What Do Flea Larvae Eat?

Flea larvae (35% of the flea population) is the second phase of the fleas’ life cycle. Depending on the levels of humidity and temperature, flea Larvae development takes 1 to 10 days. But what do flea larvae really eat?

The short answer is, flea larvae feed primarily on flea dirt which is (1) adult fleas’ feces (or undigested blood), & (2) conspecific (or non‐viable) eggs – this is unlike other holometabolous larvae. Related: Best flea bombs.

Here’s what Flea Larvae Eat:

These tiny baby fleas will easily feel running vacuum, footsteps, and vibrations, after which they’ll act dead. yard flea spray. As hematophagous obligate epiphytes, flea larva doesn’t require a host to survive or grow.

1. Feces from Adult Fleas 

Cat flea larvae have mandibles to chew solid organic matter but won’t bite on either cats or dogs. As highlighted above, flea larvae primarily feed on flea dirt – which is feces (or basically pre-digested and dried blood) from adult fleas.

Undigested cat or dog blood 

The blood may have originated from various hosts such as cats and dogs or human beings. Therefore, a large quantity of the ingested blood comes out in feces undigested ready to give the flea larvae the required nutrients.

Flea larvae won’t grow appropriately if they don’t feed on flea dirt. Despite that the fleas eggs are laid wet on the host’s hair coat, they’ll dry out and over 70% of them will fall off in about 8 hours. 

Hemoglobin with Protein and Iron 

The blood in flea dirt has a varied amount of hemoglobin that will be essential for the growth of the flea larvae. Specifically, Hemoglobin contains 85-89% proteins (from the host’s blood protein) that aid the growth of larvae. 

Further, Hemoglobin intensifies sclerotization and larvae growth due to its high 45-79% iron (from the host’s blood iron) content. 

Coils & spherules (Coils have 32% extra proteins) 

Feces in the coil shape have  32% additional proteins compared to the spherules shape of flea feces.

However, the key to note is that coil-shaped flea feces are mainly ejected by fleas that are about 2 weeks old while the spherule-shaped feces are from the newly developed flea adults.

Therefore, younger flea larvae will favor the spherule-shaped feces since they are softer and smaller while those in their elder days will take the coil-shaped feces since it has 32% additional proteins.

Females Fleas produce more Feces

Adult fleas (particularly females) will suck blood about 13.6 µl of host blood, which is significantly higher than their male counterparts (that suck about 5 µl – 6.97 µl of host blood).

Therefore, female fleas will generate larger quantities of feces – which plays a greater role in parenting and feeding their larvae. Also, female Fleas feed on more blood to maintain a balance in their body metabolism to allow higher egg production.

2. Non-viable or Conspecific flea Eggs

In addition, to undigested host blood, fleas will also feed on non-viable (or conspecific) eggs. For example, a recent Hsu MHin recent research concluded that non-viable flea eggs contributed to the proper development of more than  90% the flea larvae into adults.

But who many such eggs would one larva require. Well, scientific evidence varies with the larvae eating from 7 – 20 dead & non-viable flea eggs per flea larvae. 

3. Scavenging and Cannibalism 

Scavenging 

Flea larvae mainly live in bedding or the nest where thy turn around to scavenge for food in the environment. They are worm-looking or legless with their mandibles will be feeding on flea dirt.

Flea larvae will move around (up to 90 cm) in search of food. But, they’ll be within 16 cm around the flea nest if flea dirt is readily available in that habitat or hatching area. However, flea larvae have a higher probability of dying if they don’t get food in three days. 

Cannibalistic Tendencies 

Finally, flea larvae will also cannibalize (or eat one of their own) larvae that are either injured or weakly. Further, some larva may also eat different naked pupae or the larval casings that have been shed.

Sources: 

  1. NCBI – The effects of diet upon pupal development and cocoon formation by the cat flea (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae)
  2. The effects of flea egg consumption on larval cat flea (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae) development. Lawrence W 
  3. Donato Traversa – Fleas infesting pets in the era of emerging extra-intestinal nematodes 

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