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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Flea‘in Around: A Look at the Identification, Preservation, Clearing, and Mounting of Siphonaptera

  • Author(s): Campbell, James D.
  • Bennett, Steve
  • Krueger, Laura
  • Morgan, Tim
  • Nguyen, Kiet
  • Penicks, Amanda
  • Sun, Sokanary
  • Cummings, Robert
  • Martinez, Danielle
  • Quinn, Niamh
  • et al.

Fleas are remarkable and highly specialized insects, with no part of their external anatomy being easily mistaken for that of any other insect. Due to their small size, the subtle differences among the distinguishing morphological characteristics of each species, and complexities of preparing specimens, identifying, and working with fleas is challenging. Various documents and taxonomic keys are available that discuss mounting procedures and the identification of medically important fleas for large regions of the world including the United States; however, many of these have become antiquated over time. Some of the distinguishing specialized characteristics exhibited among flea species, as presented in older keys, come in the form of line drawings, which are accurate but can be difficult to use when comparing it to structures on a whole specimen when viewed through a microscope. This paper presents a guide which describes in detail previously developed, but obscure techniques covering the preservation, preparation, clearing, and mounting of Siphonaptera specimens. In addition, we are also presenting an easy-to-use photographic key of twelve flea species collected from back yard wildlife, as well as pet cats and dogs in Orange County, CA. This key, which is freely available online at the Orange County Mosquito and Vector Control District’s website, is an effective tool for the identification of common flea species found in southern California. Using the key in conjunction with the mounting guide will provide users with a full-circle guide to preserving, identifying, and mounting flea specimens. Keyed flea genera include Cediopsylla, Ctenocephalides, Diamanus, Echidinophaga, Hoplopsyllus, Leptopsylla, Nosopsyllus, Orchopoeas, Pulex, and Xenopsylla. Examined hosts include cats, coyotes, dogs, mice, opossums, rabbits, raccoons, rats, skunks, squirrels, and woodrats.

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