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Here we go again. The latest wave of shouty headlines about outsized monster invaders is rolling in. The latest crop fantastically are the billions of super fleas with giant penises invading British homes.
These monsters are giants, said The Mirror far bigger than normal fleas. And, according to The Express, they have mutated to have large manhoods and are now immune to poisons. The Sun went even further, suggesting that their penises were all erect. Save yourselves!
Hysteria around arthropods (insects, spiders and their allies) is common fodder for newspapers its been barely a month since a completely different swarm of giant cannibal spiders was invading British bedrooms. Pholcids, the spiders in question, are not only utterly harmless but are in fact beneficial because they eat other less harmless insects.
Such headlines pour oil on an unhelpful fire of general fear and aversion towards arthropods. This fear is unnecessary and avoidable. An awesome experiment involving Doctor Who in 2011 demonstrated that there is nothing innate or evolutionary about this fear and it most likely persists through cultural reinforcement. So if we dont teach our kids to be afraid of bugs, they wont grow up afraid of bugs. And that means they wont miss out on a whole world of awesome.
At least with fleas , there is something to be genuinely concerned about they are, after all, obligate bloodsuckers and can be vectors for several important diseases including bubonic plague. But we have been living and dealing with fleas for centuries. Caution is sensible; blind panic is not.
But whats all the fuss about these fleas and their penises? A fleas penis, however giant, is quite the wrong end of a flea to get worried about.
Lets try and unpick this story a little.
Are fleas invading?
To begin with, fleas are not invading they are already found everywhere except in the Arctic. Fleas typically follow cycles with adult populations booming in summer and generally dying away in winter. They thrive in damp, humid conditions but cannot develop below about 13C, meaning winter usually halts their activity.
However, there has been a succession of increasingly wet summers and mild winters, which provides good conditions for flea breeding. So fleas may be proliferating in the balmy weather. Some veterinary oorganizationsand charities have reported increases in cases. And these reports appear to have been cherry-picked by tabloids in an effort to create panic.
But Natalie Bungay of the British Pest Control Association said: There have certainly not been any reports of any anomalies in flea reports whether it be the size of them or frequency of them.
Neither is there any truth in the claim that these insects are resistant to current pesticides. While fleas may have become resistant to many older insecticides, there is no conclusive evidence of any resistance to more modern chemical treatments. Concerns about what looks like resistance are mostly down to fa ailure to follow, or stick to, product directions.
There is also no obvious evidence that fleas are getting any bigger. Neither, disappointingly, are their penises.
How giant, exactly? Im asking for a friend
However, it has to be said: there is at least truth in the rumour of giant-penised fleas. Fleas do have extraordinarily long penises. Being in possession of a 3.3mm appendage may not sound like much, but it is up to 2.5 times the fleas own body length on an average man thatd be a four-metre member. But this was the case anyway there is no new breed of particularly monstrously hung mutants, just the regular well-endowed ones.
The penis size of the flea is a record for insects, although not for animals generally as is sometimes claimed. That honour goes to the barnacle (eight times its body length, which would be 14 metres on a human in case you are wondering).
But flea genitalia are hardly a clear and present threat. On the contrary what flea penises are is fascinating. They have been described as the most elaborate genital organ in the animal kingdom. The penis is an immensely long wispy ribbon-like structure, kept coiled up inside the abdomen when not in use. It is so thin that it is only faintly discernible, even under a microscope, and cannot enter the female by itself. It must be supported by extra structures called penis rods which, along with external claspers, help to manoeuvre the whole apparatus into place for mating to occur.
Left:TB Cheetham 1987, PhD, Iowa State/Entomology Commons; Top right:KatijaZSM/Wikipedia/CCBY3.0; Bottom right: F Abang 1993, PhD, Iowa State/Entomology Commons
The precise function of the penis rods is not entirely clear one end is shaped like a cobras hood, so they may act to scoop out rivals sperm. Alternatively, they may help to transfer the sperm to the female one author observed sperm with tails wound around the penis rods like spaghetti on a fork. Nobody really knows.
Such a delicate, fragile organ is hardly something to strike terror into the hearts of the nation, so why all the tabloid hate?
Maters gonna mate
Maybe they were thinking of Strepsipteran penises, or possibly bedbug penises. Those are a whole different, rather stabbier ball game: genuinely the stuff of nightmares. Look them up if you dare. Or maybe bushcricket genitals, some of which resemble bear traps and handcuffs.
The mechanical details of how males and females mate is enormously important in determining whether and which DNA is passed on. Its therefore somewhat central to the process of evolution. Genitals are used as anchors, hooks, locks and keys, turnstiles, advertisements, titillators, manhole-covers, crowbars, weapons, mazes and many more and with such a bewildering array of functions they are some of the fastest-evolving structures in nature.
Insect genitals, particularly, are a smorgasbord of delightful weirdness. Male damselflies have shovel-shaped penises for removing rivals sperm. Some male spiders snap off one of their two detachable penises inside their mate, both to deter future lovers and to prolong sex while they run away. Female barklices vaginas are shaped like a prehensile penis and literally reach into the male to grab his sperm.
The point being: insect genitals are compelling enough already, without the need to invent reasons to be scared or disgusted by them invading our bedrooms.
So fleas may be enjoying a bit of a comeback in some warm, wet weather. But they are not invading, and neither are they mutants with giant penises. Fleas, in general, have impressive members but the flea class of 2016 has no particular claim to endowment over previous alumni.
So my take on this flea article is, while responsible pet owners are mindful of the precious family pets there is a still wildlife not included in most health protection plan of your aminals. That is the life outside your home have free access to your lawn and gardens.
This is where All Track Exterminators can be of assistance. There are procedures that can maintain any home or office from pest and invaders that jump crawl and bite you
James Gilbert, Lecturer in Zoology, University of Hull
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/reality-bites-the-mutant-giantpenised-fleas-invading-the-tabloids/