Current estimates suggests that there are some 2,000 different species of fleas spread throughout the world. This week, we’re going to discuss the moorhen flea, revealing how this once rare species is making its way across oceans and into new territories.
The Moorhen flea receives its namesake from one of its preferred hosts, the moorhen. Also known as marsh hens and river chickens, moorhen are close relatives of the medium-sized coot. They are commonly found in freshwater lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, and tributaries, where they feast on small fish and other aquatic wildlife. And like most other mammals, moorhen are susceptible to fleas, especially the moorhen flea (Dasypsyllus gallinulae).
It’s a little known fact that the moorhen flea was initially only found in South America. Here, it would feed on a variety of birds which inhabited the humid rainforests and rivers. When residents began traveling and shipping products to other countries, however, the moorhen flea found new homes. Today, it can be found on every continent with the exception of Antarctica.
Common hosts of the Moorhen flea include the following:
- Eurasian Woodcock
- European Robin
- Willow Tit
- Eurasian Treecreeper
One of the physical characteristics that makes the moorhen flea unique is its size. While most species of fleas are small, measuring just 1-3mm in length, the moorhen is quiet large, oftentimes exceeding 5mm. This is somewhat of a double-edged sword, however, as the moorhen flea is easy to spot but also packs a meaner bite. Fleas of this size can leave painful bites that may or may not trigger an allergic reaction. People who experience allergic reactions from flea bites are known to suffer from a condition called Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD), which is basically an allergy to the flea’s saliva.
Another distinguishable characteristic of the moorhen flea is the presence of horn-like spikes around the genitalia. The moorhen flea is the only species to posses these spikes.
The good news is that moorhen flea infestations are somewhat rare given their preference towards avian hosts. Unless you own pet parrots, birds or chickens, you shouldn’t have a problem with these oversized fleas. If you do own birds, however, you should keep your home protected against these parasites by treating it with a liquid or powder-based insecticide.
Have you seen a moorhen flea? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this species in the comments section below!