Fleas: Superhero Powers for Super Hassles

Fleas: Superhero Powers for Super Hassles

Iron Man could thank his wardrobe. Batman had that gadget-filled utility belt. It was a shield for Captain America, magical lasso and bracelets for Wonder Woman, and dumb-luck exposure to a radioactive spider for Spiderman and gamma rays for the Hulk.

But fleas get their superpowers from being born as fleas.

It’s not your everyday insect that can wipe out the majority of the European population. But fleas – then carriers of the Black Plague in the 14th century and today continuing to plague dogs, cats and pet parents – are no pedestrian pest. Here's how their amazing and very real abilities compare to those of your favorite comic book legends.

Superman

A flea can jump up to 13 inches. Maybe not NBA-draft worthy until you consider that’s about 130 times higher than its size – the equivalent of a 6-foot man topping a 78-story building. Did someone say “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound?”

The Flash

Sure, he was super fast – and so are fleas. They leap with an acceleration force that exceeds 100 Gs (gravitational force). At full throttle, the space shuttle hits 3 Gs. But Flash was mostly a sprinter, who would tire and need food to refuel. Flea can live for months without eating but rarely do when pets are around.

Iron Man

The iconic red-and-gold suit, designed by engineering genius Tony Stark, could withstand missiles, bullets, most anything. Fleas also have armor-like bodies, designed by PhD-less Mother Nature, that make them nearly impossible to crush and explain why an infestation can (and likely does) thrive amid even the most heavily trafficked carpeting. The difference: Undressed, Tony was vulnerable. Fleas are always naked.

Wonder Woman

She had it all: smarts, strength, speed, even the ability to change into costume by just spinning around really fast. (Remember, Clark Kent used a phone booth). But reproductively speaking, this heroine couldn’t hold to candle to a female flea, who can lay up to 50 eggs per day – or up to 2,000 eggs during her child-bearing weeks. Unless killed, those female babies have babies so efficiently that in theory, after a few days of infestation, the typical home could house some 20,000 fleas. Wonder Woman, meanwhile, was childless.

The Human Torch

He spent his time burning up bad guys. Fleas ignite rage in good pets and people. Among Torch’s weaknesses was asbestos, once commonly used as a fire retardant in buildings. But fleas continue their havoc in asbestos-containing dwellings.

Invisible Woman

Another member of the Fantastic Four, her name said it all: She could render herself wholly or partially invisible at will. Fleas do likewise as hard-to-see eggs or larvae in pet carpeting, bedding and upholstery or even between floor boards. In the typical home, for every visible flea, assume there are 100 more that go unseen.

Dracula

OK, maybe he wasn’t a superhero, per se, but he lived like one – strong, stealth and unlike Batman, could actually become a bat.  But his best-known trait – that legendary thirst for blood – was anemic compared to a flea’s. The Count could count on a hematophagous helping every few days. A female can bite over 400 times per day, consuming 15 times her body weight in blood (and laying eggs within 48 hours after feasting). Unless severe flea infestation is treated, newborn and young puppies and kittens can lose enough blood to threaten their lives.

   

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