Category Archives: parasites

Money Might Not, But Barnacle Geese Do (grow on trees)


 Source: British Library Images Online Copyright Copyright 2004 British Library / Used by permission Manuscript description British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 36r

What medieval-inspired bestiary would be complete without the Barnacle Goose?  According to Sir John Mandeville, who wrote in the 14th century CE, this fantastic creature is–or was– a species of goose that grows on trees. Not in trees, mind you. On trees.

In his Travels, Sir John writes that

 I told them of as great a marvel to them, that is amongst us, and that was of the Bernakes. For I told them that in our country were trees that bear a fruit that become birds flying, and those that fell in the water live, and they that fall on the earth die anon, and they be right good to man’s meat. And hereof had they as great marvel, that some of them trowed it were an impossible thing to be.

We moderns might be inclined to trow it impossible, too. Yet is it possible that the barnacle goose finds its equivalent in recent college graduates, who find themselves suddenly adrift of the parental money tree, and must function on their own or perish?  Indeed, the author sees many subtle similarities. Barnacle goslings grow on trees that overhang bodies of water; the young birds hang from their sprouting-points by their beaks.  When the birds are “ripe,” they fall. The fortuitous ones, which fall into the water, float and find themselves well on their way to healthy, productive adult lives. But those that fall on land– or go to graduate school– face a harder fate. Some die. The 14th century besties apparently all died, as there simply aren’t many tree-growing geese running about these days.

Yet today’s hapless little geese, who unerringly choose graduate studies in something “esoteric” like “Medieval English” or “Philosphy,” may in fact return to the life-giving tree well into adulthood, until the tree at long last shouts:

“Enough already! how long does a dissertation TAKE, anyway?


take it from the author of BV, dear readers. major in something useful, like billiards, or graft.

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Parasitic Wasps, part deux

A friend to BV has alerted the author to the following video, as a follow-up to a recent posting on parasitic wasps. His advice? Not to watch this while eating lunch.

Dear readers, heed this wise man’s advice. But *do* watch. The effects of the “wasp virus” may be among the more bizarre phenomena of the animal world. (And far more innteresting than the swine flu, anyway).

cheers, Isk, for the tip.

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The Ant-lion (lion ant)


The entire premise of Bestiarum Vocabulum, as some of you might know, rests on the genre of the medieval bestiary ( or bestiarum vocabulum). It is therefore meet that we occasionaly visit the archives for entries, as part of an ongoing medievalist series. 

Take, for example, the Ant-Lion, of whom Adhelm, abbot of Malmesbury (639-730)  once wrote the following riddle:

Dudum compositis ego nomen gesto figuris :
Ut leo, sic formica vocor sermone Pelasgo
Tropica nominibus signans praesagia duplis,
Cum rostris avium nequeam resistere rostro.
Scrutetur sapiens, gemino cur nomine fingar !

I long have borne the name of hybrid form :
Both ant and lion I am called in Greek
A double metaphor, foreboding doom ;
My beak cannot ward off the beaks of birds.
Let wise men search out why my names are twain.


And why are the Ant-lion’s names twain? There are two possible answers. In the first, the Ant-lion is a large, fierce insect. This is likely Adhelm’s opinion, one shared by Gregory the Great ( Moralia in Iob, Book V, chapter 20, section 40), and Isidore of Seville (Etymologies, Book 12, 3:10), and other venerable medieval types.

But there is another possibility: that as the result of a mating between a lion and an ant, the Ant-lion has the face of a lion and and the body of an ant.  And this, dear readers, is the interesting answer, made more interesting by its tragic ending.

Because the Ant-lion is at gustatory war with itself.   Belying the Latin dictum “de gustibus non disputatem est,” the lion’s head will only eat meat, while the ant body can only digest grain. The ant-lion, divided against itself, inevitably starves.

Very sad.

… but the author of BV, as you might expect, is having a difficult time getting past the basic premise of this explanation, which is that an ant can mate with a lion. The mind. boggles.  at that visual.



…and should any reader find him or herself with a bit of free time and a clever pen (ahem), renderings of said illicit act will be gladly posted in a future posting. But *try* to keep it PG13.

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Feline behavior: the definitive guide

Some topics need no introduction; if you have ever “owned,” witnessed,  or even been in a room with a cat, you will know that feline behavior is foremost among these.

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Ichneumon wasps: evidence against religion or just mean sons of Bi*%*!s ?


Darwin once offered  the ichneumon wasp as proof against the central tenets of natural theology, which believed in the creation of all living things by a benevolent god. Expressing his opinion  in a letter to American botanist Asa Gray, Darwin wrote:  “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae.” 

What form of animal behavior could be so abhorrent that its existence alone could stand as proof against divinity? Dear readers, the author of BV would like to warn you that what follows should not be repeated to small children, nor the highly suggestible, lest they– like the author herself– suffer recurring nightmares because of it. Even those strong of stomach, beware:  no zombie movie could prepare you for this one.

Ichneuman wasps are what is called “parasitoids:”  the wasp selects a nice, juicy looking victim, lands, and with a flick of her stilleto-sharp  ovipositor,  injects her eggs forcibly into the host’s vulnerable body. Not leaving anything to chance, she will then inject a paralytic, a poison that paralyzes the victim without killing it.

Then, keeping the living incubator alive as long as possible, the newly-hatched young first eat their host’s fatty deposits and digestive organs, before moving on to the choicest- and most fatal- morsels: the heart and central nervous system. 

