Fleas. You probably know them quite well, especially if you’re a pet owner. Despite the availability of extermination services and treatment options, these little bloodthirsty creatures can be a real pain in the neck. But can they, and if so — how long can fleas live without a host? Keep reading to learn the answer to this one, as well as to six other frequently asked questions surrounding fleas.
1. How Long Do Fleas Live? — A Flea’s Life Cycle
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First of all, you should know that this text will mostly talk about the common cat and dog fleas, which are by far the most prevalent kind in the U.S. Regardless of their names, they can be found on either animal, as well as many other furry mammals, and even birds. Human fleas and rodent fleas also exist, but they’re much rarer.
As far as the lifespan of the common flea is concerned, it can be anywhere from a few months to a year. It all depends on the conditions and the availability of food, i.e., blood. The perfect conditions for the development of fleas include high humidity (50–90%) and low temperatures (70–85°F).
In addition, from the moment the female flea lays the eggs, it takes them about 2 to 3 months to grow into adults. During that time, they will go through four stages. In order to learn how long can fleas live without a host, you should first get to know the average flea’s life cycle:
Stage 1 — Egg
After it’s had its first meal, without which reproduction wouldn’t be possible, the female flea will lay the eggs in the animal’s fur. Typically, it will eject around 20 at a time and can lay as many as 40 eggs a day. On average, a flea will lay 500 to 2,000 eggs in its lifetime. Unsurprisingly, flea eggs make up about 50% of the entire flea population in a single location.
As your pet moves, the eggs will fall out of its fur, causing them to disperse all over your home. Then, if the conditions are right (high humidity and low temperature), the eggs will start hatching in about 2 days to 2 weeks and the larvae will emerge.
Stage 2 — Larva
Flea larvae are tiny (~¼ inch), legless, and transparent white. The flea will remain at this stage for several weeks, feeding on the feces of adult fleas and other organic debris such as dead skin cells and food particles. If the conditions are favorable, the larvae will start spinning cocoons around themselves and pupae will form underneath.
Stage 3 — Pupa
At this stage, the pupae are surrounded by a cocoon with a sticky exterior, which helps them stick to the fur or upholstery and protects them from any harm, such as chemicals.
The pupa will remain inside the cocoon until the environmental conditions are right and until there’s a host present, which is typically around a few days to a few weeks. What’s more, if the conditions are unfavorable, the flea will remain in its cocoon until they are. As a matter of fact, this stage can last for years in some cases.
Finally, when the time comes and it detects a potential host, the adult flea will emerge within seconds and jump onto the target, looking to feed.
Stage 4 — Adult
Once it’s come out of its cocoon, the adult flea must find a host and feed within a couple of hours or so. Then, it’ll also start breeding shortly and laying eggs after about a few days. As it feeds, the adult flea will grow larger and become lighter in color. Typically, it will stay on the chosen host for about a few weeks to a few months.
Fun fact — adult fleas probably make up only about 5% of all fleas in your home!
2. Can Fleas Live on Clothes?
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Technically, yes. Fleas can live on clothing for about 24 hours. Due to the lack of a blood source, they can’t survive for too long.
Despite that, keep in mind that they could still bite you if they reach your skin, which not only hurts and itches but could also be dangerous if you’re allergic to flea bites. Animals could be allergic, too. On the other hand, fleas are not strong enough to bite through your clothing. So just make sure you’re covered when going on your nature walks, and you’ll be fine.
However, during their stay, they could lay eggs on your clothes and shoes without you noticing. And then, as you walk around your home, they will spread all over the place and could jump onto your pets once they mature.
To prevent a flea infestation, make sure to thoroughly wash your clothes and shoes after spending time outdoors and before stepping inside your house.
3. Can Fleas Live on Furniture?
Again, the answer is yes. Many people will simply treat their pets and expect their flea problem to be solved. However, that’s not enough. While adult fleas will die unless they feed, eggs, larvae, and pupae can survive on furniture for much longer. Thus, you should also treat your home if you want the fleas gone for good.
The most common places that host fleas include pet beddings, curtains, upholstery, and carpets. In addition, it is not so much the furniture that they enjoy, but rather the area under it, as it’s typically darker and colder in there.
No matter if you have a pet or not, you should vacuum your house on a regular basis. Also, don’t forget to clean the furniture and wash the bedding. By doing so, you might have a chance of fighting the flea infestation or at least reduce their numbers.
4. How Do Fleas Select a Host?
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As it was mentioned earlier, the adult flea leaves its protective cocoon when it finds a suitable host to live and feed on. A suitable host can be any kind of furry animal, but fleas will usually live longer on long-haired hosts than on their short-haired counterparts. And how does a pupa detect a host?
It does so through vibrations, carbon dioxide levels, and temperature changes. Thus, when an animal passes by, that will act as a stimulus and “wake up” the dormant flea. Then, it will emerge out of the cocoon and jump onto the new host, living in their fur and feeding on their blood for weeks/months at a time.
