Moth flour, cyanide defenses, & esoteric ways to die
Bugs are often overlooked when creating settings for speculative fiction, but the stories I love tend to take them into account. Lately I keep coming across obscure insect information, so I decided to put it all together for easier referencing.
- Bees immediately plummet to the ground when the lights go out.
- Many insects replace the water in their bodies with glycerol to keep from freezing in winter.
- Centipedes are fast-moving carnivores that hunt using "large, venomous fangs" that function like claws.
- In the mid 19th century, the Japanese mixed silkworm poop with leaves and dirt to make saltpeter. Also known as potassium nitrate, it's a critical component of gunpowder. The process was super involved and took like 6 years.
- Bogong moths, which were ground into flour by Indigenous Australians, taste nutty and have a sweet aftertaste.
There's a parasitic worm known as Loa loa that is mostly harmless... so your immune system pretty much ignores it. This is fine unless you take deworming medicine (i.e. ivermectin). Then, the Loa loa all die, at which point your immune system freaks out and fries your brain in a vain attempt to get rid of the worm corpses. Scott Alexander describes it as one of the most esoteric ways to die.
Millipedes gain segments and legs throughout their life — the newest discovered can go up to 1,300. They mostly live underground and eat dead leaves. They were the first oxygen-breathing animals, and the first to use chemical defenses like cyanide to protect themselves from predators. At least one extinct species was taller than I am, at 6 feet long and 1 foot wide.
Locusts are unique as pests because they swarm and fly, so they can travel across vast distances. Huge locusts plagues can last for literally years. Pesticides can actually make the situation worse because they make it unsafe to eat the locusts. Here's more about why they swarm.
Since spiders have pinhead-sized brains, people mostly assume they have can't do complex reasoning. Spiders of the Portia genus (which are about a centimeter) show signs of intelligence comparable to dogs or toddlers. They intelligently plan routes, can be surprised, and are surprisingly good with numbers.
📗 ICYMI: If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy my previous newsletter about toxic beetles, weird pets, and unusual foods. I also highly recommend Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky, which features evolving generations of Portia spiders as recurring protagonists.
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💬 I found out all that cool millipede stuff because a subscriber thought I might be interested in the discovery of the first "real" millipede. If you stumble across exciting science or obscure history, please do send it my way!
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