Ctenocephalides felisblokha

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Geographic Range

Ctenocephalides felis is one of the few flea species that is truly cosmopolitan. In the United States, these fleas are ubiquitous in all areas except the mid- to north- Rocky Mountain area. Throughout the rest of the world, cat fleas are found wherever suitable hosts reside. (Hubbard, 1968; Roberts and Janovy, 2000; Swan and Papp, 1972)

Habitat

Cat fleas live in the nests and resting places of their hosts when they are not feeding, and on their hosts when they are feeding. They live in just about any type of habitat, as long as it is warm and humid enough to promote development. (Roberts and Janovy, 2000)

Physical Description

Like all fleas, Ctenocephalides felis is laterally compressed and wingless. Cat fleas are 2 mm long and reddish-brown to black, with the females being a bit larger than males and a slightly different color. Aside from the slight difference in size and color, the other main distinguishing feature between males and females is the presence of complex, snail-shaped genitalia in males. Ctenocephalides felis is distinguished from other fleas by its characteristic ctenidia, or combs; it has a pronotal ctenidium and a genal ctenidium with more than 5 teeth. The morphology of cat fleas is similar to that of dog fleas, Ctenocephalides canis, but cat fleas have a characteristic sloping forehead. The hind tibia is also different from other flea species in that it lacks an outer apical tooth. All members of the order Siphonaptera have powerful muscles containing resilin, a highly elastic protein, in their legs, which allows these fleas to leap as high as 33 cm.

Flea larvae resemble tiny maggots with short bristles and mandibles for chewing. Pupae live encased in silky debris-studded cocoons. (Arnett, 1985; Hubbard, 1968; Roberts and Janovy, 2000; Swan and Papp, 1972)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Average length
    2 mm
    0.08 in

Development

The life cycle of Ctenocephalides felis is a holometabolous one; that is, it involves complete metamorphosis. The entire life cycle lasts from 30 to 75 days depending on environmental conditions. At 13 degrees Celsius, the larvae emerge from the eggs in 6 days. Lower temperatures and low humidity slow development. After going through three larval instars, or molts, larval fleas spin loose cocoons of silk and enter their pupal stage. The pupae are sensitive to fluctuations of carbon dioxide in the environment and also to vibration. When an appropriate change in either of these factors occurs, the adult emerges and finds a host on which to live. (Marquardt, 2000; Roberts and Janovy, 2000)

Reproduction

No information is available on the mating system of these fleas.

Flea eggs are fertilized internally. The adult females lay their eggs on their host, but the eggs soon fall into the host's nest, where they develop. The eggs are white, translucent, and approximately 0.5 mm in length. (Marquardt, 2000; Roberts and Janovy, 2000)

  • Breeding interval
    Females lay eggs at frequent intervals while feeding, as long as the temperature and humidity are favorable
  • Breeding season
    These fleas can breed year-round; optimal temperatures and humidity occur in the months of June, July, and August in most of the U.S.

Female fleas carry their eggs inside of them, providing them with nourishment until they are laid. After they are laid, there is no further investment on the part of the parents. (Roberts and Janovy, 2000)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

Optimal conditions for survival of Ctenocephalides felis are described by a temperature range of 26.7 to 31.5 degrees Celsius and a relative humidity between 50 and 92 percent. Given these favorable conditions and a steady food supply, fleas can survive for two to three years. (Arnett, 1985; Kern, et al., May 1999; Roberts and Janovy, 2000)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 (high) years

Behavior

The cat flea is not a social species. In its adult form, Ctenocephalides felis spends most of its time in the sleeping area of the host, only jumping onto its host when it needs to feed. The genal and pronotal ctenidia help keep these fleas firmly planted on their host so that it is hard for the host to remove the fleas. The powerful muscles in the fleas' legs, specialized for jumping, allow them to remove themselves from their host at their own free will. (Arnett, 1985; Kern, et al., May 1999)

