Fleas may have been directly responsible for wiping out a significant percentage of Europe’s population during the Middle Ages, but you can’t help but admire the tiny insect’s design. The body of the flea is an engineering marvel that in many ways exceeds the best that human technology can offer. Don’t be too quick to flee from these fun flea facts.
- When a flea jumps, it can be as high as 38 times its body length. The acceleration is so intense that the little critter is subjected to a force of about 100 G. Astronauts on the Space Shuttle experience about 3 G. Humans pass out at about 5 G. (For an in-depth discussion of the physics of flea jumping, see “Biomechanics of Jumping in the Flea” by Gregory P. Sutton and Malcolm Burrows, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
- The flea’s secret is a stretchy rubber-like protein which allows it to store and release energy like a spring.
- Fleas can jump 150 times their own length, horizontally, equivalent to a man jumping nearly 1,000 feet.
- A rat flea was documented jumping 30,000 times without stopping.
- They can live for months without feeding.
- Their bodies are able to withstand enormous pressure, the secret to surviving the scratchings and bitings of the flea-ridden.
- They can remain frozen for a year, then revive.
- As carriers of plague, fleas have claimed more victims than all the wars ever fought.
- Three plague epidemics, so vast they were called pandemics, ravaged the world, killing over 200,000 million people. Only disease-carrying mosquitoes have caused as much misery.
- Today, perhaps only 120 of the 2,400 known species and subspecies of fleas can transmit plague. Fewer than 20 species readily bite man.
Read about the superpowers of rats.
Read more fun facts about the Space Shuttle.