In biology, ectoparasites are parasites that live on an animal’s skin. They feed on its blood to survive, which ultimately weakens the host to the point of being unable to function normally. Head lice and body lice are prime examples of ectoparasites. Many types of ectoparasites can be found on humans and other animals. There are over 200 species of ectoparasites, and each one has unique characteristics and symptoms.

The most common ectoparasite complaint in the UK is the presence of fleas. Most species of cat fleas are ectoparasites, and feed by attaching to the skin of the host. Once attached, the female attaches herself to the host for several days, feeding on its blood. After this blood meal, the adult female drops from the host and deposits eggs in a mass. The eggs hatch after about two days and develop into six-legged larvae. These larvae then migrate up the blades of grass, smelling the butyric acid in the blood. Eventually, these larvae molt into eight-legged nymphs, a more common ectoparasite on humans.

Although there is no known cure for ectoparasites, proper prevention can prevent further damage. An effective preventative measure is fumigation of interior spaces. Fumigation is effective against almost all forms of ectoparasites and minimizes the risk of their spread. If you suspect you or a member of your household has ectoparasites, you should consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most effective course of treatment.

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