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Stephanocircidae

   

clade inc. Rhopalopsyllidae, Ctenophthalmidae, clade inc. Rhopalopsyllidae, Ctenophthalmidae, Hystrichopsyllidae

    Chimaeropsyllidae

   

Pulicidae (inc. the cat flea, vector of bubonic plague)

     

Pulicidae (inc. the cat flea, vector of bubonic plague)

    Ceratophyllomorpha (inc. the Ceratophyllidae, such as the widespread moorhen flea)

      Fleas feed on a wide variety of warm-blooded vertebrates including humans, dogs, cats, rabbits, squirrels, ferrets, rats, mice and birds. Fleas normally specialise in one host species or group of species, but can often feed but not reproduce on other species. Ceratophyllus gallinae affects poultry as well as wild birds.[27] As well as the degree of relatedness of a potential host to the flea's original host, it has been shown that avian fleas that exploit a range of hosts, only parasitise species with low immune responses. In general, host specificity decreases as the size of the host species decreases. Another factor is the opportunities available to the flea to change host species; this is smaller in colonially nesting birds, where the flea may never encounter another species, than it is in solitary nesting birds. A large, long-lived host provides a stable environment that favours host-specific parasites.[28]

Although there are dog fleas (Ctenocephalides canis Curtis, 1826), and cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) fleas are not strictly species-specific. A study in Virginia examined fleas collected from 29 dogs. In total, 244 fleas were identified and all turned out to be cat fleas. In fact, dog fleas haven't been found in Virginia in more than 70 years, so it is very likely that a flea found on a dog is actually a cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis).[29] In fact, dog fleas may not even occur in the US.[30]

One theory of human hairlessness is that the loss of hair helped humans to reduce their burden of fleas and other ectoparasites.[31]

Direct effects of bites

Fleas are vectors for viral, bacterial and rickettsial diseases of humans and other animals, as well as of protozoan and helminth parasites.[33] Bacterial diseases carried by fleas include murine or endemic typhus[32]:124 and bubonic plague.[34] Fleas can transmit vectors for viral, bacterial and rickettsial diseases of humans and other animals, as well as of protozoan and helminth parasites.[33] Bacterial diseases carried by fleas include murine or endemic typhus[32]:124 and bubonic plague.[34] Fleas can transmit Rickettsia typhi, Rickettsia felis, Bartonella henselae, and the myxomatosis virus.[33]:73 They can carry Hymenolepiasis tapeworms[35] and Trypanosome protozoans.[33]:74 The chigoe flea or jigger (Tunga penetrans) causes the disease tungiasis, a major public health problem around the world.[36] Fleas that specialize as parasites on specific mammals may use other mammals as hosts; thus, humans may be bitten by cat and dog fleas.[37]

Relationship with humans

Siphonaptera was written in 1915 by the mathematician Augustus De Morgan, It describes an infinite chain of parasitism made of ever larger and ever smaller fleas.[41]

Flea circuses provided entertainment to nineteenth century audiences. These circuses, extremely popular in Europe from 1830 onwards, featured fleas dressed as humans or towing miniature carts, chariots, rollers or cannon. These devices were originally made by watchmakers or jewellers to show off their skill at miniaturization. A ringmaster called a "professor" accompanied their performance with a rapid circus patter.[42][43]

Carriers of plague

The Great Plague of London, in 1665, killed up to 100,000 people.

Oriental rat fleas, Xenopsylla cheopis, can carry the coccobacillus Yersinia pestis. The infected fleas feed on rodent vectors of this bacterium, such as the black rat, Rattus rattus, and then infect human populations with the Oriental rat fleas, Xenopsylla cheopis, can carry the coccobacillus Yersinia pestis. The infected fleas feed on rodent vectors of this bacterium, such as the black rat, Rattus rattus, and then infect human populations with the plague, as has happened repeatedly from ancient times, as in the Plague of Justinian in 541–542.[44] Outbreaks killed up to 200 million people across Europe between 1346 and 1671.[45] The Black Death pandemic between 1346 and 1353 likely killed over a third of the population of Europe.[46]

Because fleas carry plague, they have seen service as a biological weapon. During World War II, the Japanese army dropped fleas infested with Y. pestis in China. The bubonic and septicaemic plagues are the most probable form of the plague that would spread as a result of a bioterrorism attack that used fleas as a vector.[47]

The Rothschild Collection

The banker Charles Rothschild devoted much of his time to entomology, creating a large collection of fleas

Because fleas carry plague, they have seen service as a biological weapon. During World War II, the Japanese army dropped fleas infested with Y. pestis in China. The bubonic and septicaemic plagues are the most probable form of the plague that would spread as a result of a bioterrorism attack that used fleas as a vector.[47]

The banker Charles Rothschild devoted much of his time to entomology, creating a large collection of fleas now in the Rothschild Collection at the Natural History Museum, London. He discovered and named the plague vector flea, Xenopsylla cheopis, also known as the oriental rat flea, in 1903.[48] Using what was probably the world's most complete collection of fleas of about 260,000 specimens (representing some 73% of the 2,587 species and subspecies so far described), he described around 500 species and subspecies of Siphonaptera. He was followed in this interest by his daughter Miriam Rothschild, who helped to catalogue his enormous collection of the insects in seven volumes.[49][50]

Flea treatments