Aspects of the biology, behavior, bionomics, and control of immature stages of the cat flea Ctenocephalides felis felis (Bouche) (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae) in the domiciliary environment

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The larval stage of the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis felis (Bouche), was found to exhibit behaviors that were conducive to its security in carpet. Larvae exhibited positive geotactic, and negative phototactic behaviors. This resulted in the larvae spending greater than 80% of their time at the base of the carpet pile. Cat flea larvae also exhibited a positive hydrotaxis, and appeared to exhibit undirected movements when foraging. Larva were observed to respond to disturbances by coiling their body longitudinally.

Cat flea hatched and unhatched eggs, and larval exuviae were found to be dispersed in a contagious fashion within carpet. The spatial pattern of the immature stages and remains was influenced by the habits of the pet host within a given room. First-instar larvae do not move far, if at all, from the location of eclosion. The movement of the larval stage is influenced by biotic and abiotic factors in the environment. Areas of high pedestrian or pet traffic are not conducive to successful eclosion from the egg or for successful larval development.

Various methods of control exist for controlling an indoor infestation including both non-chemical and chemical tactics. A method for the physical control of immature stages in carpet is vacuuming. A beater-bar vacuum removes about 50% of the eggs but less than 30% of the larvae from a carpet. Chemical control tactics indoors are normally conducted using a compressed-air sprayer. Pressure within the application system is critical for creating spray patterns which can be overlapped to allow even insecticide coverage of the substrate. A compressed-air application system is not capable of delivering pesticides in a manner that will completely penetrate the carpet substrate to reach the base of the carpet. No significant differences in carpet penetration were observed over a range of 20 to 70 psi. Regardless of pressure, more than 93% of the solution applied to carpet was deposited in the upper third (6 mm) of the carpet.

Pet owners were surveyed about their knowledge and perceptions of household infestations of the cat flea, and also about financial expenditures and their willingness to pay for a flea-free environment. The importance and the pest status of flea infestations were determined to be based on physical, psychological, and economic impacts on homeowners. Respondents' perceptions of infestations on their pet were associated with infestation levels in the house. The respondents were willing to pay more for flea control in July, the onset of the flea season, than they were at the peak or decline of the season. They were also willing to pay more as their perception of the intensity of the problem on the pet or in the home increased. Household income was not shown to affect a respondent's actual financial expenditures or his willingness to pay for flea control on the pet or in the home.