The Oriental Rat Flea: Xenopsylla cheopis

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Siphonaptera
Family: Pulicidae
Genus and Species: Xenopsylla cheopis

Fleas are bloodsucking parasites. They have the potential of spreading dangerous diseases to humans and other animals. It is possible that the first flea was native to Africa and traveled by boat on the back of a rat to different destinations around the world. Even though there are many different types of fleas, they all have similar body parts: eyes and legs help them survive the dangers of their life. A flea undergoes four different life cycles to become an adult. The Black Death, also known as the Bubonic Plague, is one of the deadly diseases that the flea can spread to humans and animals.

Body Parts

The rat flea has two eyes, yet it can only see very bright light. On the very tip of its head is a genial comb. Right behind the eyes are two short antennae. Behind the antennae is the pronotum, which is in front of the protonotal comb.

A flea’s mouth has two functions: one for squirting saliva or partly digested blood into the bite, and one for sucking up blood from the host. This process mechanically transmits pathogens that may transmit diseases the flea might have. Fleas smell exhaled carbon dioxide from humans and animals and jump rapidly to the source to feed on the newly found host.

A flea does not have wings to fly, but it can jump long distances with the help of small, powerful legs. A flea’s leg consists of four parts. The part that is closest to the body is the coxa. Next is the femur, tibia and tausus. A flea can use its legs to jump up to 200 times its own body length. It can also jump about 130 times its own height.

The flea’s body is only about 1/10 of an inch. Its body is constructed to make it easier to jump long distances. The flea’s body consists of three regions: head, thorax, and abdomen. The head and the thorax have rows of bristles called combs. The abdomen consists of eight visible segments.

Life Cycle

The first stage in a flea’s life is the egg. Microscopic white eggs fall easily from the female to the ground, or from the animal she lays on. If she does lay eggs on an animal, they soon fall off in its bedding or in the dust. If eggs do fall immediately on the ground, they land into crevices on the floor where they will be safe until they hatch. Hatching takes one to ten days or sometimes longer, depending on the environment.

Flea eggs hatch larvae. A larva looks very similar to a worm that is about two millimeters long. It only has a small body and a mouth part, but no arms or legs. Fleas do not drink blood at this stage. Instead, they eat dead skin cells, flea droppings, and other smaller parasites lying around them in the dust.

When the larva is mature. it makes a silken cocoon around itself and pupates. This is when the flea spins a white, silken cocoon for itself. The flea stays in this stage from one week to six months changing in a process called metamorphosis.

Fleas emerge from their cocoons as adults. They can now suck blood from host and mate with other fleas. A single female flea can mate once and lay eggs every day with up to 50 eggs per day. Fleas like to live in an environment that is warm, where they can survive up to a year.