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BUBONIC PLAGUE   Leave a comment

DEFINITION: a contagious disease, the most common form of plague, caused by a bacterium (Yersinia pestis ) transmitted by fleas from infected rats, and characterized by buboes, fever, prostration, and delirium.

Black Death a deadly disease, probably bubonic plague, which devastated Europe and Asia in the 14th cent.

1337: Hundred Years’ War begins. Two basic issues created the antagonism between England and France in the middle of the 14th century: the succession to the French throne and the extent of British possessions in France. In 1336 the flame that lit the fire was French king Philip VI halt of the thriving wool trade between England and France.

The resulting war which would be known as the Hundred Years’ War was not a continual struggle but an intermittent one that actually lasted more than a century. Charles V of France died in 1328 leaving no successor. There were two claimants to the throne: Edward III of England, who was also duke of Guyenne in France; and the count of Valois. A French assembly chose the count, who took the name Philip VI. This could have been the end of the matter, but the new king chose to confiscate Edward’s territory of Guyenne. Edward then asserted his claim to the throne of France by sending an army to Flanders in 1337.

Notable among the events of the war were: the battles of Crecy in 1346 and Agincourt in 1415, both were unexpected victories for the English; the interruption of fighting due to the spread of the bubonic plague in 1348; and the involvement of Joan of Arc inspiring the French to victory at Orleans in 1429. Eventually France won the war, but at great cost to the land and its people. England retained only the city of Calais, which it gave up in 1558.

This long war inspired much literature, including plays by William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw. Dramatic accounts of St. Joan have proved particularly appealing to audiences.

1347: Black Death. The plague is one of the most devastating diseases that has ever afflicted mankind. It is a highly contagious fever caused by the bacillus Yersinia pestis, which is carried by fleas that infest rats.

The plague, commonly called bubonic plague or the Black Death, has been known since ancient times, but the best documented instance was its deadly appearance in Europe in 1347. It raged throughout all of Europe, killing at least one-fourth of the population probably 25 million people. Without understanding how it is spread, people had no defence against the disease. Poor sanitary conditions and the disruption of war only worsened the epidemic.

In Europe the epidemic started in Sicily and was spread by shipboard rats to other Mediterranean ports. It moved to North Africa, Italy, Spain, England, and France. By 1349 it made its way to Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and the Low Countries. By 1350 it reached Scandinavia and the Baltic states.

In general, the population of Europe did not recover to its size before the plague until the 16th century, and some towns never recovered. The immediate results of the plague a general collapse of economies, a breakdown of class relationships, and a halt to wartime hostilities forced a massive restructuring of society. It has had a lasting impact on art, literature, and religious thought.

Caused by rod-shaped bacteria Yersinia pestis (Pasteurella pestis), bubonic plague is an acute and severe infection. Plague is initially spread by the bite of a flea from an infected rodent (rat, squirrel), and passed from person to person by mucus droplets spread from coughing. When infected by plague bacteria, a person becomes ill within a few hours to a few days. They spread through the body, causing high fever, swollen lymph nodes, rash, and changes in blood pressure. Other forms of plague are pneumonic, which causes severe pneumonia, and septicaemic All forms of plague are extremely dangerous.

The plague bacteria cause a massive infection that overwhelms the body’s defences When plague is untreated, many victims die within a few days. Treatment is with antibiotics such as tetracycline and streptomycin and is begun immediately when infection from plague is suspected. People are immunized against plague before they travel into areas where plague is endemic (always present). Control of plague requires the control of wild rodents. Insect repellents are used against flea bites.

During the 1300s nearly half the population of Europe was killed by an epidemic of plague. The disease was called the Black Death, which described the dark colour of many victims’ faces after death. Plague still occurs in most of the world, but epidemics such as those of earlier centuries are fortunately not seen. Public health departments of all countries do all they can to avert plague epidemics.

Recommended reading includes ‘The Outline of History’, by H.G. Wells, which was first published in 1920. Volume 2 of the revised edition (1971) of this famous work contains information related to this article. Also recommended is the current edition of ‘The Merck Manual’.

Assisted by Ann Giudici Fettner

Posted 2012/02/05 by Stelios in Education

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INSECTS (Part 2 of 2).   Leave a comment


Insects belong to the phylum Arthropoda, one of the chief divisions of the animal kingdom. The name comes from two Greek words, arthron (“joint”) and podos (“foot”), and refers to the jointed feet. Arthropods also include spiders, lobsters, centipedes, and other animals. In this phylum, insects belong to the class Insecta. Each insect has two parts to its scientific name. For example, the housefly is Musca domestica. The first half of the name is that of the genus (a group of closely related species) to which the species domestica belongs. The many thousands of insect genera (plural of genus) are grouped under more than 900 families. These families, in turn, are grouped under as many as 30 orders.

