Monday, December 25, 2006

Attack of the Fleas

Wayne's been using this break between plays to do some much-needed cleaning and organizing downstairs at the Axiom. He must have disturbed a nest of fleas or something, because all of a sudden, they're everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE. So Friday he bought two gallons of industrial strength flea killer, soaked the Axiom with it until the stench of floral scented chemicals was overwhelming, and we all left early. The fleas should all be quite dead after we return from the holiday break on January 2.

This development is particularly disturbing after reading up on the role of the flea in speading the plague. Disturbing enough to keep one up at night. Especially when you go on to research how fleas can be intentionally used as a means of biological warfare. In the middle ages, cadavers infected with plague fleas were catapulted into nemy cities. In the 1940's, the Japanese airdropped paper packets of plague fleas on Chinese territories, and their bites killed hundreds. Japan also developed a specialized bomb, the Type 50 Uji, which could hold up to about 30,000 plague fleas. Intended to burst at an altitude of 660 to 980 feet above ground level, field trials at Anta, Manchuria, concluded that 80 percent of the fleas survived dissemination and that coverage was best under conditions with high wind. Also during WWII, Canada (yes, Canada) worked to create a colony of fleas for use in combination with both plague and murine typhus. In the United States, the plague flea concept was competing against the use of mosquitoes, flies, ticks, and lice. Of these concepts, the United States put most of its energies behind weaponizing yellow fever in combination with the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Who knows what our governments would be capable of now.

  • The Ctenocephalides felis flea, (the kind of flea you find on your dog or cat), can jump the equivalent of the Eiffel Tower and has an acceleration 50 times higher than a space shuttle.
  • 15th century ladies wore fur to trap fleas.
  • People in the 17th century wore cylinder flea traps around their necks. Scented substances or rags soaked in blood were inserted in the traps to attract fleas.
  • Americans spend one billion dollars a year to find a new molecule which will eliminate fleas.
  • The National History Museum has over 270,000 specimens of fleas in its Lord Rothschild collection
  • It was once believed that there was a hormonal relation between women and fleas.

The splendid flea image above, btw, was drawn by Robert Hooke in his famous Micrographia. Robert Hooke was very colorfully depicted in Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1) - if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.

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