Dog Days~

There is a saying, adapted from the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, the meek shall inherit the earth.

Of this I am sure, people: this passage is not referring to the pious or mild-mannered followers of the Christian faith. As a full-fledged Darwinian I believe it means that things like ants, cockroaches, and, yes, fleas will be the last remaining inhabitants of this planet.

La Zona Tropical is a bad place to get a flea infestation, and this summer– especially hot and humid– has been a particularly bad one. We are still battling them.

Before I left for Japan we had a major outbreak and had to battle back with everything known to the toxic and environmentally friendly world of Pest Control. We bathed dogs every third day with flea shampoos. We have three dogs and one is so big it’s a bit like washing the side of a boxcar, but we lathered on. When they were dry, we powdered them, sprayed them, and, excuse the new verbs here, Advantaged® or Frontlined® them, depending on which product we could find and buy.

Alan crawled under the house, where the dogs den, every three days and sprayed with a combination of poisons and boric acid. Boric acid? Yes, boric acid. According to some literature I have read on the subject it is a miracle of sorts in the fight against insect infestations. My daughter-in-law, Yuka, says she remembers her parents making balls with “some white powder” and foodstuff to kill cockroaches in Japan. I’m almost certain that it was boric acid, but I’m unable to ask them as they speak only Japanese. But according to all I’ve read, boric acid kills cockroaches on contact and “apparently” will do the same to fleas. We were trying anything.

It’s been an uphill battle.

I’ve learned a lot about fleas in the past month or two. They, like other insects, pass through four stages in their life cycle- egg, larva, pupa and adult. An adult female begins laying eggs within two days after her first blood meal. Sounds vampirish, doesn’t it? How about this– within 9 days she will produce up to 30 eggs a day and consumes 15 times her body weight in blood every day. Multiply this by an infestation of twenty or more (lots more, actually) and it’s no wonder our poor dogs were scratching. That very scratching only spreads the eggs further afield, I might add, the game plan of the pesky flea. But there’s more. Once the eggs are scattered around nicely and develop into larvae, they live off the feces of the parents, manifested as partially desiccated blood.

The whole thing sounds really creepy and not so meek to me. It also makes me want to CLEAN MY HOUSE. Which, it turns out, is exactly what needs to be done.

According to the Texas A&M site I visited, and Texas should know about fleas, regular vacuuming is the key to controlling fleas indoors. They tend to nest in dog bedding, carpets, under furniture, and in cushions of couches. We keep our house very clean and free of any food products out on counters because we live in the tropics, but now it’s time to double up on the effort. I am now vacuuming every other day.

Here is an interesting fact and more ammunition for my postulation about the inheritance of the earth theory. When fleas, laid as eggs and fed on feces as a larva, enter the pupa stage of the transition to adulthood, they spin their own cocoon and reside inside until the time is ripe to enter the world. Normally, they will emerge within a couple of weeks but if the environment doesn’t suit them, the adult flea may remain in the cocoon for up to five months. When stimulated by a passing animal the adult can emerge within seconds. Old houses or apartments can still be infested and can “come alive” when new tenants move in. Yikes!

So, I am back from my trip to Asia and the fleas are still here. Not as fiercely as before, but still present.

There is a wonderful book called The War of the Flea, by Robert Taber. It is not about fleas, but about guerrilla warfare. Clearly Taber knows what it’s like to battle the flea and he uses the analogy well in his book. One passage reads: “The guerrilla fights the war of the flea, and his military enemy suffers the dog’s disadvantages: too much to defend; too small, ubiquitous, and agile an enemy to come to grips with.” He also points out The West’s inability to truly understand how to wage war against these non-conventional forces.

It’s a bit the same battling the lowly flea here in Punta Uva. It requires time, patience, and an understanding of the enemy.

I washed both our dogs today and hope that our hired man, José, will do the same with his. Alan was under the house again spraying and hopefully…hopefully we will put a dent in the flea population.

I know I’ll never be able to eradicate them, but perhaps I can keep them in check until I totter off this world, or… more likely, it gets colder.