To summarize, the housefly is classified as follows: kingdom, Animalia; phylum, Arthropoda; class, Insecta (Hexapoda); order, Diptera; family, Muscidae; genus, Musca; species, domestica. Each of these groups is often divided even further into subgroups (subphylum, subclass, suborder, and so on).

Ancestors of the Modern Insect

Insects appeared on Earth long before the advent of humans or the earliest mammals. The first insects probably evolved from primitive ringed worms. These insect ancestors were wingless and developed without metamorphosis, as do today’s silverfish.

The oldest fossils of ancestral insect forms are believed to be some 350 million years old. There are also fossil records, from later eras, of highly developed forms very similar to the mayflies, cockroaches, and dragonflies now in existence. Some ancient insects were truly huge; dragonflies, for example, had a wingspread of 2 feet (0.61 meter) or more.


Insects that attack humans or anything of value to humans are termed pests; many of these are mutually competitive with humans for the world’s food supply. Other insects are benefactors of humans, as they devour the carcasses of dead animals, pollinate orchards, manufacture honey, or simply serve as another link in the food chain of the animal kingdom, for humans eat the animals including fish and birds which, in turn, live upon the insects.


About 10,000 species of insects have been classified as pests. Some are disease carriers, afflicting and often killing humans. Many insects prey upon domestic animals; others eat human food, clothing, and other possessions. Still others, in their quest for food or lodging, destroy trees, wood, and paper.

Carriers of Disease


Following are the names of some insects and the diseases they carry, and what may happen to someone who gets the disease.




Tsetse fly

African sleeping sickness



Yellow fever



Liver damage




Rat flea

Bubonic plague


Human louse




Assassin bug

Chagas’ disease

Heart damage

Brain damage



As vectors, or transmitting agents, of disease organisms, insects have caused more deaths and have inflicted greater misery and hardship on humankind than all the wars of history. In their efforts to find food, insects wage their own war against the human race. Some feed upon humans directly. Notable among these are the true flies, including mosquitoes, horseflies, black flies, tsetse flies, and other two-winged pests.

Perhaps humankind’s worst enemy among the insects is the mosquito. More lives have been lost as a result of malaria, yellow fever, encephalitis, and other mosquito-borne diseases than from all the other insect-borne diseases combined.

The tsetse fly has been a serious deterrent to the development of much of tropical Africa, for the insect acts as a vector of trypanosomiasis (African sleeping sickness) among humans and of nagana, a serious disease of livestock.

Horseflies and stable flies also transmit disease through their bites. The common housefly is not a biter, but it can carry myriad disease organisms on the hairs and the sticky secretions of its body. The assassin, or kissing, bug transmits the highly fatal Chagas’ disease.

Bedbugs, fleas, and lice live on the blood of birds and mammals, including humans. The human louse lives on the blood of humans alone and transmits typhus, relapsing fever, and trench fever.

The flea is potentially one of humankind’s deadliest enemies; rat fleas, for example, carry the germs of murine typhus and bubonic plague, which was instrumental in wiping out the lives of one fourth of the population of Europe in four years.

Household Pests

Insect pests in the home are most commonly chewers. One of the most troublesome of these the clothes moth attacks furs, woollens, and materials made of hair.

The silverfish and the fire-brat eat sized or stiffened material, such as the paper and bindings of books and starched clothing and curtains. In some parts of the United States, termites do considerable damage to furniture and paper products, as well as to the timber frameworks of buildings.

Plant-Eating Pests

Most insects are herbivorous that is, they feed on plants. Virtually every part of a plant, from the flower to the root, is vulnerable to their attack. They do their damage in a variety of ways.

Insects with chewing mouth-parts are the most destructive plant eaters. A horde of grasshoppers, for example, can strip every blade of vegetation from a field in a few hours. The destruction caused by other chewing insects, such as beetles, can also be enormous.

Insects with sucking mouth-parts, though usually smaller and less conspicuous than the chewers, also do a great deal of damage to farm crops and to forest and garden plants. These insects pierce plant tissues and draw out the vital juices. These insects include the aphids, chinch bugs, cicadas, and scale insects.