5. Will a Flea Die Without a Host?
The answer depends on the stage in which the flea is in. As they develop a dependency on the host’s blood, adult fleas will die if they’re separated from them. Some fleas could jump onto another host, but that’s highly unlikely. Most infestations come from newly hatched fleas.
On the other hand, non-adult fleas, i.e. eggs, pupae, and larvae don’t need a constant blood source. In addition, they feed off of flea excrement (pre-digested blood), which can be found everywhere. Therefore, they will stay alive for much longer than adult fleas. For instance, pupae can survive for up to 100 days without any food.
6. How Long Can Fleas Live Without a Host?
Fleas are parasites. So, without a host to feast on, they can’t survive for too long.
However, again, the case is not the same with fleas in earlier stages. Eggs, larvae, and especially pupae, are much more resilient and will endure harsher conditions. More importantly, they’re not dependent on a certain host’s blood, which is why they can live pretty much anywhere cold and humid. In fact, a flea will usually spend up to 90% of its life on surrounding surfaces.
How Long Can Fleas Live Without a Host? — Cat/Dog Fleas
As it was mentioned earlier, cat and dog fleas (Ctenocephalides felis/canis) are the most common fleas out there. They can infest, live, and feed on all kinds of furry animals. But how long can fleas live without a host, i.e. food?
If they get separated from their secure food source, adult fleas will typically perish in about a few days to 2 weeks, with an average of 8 days. However, again, fleas in earlier stages can sustain for much longer, up to a year in some cases.
How Long Can Fleas Live Without a Host? — Human Fleas
Despite the common misconception, cat/dog fleas can’t actually live on humans, at least not for a significant amount of time. Humans just don’t have enough hair for fleas to latch on to, and their slim and flat bodies were made for that.
However, there are many other species of fleas, such as the human flea (Pulex irritans), which can live and feed on the blood of all kinds of animals, even humans. In comparison to the cat flea, it’s bigger and thus tends to infest bigger animals. As a matter of fact, this particular type of flea was the one responsible for the spread of the plague back in the Middle Ages, which took millions of human lives alone.
It’s not known exactly how long the human flea will live without a host, but given their similarity to the typical cat and dog fleas, it’s most likely up to a couple of weeks.
7. How Do I Get Rid of Fleas?
Now that you’ve discovered the answer to all of your burning questions on the physiology of fleas, such as how long can fleas live without a host, it’s time for the finale. How do you successfully exterminate fleas?
Unfortunately, the fleas you can actually see on your pet are just a small portion of the entire flea population inside your home. After all, more than 50% of it are just eggs and they can easily get distributed all over your house, furniture, and yard.
To permanently get rid of fleas, you must break their life cycle. It’s not enough to remove just the visible, adult fleas; you must take care of all of them. And not just that — given that they can live on furniture and carpets, you must treat those as well. If there’s even one egg left, you can rest assured your home will be swarming with fleas again in no time.
The best way to fight these pests is prevention, which involves regular sanitation. In other words, you should regularly:
• vacuum your house
• wash your clothes
• wash your pets’ bedding
• bathe your pets
• comb their fur
Treating Your Pets
For starters, you shouldn’t treat your pet with any unverified over-the-counter insecticides and other treatments. Consider speaking to a vet, as they’ll tell you exactly which products work and are also safe for your pet.
Aside from that, you should acquire a proper flea comb with fine and dense teeth and brush your pet thoroughly during their bath time. Make sure to do this repeatedly and regularly, as it will reduce the number of fleas significantly and thus the need for strong chemicals and treatments.
Thankfully, there are many flea treatments available for pets nowadays — flea collars, spot-on treatments, medication, etc. And for the stubborn eggs and larvae, an insect growth regulator (IGR) might do the trick.
Treating Your Home
Vacuum your home a couple of times a week, making sure to cover the areas under the furniture. Flea eggs can burrow themselves deep inside upholstery and carpets, so be extensive, especially in rooms where your pets spend most of their time. After you’re done, throw away the vacuum bag immediately, as it will be infested with fleas.
You can also use insecticides and IGRs around the house. However, be cautious about it and check before buying to ensure it’s not toxic for your pet.
Treating Your Yard and Lawn
Even if you’ve cleaned your pets and your home, fleas will remain in your yard and jump onto your pets as soon as they step their paws back outside. Thus, you should treat it with pesticides and keep it trimmed. Look for high-moisture areas and shaded spots, as fleas won’t survive the direct summer heat.
The Bottom Line
Fleas are some of the most annoying pests you’ll ever encounter in your life. In a year, Americans spend around $9 billion on flea control alone. What’s more, they’re incredibly stubborn and in some cases, they can live a long time even with no host present.
Fleas are an everyday problem for many, yet most people know little about them. However, the inevitable first step toward controlling fleas is learning about them, especially their life cycle and weaknesses.
To conclude — how long can fleas live without a host? If it’s fully matured, the common cat/dog flea will typically live on for about a week after separation. Fleas in their earlier stages (eggs, larvae, and pupae), can persist for a much longer period of time, though.