A knock at the door, an approaching smile, the door opens.
Says the man on the stoop: “Hello, I’m Extension Pete,” dramatic pause, “Entomologist Detective!”
“I know, I called you,” says an engaging young mother holding a wide-eyed baby on her hip.
“Good.” Not at all deflated that she wasn’t overwhelmed by his appellation, he continues, “What seems to be the problem?”
She invites him in with the wave of her hand into an empty house full of boxes. “We just closed on the house last week and started moving in. A couple days ago the baby and I moved some boxes in, and when we got back to the old house she had some fleas on her. It was weird, I caught them with tape, and then, I don’t know, there’s just so much going on, I forget about it. But then it happened again yesterday!”
The excited young man is snooping about the house, peering in corners and closets, gently probes a box marked FRAGILE! with his boot, hears some tinkling, and retreats quickly.
Eye contact: “Any pets at your other home? They might have picked something up from the neighbors.”
“No pets. No cats or dogs,” shake of the head, “We’re planning on getting some though; children that grow up with two or more pets tend to have fewer allergies,” coos at baby.
Authoritatively, “You should get a llama. They’re the Gentle Camel.” Resuming inquisition, “Are there any pets here, in the house or maybe strays that live under the house, in the neighborhood?”
“No, no pets in the house. The last owners had a cat, but they’ve been gone for months. I haven’t seen any strays in the neighborhood. But the baby hasn’t been outside. I carry her from the car to here and then put her in her chair or let her crawl around.”
Lifts gaze from a box with the overly Dickensian label “Christmas Past” and shifts attention back to mother and child. “Whereabouts has the bundle of joy been crawling?”
Mother leads the way, pointing from spot to spot in various rooms, comments on cute things child did while in each spot: had fun in Kitchen slapping linoleum and listening to resulting sound; frightened and intrigued by border between linoleum and tile of utility room; overcame previously mentioned fear of tile and entered utility room to gain safety of mother’s ankle; use of traction provided by carpet in back bedroom to produce sudden bouts of speed crawling.
The tour ends. A grandiose statement from the young man: “I believe I have solved the mystery. But first we should celebrate with some homemade root beer. I shall return.” Exit Extension Pete.
Return, doorbell, greetings, bags on counter in kitchen, root beer extract, sugar, dry ice, mother sets about finding/cleaning a pitcher. Root beer is made, chitchat, baby is entranced by vapor. After the glasses are drained, “Well, that should be enough time, let’s go check,” and our sleuth leads the way to the back bedroom, opens door, peers in.
Scattered over the floor, a few remaining chunks of dry ice sublimate away quietly. Several glue traps rest sticky side up on the floor, each bespeckled with fleas. The good mother’s expression is translated as, “What sorcery is this?!”.
The reveal: “Fleas has a life cycle similar to the butterfly. There’s an egg, then a larva—a squirmy, wormy thing like a caterpillar or grub.” Eye contact to make sure she was following, hand gestures for emphasis. “Once the larva gets big enough it spins a cocoon and becomes a pupa, just like a butterfly or moth. Eventually the pupa becomes an adult flea. But fleas are professional parasites; they aren’t at all interested in being adults unless there is something to eat. If there is no physical movement, heat, or carbon dioxide an adult flea can hang out in the cocoon for more than three months. These fleas are leftovers from the previous owner’s cat. Once everyone moved out, they just sat tight waiting for someone else to come along.
“Fleas are in carpets, rugs, or cracks against the wall, not on tile or linoleum. The baby provided all the stimuli needed to wake the fleas up, and this is the only place the baby has been where some could be hiding out. Voilà: fleas on a baby. The carbon dioxide from the dry ice woke the rest up. Mystery solved and confirmed.” Big grin.
“That’s amazing!” Retreating from room entrance, “How do we get rid of them?”.
“Well there are any number of chemicals, you could steam clean the carpet, you could pull it up and put down hardwood. Probably you don’t have to worry about immature fleas, those have either died or become adults. That should make control easier.”
“You’re amazing Extension Pete.”
“I know I am.”
“How can I ever repay you?”
“I need no payment. Just know that wherever there’s an entomological mystery I’ll be there, for I am…” dramatic pause, “Extension Pete: Entomologist Detective!”