Fleas are very tiny wingless insects that at the first look appear as specks of dust. They are part of the insect order of Siphonaptera. This is actually a Greek word, and the suffix aptera means wingless. They are usually black or dark brown in color and when fully grown, the bug is about 0.1 inches in length. Nearly all ectoparasites of mammals have no functional wings and hence cannot fly (e.g. ticks, lice, fleas, and bedbugs). There exist around 2,000 different types of fleas in the entire world. The common ones are dog fleas, Oriental rat fleas, cat fleas, and human fleas.
It is impossible to see fleas with wings, for these insects do not have wings and they cannot fly. However, fleas have flat bodies and strong legs which make them good jumpers. They can jump up to 5 feet high. It is around a hundred times their body size. So really it is amazing to see how such a tiny pest is able to accomplish such an astounding feat of acrobatics. These small bugs have the second longest jump to body size ratio of all recognized and identified animals, first being the froghopper.
Fleas with wings – Ancient ancestors
The present-day fleas are wingless and flightless creatures. However, it is believed that these tiny bugs have descended from winged ancestors. Evidence advocates that the fleas belong to the order Mecoptera (scorpionflies). Ancient ancestors of fleas are believed to belong to the Boreidae (snow scorpionfly) family. These were the species of fleas with wings.
Fleas parasitized ancient vertebrates within the class Mammalia. These insects possess a history of parasitizing mammals for sixty million years. During the course of evolution, though, flight and wings became unnecessary for these creatures, and the free-living “pre-fleas” transformed into parasitic fleas and their habitat turned into burrows of their mammal hosts. This is how the fleas became wingless and flightless.
What kind of environment do fleas prefer?
The habitat of fleas is a warm climate as these insects are unable to endure extremely hot or extremely cold weather conditions. They prefer any warm-blooded animals and can often be found in pant legs, blankets and shoes. Fleas also thrive in damp places with little light, for example, in crevices or under furniture.
Do fleas have wings?
Ever seen fleas with wings? Do fleas have wings? Do fleas fly?
Well, fleas, indeed, are flightless and wingless creatures. Like most other insects, fleas use their legs to walk and move around by jumping. Their tiny, strong and powerful hind legs push them up to fifty times their own height, which means that fleas can jump up to 7 inches vertically and up to 13 inches horizontally.
Their ability to jump and move ascertains how far they can spread as they attach themselves to their chosen hosts. Interestingly, fleas change directions every time they jump. Although they can jump as high as 7 inches, their preference is to stay nestled and warm in the fur or on the skin of their host.
The jumping ability of fleas is very impressive. But in addition to their strong hind legs, they possess a large trochanteral depressor muscle in the thorax. It is a pad of protein, known as resilin, and is elastic in nature. This protein has rubber-like characteristics and provides the tiny bugs a kind of compressed springboard which makes a flea jump in an upward direction or forward direction when it wants to move from one location to another. This airborne assault enables them to land on the body of mammals, including your pets or yourself.
Do fleas fly?
Wondering do fleas fly? Nowadays you won’t see fleas with wings around you. The modern fleas’ ancestors possessed wings, but that trait vanished over time. Fleas do not need to fly and are wingless pests. They do not need wings as they are well-equipped and efficient enough to move from one location to another by clinging to their hosts and jumping.
A female adult flea sticks to its host mammal and remains there throughout her life feeding on their blood and laying around 100 eggs per day. Fleas are dangerous creatures as they are known to spread life-threatening diseases. They can travel easily from one place to another, therefore also quickly spreading diseases from one place to another. For example, the spread of the Bubonic plague that ravaged Europe was spread by fleas.
So, the right answer to the question ‘Do fleas fly’?’ would be ‘No’. They don’t fly as they lost their wings in the course of evolution. However, their flying structures have been altered and incorporated into an amazing jumping mechanism. When fleas are about to jump, the muscles in their legs get contracted and alter the resilin protein pad to generate energy for jumping or propulsion. If fleas were human-sized athletes part of the long jump discipline in the Olympics, they would break the world record by a whopping 970 feet.
How do fleas travel long distances?
No, fleas cannot fly and because of their flightless characteristic, they are dependent on their host animals or humans to move from one place to another. Their hosts travel large distances enabling fleas to traverse different locations. Fleas often hitchhike with mammals like rodents (rats and mice). And they also travel to different locations by means of shoes and socks worn by humans. In quintessence, fleas seek to thrive wherever the hosts take them.
Now you know that fleas are wingless insects and cannot fly. Although, they cannot fly they are, however, very good jumpers and often move around by clinging to the body of their hosts. So even though fleas do not have wings, they are able to move efficiently and cross long distances. Therefore, next time you marvel at how fleas are able to get from one place to another so quickly, remember that they use jumping and their hosts as their mode of transportation.