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This article was published in 1947
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Control of Stickfast Flea

(Echidnophaga gallinacea).

J. E. CANTELLO. B.V.Sc, Inspector of Stock, Broken Hill.

Stickfast Flea (E. gallinacea) first was reported in Australia in 1920 in Perth. W.A., and in 1933 it had spread to Port Augusta, S.A. By 1941 it was reported from Queensland, and in May, 1944, it was reported from Broken Hill, N.S.W., and shortly afterwards in Victoria. Now it has been reported from various centres of N.S.W., including Wentworth, Wilcannia, Menindie, Narrandera, Griffith, Leeton, and other areas in the M.I.A.

The Stickfast Flea is probably a native of India, but is known also In U.S.A., Asia and Africa. It attacks almost anything, including poultry, pigeons, owls, sparrows, magpies, cockatoos, dogs, cats, goats, horses, kangaroos, dingoes, rabbits, foxes, and man himself. It is a bloodsucker, and the effect of loss of blood in poultry is serious, as egg production falls off immediately and the birds become drowsy and death may ensue. In young thickens the symptoms may prove fatal, and young puppies may fall to thrive if infested. Fortunately, local irritation is the only effect in children if they happen to become hosts for this unwelcome visitor, but the Stickfast Flea must be considered as a vector should plague ever become prevalent.

In Australia eight species of Stickfast Flea are known; in Broken Hill three species have been identified. E. gallinacea is the only flea so far found on poultry, but, has been found on dogs, cats, pigeons and goats. E. myrmecobii is found commonly on rabbits in the district, and has been found on dogs and cats in the town of Broken Hill. E. perilis also has been found on dogs in the town.

E. gallinacea is a brown to black wingless insect about one-twelfth of an inch long, with three pairs of legs; the hind legs being well developed for jumping. The mouth parts are developed strongly for biting and sucking and once the flea becomes attached to a host it does not leave during its lifetime. It can be distinguished from E. myrmecobii only by microscopic examination, having two dorsal spines on the fifth tarsal segment of the leg, whereas E. myrmecobii has only one. E. perilis also has two spines, but has one less occipital bristle than E. gallinacea.

Stickfast Flea eggs are pearly white and are forced out at night. A female will lay about forty eggs a night and may produce 300 to 400 eggs during her life. The eggs hatch in about four or five days into a white maggot form about 1/25th of an inch long, which becomes brown as it feeds on partly digested blood secreted by the adult insects, and on organic matter in the manure and debris. The larvae moult twice and are active and may sham death. Later cocoons are spun, and in about 14 or 15 days the adults emerge; though this stage may be prolonged to five months. The females live up to about sixty days, but the males live only about five days.

To control the flea a knowledge of its life history is essential, it being necessary to attack the flea at two stages of its life. Adult fleas may be removed from their host by the application of certain agents, such as neatsfoot oil, pot. sulphurata, D.D.T. or gammexane. Immature forms of flea can be destroyed by saturation of infected soil with water for a one to two weeks, or by burning all droppings and debris. The provision of concrete floors under perches is a valuable means of control.

There are various methods of treatment recommended, but to date D.D.T. is by far the most effective and easily carried out. In U.S.A. it is claimed that ten per cent. D.D.T. dusting of perches, nests and floor of fowl houses removes fleas from poultry in a short time and keeps them free for one month. In Australia there are various reports of the efficiency of D.D.T. against Stickfast Flea. In Queensland a two per cent. D.D.T. dip has been used and will keep poultry, dogs and cats free of flea for at least two weeks. It was found that cats were especially sensitive to D.D.T. in Queensland and a number died from its effects after dipping. In Victoria it is claimed that dusting of pens with five per cent. D.D.T. or spraying with one per cent. D.D.T. kept poultry free of flea for three weeks. In N.S.W. it is recommended that a two per cent. D.D.T. spray or dip be used.

A one in eight concentration of D.D.T. in power kerosene spray is recommended in N.S.W. for treatment of ground and quarters and compost heap of droppings and debris. A two per cent. D.D.T. spray also is used for this purpose. In the nests a 0.5 per cent. D.D.T. dust is recommended.

In the Broken Hill outbreak of Stickfast Flea great difficulty was experienced in maintaining the quarantine of the Municipality which was imposed on 24/5/44. The city is approximately 16 square miles in area with a population of approximately 28,000. There is continual traffic to and from all States of Australia, and it is impossible to check all stock, as private motorists, drovers, kangaroo shooters and others carry dogs and other domesticated animals and birds with them in their travels. The quarantine was lifted in August, 1946, on account of these difficulties and shortage of staff to cope with the requirements of the quarantine. The flea host population of Broken Hill was very great and a census revealed that there were 15,000 pigeons, 53,000 poultry, 1800 dogs, 1300 cats and 100 goats in the town. In the district there are approximately 100,000 poultry, 2000 dogs, 1500 cats, 1000 goats end probably 5000 cage birds. Native hosts are numerous, such as kangaroos, etc.

