Number 108 • April 22, 2014 • Jeffrey K. Barnes

Human flea
Order: Siphonaptera
Family: Pulicidae
Genus and species: Pulex irritans (Linnaeus)

Human flea

Adult human fleas lack the conspicuous combs of bristles found on or near the head of cat fleas. They suck blood from humans and a number of other animals, causing sometimes severe itching. However, they have been observed to survive as long as four months without a blood meal. Their role in man-to-man transfer of the plague bacterium is uncertain, but it is thought to be significat in certain outbreaks. The larvae develop on their parents’ feces of partially digested blood and on detritus from the host. Pulex irritans has been described as basically a parasite of badgers and foxes, but it occurs on a variety of larger mammals, particularly the domestic pig. Adults can take blood meals from humans, domestic animals, and wild animals. In Texas, Pulex irritans has been taken from dog, coyote, man, domestic rat, opossum, raccoon, striped skunk, gray fox, wolf, bobcat, badger, prairie dog, burrowing owl, ring-tailed cat, kangaroo rat, and wood rat, and its distribution is thought to be statewide. The pediculid fleas of Arkansas have not been well studied. In this state the human flea is known from widely separted Lawrence, Howard, and Washington Counties in the northwest, northeast, and southwest corners of the state. It has been taken from Louisiana skunk, prairie spotted skunk, Virginia opossum, Oklahoma cottontail. Wisconsin gray fox, dog, cow, and bobcat. The six living species of the genus Pulex are native to the New World, where they are parasites of diverse hosts, including armadillos, peccaries, and pocket gophers, as well as other small rodents and carnivores. The human flea, however, has become widely distributed due to human agency. In the United States, it is particulary common in the Midwest, South, and Pacific Coast areas. The human flea is frequently associated with humans under poor sanitary conditions, and it occasionally becomes abundant, especially on farms in abandoned pig pens.  In his book entitled Fleas of Western North America, Hubbard (1947) stated, “ On the West Coast this flea is common in practically all lumber camps, sawmill towns, transient camps, flop houses and slums—almost everywhere there is a large moving population. In farming communities this flea is found to be a constant parasite of hogs and dogs, as well as the farmers.” It is now rare in many parts of the world. Its decline has been associated with drier, modern homes and use of vacuum cleaners.