Do Fleas Hold The World Record For the Standing Jump?
The year is 2015 and NFL cornerback Byron Jones has just set the world record for longest standing jump by an adult male boasting a remarkable 12′ 3″ bound. Jumping nearly twice one’s body length from an upright, standing position is a feat worthy of praise. The NFL begins to spread news of Jones’s accomplishment.
In a row house just a few blocks away a tiny flea launches itself nearly 13 inches off a dog’s backside. Full from a short blood meal, the flea scurries deep into fibrous stalks of carpeting, leaving a massive brood to take on the world.
Fleas have survived at the side of mankind for millennia. It is safe to assume that most people are aware of the existence of fleas.
Bloodsucking parasites, (much like bed bugs) fleas make their homes among ours, harboring on pets, in furniture and carpeting, even on our bodies. Nearly invisible, and able to leap nearly 80 times their own height fleas have been able to make a name for themselves, while maintaining more than a low profile.
One simple principle governs the life of the flea: make more fleas. Laying up to 500 eggs in a single brood, the flea is capable of exponential growth as a species. Blind and tiny, the life of a young, growing flea is shrouded in obscurity. Flea life often starts with a brood of eggs nestled in the fur of a host, waiting to hatch. Wriggling, segmented bodies peel from their protective shells and fall to the ground. Overcome by a voracious appetite, the larvae fan out in search of food. Flea larvae need to pack on energy quickly, feeding on any organic matter they come across.
Trading their worm-like forms for silvery cocoons, the flea larvae move into their pupa stage. Like a caterpillar the flea pupa undergo a breathtaking transformation. Bodies flatten and take on a disc-like appearance, stubby claws lengthen, morphing into powerful legs. The pupa will stay in it’s cocoon for four days until it emerges a fully grown, adult flea. Some pupae, however, don’t hatch. In some cases flea pupae will wait to emerge, environmental conditions may not yet be suitable. The pupae remains on high alert in it’s cocoon, high levels of carbon dioxide will one day stimulate the young flea’s emergence, signifying that a host may be near.
Such large broods require large amounts of energy to produce. In order to ensure a healthy brood the adult flea must obtain a blood-meal. Equipped with piercing-sucking mouth parts, fleas use long tube-like structures to suck their host’s blood. Full from her blood-meal, the adult flea settles down to lay her brood before leaping from her host to find another meal.
Although short and hidden from view, the life of the nearly invisible flea manages to effect humanity in very visible ways. Flea bites itch. Flea bites spread disease. Flea bites lead to more flea bites. This is how it has been, one simple principle governs the life of the flea: make more fleas.