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Blood Suckers

Human Bed Bug
Rhipicephalus Tick
Soft Tick
Dermacentor Tick


Fleas are small (1/16 inch), dark, reddish-brown, wingless, blood-sucking insects. Their bodies are laterally compressed (flattened side to side), permitting easy movement through the hairs on the host’s body. Their legs are long and well adapted for jumping. The flea body is hard, polished, and covered with many hairs and short spines directed backward. The mouthparts of an adult flea are adapted for sucking blood from a host.

Several species of fleas may be pests in Florida. The cat flea (Figure 1) is the most frequently found flea. Cat fleas may attack a wide variety of warm-blooded animals including dogs, humans, chickens, rabbits, squirrels, rats and mice. Although the dog, human, and sticktight fleas are also found in Florida, multiple species of fleas may be found on a single animal.

The female flea lays her tiny, white eggs (Figure 2) loosely on the hairs, in the feathers, or in the habitat of the host. The eggs readily fall off the host onto the ground, floors, bedding, or furniture. Some fleas can lay 500 eggs over a period of several months by laying batches of three to 18 eggs at a time. The tiny eggs hatch in one to 12 days after being deposited. The white, wormlike larva (Figure 3) avoids light and feeds on dried adult feces mainly, but may feed on dead animal parts and other organic matter. Within seven to 14 days, unless food has been scarce, the third larval stage is completed, and the larva spins a tiny cocoon (Figure 4) and pupates. Usually after a week the adult flea emerges and begins its search for blood.


Bedbugs are a growing problem in houses, apartments, motels/hotels and other public venues. All life stages feed on blood. These insects live in dark cracks and crevices in the vicinity of where people sleep or sit, such as overstuffed couches, only leaving these sites to feed. They only stay on the host long enough to feed. Bedbug bites cause itchy red papules. They are not known to transmit any disease-causing pathogen although some people can develop allergic hypersensitivity to their bite.

Bed bugs belong to the family Cimicidae. The most common species that attacks humans is Cimex lectularius, which is found throughout North America, Central Asia, and Europe. Bed bug infestations used to be quite common prior to WWII and the invention of DDT. Their populations have been steadily growing since the 1960’s or so and are becoming epidemic in some regions of North America.

Adult bed bugs can be identified by their tan-colored appearance, oval body shape, and small size (less than a quarter inch long). Their bodies are flattened, and they are wingless. Immature stages resemble adults but are smaller, and lighter colored. Bed bugs require a single blood meal to molt the next immature stage and finally adults. Nymphs and adults generally feed at night and hide in crevices during the day. Adults generally live less than a year, and within that year, they can produce three to four generations.

Rhipicephalus Tick

The brown dog tick is probably the most widely distributed tick in the world and is found throughout the US. A “clean” dog can be infested from a variety of sources, including other infested residences in the area, and poorly maintained boarding kennels. Ticks are not transferred from one dog to the other by direct contact. A feeding tick must first drop from the dog to molt before it reattaches to the same or another host for an additional bloodmeal. All growth stages can be found sucking blood almost anywhere on the dog when infestations are severe. If allowed to continue, this activity may result in loss of vitality by the pet and irritability. The tick can be a real nuisance if the infested dog lives in the home. These ticks will often emerge in great numbers from furniture, baseboards, moldings, electrical outlet boxes, curtains, etc. The brown dog tick has been reported to be a vector of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in the western hemisphere

An engorged female is fertilized by a male while still on the dog. She falls off after mating and seeks a sheltered area in which to lay her 1,000-3,000 eggs. She can lay her eggs in any protected area, however, egg masses are likely to be found in above-ground crack and crevices (for example, kennel roofs) because of her behavioral tendency to crawl upward. The female dies soon after depositing eggs and depending on temperature and humidity, the eggs hatch in 19-60 days. The tiny light brown larvae (“seed tick”) have 6 legs and attach to a dog at the first opportunity. A larva can survive for 8 months without a bloodmeal. After larvae attach to a host they engorge themselves for 3-9 days, changing from a flattened to a globular shape, and light brown to bluish-gray color. They leave the host, seek a sheltered area, and molt in 6-23 days to become an 8-legged reddish-brown nymph. Nymphs can survive for extended periods without food or water.

