off, and therefore are more attracted to canine hosts than any other animal.
These dog fleas are the type of flea which most commonly carries and subsequently spreads tapeworm through the body of the host. This transfer occurs when the fleas also carry the larvae of the tapeworm inside their own bodies. When a flea with a parasitic tapeworm attaches to a host, the tapeworm has free access to the larger host, and can reproduce there as well. This is a way that domesticated pet dogs contract painful tapeworms.
Regardless of tapeworms, however, dog fleas cause severe irritation and itching on your dog as they feed on its blood. Once they have bitten a dog and feast on its blood, a halo of red forms on the skin around the bite.
And There Are "Cat Fleas," Too?
That's not all; "cat fleas" exist as well, and are just as troubling as dog fleas (if not more so). These cat fleas have made a name for themselves with their craving for the blood of felines, but they can live on a variety of different hosts. They are much less picky than dog fleas, and have a much more varied sense of taste.
These fleas are known to host on roadkill and unpleasant animals such as opossums, raccoons, and skunks. Think about your average roadkill carcass: full of bacteria and germs. Now, think of an animal that feeds off of that blood, and what it would mean for your cat to host that animal on its skin. The average cat flea can carry innumerable germs and possibly infectious diseases.
Can Humans Get Fleas?
It's natural to wonder if dirty, unwashed humans can get fleas, especially if they're around mangy dogs or feral cats. We're here to tell you that while it's possible for fleas to climb onto humans, it's not too likely. Many species of fleas prefer to feed on smaller hosts, and humans are just too big.
While fleas do jump tremendously high, the jump of a flea is hardly anything to write home about in relation to the size of a human being, even a child.
Fleas jumping from a cocoon to a person can usually only reach up to a human's ankle.
However, cat fleas will feed on humans if they are starving. Humans are not the preferred form of food, but they will keep a dying flea alive for a few days on a single feeding.
Fleas and Objects
How long do fleas live in carpet? Can fleas live on clothes? Where do fleas come from if you don't have pets?
These are all highly legitimate questions, and we're here to give you the answers. It may seem inconceivable at best (and unnerving at worst) that fleas can hang out on inanimate objects, but it can happen, in a way. Here are your most common questions, answered.
Can Fleas Live On Furniture?
Can fleas live on couches? Well, yes and no.
Think of it like this: dogs and cats spend a great deal of time on or around furniture. Fleas themselves must live on a host, but flea eggs are always dispersed by pets on the move.
Anywhere your pet shakes its fur, flea eggs are liable to land. The sofa, the carpet, a chair, a bed...these are all places where flea eggs from an infested pet could land and turn to larvae.
Your furniture is prime real estate for eggs or larvae before they mature into adult fleas, but the adults won't stay outside of the cocoon for longer than a quick moment. They'll only emerge from the cocoon if they sense the thermal changes in the air that a potential host creates.
What Are the Chances of Fleas in my Clothes?
As illustrated in the section above, the chance of a live adult flea on your clothing is extremely slim. Without feeding on the blood of a brand new host, fleas die out very fast, in a matter of just a few days.
However, due to the clusters of eggs and the length of a pupal phase, you may find eggs or cocoons hiding out in your clothing. This is really only feasible for winter coats or something that isn't washed regularly, as the water of the washing machine would kill any eggs or larvae. So, in the event that a household pet shakes flea eggs onto a pile of freshly washed laundry, it's likely that the clothes would see the inside of a washing machine again before maturing into adult fleas.
All factors considered, the chances of fleas in clothing are possible, but only in highly unlikely situations.
Do Fleas Like Lamps and Lightbulbs?
As larvae, these creatures are blind and highly sensitive to light, which is why they tend to burrow in dark places devoid of light sources into adulthood. When they do mature into adult fleas, their eyes develop, but they are still very primitive in comparison to the eyes of other animals.
Fleas can detect changes in light, but rely mostly on their senses to find hosts. Due to this very basic eyesight, fleas are attracted to light and heat. This concept is called phototaxis: the change from dark light to bright light is pleasing to fleas, so they'll live in areas with a high amount of white, soft blue, or light green light. The fleas won't physically live on lightbulbs, as there's no way to feed off of a lightbulb. However, the flea will be much more attracted to hosts that venture into sunlight frequently.
The Art of Finding a Host For A Flea
The flea life cycle without host is an extremely varied concept with several different variables to consider.
In this section, we'll give you a better understanding of all these factors in order to clear up any misunderstanding you may have about fleas before they hitch a ride on a host.
What's the Quiescent Period?
This refers to the period of time when a flea has matured into adulthood within a cocoon. The flea's metabolic activity is lowered as much as possible, because it's impossible to feed during this time of fast development.
The maximum period of time that a flea can stay inside the cocoon without feeding or emerging as an adult is five months.
When a potential host is nearby, the flea emerges from the cocoon and jumps on, taking its first blood. If it is a female flea, the first feeding will pave the way for laying the first egg cluster, beginning the life cycle all over again.
What Happens Without Transfer to a Host?
Once the flea has emerged from the cocoon as a fully-formed adult, the countdown to a blood meal begins. The flea's metabolism is sped up once it's out in the world, and it is crucial that they feed on a host's blood as soon as possible.
Starvation will occur without immediate blood feeding. Fleas can generally live only up to one week without food and outside of the larval cocoon without dying of starvation.
No Blood, No Eggs?
When a female flea takes her first blood meal, she has the energy to begin to lay eggs. This is why fleas spread so rapidly: millions of female fleas find hosts every day, and feeding only takes around one minute. With each feeding, new egg clusters are laid, beginning the flea life process.
However, if the female flea is stuck waiting around for a host once she's emerged from the cocoon, she will not be able to lay any eggs. This is because she is much more concerned with finding her own food source, and lacks the energy to promote new life in this survival mode.
What About Forced Removal From a Host?
After a few days of living on a host's blood, the flea develops a dependency on that specific blood. At least once every 12 hours, the flea will need to feed again, so its body will understand the biological makeup of that specific host's blood.
Without the blood to which they've become accustomed, the fleas can only last around 4 days before dying. This is why the fleas will stay on one host for the duration of their lives: the blood of another host is as good to them as air after the period of dependency.
The Bottom Line
As you've been able to tell, the question of how long a flea can last without a host is a loaded one. There are several different factors to consider, both internally and externally. In order to understand the answer to the question, you must first understand the fundamentals of the flea life cycle, how fleas survive as a species, their preferred hosts, and how they transport themselves.
With this article, we've given you a summary of all of these elements, and hopefully, a bit more clarity on how you can keep your pet, your home, and your own body flea-free.