Damage is also done to the host plant from within by many other plant pests usually as larvae. Some eat their way between the top and bottom layers of a leaf, giving it a blotched appearance. The leaf roller, the larval form of certain moths, rolls a leaf into a tube and spins silk to hold it together. The caterpillar then feeds on the leaf. Other insect pests tie several leaves together into a large nest.

Gall-flies cause swellings on buds, flowers, leaves, stems, bark, or roots of plants. Usually the female pierces the plant and lays an egg; the plant then grows a gall, or swelling, around the egg.

Insect Immigrants Upset Nature’s Balance

As long as a region is left in its natural state, no species of insect is likely to increase disproportionately in numbers. The balance of nature prevents this from happening. Every insect has natural enemies, such as the spider, the praying mantis, and many kinds of disease organisms, that help keep the number of insects down.

The balance of nature in the New World was upset when settlers from Europe brought their domestic plants with them. Many insects that were harboured by these plants escaped the natural controls that were present in their old environments and became pests. The widespread use of such insecticides as DDT, now largely discontinued, also disrupted the balance of nature in some areas.

Pests arrive in many ways and from many lands. The gypsy moth, for example, was brought to the United States for experiments in the 1860s. It escaped from the laboratory and before the end of the 19th century had cost millions of dollars annually in damage to shade trees. The Argentine ant, an enemy of field crops and stored foods, was a stowaway in a cargo that reached New Orleans, La., in 1891. The brown-tail moth, another shade-tree pest, reached New England from Europe in about 1897. The alfalfa weevil came to Utah in 1902 in soil adhering to imported plants. The corn borer was carried from southern Europe in 1909 in a shipment of broom-corn Two serious pests came from Japan the Oriental fruit moth, on cherry trees presented by the city of Tokyo to Washington, D.C., in 1913; and the Japanese beetle, on trees reaching New Jersey in 1916. Also in 1916, carloads of cotton-seed from Mexico brought in the pink boll-worm Four arrived in 1920: the satin moth, an enemy of shade trees; the Asiatic beetle, which destroys lawns; the Mexican bean beetle, which feeds on a variety of beans; and the Mediterranean fruit fly, which is highly destructive of fruits, nuts, and vegetables.


Until the middle of the 19th century Americans were helpless against the growing insect menace. Finally, in the 1860s, arsenic compounds were found to be effective in combating the Colorado potato beetle. This was the first successful control of insect pests by scientific means. In the Morrill Act, in 1862, Congress provided for the study of insect pests and other agricultural problems.

Six principal methods are used in the control of insect pests. These methods are chemical, mechanical, radiological, cultural, biological, and legal.

Chemical. The chemical substances used to destroy insects are called insecticides. These may be broadly classified as stomach poisons, contact poisons, fumigants, and sorptive dusts. The stomach poisons are more effective against the chewing insects; the contact poisons, against sucking insects. Fumigants are gaseous poisons that enter the insect’s breathing system. Sorptive dusts are dry chemical compounds that kill insects by absorbing fatty substances from the exoskeleton, thus causing vital body fluids to evaporate.

Mechanical. Mechanical methods of insect control often primitive and time-consuming are generally less effective than chemical methods. They can seldom be applied practically to large populations of insects or over wide areas. These methods include swatting, the use of traps and barriers, water control, and temperature control. Water control involves adjustment of the water level or the rate of flow in breeding places. Temperature control is sometimes effective against insects that infest enclosed storage facilities. Reducing the temperature to 40 or 50 F (4 or 10 C) will cause most insects to become dormant; raising the temperature to 130 F (54 C) for three hours is sufficient to kill almost any insect.

Radiological. Perhaps the most dramatic, wholesale destruction of insects can be accomplished by making them infertile. Sexual sterility in male insects is induced by treating them with the rays of radioactive cobalt. If a large number of a particular species undergo this process in the laboratory, the treated males though sterile will still mate with fertile females; but the eggs laid by these females will be sterile. Following continual releases of sterile males in a single area, the number of young can be gradually reduced over a period of several generations until the population of the insect is totally wiped out within that area.

Through this technique the screw-fly, a serious pest of cattle, was first eradicated from the island of Curacao in the West Indies in 1954. Radiological warfare was then used to bring the screw-fly under control in the south-eastern United States.

Cultural. The cultural control of insect pests is of special interest to the farmer. Methods include the destruction of plant residues and weeds, crop tillage, crop rotation, and the growing of insect-resistant strains of crops.

Four things that farmers can do to control insects are

1. destroy plant residues and weeds. This can kill insects that are hibernating so they will not reproduce the following year.

