159. Wicked Bugs (Amy Stewart)

Sunday, April 14, 2013
Earlier this year, I read Amy Stewart's Wicked Plants.  Despite originally being slightly disappointed, it was fascinating to learn about all the plants we keep around that could easily kill us (or at least makes us seriously ill) and yet we think they're "pretty".  I was even more eager to read another of her books, Wicked Bugs.  OH MY GOD.  All the creepy crawly creatures had me cringing.  The sheer number of insects that lay their eggs inside the wounds they create and then their offspring reach maturity inside a human host?  You don't want to know. Gross.  Every little itch and skin sensation had me twitching while I read this.  Every page brought a new intriguing (and often squeamish) factoid.  Some of the stuff I learned...
Although they don't bite humans, medical entomologists have reported that cockroaches feed on "fingernails, eyelashes, skin, calluses of hands and feet, and food residues about the faces of sleeping humans".  There's a reason mom always made you wash your face before bed. Ewwww. I don't know what's worse - the cockroach or leftover slop in your 'stache.

The Brazilian Wandering Spider "prowls the floor of the jungle and even walks through the city ... and while most spiders will scurry away at the sight of an aggressor, the Brazilian Wandering Spider stands its ground, rising up on its hind legs, ready for a fight."  Its bite "causes a flood of immediate and severe pain, which can be followed by difficulty breathing, paralysis, and even asphyxiation."  Oh yeah, it also causes priapism.  Prepare for yourself for a painful, persistent erection.

The presence of (pork) tapeworms in the brain is now the leading cause of epilepsy worldwide...

Want to know what really caused the rapid spread of the plague?  Flea vomit. (Oriental rat flea).  The plague bacteria "builds up in the gut of a flea to such an extent that the flea can barely swallow.  Instead it is only able to draw the hosts's bloodinto the esophagus
, where it mingles with live plague bacteria.  Unable to swallow because it is so full of plague itself, it regurgitates the blood and the bacteria back into the hosts bloodstream."  I won't think about the stomach flu the same way again.
The world's largest tarantula, Theraphosa blondi, "spans almost a foot in length with its legs outstretched... It also has fangs almost an inch (!) in length and is covered with stinging hairs that it can shoot at an enemy." I'm getting the heebie jeebies just writing that.
Courtesy of The Telegraph
"Body lice evolved from head lice about 107,000 years ago, around the time humans started wearing clothing.  Pubic lice, however, are more closely related to gorilla lice - and were transferred to humans through some sort of intimate physical contact with gorillas, the precise details of which remain a mystery." "Sexual contact is really the most efficient means of transmission, which is why the French call pubic lice papillons d'amour, or butterflies of love."  Makes your mind do a double take on that gorilla comment.


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