Communication and Perception

The pupae are sensitive to fluctuations of carbon dioxide in the environment and also to vibrations. They use these environmental cues to time their emergence from their cocoons. Fleas possess a sensory organ called a pygidium on the posterior portion of their bodies, which allows them to detect vibrations and air currents. No information is available on how these fleas communicate with one another. (Roberts and Janovy, 2000)

Food Habits

After piercing the skin of the host, adult cat fleas use their mouthparts to suck up blood. The bloodmeal then passes through epithelial cells in the gut that are elongated into spines, collectively called the proventriculus, where it is broken up. As their name implies, cat fleas prefer to feed on domestic cats, Felis silvestris. Cat fleas also feed on dogs, rabbits, horses, skunks, foxes, mongooses, koalas, and poultry. They are known to bite humans in the absence of other hosts. In contrast to adult Ctenocephalides felis, larvae feed on the feces of the adult cat fleas and detritus in the environment. (Dryden and Gaafar, July 1994; Peterson, 1951; Roberts and Janovy, 2000; Swan and Papp, 1972)

  • Animal Foods
  • blood

Ecosystem Roles

Ctenocephalides felis is an obligate ectoparasite whose main hosts are cats. Cat fleas also parasitize dogs, rabbits, horses, skunks, foxes, mongooses, koalas, and poultry. Cat fleas are vectors for murine typhus and intermediate hosts of the most common tapeworm that infects cats and dogs, Dipylidium caninum. They have been known to carry Burrelia burgdorferi, the spirochaete that causes Lyme disease. (Dryden and Gaafar, July 1994; Peterson, 1951; Roberts and Janovy, 2000; Swan and Papp, 1972)

Species Used as Host

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Ctenocephalides felis is of some medical and economic importance. Most prevalent, but least serious, is the allergic reactions that fleas and their feces induce in some humans and animals. Itching and redness may occur, but with no serious results. Ctencephalides felis is a vector of murine typhus in humans, caused by Rickettsia mooseri. It is also the intermediate host of the most common tapeworm that infects domestic cats and dogs, Dipylidium caninum. It has been known to carry Burrelia burgdorferi, the spirochaete that causes Lyme disease, but it does not transfer the disease. All of these conditions require medical attention. The amount of damage in dollars per year is not available, but with the numerous variety of diseases that Ctenocephalides felis carries, the additive amount is not likely to be low.

Contributors

Allison Poor (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Sophia Saeed (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Solomon David (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal

chaparral

Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cosmopolitan

having a worldwide distribution. Found on all continents (except maybe Antarctica) and in all biogeographic provinces; or in all the major oceans (Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

detritus

particles of organic material from dead and decomposing organisms. Detritus is the result of the activity of decomposers (organisms that decompose organic material).

ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

metamorphosis

A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

parasite

an organism that obtains nutrients from other organisms in a harmful way that doesn't cause immediate death

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

saltatorial

specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.

sanguivore

an animal that mainly eats blood

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

taiga

Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

vibrations

movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

Arnett, R. 1985. American Insects. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Dryden, M., S. Gaafar. July 1994. Blood Consumption by the Cat Flea, Ctenocephalides felis (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae). Journal of Medical Entomology, 28: 394-399.

Hubbard, C. 1968. Fleas of Western North America. New York: Hafner Publishing.

Kern, W., D. Richman, P. Koehler, R. Brenner. May 1999. Outdoor Survival and Development of Immature Cat Fleas (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae) in Florida. Journal of Medical Entomology, 36: 207-211.

Marquardt, W. 2000. Parasitology and Vector Biology. USA: Harcourt Academic Press.

Peterson, A. 1951. Larvae of Insects. Ann Arbor: Edward Brothers, Inc..

Roberts, L., J. Janovy. 2000. Foundations of Parasitology, Sixth Edition. USA: McGraw Hill.

Swan, L., C. Papp. 1972. The Common Insects of North America. USA: Harper & Row.