Fleas come in many varieties; some carry the plague

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Apr 14, 2013 in Rat Answers | Subscribe

This week we will talk about fleas in New Mexico. Most of the information in this article came from a book titled, “Fleas and Lice of Mammals in New Mexico.” It was published in 2004 by the U.S. Deptartment of Agriculture and is available online. It was written by …. several colleagues at UNM and me.

The fleas most people are concerned with are dog fleas and cat fleas (Ctenocephalides canis and C. felis). These are silly common names as the cat fleas prefer dogs but will feed on both as will the dog flea. They probably should be called “pet fleas.” We do not have either of these fleas in New Mexico, as they require a humid climate to breed. They are found in the eastern states and in California and Oregon in the West. Occasionally, the cat flea has been brought into N.M. on pet dogs from other parts of the country, but that is very rare.

We have approximately 107 species of fleas in New Mexico and about 33 species that carry the plague. Pocket gophers are known to carry seven species of fleas. None is known to carry the plague. Pack rats can carry 34 species of fleas. At least four are known to carry plague. Deer mice can carry 36 species of fleas and at least six are known or suspected of carrying the plague.

The various species of squirrels can carry as many as 14 species of fleas, and at least eight species can carry the plague. Prairie dogs can carry 10 species of fleas. Only two species are known to be vectors of the plague and they kill the prairie dogs, so the prairie dogs can’t spread the plague. In other words, if you have a colony of prairie dogs near your property, they will not spread the plague. If plague fleas get involved with the prairie dogs, the animals will die.

Ground-nesting birds, such as quail and chickens, can carry sticktight fleas (Echidnophaga gallinacea), and they will get on pets. They are usually found around the eyes and ears and hang on tight to your pet. I put diatomaceous earth (DE) on my fingers and rub the fleas and they will drop off. Use food-grade DE only. It is available at most feed stores.

What else can you do about fleas?

If you have ground squirrels, I would recommend dusting the burrows with diatomaceous earth. The DE will kill any fleas in the burrow but won’t hurt the squirrels. The fleas will get off the squirrel after feeding and will land in the DE in the burrow.

If you have mice, never use rodenticides as any fleas on the dead mice will leave and look for another host, you or your pets. Use snap traps baited with a piece of Slim Jim and check the traps several times a day. When you catch a mouse, spray it with a disinfectant (to kill hantavirus germs) and put it in a plastic bag while wearing gloves.

I never recommend using Frontline or Advantage for fleas in N.M. If we had “pet fleas,” then it might be okay, but still risky. According to Whole Dog Journal, a monthly dog care and training publication, the active ingredient in Frontline, which is fipronil, may not be safe for pets.

Greenbug has a very good natural flea spray you can use on your pets. It is available online at greenbugallnatural.com. There are others as well. No reason to use pesticides.

(Contact me at askthebugman2013@gmail.com or 385-2820 if you have any pest questions.)

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