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What do fleas look like?

Whether or not you have pets in your home, fleas can be a big concern. One of the biggest problems with fleas is that they are often misidentified. The insect you’re seeing may actually be a flea, but it also might be a bed bug, a tick, or something else.

Flea season is typically at its highest during the summer. A good sign that your pet may have fleas is if they start to scratch themselves more incessantly and consistently in the same spot. However, a trip to the vet is recommended. Though sometimes difficult to spot, fleas are visible to the human eye in your pet's fur and will usually cause some redness on your pet’s skin.

In order to properly treat a flea problem, you need a professional specialist to be able to identify the pest for you. If you think you have a flea infestation, contact Ehrlich today. One of our flea control specialists will come to your property and help put your mind at ease.

How to identify fleas

Even as full-grown adults, fleas are still very small insects and can be hard to detect by the human eye. Understanding what fleas look like can help with proper identification.

Size and shape

Fleas have very skinny bodies, six legs, and generally do not get much larger than 1/16”. They are actually at their largest in the larval stage growing up to 3/16” in length.

Size and shape of fleas

Color, hair, and facial features

Fleas are dark red to brownish-black in color. Their exoskeleton is hard and covered in backward-pointing hairs. These hairs help them move more easily under a host’s fur or hair and allow them to stay attached to the host. Fleas usually depend on their antennae and sense of smell for navigation so their eyes, if present, are usually tiny and simple. These parasitic insects have extended mouthparts that they use to feed on their host’s blood.


Contrary to popular belief, fleas do not have wings. Of their six legs, the four in the front are much shorter than the two in the back. Fleas travel by crawling and jumping, and their long back legs enable them to jump up to 80 times their height and 200 times their body length. Adult fleas are fast and can easily hide in your pet’s fur, but if they stay still, they are visible to the human eye. There are over 2,500 species and subspecies of fleas in existence, but one of the most common is the cat flea.

Cat fleas vs. Dog fleas

Despite its name, cat fleas can be found on various mammals such as dogs, cats, foxes, rabbits, and even humans. Cat fleas are brownish-black to black in color with long hind legs allowing them to jump up to six inches in height. These fleas become plump and reddish-brown when they are full of blood.

Many dog owners assume that their pup has dog fleas, but more than likely it actually has cat fleas. Dog fleas and cat fleas are similar in appearance and their differences are only distinguishable under a microscope. Cat and dog flea heads have different shapes - the head of a cat flea is about twice as long as the head of a dog flea. However, to the naked eye, both cat fleas and dog fleas fit the general appearance of a flea as described above.

Though both cat and dog fleas are found in the United States, cat fleas are more common.

What do flea eggs look like?

Flea eggs are very small, less than .019”. They are round or oval in shape and white in color. Flea eggs are unlike any other parasites’ eggs in that they are not sticky. Therefore, once they are laid, often directly on the host, they usually fall to the ground, contaminating the environment.

In fur, flea eggs can get confused with dandruff. The major difference between these two is that dandruff is flat, unsymmetrical, and will stick to your pet's fur, whereas flea eggs are that round, oval shape and will likely move around since they are not sticky.

Flea eggs hatch into larvae that look much more like a worm than a flea. In this stage, fleas have no legs or eyes. Flea larva is white but translucent. As it progresses through three molts to the pupal stage, it will gradually get darker in color.

Other bugs that look like fleas

Often mistaken for fleas are those pesky pests biting you at the beach. Despite what you may have been told, sand fleas are actually not fleas. In fact, they aren’t even insects. The term “sand flea” is often incorrectly used to describe various insects such as regular fleas, gnats, midges, and flies. This misidentification generally occurs because all of these pests can leave behind an itchy bite.

These tiny crustaceans are usually tan or grey with long front antennae. Like fleas, their exoskeletons are hard, but they can grow up to 1½” inches in length and have visible eyes. They are most commonly found at the beach and typically come out at night to find food.

Ehrlich can identify fleas

Fleas are an obnoxious pest for humans and pets alike, so don’t let them stick around. No matter the type of flea that is giving you trouble, Ehrlich can help. Your specialist will consider the areas where your pets spend the most time and will treat the areas where larvae may be found and where fleas like to hide. Contact us today for a flea inspection or call 800-837-5520.

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