Culture vulture

A fleas’s head

A fleas’s head

Photo Illustration by C. Owsley Rain

The war at home
The back yard at Culture Vulture world headquarters is now a war zone. Over the weekend, with the ground moistened by gentle rains, I rinsed a million predatory nematodes into the soil back there. If all goes well, these tiny wormlike creatures will penetrate the top few inches of soil and begin eating and multiplying and eating some more. The hope and supposition is that the nematodes will help control the flea population by dining on any flea larvae that they happen to come across while going about their business of aerating the soil with their miniscule, millimeter-long bodies. While they’re at it, they will also consume the grubs [larvae] of assorted verminous beetles and several species of voracious caterpillars.

The reason the lovely I. Daphne St. Brie and self decided on the nematode infusion is that neither of us like the idea of spraying pesticides around the area where the faithful Culture Vulture guard hounds, Sam and Stella, spend the majority of their time lounging in the shade and frolicking in the grass.

Also, we ourselves occasionally sit on the backyard swing under the giant maple watching the garden grow. Currently it’s producing a tiny plot of volunteer parsley, a whole bunch of love-in-the-mist, invasive tendrils of ivy creeping in from our neighbor’s side of the fence, strawberries in a half-barrel, and several big clumps of catnip that the cat, Benny, loves to lie down in the middle of and luxuriate like a sultan who has just polished off a hookah load of nature’s finest.

All this pleasantness is of course predicated on a lack of fleas chewing on our ankles and hopping into our clothes to be borne into the house for further infestation. That’s where the nematodes come in. Their method of predation is not pleasant. To quote “These nematodes enter the host through natural body openings and release a toxin that is fatal only to the grub. Death occurs within 24 to 48 hours. The nematode then reproduces, and its many progeny leave the host’s body and begin to search actively for other susceptible insect pest larvae.”

Lovely. And yet, in our opinion, preferable to spraying poisons, because the only things being killed by the nematodes are the pesky vermin larvae, and if a bird happens to eat the infected vermin, it doesn’t get harmed by the nematodes, which will either simply be digested or will exit along with the bird’s poop and go in search of another meal.

As has been remarked here before, the chain of life—be we ever so kind, gentle, peace-loving and well-intentioned—demands that we humans be agents of often miserable death for our fellow creatures. It’s a crying shame, but an undeniable fact.

So here’s to nematodes, and fleas, and caterpillars, and beetle grubs, and praying mantises, and mosquitos, and toads, and neighbors, and all the other creatures who remind us that our comfort comes at the price of a multitude of grisly deaths, whether we see it happening or care to acknowledge our part in it or not.