Zoology

Characteristics of the Insect Order Siphonaptera



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The siphonaptera insect order consists of several species of fleas that suck blood from mammals and birds. The insects tend to be selective about which mammals or birds to make their hosts. Some people call them carnivore fleas.

In classifying insect orders, siphonaptera species belong together because they are wingless insects with bodies that tend to be flat enough to allow them to crawl through narrow spaces, particularly, strands of fur and feathers. They have mouthparts that allow them to suck blood after piercing their victim's skin. In furtherance, they have the ability to jump long distances in order to infiltrate their hosts.

* Appearance – Siphonaptera antenna tend to be short. They have small mouthparts that they use for sucking blood from their hosts. Two maxillary palpi extend from their heads and three tail-like filaments extend from their multi segmented abdomens. Their bodies are hard and flat; coloration is normally black or dark brown, and their back legs are heftier than their front legs.

* Diet – In the larval stage, siphonaptera feed off various types of organic debris including blood acquired from feces left by adults of the species. After they undergo metamorphosis and change from larvae into fleas, they feed off blood from their host animal. It is necessary for female siphonaptera to eat blood in order to ensure the growth of their eggs.

* Mating – When siphonaptera mate, the eggs fall from the hosts because they are left unattached. A curious question about these insects looms around whether or not they are parthenogenetic meaning that the eggs do not require male fertilization. As of yet, however, this theory has not been proven or disproved.

*Larvae – Siphonaptera larvae look like long worms. Animals unknowingly collect the larvae with their fur or feathers by contacting nests located in dirt, rugs, or other types of carpeting, as well as animal bedding. The larvae look almost like fly larvae. They have no legs beneath their long slender bodies. Normally, they surround themselves in silky cocoons during metamorphosis. Adults grow to about one eighth of an inch.

* Habits – Whereas siphonaptera insects generally use animals and birds as hosts, 74% prefer to suckle rat blood and six percent prefer birds.

*Abilities - According to the Encyclopedia of Entomology, some fleas can leap up to distances of 30 centimeters high and 20 centimeters long. Fleas can prolong their pupa stages for extended periods, which comes in handy whenever hosts are scarce.

* Enemies – Humans pose threats to fleas when they bathe their pets or other domesticated animals or use insecticides to kill siphonaptera insects.

* Related insect orders - According to Encyclopedia Britannica.com, some authorities believe siphonaptera insects are actually descendants of the order mecoptera insects because they bear common characteristics such as spined gizzards, six rectal glands, and simple ovaries.

* Warnings – In that siphonaptera order consists of several species of fleas it should be noted that at least one flea species is a carrier of the bubonic plague bacterium. The bubonic plague is responsible for the deaths of over 125,000,000 people.

Fleas carrying the plague can pass it to humans after feeding on infected rats and then regurgitating the bacterium into human skin. Siphonaptera insects can also spread the plague to humans by leaving infected feces on their skin. Scratching the skin to soothe an itch aids the bacterium in entering the skin.

* Tend to be inconspicuous - In that siphonaptera insects are so tiny and like to remain hidden beneath fur and feathers, humans are not likely to spot them without intentionally seeking them out. They can do this by examining an infected animal's fur or feathers all the way to the skin. Spotting fleas in the stomach area is the best way to find and view siphonaptera insects that infect cats, dogs, and other small mammals.

Siphonaptera insects tend to be attracted to ultraviolet light and to shadows. Although siphonaptera insects can live off any host mammal or bird, each species tends to stick to a certain type of animal from which they will feed. All the same, however, they will feed from different types of animals whenever necessary to prevent themselves from starving.

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