Fleas are a worldwide pest that are abundant in almost every country, though they are most often a problem for pet owners. These tiny, parasitic insects feed primarily on the blood of animals and often hang out close to the skin of cats and dogs.
Though first made famous by their role in the spread of history’s most deadly epidemic, nowadays fleas are considered to be little more than a minor annoyance. However, they can be a nuisance to live with, and you may be wondering if there’s a natural, low-maintenance way to reduce the number of fleas around your home.
Fleas do have some natural predators, but can they help? What eats fleas, and could these natural predators help you out with flea pest control?
What are fleas?
Fleas are minuscule, wingless insects that are easily identifiable by their mighty leap and very itchy bites. These bloodsucking bugs are most often found in the coats of cats and dogs, though they may also bite humans occasionally (especially if there are a lot of them around).
Both male and female fleas survive on blood, but only female fleas require blood to reproduce. Female fleas use blood to nourish their eggs and will deposit up to 4 eggs after each meal, usually in the coat of her host.
Flea eggs are smooth and non-sticky and, though laid in the coats of animals, will soon fall out and onto the floor. In this way, fleas can quickly be spread throughout your home if you down take preventative measures against them.
The best way to fight fleas is by implementing an integrated pest control management plan that incorporates both preventative and active control measures. But could flea natural predators play a role as well?
What insects eat fleas?
Fire ants are a natural predator of the flea and are known to devour flea larvae. Unfortunately, these ants are also extremely aggressive towards humans and can deliver a very painful sting. In some people (either sensitive people or those receiving multiple stings) this can cause a more severe reaction including chest pain, nausea, swelling, difficulty breathing, and sweating.
As a result, fire ants are not considered to be a suitable form of flea control and infestations of these stinging bugs should not be encouraged.
Nematodes are another type of bug that eats fleas. Though technically classified as insects, nematodes are actually more closely related to worms. These tiny, long-bodied creatures are important predators of a wide range of pests, including fleas, and can play an important role in biological pest control.
These tiny worms are microscopic (too small to see with the naked eye). This means they can enter and parasitize other tiny bugs (such as flea larvae), killing them from the inside.
Steinernema carpocapsa is the nematode species most often used for pest control and may be an effective way to reduce the number of fleas around your home. If your pets are constantly itching and scratching, there’s a good chance that you have a larger-than-average flea population in your yard. If this is the case, scattering nematodes outside can help to cut their numbers.
Do spiders eat fleas?
Spiders are well-known insectivores, and several species will also eat fleas if given the chance. Though spiders are always useful to have around the house and can certainly help to limit the number of nuisance insects indoors, they won’t eat enough to eradicate a full-blown flea infestation.
Animals that eat fleas
There are also various animals that are natural predators of fleas and will eat them as part of their diet.
Frogs, toads, snakes, and lizards will all swallow the odd flea if they get the chance, and many will also eat flea eggs.
However, none of these creatures are likely to eat a large enough number of fleas to be a viable form of pest control.
Are natural predators an effective method of flea control?
The short answer is well… sometimes. The long?
Most insects and animals that eat fleas don’t do so in large enough quantities to eradicate an infestation. Of course, you could release thousands of spiders, snakes, frogs and fire ants into your home with the desperate hope that the combined forces of this grisly army can solve your flea problems – but only if you want your house condemned.
The only natural predator that can realistically be recruited into the war on fleas is the nematode. Some species of these microscopic worms parasitize and kill flea larvae very effectively, and many are commercially available as a form of biological pest control.
These can be bought and scattered over the soil in your yard to reduce flea numbers, which may help to stop them from bothering your pets (or coming into your house).
How can you stop your pet from getting fleas?
The most effective way to keep fleas off your cat or dog is by treating them with flea repellent products. Repellent sprays can be applied to their coats before they leave the house to discourage fleas from hopping aboard. And flea repellent shampoos may offer longer-acting effects.
Fleas are common on almost every continent and are especially troublesome for pet owners. These hopping, bloodsucking bugs often cause numerous itchy bites as they feed and can drive your cat or dog crazy. Though usually found on animals, fleas can (and will) bite nearby humans if present in large numbers, so it’s best to flea populations around your home to a minimum.
The most common natural predators of fleas are insects such as fire ants and nematodes, as well as spiders, frogs, toads lizards, and snakes.
However, unleashing these flea predators in your home or backyard is definitely an ineffective method of flea control. This is because they are usually not present in large enough numbers to eat an entire flea infestation (and, if they are, fleas are probably the least of your worries). Only certain species of nematodes may be used as an effective biological control method for fleas.