Overview

Brief Summary

Fleas are obligate ectoparasites of mammals and birds. Both males and females use piercing-sucking mouthparts to feed on the blood of their host.  Most species are associated with rodents.  Adults are small, wingless, laterally flattened insects.  They have long legs adapted for jumping, and their bodies are often covered with large spines known as ‘combs’ or ctenidia.  The legless larvae usually live in the host's nests where they feed on organic matter, including feces and dried blood shed by feeding adults. Some species are vectors of human disease including plague (Yersinia pestis) and murine typhus (Rickettsia typhi).
  • Borror, D. J., C. A. Triplehorn, and N. F. Johnson. 1989. An Introduction to the Study of Insects. Sixth Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Philadelphia.
  • Grimaldi, D. and M. S. Engel. 2005. Evolution of Insects. Cambridge University Press, New York.
  • Hastriter, M. W. and M. F. Whiting. 2003. Ephemeroptera (Mayflies). Pages 1040-1044 in Encyclopedia of Insects, V. H. Resh and R. T. Cardé, eds. Academic Press, New York.
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Siphonaptera Overview

Fleas can be seen in the fossil record as far back as the Middle Jurassic.  They can currently be found worldwide.  The adults can grow to be one to three millimeters long.  They feed on the blood of mammals and birds, which makes them external parasites (ectoparasites).  They are wingless and have long legs that allow them to jump horizontally for up to 33 centimeters and vertically for up to 18 centimeters.  They have short antennae and spines on their body.  Some species lack eyes.  Fleas undergo complete metamorphosis. The blind larvae feed on organic matter and then pupate in a silken cocoon.  A new adult can only survive for a week without blood, but once blood is obtained they can survive for two to three years without a meal.  When hiking in a habitat that contains fleas, it is best to wear white clothing so it will be easier to spot fleas if they jump on you.

  • Borror, Donald, Charles Triplehorn, and Norman Johnson. An Introduction to the Study of Insects. 6th ed. Saunders College Publishing, 1989. 489-498. Print.
  • Capinera, John. "Fleas (Siphonaptera)." Encyclopedia of Entomology. 4. 2008.
  • "Flea." Wikipedia. 2013. .
  • Preston-Mafham, Rod, and Ken Preston-Mafham. "Fleas."Encyclopedia of Insects and Spiders. San Diego: 2005.
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Comprehensive Description

Characteristics

Laterally flattened.

Here is the head of Ctenocephalides:

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Ecology

Associations

Animal / parasite / endoparasite
Hepatozoon erhardovae endoparasitises Siphonaptera

Animal / parasite / endoparasite
larva of Hymenolepis nana endoparasitises larva of Siphonaptera

Animal / vector
Trypanosoma evotomys is spread by Siphonaptera

Animal / vector
Trypanosoma grosi is spread by Siphonaptera

Animal / vector
Trypanosoma microti is spread by Siphonaptera

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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Legs propel insect far: flea
 

The hind legs of fleas allow it to leap far because they have a protein called resilin that stores energy and releases it to extend the hind legs.

       
  "The flea owes its incredible leaping abilities to two things: the first is a specialized set of leg muscles; the second is a rubbery pad of protein called resilin that is located in the flea's hind legs. The leg muscles apply pressure to the pad. When the pressure is suddenly released, the pad powerfully extends the hind legs and propels the flea great distances." (Forsyth 1992:28)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Forsyth, A. 1992. Exploring the World of Insects: The Equinox Guide to Insect Behaviour. Camden House.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records: 987
Specimens with Sequences: 675
Specimens with Barcodes: 594
Species: 28
Species With Barcodes: 22
Public Records: 238
Public Species: 10
Public BINs: 38
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Barcode data

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