Is Fear of Insects Justified?

Question: Should we fear insects?

Hugh Raffles: I don’t think fearing them does us much good, but I suppose so in some cases.  I don’t think cockroaches are to be feared.  I mean, there's a lot of irrational fear of insects.  I don’t think cloth moths are to be feared either, but in malaria area, mosquitoes are kind of dangerous, well, extremely dangerous.  Tetsi flies are dangerous.  Obviously, there's all the disease carrying insects are really are dangerous and if we don’t have the - in countries where you don’t have the infrastructure to prevent disease, then those insects are to be feared.  But, they're really to be feared because of poverty. 

I mean, this used to be a malaria area, but we don’t have this problem anymore.  And even West Nile disease isn’t really a serious problem and Lyme disease isn’t a serious problem in the scheme of things.  I mean, it is if you get it, but it’s not in the scheme of things and that’s because we’re wealthy countries with - well, now we have much better healthcare than we did have.  But, with healthcare and with - and we have the kinds of conditions that mean that we don’t really have to fear insects and we shouldn’t do.  But, in countries where we don’t have those - where people don’t have those things then yeah, unfortunately they do have to.

Questions: Are there other cultures that appreciate insects more than we do?

Hugh Raffles: I think there are probably quite a few, yeah.  But, the one that I got to know best was in Japan.  It was Japan, yeah, where people really have a  very - or many people have a very different relationship with insects and insects are much more visible and much more present and have a much more positive - or there’s a much more positive view of them.  When you see insects or forms of insects, so like insects transformed into things in manga and in anime and people have very strong symbolic associations with certain insects at certain times of year.  You know, with fireflies and cicadas and crickets and dragonflies and there's this long literature in which they appear with these strong symbolic connections as well and a lot of them are very positive and even when they're connected to lust and nostalgia like cicadas are because they come at that time of year in the fall, then - or should that be - maybe that’s crickets that come in fall.  I always get confused.  But, whichever it is that come in the fall, even though they’re sort of connected with sort of loss and the turn of the seasons, it’s still a very sort of an affectionate relationship and people who I spent time with feel a lot more affinity with insects in general and a lot more - I think a lot more sensitive to - yeah, to their lives, the smallness of their lives and their individuality, even though people still crush roaches and all that kind of stuff too.  It’s not like every - I don’t want to try to say everybody’s so in touch with nature or something, but there's just a much stronger connection to particular insects and they're just much more visible in society in general.

Recorded on March 22, 2010

There's a lot of irrational fear of insects among humans, but there are some that can be lethal.

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

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  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.