Ever heard of the ‘Stick Tight Flea’? These tenacious little fellows were discovered at a local butchery in Cape Town, sticking quite tightly (as their name suggests) to several pork meat carcasses. At first it was suspected that there was a flea infestation of some kind, but after ruling out pet cats and checking the wind tunnels in which the meat was dried, no clear conclusion could be drawn as to where this insect originated. Upon closer inspection – and the help of our knowledgeable Rentokil Entomologist, Jaco Scheepers, quite an interesting inference was made.
The Stick Tight Flea (Echidnophaga gallinacean), also known as the ‘stickfast’ flea, is normally found infesting a range of poultry species. They are not too fussy about who their hosts are and will happily attach to the fleecy skin areas of dogs, cats, people, horses and various other animals. This biting insect hangs on tightly to its host, causing bites that are painful and itchy and very likely to become infected. As these types of fleas attach themselves so tightly to the skins of their hosts, they are quite problematic to pick off. Some people even think that they are ticks as they hold onto the skin so determinedly, even after they die. Dead stick tight fleas need to be scraped from the skin of the host to remove them.
The stick tight fleas remaining on their host after its death is precisely what happened in the case of the local butchery who reported the infestation. What is also interesting to note is that the meat packing process requires the meat to be boiled in order for the hair to be easily removed from the pork. Even after boiling and scraping, these stick fast fleas remained, unfortunately spoiling the pork for the butchery!
According to our expert Entomologist, stick tight fleas are attracted to heat, carbon dioxide and of course, live flesh. When the host animal dies, they eventually die as well. What is also quite fascinating regarding this biting insect is that it does not attach itself to its host with its legs, but rather with its large sucking mouth-parts (“Maxillary laciniae”). This flea’s body resembles that of the flea that hosts on humans (“Pulex irritans”), and is around 3mm in size. The stick tight flea is also further distinguished by its very short thorax, making its legs appear bunched together, its large square shaped head, and of course its large sucking and piercing mouth-parts.
The next time you see a flea, remember that there are a range of flea species. You never know what sticky situation you may find yourself in, as was the case for our local butchery. It is always important to call in the experts to identify the species at hand, and to provide you with advice on how to get rid of fleas, or how to prevent them.