« Previous  
 Next »

McCallum: The Mighty Flea

11/14/11 5:55PM By Mary McCallum
 MP3   Download MP3 

(Host) Commentator Mary McCallum, normally a live-and-let-live nature lover, has struggled this season with one of Mother Nature's most tenacious creatures. But it looks like she has finally gotten the upper hand.

(McCallum) Sun Tzu, a 6th century Chinese military strategist and author of The Art of War, advised that it is wise to know your enemy in order to conquer him. I've taken his advice to heart in my own war against an ancient enemy that is both tiny and mighty. Its Latin name, Ctenocephalides canis, is an eight-syllable term for dog flea.

Oh, I've done my research. How many legs on a flea? Six! Does it fly? Nope, doesn't have wings. Can it jump? You betcha, 200 times its own body length, making it one of the best jumpers on the planet. While we humans live in one form throughout our earthly lives, fleas have four different life cycles, culminating in the flat, brown, blood sucking adult that is the bane of pet owners everywhere. In their most infamous role, fleas helped spread the Bubonic plague that killed millions in the 14th century, aptly nicknamed the Black Death.

And it was a black day last summer when my dog trotted into a flea infested trailer and became a magnet for scores of little biters who leaped on her, and got down to the business at hand - dinner. Her body became the host, a walking lunch counter open 24/7.

Then the tiny engines of blood lust vaulted onto the cat, who soon imitated the dog's version of the Stop-and-Scratch. And on to The House. Ask anyone who's endured an infestation for advice, and you will learn the litany of artillery: noxious flea collars, potent shampoos, toxic dips, brewers yeast in the kibble, laundry grade borax on the rug, diatomaceous earth in the fur, chemical drops on the neck, and bombs. Combs with teeth so flimsy they break in one's haste to transfer a captive flea to a bowl of water where it will drown in a most satisfying way. And the most potent weapon of all - the vacuum cleaner.

When friends ask me what I do these days I say that I go to my day job and I vacuum. Daily. When I tote up the number of hours spent vacuuming each week, I consider how much good I could have done in the world instead. The books I might have read. Or written. My zeal for total eradication will likely burn up the vacuum and strip the pile off the carpets.

In my quest I discovered some rather charming history spawned by this ancient predator. Like flea markets. Paris's grand-dame of them all, les Puces, draws more visitors than the Eiffel Tower. It began as a flea-infested shopping market in the 1880s. And I learned that the Aztecs dressed up fleas in microscopic outfits to represent little people.

And then there are flea circuses. These sideshows with roots in 16th century Europe have spawned a host of modern imitators. When I'm not Hoovering the house I watch Professor Cockerill's Flea Circus on YouTube. His Lilliputian athletes walk tightropes, juggle lint balls and pull small carts to old time carnival music.

But while I'm amazed with these miniature gymnasts, I don't want them performing in my house, talented or not.
comments powered by Disqus
Supported By
Become an Underwriter | Find an Underwiter