How far can flea larvae travel?

Summary

Cat flea larvae rarely travel further than 15-20 centimeters after hatching. In a suitable environment, they’ve been seen to migrate 46 cm at a maximum. However, if food is absent, they may travel up to 90 cm to prevent starving.

Details

Normal Circumstances

Larvae Live Where Eggs Fall

Cat flea larvae are quite mobile, but they rarely venture far from the point of eclosion. Where larvae live is determined by where eggs get dispersed, and this is governed by the habits of the infested host. One study found 47-50% of flea larvae were located where a cat spent 90% of its time.

Distance Traveled in Carpets

When studying movement in carpets, 78% of larvae remained within 15 cm from where they hatched. At a maximum, one larva was seen to travel 46 cm. A similar study placed larvae in carpet. Less than 15% moved more than 20 cm before they pupated.

In one study, larval movement was estimated by observing shed casings in the environment. While none of the larvae moved very far, it was determined that second-instars travel further than first-instars.

Finding Food

If larvae hatch in areas without food, they’ll travel further to prevent starvation. The larvae moved less than 16 cm when food was present. But when food was absent, 50% of the larvae traveled up to 90 cm to find it.

Avoiding Light

Flea larvae are negatively phototactic. This means they’ll actively move away from light. As a result, 83% of fleas in homes develop at the base of carpets. Even when confined to sand, the larvae will burrow down to an average depth of 2.36 mm to avoid light, and a maximum depth of 7.5 mm.

References

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Discussion

  • Patty October 19, 2015, 2:08 pm

    We went away for several weeks and left our cats . We came home to a few rooms taken over by fleas. Our cats never had fleas before. I was unaware of them having any problem and because we were busy I didn’t really notice. I have been using a lot of borax and diatomaceous earth plus I started just recently using orange guard. Plus I have really been doing a lot of vaccuming. I haven’t noticed to many fleas but I wanted to ask you I Feel something crawling on me and it isn’t fleas is it the larvae I feel crawling up my leg or is this my imagination. I do feel something and so does my husband could this be the larvae and do you think I can get by without the IGR. And how long would it take if I’m consistent and diligent about all of this ? Thank You. Patty

  • Patty October 19, 2015, 3:02 pm

    Can flea larvae crawl on you. I have used DE and Vaccum quite a bit for the last three months. I don’t see fleas but I feel something is still there. I’ve been using orange guard. Will it take awhile to get rid of everything. I’ve been very diligent about everything. Thank you. Patty

    • Adam Retzer October 19, 2015, 9:27 pm

      Hey Patty,

      Sorry to hear about your flea problem. Most pet owners don’t notice fleas on their animals right away, this is common.

      First off, no, flea larvae aren’t crawling on you or your husband. They dislike light, and won’t be found crawling around outside their protected microhabitats. Most people don’t even see the larvae because they live at the base of carpets. Additionally, flea larvae don’t have the physical capability to crawl on people. They also don’t feed parasitically. So even if they could crawl on people, there’s no incentive for them to do so.

      The only exception is if a home is unkempt with clothing piled up on the floor. The larvae may hide within the dirty clothing. If a person then re-wears one of these garments, they may temporarily have larvae on them.

      It sounds like you and your husband may be experiencing phantom sensations from being in a heightened state of awareness. It’s also possible that adult fleas are crawling on you, but you said you haven’t seen any lately so that’s unlikely.

      If you haven’t noticed any fleas on your pets or in your home for a few months, you should be in the clear soon. When was the last time you saw fleas?

      In an average home environment, adult fleas live for around 7 days, eggs live for 1.5 to 3 days before hatching, larvae pupate in 7 to 11 days, and the pupal stage lasts for 7 to 19 days. So, if 40 days have passed since you last saw an adult flea, you’re in good shape. However, the presence of a single adult female can start everything over again.

      A big problem with flea control is the pre-emerged adult state. After pupating, the adult can remain inside its cocoon for up to 5 months within carpets. It waits until it detects a nearby host (warmth and physical pressure), before it emerges. If your gut instinct is telling you something is still in your home, it is most likely pre-emerged adults.

      You can force the pre-emerged adults to emerge by vacuuming, and the vacuum cleaner will then suck up the insects. Vacuuming creates warmth and pressure, simulating a host. It’s important to continue a religious vacuuming routine, especially in those problem rooms you mentioned.

      Good luck! If you haven’t seen a single adult flea in a long time (40 days), I think you’re close to be being completely clear of the pests and you won’t need to employ any chemical methods. Just keep up the vacuuming.

      If you start noticing adult fleas, it may be time to employ an IGR to the carpet or use an on-animal treatment.

      Good luck!

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