Tag Archives: Insects

The Mosquito

Book Cover of The Mosquito by Timothy Winegard

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.

Dalai Lama XIV

Ah, the mosquito. Is there any other insect – any creature – more universally despised?* I don’t enjoy hating on things, but the mosquito is one thing I’m at least not particularly fussed about hating. So of course, I had to pick up The Mosquito: A human history of our deadliest predator by Timothy C. Winegard. It’s actually pretty incredible when you consider how much influence mosquitoes, or more specifically, the diseases they carry and for which they are vectors (e.g. malaria, yellow fever, dengue), have had over human history throughout the ages. According to Winegard, they have affected, among other things: the configuration of human DNA (sickle cell being probably the most commonly recognized one), the outcome of the American civil war, slavery, the history of the Roman Republic (the Pontine Marshes being a malarial sink, it both defended and destroyed the Romans), and more! They’re quite the equal opportunity bloodsuckers, so it’s not necessarily that they’ve always helped any particular side. Malaria also happens to be one of those diseases that constantly outmanoeuvers whatever anti-malarial drugs are concocted to defeat it, and at a frighteningly fast pace at that: new treatments might be effective anywhere between 2 and 20 years after being mass-marketed (Winegard). Interestingly, one of the newer treatments, artemisinin, is one that originated from what was rediscovered in an old Chinese text from the 4th century Jin dynasty, uncovered only during Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward, but not shared with the world until more recent times (and even then, the study results weren’t embraced by the international community immediately, according to Winegard).

Do mosquitoes kill more humans than humans do? Debatable, but they’re definitely not slacking on that front (not that humans are either…): the year before The Mosquito was published, 830,000 people died of mosquito-borne disease worldwide. Whether mosquitoes will outlast humans or we’ll decide to use the technologies we have at our disposal (e.g. CRISPR) to eradicate the Anopheles mosquito, which is one of the main vectors of mosquito-borne diseases, one thing is for sure: mosquitoes have driven human history and evolution throughout the entirety of our existence.

Continue reading

Of Maggots & Men

Book cover of Super Fly by Jonathan Balcombe

If you were to find yourself with a nonhealing wound and had some dead tissue that needed excising, would you entrust yourself to the care of maggots or to a knife*? Personally, the maggots sound pretty tempting. Between reading about the gruesome history of surgery (see below) and then about the positive outcomes for folks with wounds infested with a serendipitous pile of wriggling maggots (especially in the earlier days when the risk of infection made surgery very much a last choice – though Maggot Debridement Therapy is making a comeback for various reasons), I’d wager you might give more consideration to the humble maggot!

And here’s a glowing review of the maggot by surgeon William S. Baer, during World War I, as he treated a soldier who had been left quite injured for several days on a battlefield – not the most sanitary of conditions – with “compound fractures of the femur and large flesh wounds of the abdomen and scrotum” (Balcombe, 254). At the time, compound fractures of the femur were just short of a death sentence: 75-80% died. By the time this soldier was found, having had no food or water during that entire time and in spite of his injuries, fever-free, Baer remarked:

“there was practically no bare bone to be seen and the internal structure of the wounded bone as well as the surrounding parts was entirely covered with the most beautiful pink tissue one could imagine.”

qtd. in Super Fly, Balcombe, 254

And to what could this “most beautiful pink tissue one could imagine” be credited? Maggots. Yes, before he could see all that lovely healthy healing tissue, Baer had had to remove thousands upon thousands of maggots from the wounds. Honestly, I adore this quote about “the most beautiful pink tissue”, because the evident awe and appreciation present in this quote – as applied to the tissue, sure, but surely also somewhat sideways in praise of the maggots – gets me every time. That’s a 5-star (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) review right there, and I would humbly suggest it gets pinned as Most Helpful wherever people go to read about maggot debridement therapy.

Continue reading

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs!

From our viewpoint, it’s probably easy to think we reside on a planet dominated by people, but Scott Shaw makes a good case to consider that we actually reside on a Planet of the Bugs! Shaw introduces us to insect evolution through the eras, describing how environmental & predation pressures played a part in how insects evolved, steadily moving forward and proliferating on their balanced set of 6 legs (for the most part). While I’m not huge on bugs – you can find me doing the hunched shoulders & slinking away manoeuvre throughout the summer when insects abound – this was a fun and informative journey to go on, learning about the advent of exoskeletons, how insects have taken over tiny and tinier ecological niches (how’s laying an egg only in a mature specimen of another insect sound for niche housing?) with different types of parasitism*, and more!

For anyone who has a deep dislike or fear of insects, here’s one way to learn more about them in a more multifaceted way and maybe discover something incredibly cool about them that will make them more approachable. (Or perhaps the bugs approaching you isn’t the issue so much as getting them to leave you alone?) Some other really cool items we carry are the Nature Backpacks, including one with a Creepy, Crawly Critters theme, that can help you get outside and explore the outdoors!

Continue reading