As a lifelong pet lover, the mere mention of fleas has me scrambling for a flea comb and brewers’ yeast while scratching myself silly with phantom bites. That’s why a recent story about the first verified photographs of a live Bigflea that is four times the size of ordinary ones made by blood run cold – hopefully cold enough to repel these giant bloodsuckers.
I learned about Bigflea – Hystrichopsylla schefferi – in an article in the New York Times by Carol Kaesuk Yoon. Her husband, Merrill Peterson, is a biologist and curator of the insect collection at Western Washington University. While writing a photographic field guide to the insects of the Pacific Northwest, Merrill discovered that there are no photos of a living Bigflea, which can attain a length of .5 inches.
Carol joined her husband in his quest to photograph Bigflea, which involved catching a mountain beaver. It turns out the elusive giant fleas only live on mountain beavers, which are not actually beavers but are considered to be the world’s most primitive living rodent species. Their range is western North America from British Columbia to California.
Her hilarious account of legally trapping a mountain beaver is topped by only by her description of catching a Bigflea using an aspirator – yes, she had to inhale the flea with a contraption made of a glass vial, metal tubes and a rubber hose. Only a happily married couple could survive holding a squirming and potential biting rodent and attempt to inhale a giant flea while one partner yelled “Suck! Suck harder!”
As you can see by the above photograph with one of normal size, they got their flea. The mountain beaver was released unharmed, albeit slightly annoyed. Carol cautions that, while the Bigflea is not dangerous to humans, the mountain beaver is, so aspiring flea aspirators should not try this at home.
FYI: I coined the term “Bigflea” and it’s already registered in the official oxymoronic animal names directory.