Flea Traps

-- Alone may not eliminate an infestation --

Summary: Flea traps attract and capture adult fleas on sticky boards or in soapy water. Traps may not eliminate an active infestation by themselves but are useful as a sort of "early warning system" in large facilities like kennels. If an infestation is detected early steps can be taken to stop it before it develops too far. Traps can be homemade or purchased.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

What are flea traps?

Flea traps capture adult fleas on a sticky board or in a dish of soapy water. Fleas are attracted to the trap by a combination of light and heat. Generally the traps consist of a small light bulb, which provides the heat and light, suspended over a sticky board or dish of soapy water. Fleas jump toward the light and are trapped on the sticky board or in the soapy water .

Do flea traps work?

Yes and no. Flea traps do attract and capture fleas but they won't eliminate an active infestation all by themselves. The reason is simple -- your pets are far more attractive to fleas than are traps, since fleas are adapted to finding a suitable host rather than a light bulb. So, in the competition for a flea's attention your pet "wins".

adult cat flea (original photo by Ken Gray)

Adult cat flea (1/10"-1/5"). Adult fleas move between the host animal and the "nest", or pet bedding.

Homemade flea traps

The easiest homemade trap is a small light bulb suspended over a bowl of soapy water. The light will provide the heat and light necessary to attract adult fleas. Fleas that jump toward the light will fall into the soapy water. A few drops of dish soap in a pint (500ml) of water will do. If possible use a low voltage bulb such as the 6v or 12v bulbs used in cars as this will reduce the chances of electric shock. In fact, if you are electrically handy a 6v system could be made to run off a small battery bank.

Should I use flea traps at all?

Probably not unless you manage a kennel or similar facility. In terms of eliminating fleas, flea traps don't work very well because they only trap a fraction of the flea population. The best approach to flea control is to use the relatively new flea medications like Frontline (tm) and Advantage (tm) that are applied directly on the animal, combined with treating bedding with methoprene (see Related Articles below for details regarding these treatments). If the new flea medications are too expensive then the next best approach is to combine regular flea shampooing and combing with treatment of bedding with methoprene (see How to Control Fleas & Ticks).

There is, however, one good use for flea traps. Since they do trap fleas they can be used as a sort of early warning system. In large facilities, like kennels, a small flea infestation may go unnoticed. Placing a few traps around may uncover a small, easily controlled infestation, before it gets out of hand.

Traps can be messy and difficult to maintain. Soapy water traps should be emptied and refilled periodically and sticky trap surfaces must be cleaned or replaced. My best advice for homeowners is to skip flea traps and stick to regular flea combing as the best way to detect a flea infestation.

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Related Articles

How to Control Fleas With New Medications

Using Methoprene to Disrupt Flea Development

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