Siphonaptera (HLD 318)

4 Feb 2021

Once a month, my dog gets a delivery in the mail. It’s addressed to her in a cardboard envelope, and quite frankly if she had the option, she would just leave it in the letter box.

It’s her regular flea/heartworm treatment, posted by the vet (I pay for the privilege, they don’t do this out of the kindness and generosity of their hearts), giving me a timely reminder to administer it.

The flea treatment is easy – it’s a tiny tube of liquid that gets squirted on her skin on the back of her neck. She, of course, carries on as if you have attached something venomous to her, and she tears around the house frantically trying to find something that will rub that terrible stuff off the back of her neck. She can even identify the sound of the package of the flea treatment being opened, and will disappear quicker than Houdini in a barrel if she hears that sound.

As far as flea treatments go, however, this one is by far the easiest one – we have had many different animals over the years and are very familiar with all the powders, shampoos, and flea collars that were recommended at the time.

This one – apart from having to remember to apply it each month (hence the package from the vet), and the dog carrying on as if she was acting out a scene from The Exorcist – is simple and effective.

Fleas (Siphonaptera if we are going to be specific) have had a very bad rap over the years. Sure – there was that whole bubonic plague thing, but the rats, that the fleas made their homes on, got more of the blame.

They are bloodsuckers who have some of interesting skills. They can jump quite a distance (they don’t fly, and not because of coronavirus like the rest of us) which is a handy method of transport when transferring from one animal host to the next. Watchmakers demonstrating their skills in 1578 produced a lock and chain that were attached to a flea, and circuses demonstrating races etc with fleas date back to 1820’s. Obviously harnessing the power of the humble flea never really took off but for a while it kept people entertained. They never had to hunt too far to find fleas.

For years they were a part and parcel of life. Gradually they came to represent a lack of cleanliness and basic sanitation, but like the cockroach, the humble flea has survived all the powders and shampoos we can throw at it.

I know my dog doesn’t like fleas. She will scratch up a storm if she walks within a kilometre of a flea on another dog.

She just doesn’t like the medicine.

I’ve got to go now – I have to hide away in a sound proof booth to open the flea treatment packet. Someone distract the dog, will you?

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