Fleas are wingless insects, 1.5 to 3.3 millimeters (1⁄16 to 1⁄8 inch) long, that are agile, usually dark colored (for example, the reddish-brown of the cat flea), with a proboscis, or stylet, adapted to feeding by piercing the skin and sucking their host’s blood through their epipharynx. Flea legs end in strong claws that are adapted to grasp a host.
Unlike other insects, fleas do not possess compound eyes but instead only have simple eyespots with a single biconvex lens; some species lack eyes altogether. Their bodies are laterally compressed, permitting easy movement through the hairs or feathers on the host’s body. The flea body is covered with hard plates called sclerites. These sclerites are covered with many hairs and short spines directed backward, which also assist its movements on the host. The tough body is able to withstand great pressure, likely an adaptation to survive attempts to eliminate them by scratching.
Bed bug bites are caused primarily by two species of insects: Cimex lectularius (the common bed bug) and Cimex hemipterus, found primarily in the tropics. Their size ranges between 1 and 7 mm. They spread by crawling between nearby locations or by being carried within personal items. Infestation is rarely due to a lack of hygiene but is more common in high-density areas. Diagnosis involves both finding the bugs and the occurrence of compatible symptoms. Bed bugs spend much of their time in dark, hidden locations like mattress seams, or cracks in a wall.
Fleas lay tiny, white, oval eggs. The larvae are small and pale, have bristles covering their worm-like bodies, lack eyes, and have mouthparts adapted to chewing. The larvae feed on organic matter, especially the feces of mature fleas, which contain dried blood. Adults feed only on fresh blood.
Flea, the common name for the order Siphonaptera, includes 2,500 species of small flightless insects that survive as external parasites of mammals and birds. Fleas live by consuming blood, or hematophagy, from their hosts. Adult fleas grow to about 3 millimeters (1⁄8 inch) long, are usually brown, and have bodies that are “flattened” sideways or narrow, enabling them to move through their host’s fur or feathers. They lack wings, but have strong claws preventing them from being dislodged, mouthparts adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood, and hind legs extremely well adapted for jumping.
They are able to leap a distance of some 50 times their body length, a feat second only to jumps made by another group of insects, the superfamily of froghoppers. Flea larvae are worm-like with no limbs; they have chewing mouthparts and feed on organic debris left on their host’s skin.
The Siphonaptera are most closely related to the snow scorpionflies (known as snow fleas in the UK) in the family Boreidae, placing them within the Endopterygote insect order Mecoptera. Fleas arose in the early Cretaceous, most likely as ectoparasites of mammals, before moving on to other groups, including birds. Each species of flea is more or less a specialist with respect to its host animal species: many species never breed on any other host, though some are less selective. Some families of fleas are exclusive to a single host group; for example, the Malacopsyllidae are found only on armadillos, the Ischnopsyllidae only on bats, and the Chimaeropsyllidae only on elephant shrews.