Fleas

Fleas are insects that form the order of Siphonaptera. They are wingless, with mouthparts adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood. Fleas are external parasites, living by hematophagy off the blood of mammals and birds. Adult fleas are small, black to brown-black creatures without wings. They are 1-4 mm long with laterally flat bodies and strong spring-like legs capable of leaping several inches high.  Fleas can survive several months without a blood meal if no host is available and adults can live for many years. People entering vacant homes or buildings are sometimes attacked by hungry fleas awakened from hibernation while in its cocoon/pupae stage by the walking vibration, detected body heat from a potential host and the emission of detectable carbon dioxide.  Controlling of fleas takes persistence, patience and a visit to your local veterinarian if you have pets for a preventative. Vacuuming daily is a must as the vibration will cause the pupae to hatch and the adult will emerge only to be taken up by the suction.

Females require a blood meal to lay their eggs. Fleas cycle through stages from egg to larvae, pupae and then adult. The eggs from the flea species that commonly attack man generally take 10-21 days to hatch out depending on the temperature and humidity present. In a cold environment the hatch cycle can take several weeks to complete.

Eggs are laid on the host but are not attached and commonly fall off ending in nearby cracks and crevices, on bedding, under edges of carpeting and in pet boxes or kennels. The female flea produces 4-8 eggs after each blood meal and can lay typically hundreds of eggs during her life span.

Ticks

Ticks are hungry parasites that carry pathogens and diseases that are harmful to both humans and pets.

The American Dog Tick, otherwise known as the wood tick, has proven to be a problematic pest for people living in Texas.

Unlike the Deer Tick (a.k.a. the Blacklegged Tick), the American Dog Tick does not transmit Lyme disease but it is a vector of the pathogens that cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. It can even cause canine tick paralysis.

American Dog Ticks are much larger than Deer Ticks by comparison. Adult male ticks are pale brown to grayish in color and are about 1.5 to 5 mm long. Females are even larger with sizes ranging from 2.5 to 7 mm long. Females are dark brown and have a cream colored dorsal shield.

Once a female American Dog Tick has a blood meal, her body can become an enormous 15 mm long and be up to 10 mm wide.

Ticks can be picked up on your shoes or clothes while walking in a field or pasture, thru dense underbrush or even in the woods or forest. You should always inspect yourself thoroughly to make sure you haven’t brought one of these parasites home on your person.

Chiggers

Chiggers are the tiny, immature stage of a large mite called a redbug. These colorless, parasitic larvae measure only 1/150 of an inch in diameter, but they pack a punch with their itchy bites throughout summer, not letting up until the fall.

You’ll find chiggers wherever there is unmanaged vegetation. They crawl around, waiting to attach to a host. Birds, livestock, snakes, rodents and other animals are their natural hosts. Humans are accidental hosts.

Two to three generations of chiggers are produced each year. They favor damp areas with low-growing shrubs, grass and weeds. Once on a human host, they crawl upward until they find an area where clothing fits tightly against the skin, such as waistbands, bra bands and socks. Then they settle in and feed. Their favorite feeding spots are the backs of knees, the crotch and in the armpits.

To feed, chiggers pierce the host’s skin with their mouthparts and inject a digestive enzyme that dissolves the skin tissues. The chigger then sucks up the dissolved epidermis as food. As they feed, the tissue around the bite hardens into a tiny tube. For three to four days, the chigger continues sucking liquefied tissue through the tube, much like a person drinking through a straw. The chigger never burrows into the skin and does not feed on blood.

Even though the chigger mite is usually scratched off and killed soon after biting, the tiny hardened tube and the digestive enzymes stay in the skin. They continue to itch and to ooze the liquefied tissues, which dry to form a hardened cap. Over a few weeks, the skin heals and the bites go away.