General Aspects



In C. felis there are four recognised subspecies throughout the world, all of which are primarily parasites of carnivores (Lewis, 1972; Hopkins and Rothschild, 1953).

C. felis damarensis and C. felis strongylus are restricted to Africa, C. felis orientis is found in southeast Asia and the East Indies (Lewis, 1972), primarily infesting cattle, sheep and goats, whereas the first two are found as parasites of wild carnivores (Dryden, 1993).

C. felis felis is found worldwide on many species of wild and domesticated animals (Rust and Dryden, 1997). It is the only subspecies that occurs in North America (Dryden, 1993) and is often only referred to as C. felis.

C. felis felis was probably introduced quite recently into Europe when domestic cats were imported at the time of the Crusades (Petter, 1973; Beaucournu, 1990). Believed to originate from Africa, the so-called ‘cat flea’ C. felis is now cosmopolitan, ranging from warm tropical areas to temperate zones with prolonged subfreezing temperatures (Lewis, 1972).

New investigations in the field of taxonomic differentiation by using the phallosome structures as identification propose the status of C. orientis and C. damarensis as a full species (Ménier and Beaucournu, 1998).

The morphological differentiation between C. felis and C. canis as well as some other major flea species is given in Fig. 1, Fig. 2 and Table 1.

Pictural key to Dog and Cat fleas

Ctenocephalides felis

Ctenocephalides canis





Shape of head


Spine 1 and 2 of

the genal comb

Both 1st and 2nd spine have the same length

1st spine is half as long as 2nd spine

Number of teeth

of tibiae

Tibiae of all 6 legs have 4 to 5 teeth

Tibiae of all 6 legs have 7 to 8 teeth

Figure 1: Morphological differentiation of the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) and the dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis); original size upper right: 3.0 mm



Figure 2: A-D. Morphological differentiation of the body and head region of the human flea (Pulex irritans) (A,B) and the rabbit flea (Spilopsyllus cuniculi) (C,D) (details see Table 2); original size A: 2.5 mm; C: 1.8 mm

Table 1: General morphological differentiation using the presence or absence of pronotal and genal combs in fleas


Without combs



Only pronotal

combs present

Pronotal and genal combs present

Only few combs present

Several combs

Xenopsylla cheopis
Rothschild 1903
(Oriental rat flea)

Nosopsyllus fasciatus
Bosc 1800
(Northern rat flea)


(Bat fleas)

Spilopsyllus cuniculi
Dale 1878
(European rabbit flea)

Pulex irritans
Linnaeus 1758
(Human flea)

Ceratophyllus gallinae
Schrank 1802
(Poultry flea)

Archaeophsylla errinacei
Bouché 1835
(Hedgehog flea)

Leptopsylla segnis
Schönherr 1816
(European mouse flea)


(Sticktight flea)

Diamanus montanus

(Ground squirrel flea)

Ctenocephalides canis
Curtis 1826
(Dog flea)

Orchopeas howardii

(Squirrel flea)

Ctenocephalides felis
Bouché 1835
(Cat flea)


Cediopsylla simplex

(Common eastern rabbit flea)

Further information

  • Beaucournu JC: Les puces synanthropes. Bull Soc Franç Parasitol. 1990, 8, 145-56
  • Dryden MW: Biology of fleas of dogs and cats. Comp Cont Educ Pract Vet. 1993, 15, 569-79
  • Hopkins GHE, Rothschild M: An illustrated catalogue of the Rothschild collection of fleas (Siphonaptera) in the British Museum (Natural History). Vol. I-IV. 1953, University Press, Cambridge
  • Lewis RE: Notes on the geographic distribution and host preferences in the order Siphonaptera. Part 1. Pulicidae. J Med Entomol. 1972, 9, 511-20
  • Ménier K, Beaucournu JC: Taxonomic study of the genus Ctenocephalides Stiles & Collins, 1930 (Insecta: Siphonaptera: Pulicidae) by using aedegous characters. J Med Entomol. 1998, 35, 883-90
  • Petter F: Les animaux domestiques et leurs ancêtres. 1973, Bordas Edition, Paris
  • Rust MK, Dryden MW: The biology, ecology, and management of the cat flea. Ann Rev Entomol. 1997, 42, 451-73

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