Today, insect-borne diseases get a lot of press, and scientists anticipate that these diseases will remain a problem for years to come. Considering the amount of attention that researchers and scientists devote to disease-carrying insects today, you would think that the existence of these diseases had to be well known to past scientists. Surprisingly, this is not the case, as the existence of disease-carrying insects has only been known to mankind for a century. As a matter of fact, one of history’s most brilliant biologists, and the foremost expert on the world’s abundant animal life, Charles Darwin, likely contracted chagas disease by clumsily handling a kissing bug while on his historic trip to the Galapagos Islands. In an act that would be considered criminally careless today, Darwin had the kissing bug bite each member of his crew on the HMS Beagle solely to observe the manner in which it bit people. It is perhaps not surprising to learn that our ancestors indulged in behaviors that made insect-borne diseases a scourge upon past societies.
Today, lice is a well known type of insect that infests human hair. In order to rid oneself of lice, medical attention is usually required. As it happens, our ancestors also knew that lice were tiny insects, but they did not understand how easily the bugs spread from person to person. To illustrate this lack of understanding, lice-infested people living during the medieval period hired professional lice-pickers to remove the insects from their scalps and beards. This is where we get the term “nitpicker”.
Insects have been annoying people from day one, as lice legs have been found on mummified remains within ancient Egyption tombs. Even the wealthy King Tut could not avoid contracting insect-borne disease, as historians believe he died from a malaria infection. Scientists have even found insect parasites within the fossilized feces left by Vikings. Too bad scientists from hundreds of years ago were not this dedicated to the study of insects.
Do you believe that ancient societies developed unique methods of insect control?