2008.10.15 Picking fleas off Sam

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

If you travel the same news routes followed by me, you already know about this year’s Ig Nobel awards. Each year, researchers are “honored” for their odd research.

The ceremony is actually closer to dishonoring. The presenters are making fun of how some scientists are spending their research time.

For example, a couple of people in California proved mathematically that heaps of string or hair or other objects will almost invariably end up in a tangle of knots.

There was some drama in this year’s awards, and not only in the opening ceremony when a sword was pulled from a man’s throat (a winner from the previous year studied the side effects of sword swallowing). There was also some competing research.

Three scientists from the northeast U.S. discovered that Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide; a team of researchers in Taiwan proved it isn’t, nor is Pepsi-Cola.

I haven’t had any experience with this use of cola, nor is my hair long enough to tangle overnight, nor have I had any experience with armadillos messing up my archeological dig site, etc.

No, it was the flea study that caught my attention and had some personal meaning.

A pair of French scientists from Toulouse discovered that fleas who live on dogs can jump higher than fleas who live on cats.

This study brought back warm, fuzzy memories of my sister’s weird dog, Sam, who joined our family in the 1960s as a gift from Lenny Dietrich. What a legacy that dog left behind.

Although the dog officially belonged to Diane, I think brother Dan and I were much closer to Sam. I wonder how many times Diane cleaned up the living room carpet after Sam suddenly choked up a dead bird that didn’t sit right with his usually strong stomach. How many fleas did Diane remove from his body?

I actually look back with fondness to Sam’s flea-ridden condition. I recall him lying asleep on my bed, his leg twitching  as he dreamed. Suddenly all four legs would break into an unconscious  gallop as his dream carried him after a mailman or a cat. He certainly didn’t have to run fast to subdue a dead bird.

As he lay there in repose, every now and then a flea would run across his spotted belly where the hair grew thin. I would try to capture the annoying little pest and crush it between fingernails. They’re not easy to subdue, and more often than not, the little fellow would jump away, only to eventually reunite with Sam.

The French study might have arose from a similar situation. Perhaps Marie-Christine Cadiergues watched fleas jump from her sleeping mutt and wondered if they were as good as those jumping from her sleeping cat.

Why study this stuff? Why not? I’ve learned from it. When I saw the title of the study, I figured there must be something in dog blood to give a flea a bigger boost. Or maybe it’s easier to get good footing on a dog.

Little did I know that dog fleas and cat fleas are two different beasts. I thought they were one and the same.

The cat flea jump averages 7.8 inches in distance while dog fleas average 12 inches. The record jump recorded was 19.6 inches. Cat fleas average 5.2 inches in height and dogs average 6 inches, so you can see there’s a significant difference. The highest jump observed was 9.8 inches.

I think I saw better off Sam, but it’s been many years and I never recorded my observations.

I’ve also learned that humans are much more likely to be bitten by cat fleas. I’ve learned that fleas generally just walk around, but when they’re in search of a host, they’ll jump butt-first and grab onto the host much like a Velco dart.

Cadiergues completed her research in 2000 and four years later Boris Krasnov and his Israeli team went much, much further. They studied eight different species of desert flea and compared jumping ability.

They even came up with a conclusion: Fleas that live on sandy ground are better jumpers than those living on rocky ground.

Sam spent a lot of time on a human’s bed and his fleas did just fine. I’m itching all over just writing about this topic, so let’s move on to more Ig Nobel research: the puzzle solving abilities of slime mold.

  • Front.little Ball
    Fayette's Demetrious Whiteside (left)Skylar Lester attempt to keep the ball from going out of bounds during Morenci's recent basketball tournament for fourth and fifth grade teams. Morenci's Andrew Schmidt stands by.
  • Front.tug
    MORENCI pep rallies generally end with a tug of war. The senior class entry, shown above, did not advance to the finals. Griffin Grieder, Alaina Webster, Kyle Long and Jazmin Smith are shown at the front of the rope, giving it their best effort.
  • Accident
    FAYETTE resident Patricia Stambaugh, 64, was declared dead on the scene of a single-vehicle accident Friday morning south of Morenci. Rescue units were called around 9 a.m., but as of Tuesday, law enforcement officers had not yet determined the time of the accident. According to Ohio State Highway Patrol, Stambaugh was driving west on U.S. 20 when her Chevrolet Malibu traveled off the north side of the road and down a steep embankment, coming to rest in Bean Creek (Tiffin River).
  • Athletic Fields
    SPORTS COMPLEX—Fayette’s outdoor athletic facilities will include three ball fields for summer recreation leagues at the southwest corner of the school. The baseball and softball fields, along with the running track, will be constructed on the east side of the school. Outdoor athletic fields were not part of the new school project from 2007, but voters approved a $1.4 million levy for a school addition and the sports fields last August. Both projects are scheduled to be complete by July 20.
  • Front.teacher Leading
    PRESCHOOL MUSIC—Fayette band director Jeffrey Dunford spends the last half hour of the day leading the full-day preschool class in musical activities. Additional photos are on page 7 of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.F.band
    TROMBONISTS Jake Myers (left) and Max Baker perform Friday at the annual Senior Citizens Luncheon at Fayette High School. The National Honor Society and the FFA chapter teamed up to serve a meal to area seniors and to provide musical entertainment. Both the school band and choir performed. Additional photos are on page 7 of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2017