Taxonomy

There are approximately 2500 species and subspecies of fleas that are currently placed in 15 families and 220 genera (Lewis 1993a, 1998). Many of these species have been catalogued by Hopkins and Rothschild (1953—1971), Mardon (1981), Traub et al (1983), and Smit (1987). Except for the work by Traub et al. (1983), these works are part of an eight-volume series published by the British Museum (Natural History), now The Natural History Museum, London. Another series of publications that addresses the geographical distribution, host preferences, and classification of the world flea fauna are those of Lewis (1972-1993a). A publication by Ewing and Fox (1943) on North American fleas is largely outdated, and no modern text covering the fleas of this region has been published. However, Holland (1985) has produced an excellent guide to the fleas of Canada, Alaska, and Greenland which can be used for those species that also occur in the continental United States. An earlier work by Fox (1940) and a key by Benton (1983) are useful for identifying fleas from the eastern United States; Benton (1980) also has provided an atlas outlining the distribution of the fleas of this region. An older work by Hubbard (1947) addresses the fleas of western North America, whereas Lewis et al. (1988) provide a guide to the fleas of the Pacific Northwest. An updated series of identification guides for North American fleas has been initiated (Lewis and Lewis 1994). Although flea larvae are usually difficult to assign to genus or species, Elbel (1991) provides a useful guide for identifying the larval stages of some flea taxa.

Most fleas of medical or veterinary importance are members of the families Ceratophyllidae, Leptopsyllidae, Pulicidae, or Vermipsyllidae. Occasionally members of other families, notably the Ctenophthalmidae and Rhopalopsyllidae, also feed on humans and domestic animals. Table I shows the family-level classification for the flea species discussed in this chapter.

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