Soft Tick

After the egg stage, six-legged soft tick larvae immediately seek blood meals and undergo a molt. Following this molt, soft ticks enter the nymphal stage, during which time they undergo several more molts. Soft ticks grow larger after each molt and feed many times during this stage of development.

Unlike hard ticks, soft ticks do not have a protective scutum. Their mouthparts also are not readily visible when viewed from above. These mouthparts consist of two palps and one hypostome. The barbed hypostome is capable of penetrating human skin and is not easily removed. In some cases, the hypostome may remain within the host even after the soft tick has been removed.

Some common soft tick species are the fowl tick and the relapsing fever tick. Like hard ticks, soft ticks are known to be vectors of various bacteria and diseases. Among them are Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, tularemia and tick-borne relapsing fever. Proper removal of soft ticks is necessary to prevent infection.

A pair of bent-nose tweezers should be used to remove the tick. Take care not to puncture the body of the tick, as this can release more harmful bacteria.


Ticks are well known bloodsucking external parasites of humans, pets, livestock, and wild animals. They also are vectors of a wide variety of disease-causing organisms to animals and are second only to mosquitoes in terms of public health importance. You are encouraged to learn more about the biology of ticks in Indiana. This will enable you to make more informed decisions about health risks, avoid contact with ticks, decide whether to attempt tick control, and determine how to conduct control when deemed necessary.

The majority of tick species in Indiana feed on wild animals and livestock, but some species feed on humans and are vectors of several diseases that are mentioned below. See Purdue Extension publication E-244-W “Lyme Disease” (PDF 834KB) for details about Lyme disease. In addition, female ticks that attach and suck blood near the spinal cord can produce a condition known as “tick paralysis” in livestock, pets, and humans.

Ticks are wingless and possess a single, oval body region that is relatively flat (except when filled with blood). Adults and nymphs have eight legs; larvae have only six legs. The so-called “head” of a tick includes structures involved in feeding, together known as the “capitulum.” It consists of a pair of leg-like sensory structures known as “palps” that enable the tick to detect an approaching host, a pair of knife-like structures known as “chelicerae” that cut an opening in the host skin, and a single barbed structure known as a “hypostome” that enters this opening. The hypostome becomes anchored in the host flesh when the tick takes a blood meal.


Chiggers are animals that many people have heard of, or have been bitten by, but don’t know what they are. Chiggers are actually mites, cousins of spiders and ticks. They have a life cycle very much like insects, even though they are not insects. There are several species of mites called “chigger,” but Trombicula alfreddugesi is probably the most common.

Chiggers spend most of their lives living in moist soil, and prefer edges. Examples of edges include where forests become meadows, streambanks, shores of marshes, and boundaries of yards and parks. Adult chiggers are tiny and you can barely see them if you look closely. They are red, about 1/20 inch long, and have 8 legs. The adults do not bite, though, so if you see one it can’t do you any harm.

Female chiggers lay eggs in early Spring, when the first warm weather comes. One female can lay up to 400 eggs. She lays them in damp soil.

Larvae hatch from the eggs and immediately find plants to climb onto while they wait for a host. The larva stage of a chigger is a parasite. It must find a host to feed on. Hosts include mammals, birds, reptiles, and some amphibians. When a potential host brushes against a plant, the chigger larva jumps on. A larva is microscopic, so you can’t see it with your eye. They also have only six legs in this stage.

The larva finds a place to feed and attaches itself to the skin of the host. It feeds by using its saliva, which has a special chemical in it. This chemical turns skin cells into liquid, which the larva then drinks.

The larva will feed for about 3 days if nothing bothers it, and then it drops off. Hosts are not harmed, though they may feel itchy.