Do fleas have wings?

adult cat flea with no wings

Tom Murray

Img 1 Adult cat fleas don’t have wings.

Summary

Fleas do not have wings. Fleas belong to the insect order of Siphonaptera. This is a Greek word, and the suffix aptera literally translates to wingless.

Details

Fleas are Wingless

Fleas don’t have wings. They’re part of the insect order of Siphonaptera. The Greek prefix siphon translates to tube, and the suffix aptera literally means wingless. Nearly all ectoparasites of birds and mammals lack functional wings and can’t fly (e.g. fleas, ticks, bedbugs, and lice).

How Fleas Lost their Wings

Though fleas lack wings, it’s believed they’ve descended from winged ancestors. Evidence suggests that fleas are derived from the order of Mecoptera (scorpionflies) Img 2. Specifically, insects from the Boreidae family (snow scorpionfly) may be the ancient ancestors of fleas Img 3.

scorpionfly

Richard Bartz

Img 2 The scorpionfly (Mecoptera) family is where fleas are thought to derive from.

snow scorpionfly

Tom Murray

Img 3 Snow scorpionflies (Boreidae) are believed to be the ancestors of fleas.

Fleas parasitized prehistoric mammals. They have a known history of 60 million years. When free-living “pre-fleas” transitioned into parasitic feeding, they began finding themselves within the burrows of their hosts. Wings and flight became not only unnecessary, but a handicap. As a result, they were lost during the course of evolution.

Adaptations for Jumping

While fleas have lost their wings, many of the flight structures have been retained and adapted for jumping. Most notably, fleas possess a pleural arch, which is homologous to the wing hinge ligament of flying insects. The pleural arch contains resilin, a rubber-like protein that stores the energy needed for fleas’ giant leaps. Other structures related to winged insects are the starter muscle (tergo-trochanteral depressor) and certain direct flight muscles (subalars and basalars).

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