I believe, dear reader, that the proper response to this is:


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African Bat Bug: insectus sex-offenderus

the african bat bug, seen here in it's mug shot,  is a convicted sex-offender

the african bat bug, seen here in its mug shot, is a convicted sex-offender and occasional drag artist

One would not wish to be a female bat bug. Male bat bugs (blood-sucking insects of the family Cimicidae) have developed the disconcerting  habit of ignoring females’ conventional girlie bits, instead using  their sharp penises to stab target  females in the stomach, injecting sperm directly into the bloodstream.

In response, females have developed “paragenitals,” which guide the offending male’s piercing member into reservoir of spongey immune cells. But this is far from the end of the story.  

According to a report from National Geographic,* scientests who ventured into dangerous bat caves in East Africa to study the bugs  were surprised at what they found ” We ended up uncovering a hotbed of deception,” says  evolutionary biologist Klaus Reinhardt at the University of Sheffield in England; “nothing like this exists anywhere else in the animal kingdom.”

Because  the rampant males aren’t just targeting females; there are, according to the same study, “documented cases of males performing the same injurious sexual acts on other males,” to less reproductive avail and the considerable confusion of their victims. 

So, what’s a bat bug to do? In this case,  male bat bugs have developed their own “female” paragenitals to avoid the assaults; not to be outdone, certain exceedingly clever female bat bugs have developed the ability to mimic the paragenitals of  males to improve their own defenses.  the author of BV attempted to make contact with someone who could shed light on this tangled web , but Julie Andrews, star of the hit film “Victor, Victoria,” was unavailable for comment.

This, dear readers, is not mere gender-bending, its survival drag.



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Gym Rats

A gym rat is caught in the act of carbo-loading.

A gym rat is caught in the act of carbo-loading.

Gym rats (rattus gymasium), are a new species in the zoological world; some scientists have quibbled with the designation of gym rats as a new species, arguing that they do not in fact demonstrate the fundamental, inherent physiognomic differences neccesary to make a special distinction. Others, however, argue that the gym rat can be differentiated from the rest of genus Rattus on the basis of its habitat and behaviors. For instance,  notoriously picky eaters, gym rats tend to prefer a protien-rich diet, making them more carnivorous than many other rats, who tend towards indiscriminate omnivorism.  In terms of social behavior, gym rats are social animals: gym rats tend to gather in common areas, weherin they perform their daily routines with an eye for the performance of rats around them.  Highly competitive creatures,  submissive gym rats have been known to modify their appearances and behavior to conform to the patterns preferred by the dominant rats within their territories, resorting at times to self-mutilation to achieve their desired results. Little is known about the home lives of these creatures, for scientests are still puzzling over their public behaviors.

Oddly, while animal-rights advocates have long been vehemently opposed to animal testing on genus rattus, they seem unfazed by the pharmaceutical industry’s long-term clandestine relationship with gym rats. On the other hand, there are those amongst us that share territories with gym rats, who have taken up the name as a  joke, and still others who have adopted the name as a rebellion against what they feel is a perjorative term, meant to discrimiante against those who can bench-press their own bodyweight, and enjoy the aesthetic effect of floor-to ceiling mirrors. To date, however, the gym rats themselves have been too occupied with their own reflections to organize in protest.



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This female may have been the nightmarish model for Mrs. Pac-man.

This female Anglerfish's tiny mate was once mistaken for a parasite; despite her pronounced lack of physical beauty, women around the world reportedly identify with the female Angler.

 Male Anglerfish (from the order Lophiformes)  are tiny, insignificant in appearance, and were, when scientests first began studying the Anglerfish, thought to be parasites attached to the much larger females (up to 20x larger than the males). When a male matures, his digestive tract dissolves,  and he loses the ability to digest food without a female’s assistance; he thenceforth needs a female to prepare his food and prevent his immanent death. He quickly seeks out a mate, sinks his teeth into her skin, and proceeds to literally digest her tissues and fuse himself to her until they are as one. This romantic process is called “marriage.”* The male then dissolves “into nothing more than a pair of gonads”  that deliver sperm when ovulation is indicated by hormonal cues  in the female’s bloodstream. Despite the  grotesque process, many females find marriage extremely convenient, wishing only that that their mates would also take out the trash. Males seem content with the total loss of identity, so long as they retain their gonads.**


** ibid.


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The anti-book worm

This image of the anti-book worm is still being authenticated by parasitologists

This image of the anti-book worm is still being authenticated by parasitologists


Anti-book worms (cestoda antibibliographia) are a new discovery similar to the amoeba Naegleria fowleri (the brain eating parasite). Despite its name, the anti-book worm enters the host through contact with the old books in which the worms incubate;* anti-book worms enter the host trough tiny lesions in the scalp thought to be caused when readers touch the infested books and then tear their hair. From point of entry anti-book worms travel rapidly to the brain, where they anchor themselves in Brocca’s area (responsible for language production) and Wernicke’s area (where language processing occurs). Here the worms impede dissertation progress: hence the name “anti-book” worm. Increasingly, parasitologists are demonstrating that seventh-year dissertation-level students are in fact suffering from the effects of cestoda antibibliographia infestation, and should not be blamed for exceeding normative time.
 * Concerned parents should note that these are typically books from those obscure sections of libraries and private collections used only by graduate students; a recent rash of cases amongst students of literature and literary theory suggests that books in those areas may be particularly implicated in such cases.


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