strange behaviors

Cool doings from the natural and human worlds

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  • Reviews for Richard Conniff’s Books

    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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A Revolution in the Ways We Live and Die

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 3, 2011

One night in 1877, in a squalid port city on the southeastern coast of China, a Scottish doctor named Patrick Manson performed a small experiment that would soon revolutionize the ways we live and die.  What was his subject?

1.  A dog.

2.  A mosquito.

3.  A human being.

4.  A laboratory rat.

And the answer is:

Patrick Manson performed a small experiment with mosquitoes.  The scope of the test was limited and the design badly flawed.  But it was the beginning of a spectacular quarter century in which the work of the species seekers would bear fruit, enabling humans for the first time to control diseases that had plagued them forever.  His experiment focused on elephantiasis, a common disorder in the tropics that he suspected was caused by parasitic filarial worms.

He also hypothesized that the worms were passed from one individual host to another by a blood-sucking insect. Somehow, from examining what was essentially a paste of mashed filarial-infected mosquitoes, Manson also discerned what happened next:  Newly liberated from their first host, microfilariae passed through the mosquito’s abdominal lining and took up residence in the muscles of its thoracic cavity.  There they continued to develop, “manifestly … on the road to a new human host.”

He had discovered “a new and revolutionary concept,” according to medical historian Eli Chernin–“that certain bloodsucking arthropods can transmit human disease.”     It would eventually save millions of lives—arguably, millions every year in the modern era–and immortalize Manson as “the father of modern tropical medicine.”

There’s a lot more to this story—you can read about it in The Species Seekers.

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