It's not uncommon for people to find objects presumed to be droppings or some other evidence of insect presence in a home. Rodent droppings, American cockroach, silverfish and other insect droppings are not unusual to find indoors. In addition, carpenter ants have the interesting habit of tossing insulation and other debris, along with dead insects and insect fragments, out of their nests. Most often carpenter ant "frass" is found in windows and doorways, where carpenter ant "kick-holes" (garbage shoots) are commonly located.
My sample was none of these, however. My first task was to determine whether the client had a dog or cat. A quick phone call confirmed that the family had no cats, but did have a dog which frequently slept on the bed.
This answer clinched the diagnosis of "tapeworm proglottids". The dog tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum, lives and feeds as a parasite in the intestinal tract of dogs, cats and (rarely) humans. These worms are long and flat and may reach lengths of up to 12 inches. The body of the tapeworm consists of segments called proglottids. As a tapeworm matures, the oldest proglottid segments detach from the main body of the tapeworm and wriggle from the anus of the infected animal. These fresh tapeworm segments move with a stretching and shrinking motion. They are opaque or pinkish white, flat and rectangular, and initially can move short distances. Eventually they dry into 1/16 inch-long, rice-shaped sacs as seen in the image. These sacs contain viable tapeworm eggs, and are often seen attached to the hairs around the pets's anus, in feces, or in areas where the pet sleeps (in this case a human bed).
Here's where things get really bizarre. Fleas are essential to the life cycle of the dog tapeworm. Tapeworms use fleas to disperse from one host to another.
|Flea larva. © M. Merchant.|
A cat or dog subsequently becomes infected with tapeworms when they ingest these infested fleas during grooming. Once released into the pet's digestive tract, the tapeworms begin to grow into mature adults that help themselves to a share of the unwitting pet's diet.
Finding tapeworm proglottids in a home does not indicate a threat to people (though small children have been known to become infested when they pick up and eat fleas!), but they are an indication of a tapeworm-infested pet. If you find tapeworm eggs in a home, recommend to the homeowner to take their pest to the vet for treatment with anti-parasite drugs.
The dog tapeworm has got to be one of the most unusual pest life cycles encountered in the indoor environment. For more information about fleas and tapeworms see our online publication, Controlling Fleas.