When fall weather arrives, some insects — like fleas — unfortunately come with it. Now is the time to take measures to control these pests.
Xing Ping Hu, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System entomologist, said fleas are worse during the fall months. Though they occur year-round, they may go dormant during an extremely hot summer or extremely cold winter.
“They thrive with increased precipitation, moderate temperatures and an increase in leaf piles,” she said.
Fleas entering homes
With the ability to jump up to about 6 inches, adult fleas can easily hitch a ride onto a passing pet from yard to enter homes. They may also be brought in on shoes, pants legs and blankets.
Once on an animal, an adult flea will feed on the blood of the animal within minutes. In a short time, fleas lay eggs in a pet’s fur. The eggs soon fall off into the environment, typically where that pet has spent time, rested or slept.
“Mating and subsequent egg laying occur within 24 hours,” Hu said. “A female flea lays an average of 20 eggs per day and can produce up to 500 eggs during a lifetime.”
Within a few days, the eggs hatch into worm-like larvae. They then move away from where they hatched, into dark spaces and down into cracks and crevices. Some common places include beneath pet sleeping mats, carpet and rugs, upholstered furniture, floor cracks and tile joints.
Once settled away from light, larvae will spend 1 to 2 weeks feeding and developing. They can eat any organic matters, mainly the dried fecal blood excreted by adult fleas and conspecific (belonging to the same species) eggs, but also dry skin and dandruff. Then the larvae will wrap themselves in cocoons and become pupae.
“Pupae only emerge when they detect a trigger indicting animals are nearby,” she said. “Some of these triggers are increased heat, elevated carbon dioxide levels and vibrations of vacuums. Without a trigger, they remain dormant in their cocoon for long periods of time.”
Adult fleas can eat blood from humans, but they usually eat and leave because they are unable to attach themselves. This is not the case for pets. Fleas spend most of their time on furry animals. This is why the treatment of pets is an essential step in controlling them.
Pets can be treated either by a veterinarian or an owner. Products are available as oral medications and topical solutions, as well as sprays, collars and shampoos. Topical solutions involve applying a few drops of pesticide along the pet’s back or between the shoulder blades.
Collars on pets are odorless and can kill and repel fleas for months. Oral or chewable tablets work within hours of ingestion.
“Before treating a pet, owners must read the product’s label to ensure they are purchasing the correct formulation and dosage for their pet,” Hu said. “If there are any concerns or doubts, consult a veterinarian for appropriate treatment.”
When treating homes, vacuuming is a great way to remove flea eggs and larvae. Make sure to remove pet beds, toys and other items from the floors and under beds so all areas can be treated. Pet beddings should be washed or dry-cleaned. Vacuum carpets, upholstery, rugs and mats daily. Don’t not forget to seal and throw away the vacuum bag or clean out the dirt cup on a bagless vacuum when you are done vacuuming. This is to make sure the collected eggs and larvae are out of the house.
There are also many different products available for home flea treatment that can kill any larvae and eggs that vacuuming might have missed. The most effective formulations contain both an adulticide (e.g., permethrin), effective against the biting adult stage, and an insect growth regulator (IGR) (methoprene or pyriproxyfen), effective against the larvae.
“IGR products are mostly used for indoor treatment after vacuuming and pet treatment,” Hu said. “These products can provide long-term suppression of eggs, larvae and pupae. Most importantly, IGR products are safe to humans and pets.”
Flea products are basically formulated as concentrate liquid or powder. Fogger products are not recommended for safety and efficacy reasons, but may be used in a specific confined room. Flea traps are useful in monitoring and preventing flea infestation.
Fleas spread in the yard much the same way they do indoors. Remember, flea larvae like dark and warm areas, such as piles of leaves.
Rake fallen leaves regularly and immediately bag and dispose of them in a secure trash receptacle. Keep your grass short and trees trimmed. Clean areas where pets play, rest and sleep regularly. Focus outdoor treatments on these areas as well as along fences, under decks and next to the home foundation.
Homeowners who lack the time to control fleas themselves or who are uncomfortable applying pesticides can enlist the services of a professional pest-control firm.
— For information on topics related to the home and garden, contact any office of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. The Limestone County Office is at 1109 W. Market St. in Athens. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. For more information, call 256-232-5510 or visit www.aces.edu.