Synonyms for Tunga penetrans include Sarcopsylla penetrans, Pulex penetrates, and many others. In its parasitic phase it has significant impact on its host, which include humans and certain other mammalian species. A parasitical infestation of T. penetrans is called tungiasis.
T. penetrans is the smallest known flea, at only 1 mm. It is most recognizable in its parasite phase. While embedded under the stratum corneum layer of the skin, it may reach up to 1 cm across. During the first day or two of infestation, the host may feel an itching or irritation which then passes as the area around the flea calluses and becomes insensitive. As the flea’s abdomen swells with eggs later in the cycle, the pressure from the swelling may press neighbouring nerves or blood vessels. Depending on the exact site, this can cause sensations ranging from mild irritation to serious discomfort.