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the web of life in southern Africa

Siphonaptera (fleas)

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Ecdysozoa > Panarthropoda > Tritocerebra > Phylum: Arthopoda > Mandibulata > Atelocerata > Panhexapoda > Hexapoda > Insecta (insects) > Dicondyla > Pterygota > Metapterygota > Neoptera > Eumetabola > Holometabola > Panorpida > Antliophora > Mecoptera

DNA studies have shown that fleas evolved from within the insect order Mecoptera. Previously they were placed in their own order, in fact classifications often still do retain them as a separate order.

Of the nearly 100 species of flea found in southern Africa, the Cat Flea, Ctenocephalides felis, which bites cats, dogs and humans, is usually the species responsible for causing human discomfort. 

Genetic analysis, supported by morphological information, has provided strong evidence that fleas are closely related to mecopterans in the family Boreidae (snow scorpionflies or snow fleas).



  • Segerman J. 1995. Siphonaptera of South Africa: handbook for the identification of fleas. South African Institute of Medical Research, Johannesburg.

Text by Hamish G. Robertson