Since the beginning of the outbreak in Broken Hill approximately 120 separate premises have been infested with Stickfast Flea. At the present time, fleas are present on seven premises in Menindie, 30 premises in Broken Hill and four premises in other parts of the District. Of the town infestations only about ten have any sign of flea since treatment was commenced some months ago with neatsfoot oil and water soakage of ground. It is proposed shortly to use two per cent. D.D.T. dusting of houses, perches, nests and scratch heaps at twenty-one day intervals on these infested premises. Trials have been commenced with gammexane; two per cent. containing 0.2 per cent. of the gamma isomer. Method 1 is to dust walls, perches, nests and floor of the fowlhouse, using 4 ounces of the dust to every 100 square feet of floor space in the house. Method 2 is liberally to dust the surface of some scratching sand and allow birds to scratch in it. At date of writing this paper no results are yet to hand, unfortunately, but excellent results are anticipated.

A water soluble D.D.T. base called Rucide will give excellent results as a spray or dip. but 1lb. makes only 21 gallons of spray, and the cost is roughly 10/- retail, which is a little expensive for many users. In Broken Hill D.D.T. will keep fowls free for some weeks, but most owners cease treating when the fleas disappear and do not treat the ground or droppings where flea eggs and larvae are present. Re-occurrence of infestation naturally results. It is thought that a three-weekly dusting of houses, nests and perches with 2 per cent to 5 per cent. D.D.T. dust will be the most effective control, if the droppings and debris are destroyed, or the ground and quarters soaked thoroughly with water for a period of one or two weeks, in addition to the D.D.T. dusting as the larvae may survive for periods of five to six months D.D.T. treatment alone necessarily will have to be continued for at least this period theoretically.

It is considered personally that it is only a matter of time before the flea invades points further east in N.S.W. and will infest most parts of the State. Actually the writer does not consider it to be of as much danger to the poultry industry as the Fowl Tick, which will carry the spirochaete of Spirochaetosis of fowls. In Broken Hill hundreds of fowls are killed annually by Spirochaetosis, whereas even when the Stickfast Flea has been present in large numbers no great loss has been sustained. Odd deaths have been attributed to the flea, but Fowl Tick usually are present on all flea infested premises here, and possibly have caused the mortalities. Nevertheless, it is a disease which must be checked rigidly, as it is definitely a danger to the poultry industry. It can be controlled effectively by D.D.T. dusting, and gammexane may prove even more effective than D.D.T.

When looking for Stickfast Flea infestation on stock, it has been found that fowls are affected on the comb, wattles, throat, gills, face and especially in the fold above the eye; and in odd cases around the vent when fowls are moulting. Dogs have been seen infested on the eyelids, ears, especially in the ear fold and on the tips of the ears, between the thighs, on the abdomen and wherever there is a bare area. Some dogs have been seen infested on all parts of the body irrespective of hair being present or not on the various parts. Cats are infested in the same areas as for dogs, but not so commonly on the body. In dogs and cats the flea tends to be found first between the digits, on the upper surface of the webbing of the foot. Goats usually are found infested between the toes; and pigeons, when infested, may carry the flea on the face, head or throat. Actually, only one goat and one pigeon have been found infested in the Broken Hill outbreak, and they were both present on heavily infested premises and were confined to pens where the fowls were nesting.

General control and treatment is summarised as follows in N.S.W., of per Form 9, Stock Diseases Act, 1923-34, as issued by the Division of Animal Industry, Dept. of Agriculture, Sydney:—

(1) Confine all birds in enclosures; cement floors under perches.

(2) Restrain dogs, cats, in enclosures, or by chaining.

(3) Restrain goats in enclosures or by tethering.

(4) Destroy all litter and droppings by burning or soaking under water, or packing into compost heap and spraying with 2 per cent. D.D.T.

(5) Spray sleeping quarters of dogs, cats, poultry with 3 per cent cresyllic acid in power kerosene, 1 per cent. solution of Cooper's Milk Oil Fluid, 1 in 8 of 2 per cent, D.D.T. in kerosene emulsion or 2 per cent. D.D.T.

(6) Treat all poultry and pet birds weekly by applying neatsfoot oil to the heads or by spraying with 2 per cent. D.D.T.

(7) Treat all cats and dogs weekly by bathing in pot. sulphurata or 2 per cent. D.D.T. (care with cats), or by applying neatsfoot oil around the eyes and ears, between the toes and to bare skin areas of the abdomen and inside the thighs.

(8) Treat all goats weekly by spraying with two per cent. D.D.T. or by applying neatsfoot oil between the toes.

(9) Incorporate in the material of the nests of poultry, 33 per cent. sodium fluoride powder or 0.5 per cent. D.D.T. powder.


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