Updated: Oct 31, 2019
“I think that I shall never see
a beast as loathsome as a flea.
A flea whose hungry mouth consumes
all the blood that it exhumes.”
I think most of us share Kilmer’s aversion to fleas, although he forgot to tell us that this ‘lowly creature’ is merely one of some 2,500 species of small, flightless parasitic insects.
The common flea (or Siphonaptera, derived from the Greek "siphon", meaning a tube or pipe, and "aptera" meaning wingless) may be tiny, some 3 mm, or 0.12 inches, long but it has literally changed the course of human history!
Did Fleas Cause the Black Death ̶ and More?
Now, some of you out there may think that we’re prone to exaggeration when we detail the human health threats posed by some of the insects we’ve discussed, but in the case of the common flea, there’s no doubt about the risks it poses.
If you have any doubts, keep in mind that the so-called “Black Death” ̶ an epidemic of bubonic plague that marched across Europe from approximately 1346 until 1352 and is said to have killed 30% to 60% of Europe's population ̶ was actually caused by fleas feasting on the carcasses of rats felled by the disease.
From today’s standpoint, almost 700 years later, this seems almost inconceivable, but look at the recent outbreaks of Ebola in Africa or SARS in China if you want a notion of how dangerous such epidemics can be!
Of course, bubonic plague is hardly a threat the