2. crop tillage. This means to plough plants that have finished growing so they go back down into the soil and replenish the land. If a farmer ploughs at the right time of year, many insects living in the soil are killed.

3. crop rotation. This means to change the type of crop grown in a certain field in different seasons. Insect numbers are kept down when a farmer switches to a crop that insects do not like to eat.

4. insect-resistant strains. These are crops that insects do not like to eat. Developing insect-resistant strains of food limits insect populations.

When the farmer destroys the crop residues and weeds, he also destroys hibernating insects that would otherwise reproduce the following season. By ploughing or cultivating at the right time of year, he can often eliminate large numbers of harmful insects living in the soil. Crop rotation is an important means of combating insect pests of field crops, for many such pests will feed on only a single species or a single family of plant. Thus, if a farmer grows a grain one season and a legume the next, populations of many grain pests (as well as legume pests) can be kept down or eliminated.

Insect-resistant strains of many crops have been developed. Many of these strains have been developed by means of genetic engineering techniques. Resistance to the European corn borer, the wire-worm, and the chinch bug, for example, has been obtained in a single corn hybrid through selective breeding.

Biological. The control of insects by biological means involves the application of the pest’s natural enemies. These enemies may be microbes, mites, or other insects. Scientists have succeeded in controlling harmful insects by first determining the major predators or parasites of that insect in its country of origin. Then the scientists introduced these natural enemies as control agents in the new country that the pest had infested. A classic example is the cottony cushion scale, which threatened the survival of the California citrus industry in 1886. The predatory ladybird beetle, or vedalia beetle, was introduced from Australia, and within two years the scale insect had virtually disappeared from California.

In eastern Canada in the early 1940s the vicious European spruce sawfly was completely controlled by the spontaneous appearance of a viral plant disease, perhaps unknowingly introduced from Europe. This event led to increased interest in plant diseases as potential means of pest control.

Legal. The legal control of insects concerns government regulations to prevent the spread of insect pests from one country or region to another. The Federal Plant Quarantine Act of 1912 began the fight against imported pests by providing for inspectors at ports of entry. These officials examine all plant products as well as passengers’ baggage. Infested material is destroyed or thoroughly fumigated. Aircraft are examined and may be fumigated as soon as they arrive in the United States from countries where insect pests are a potential threat.

By the time an immigrant pest is discovered in domestic plants, it is usually too late for eradication of the injurious insect. In some instances, however, control has been achieved. In 1929 the Mediterranean fruit fly was detected in Florida orchards; the insects threatened ruin to the fruit crop. State and federal entomologists united for battle, and all Florida was quarantined. Abandoned and run-down orchards were destroyed. Chemists developed new poison sprays. By the end of the summer not a “medfly” could be found in Florida. In 1956 a second such outbreak occurred; this too was put down after several months of intensive warfare.

In 1981 a serious spread of the medfly threatened California’s agricultural regions with economic disaster. The pest had been imported accidentally in 1980. An attempt to control the insects by importing sterilized males from Peru failed. The Department of Agriculture threatened to quarantine the state’s produce unless the infected areas were fumigated. Governor Jerry Brown finally authorized helicopter spraying of the pesticide called malathion in July 1981. The spraying halted the threat to the California crops.


Numerous species of plants depend upon insects to pollinate them. In visiting flowers for nectar, insects carry pollen from one flower to the pistil of another. In this way they fertilize the plant and enable it to make seeds.

Without insects there would be no orchard fruits or berries. Tomatoes, peas, onions, cabbages, and many other vegetables would not exist. There would be no clover or alfalfa. The animals that need these forage crops would be of poor quality, and humankind’s meat supply would suffer. There would be no linen or cotton; no tea, coffee, or chocolate.

The honeybee produces honey and wax. Silk is made by the silkworm larva. Shellac is secreted by an Oriental scale insect. Such insects as the dobsonfly are used in sport fishing as bait.

In many underdeveloped areas of the world grasshoppers, caterpillars, and other insects are necessary to humans as food. Insects are also important to humans as food for other animals. Freshwater fishes depend upon insects for food. Hundreds of species of birds would perish if there were no insects to eat.

Insects have also played a significant role in the biological laboratory. The Drosophila fly, in particular, has been valuable in the study of inherited characteristics. The European blister beetle, or Spanish fly, is helpful in the fight against human disease, for it secretes cantharidin, a substance used medically as a blistering agent.

