One uneventful day a few weeks ago, my brother spotted some black dots in Honey’s (very tangled) fur. I agreed to try to brush his fur out, but after a few futile attempts I gave up.
“They’re moving! There’s little black bugs all over him!” came the shout from my brother a few days later. The black dots on him were alive! That afternoon, we washed and scrubbed Honey 3 times over, also trimming his fur to a minimum.
In the following few days, we found ourselves scratching and itching at our ankles, even waking in the night from the itchiness. The couch was no longer a safe place to sit, nor our beds safe places to lie.
Only then did our battle against the fleas truly commence. Day and night Honey was trimmed and checked over for fleas. We tried various remedies for flea removal, disinfecting surfaces with alcohol, vacuuming everywhere, and finally, dusting diatomaceous earth everywhere - on floors, stairs, and couches. Fleas are impressively tenacious creatures (see Appendix), and not a few times did I wonder whether we would ever be rid of them.
Yet I think we’re finally nearing the end of the struggle.
After a few weeks of intense conflict, we have obtained many battle scars and a slight fear of black jumping things, but we’ve also gleaned valuable lessons.
First, a lesson in humility and trusting in the Lord. Who knew that a tiny bug, less than 3mm long, could assail a family for weeks? Truly our lives are not in our hands. Yet we have this precious promise from our sovereign God, that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Even the fleas are in His good plan, and come to us from a Father’s loving hands (James 1:17). So in all these things we can rejoice and give thanks (Philippians 4:6-7).
Second, a lesson in diligence and fighting early. We thought Honey was safe from fleas because he doesn’t spend much time outdoors, and so we were lax in his grooming. Similarly, there are certain sins that we might think are non-issues for us - yet let him who thinks he stand take heed lest he falls (1 Corinthians 10:12)! Our laziness in grooming and the days of negligence meant exponential growth of 30 eggs per female flea per day… which made the battle longer and harder.
Third, a reminder of the “already but not yet” stage we live in - resting in the victory we have through Jesus over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:55), yet recognizing very clearly that all creation (including the fleas) groans for future redemption (Romans 8:22-23). On that day there will be no more tears, and no more scratching at flea bites.
And so we sing with the psalmist,
Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22)
Anatomy and life cycle of fleas
The cat flea - the most common flea on both cats and dogs, is a tiny (1-2mm long) and very thin insect. They are able to leap a distance of some 50 times their body length and strong claws to avoid being dislodged from their host. Only 5% of the flea population are adults - the other 95% are 50% eggs, 35% larvae, and 10% pupae.
A mother flea that has consumed a full blood meal produces 20-30 microscopic eggs a day, producing around 5000 eggs in her lifetime!
These eggs hatch in two to seven weeks, and become larva. Flea larvae avoid light and hide in their warm and moist environment, feeding on dried blood from adult flea poop.
Given enough food, larvae pupate and weave cocoons in four stages. It takes about a week for metamorphosis to complete, but then the flea may lie in wait for a suitable host before emerging.
Newly emerged fleas use variations in light, temperature, and carbon dioxide to detect the presence of a potential host, and will jump to a new host within seconds of emerging from the cocoon. The new flea begins feeding on host blood within minutes, and the cycle repeats1.
Wikipedia contributors. “Flea.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 Sep. 2020. Web. 7 Oct. 2020. ↩