Do fleas reproduce asexually?

Summary

Cat fleas don’t reproduce asexually. They aren’t parthenogenetic. Offspring are only produced after flea eggs are fertilized through successful mating.

Details

Virgin Females & Non-Viable Eggs

Virgins Lay Infertile Eggs

Virgin female fleas can lay eggs 24 hours after their first blood meal. The eggs appear normal, but they’ll never hatch. Eggs from virgins aren’t viable. An unmated female produces around 1.6 eggs a day, which can continue for up to 58 days.

The fact that virgin females can lay any eggs at all suggests that fleas may be moving towards parthenogenetic (asexual) reproduction. Sexual reproduction is considered primitive in insects.

The Purpose of Non-Viable Eggs

Flea larvae feed on conspecific eggs. They’ll fail to develop into adults without the eggs in their diet. Thus, it’s believed fleas evolved to produce non-viable eggs in order to provide larvae with a nutritional supplement. Cannibalization of fertile eggs is reduced when the larvae are able to feed on non-viable eggs.

Mated Females & Viable Eggs

After female fleas mate with males, they’re able to deposit viable eggs and their output quadruples. To reach full fertility, females need to successively mate with numerous male partners. Females that mate with multiple partners lay over nine times as many fertile eggs as once-mated females.

References

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Discussion

  • Shaheer June 4, 2016, 7:41 pm

    How does a male flea for example find his partner ( the female flea ) in this wide universe ?

    • Adam Retzer June 17, 2016, 6:51 pm

      Flea eggs accumulate and survive in specific areas. After hatching from eggs, developing as larvae, and pupating, the adult fleas acquire a nearby suitable host. Once on the host, the male and females will be together. They then mate. Typically, only a few host animals will be within range of where the fleas developed, so the adult fleas end up on the same animal(s).

  • Mary August 26, 2016, 3:48 am

    Hi.
    My dog has fleas and I typically use skip flea and tick on him. Will this work?! Because I just used it on him and I noticed that there was a few dead fleas in the bathtub. But I’m not sure if it worked because he’s still itching. Do dogs do that after they had fleas? An instinctual itching? Thanks for your time.
    -Mary

    • Adam Retzer August 26, 2016, 10:37 pm

      Hello Mary,

      Skip-flea & tick will eliminate the fleas on your dog, but unfortunately it won’t end the infestation.

      Skip-flea & tick shampoo contains the active ingredients permethrin and piperonyl butoxide. Permethrin is an adulticide. It kills the adult fleas on your dog, which is why you saw them dead in the bathtub. Piperonyl butoxide is a synergist. It’s function is to increase the potency of the permethrin.

      The problem is that adult fleas only make up 1-5% of the total flea population. The lion’s share of the infestation are eggs, larvae, and pupae. These immature stages develop off the host. In domestic settings, this is almost always in carpeting. However, pet beds and rugs are also common flea hot-spots.

      Another problem is that permethrin doesn’t have lasting residual activity. It won’t continue killing newly acquired fleas on your dog. Even though the shampoo killed the dog’s fleas, soon new adults will emerge from carpets and re-infest the animal. It won’t be long before they feed and lay eggs, continuing the infestation.

      For more information, visit our guide on how to get rid of fleas.

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