Many insects are invaluable as predators on insects that are pests to humans. In the same way, plant-eating insects are often valuable for their destruction of weeds. Insects that burrow in the earth improve the physical and chemical condition of the soil.

As scavengers, insects perform the important function of eating dead plants and animals. The housefly, scorned as a disease carrier, is beneficial in its larval form the maggot. It feeds on decaying refuse and in this way makes the world somewhat cleaner and more habitable for others.

The Principal Insect Orders

In the following list are the principal orders within the two subclasses of the class Insecta. Several obscure orders with relatively few species are omitted. The orders of the most primitive groups are given at the beginning of the list; the most highly developed at the end. After the name of each order, its meaning is given. The suffix -ptera means “wing”; -aptera, “wingless”; -ura, “tail.”

Subclass Apterygota

(wingless, no metamorphosis)

Thysanura (“tassel tail”) silverfish, bristle-tails, and fire-brats; wingless, scaly, three long bristles at the end of the body.

Collembola (“glue bolt”) spring-tails; tiny, wingless; jump by means of a springlike appendage below the abdomen.

Subclass Pterygota

(winged, undergo metamorphosis)

The following 11 orders are sometimes known as the Exopterygota. These have incomplete metamorphosis.

Orthoptera (“straight wings”) cockroaches, grasshoppers, crickets, walking-sticks, mantids, katydids, locusts, and their allies; fore-wings leathery; hind wings folded fan-wise

Dermaptera (“skin wings”) earwigs; fore-wings short; abdomen ends in a forceps-like appendage.

Plecoptera (“braided wings”) stone flies; membranous wings fold flat over the back; aquatic nymphs breathe with gills.

Isoptera (“equal wings”) termites; social insects with a caste system; resemble ants but have a broad, rather than narrow, waist.

Psocoptera (“gnawers”) psocids, book lice, and their allies; winged or wingless; feed on books and museum specimens.

Mallophaga (“wool eaters”) biting lice; flat, with chewing mouth-parts; external parasites of birds and certain warm-blooded animals.

Ephemeroptera (“living but a day”) mayflies; night-flying, delicate, short-lived; with membranous wings and two or three long tail filaments; nymphs aquatic; adults do not feed.

Anoplura (“unarmed tail”) sucking lice; with piercing mouth-parts for feeding on blood; external parasites of mammals.

Thysanoptera (“fringed wings”) thrips; usually four minute narrow fringed wings; pests of cultivated plants, spread viral plant diseases.

Hemiptera (“half wings”) (includes the order Homoptera) true bugs, aphids, leaf-hoppers, scales, and their allies; mostly four-winged, with piercing or sucking mouth-parts; many are plant pests.

Odonata (“toothed”) dragonflies and damselflies; two similar pairs of long, narrow wings; dragonflies keep wings outstretched at rest, damselflies keep them together over the back.

The remaining orders are sometimes known as the Endopterygota. These have complete metamorphosis.

Neuroptera (“nerve wings”) lacewings, ant lions, snake flies, and dobsonflies; two similar pairs of large, membranous wings, usually folded roof-like over the body when at rest.

Mecoptera (“long wings”) scorpion flies; long-faced, narrow-winged; in some males tip of abdomen curls over the back as a scorpion’s does.

Trichoptera (“hair wings”) caddis flies; adults moth-like but with longer antennae and uncoiled proboscis; larvae aquatic, make fixed or portable cases in which they live and pupate.

Lepidoptera (“scale wings”) moths and butterflies; wings covered with minute, overlapping scales; coiled proboscis usually present.

Coleoptera (“sheath wings”) beetles and weevils; fore-wings hard, vein-less, and opaque, meeting in a straight line; hind wings membranous, translucent; the largest order of insects, numbering some 300,000 species.

Strepsiptera (“twisted wings”) males winged, females wingless; females of most species are parasites on other insects.

Hymenoptera (“membrane wings”) wasps, ants, bees, and their allies; many species useful to man; ovipositors in some females modified as a stinger.

Diptera (“two wings”) true flies, mosquitoes, and midges; two developed wings; mouth-parts variable; many species pupate inside the last larval skin.

Siphonaptera (“siphon wingless”) fleas; tiny, jumping insects with narrow bodies adapted for moving between the hairs of animal hosts, whose blood they suck; some species transmit disease.

Assisted by Thomas Park, Professor Emeritus of Biology, University of Chicago; former President, Ecological Society of America. Critically reviewed and updated by J. Whitfield Gibbons, Senior Research Ecologist and Professor of Zoology, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia.


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