The Life Cycle of the Flea: When is the Best Time for Flea Control

Imagine waking up one morning and discovering your darling pet has fleas! These small, reddish brown, wingless, blood-sucking insects make you panic. As a caring pet owner, you are aware that fleas are harmful. You want to stop them from infesting your pet. You are about to kill them by means of flea control methods.

But before beginning any flea control program, it helps to know about the life cycle of a flea. This information gives you a baseline of when the best time is to apply treatment.

Like mosquitoes, fleas undergo four stages: egg, larval, pupal and adult. Here is a picture of the events that happen in each stage.

1. Egg Stage

  • It is the first stage of the life cycle, which begins when a female adult flea produces 20 flea eggs at a time, for a total of 500 eggs during its lifetime.
  • The flea eggs are smooth, oval, pearly white, and tiny, but still visible to the naked eye.
  • They represent approximately 50% of the total flea population at any given time.
  • The eggs are deposited in areas frequented by pets such as bedding or sleeping area, dog houses, carpet, furniture, floorboard area, and in the yard. Regular cleaning and sanitation of these areas can help kill fleas.

2. Larval Stage

  • The larvae emerge from the egg through a special "egg-buster" spine on the head. At any given time, they comprise for approximately 35% of the flea population.
  • Physically, the larvae are legless, white and maggot-like in appearance, and very small.
  • The larvae molt for a period of 6-36 days, which may vary depending on temperature and humidity, before entering the next stage of the life cycle. They are very susceptible to humidity, with low humidity being detrimental to the larvae.
  • They mainly feed on adult flea excrement, often called "flea dirt," which is actually dried blood from its host. They also feed on other organic debris such as dried bits of skin and dead mites.
  • Larvae avoid light, which makes them more likely to stay in dark and shaded places like cracks in the floor, under the furniture, etc.
  • Like flea eggs, they are also found in the pet's favorite resting areas.

3. Pupal Stage

  • This is the third stage of the life cycle, where the flea larvae spin silk cocoons around themselves from one week to one year, before turning into adult fleas.
  • The flea larvae can stay in the cocoon for a few days or for a year or more, waiting for the right time to emerge as adult fleas.
  • Pupal cocoons account for 10% of the flea population.
  • Warm temperature and humid weather can speed up the maturation process in the cocoon.
  • During this stage, the flea larvae are very resistant to chemical insecticides and other flea control methods.

4. Adult Stage

  • This is the final stage in flea development where the flea emerges from the cocoon and looks for a host (dog, cat or human) to feed on.
  • Studies indicate that adult fleas account for only 5% of the total flea population at any given time so it is good to control infestation during this stage.
  • The adult flea jumps on the host and holds on to it with its three pairs of legs, the hindmost part used for jumping. It has hair-like bristles on its body and legs, which helps it navigate through the pet's hair.
  • The adult flea cuts a hole and inserts its feeding tube into the pet, sucking blood out of it.
  • The flea lays its eggs and the flea life cycle starts all over again.

Zoom back to reality. While attending to your pet, you find out that there really are some fleas hiding underneath its hair. Thankfully, you are no longer terrified. Now that you know about the flea life cycle, it can help you determine when flea control is most effective in each phase of flea development. If you were in this situation, which stage (or stages) do you think is the best time for flea control?