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Creepy Crawlies: 7 more little things that make life special

In case yesterday's story on horrifying parasites didn't leave you sufficiently creeped out, Chris Weber is here to tell you about seven more creepy crawlies. Afterwards, have a look at our own Ransom Riggs' latest original video: Attack of the Killer Parasites.

Remember that scene in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan when Ricardo Montalban drops a weird-scorpion spacebug into a poor guy's ear? That was fiction; these suckers are real. Here are seven parasites, ranging from common to obscure, that will make your sphincter clench with fear.

1. Pinworms

Pinworms look like little pieces of uncooked spaghetti in your poop. They're quite common: One out of three children will have them. Kids pick up the larvae while digging in the dirt, and as soon as they put their fingers in their mouths, it's home free! It matures in your intestine and then, in a miraculous moment worthy of Nova, Momma Pinworm slithers out of her host's anus in the middle of the night and lays her eggs on the surrounding skin. Having a family of pinworms camped around your butthole itches, and so people respond by scratching like hell. In the process, they get pinworm eggs under their fingernails, and the circle of life goes on.

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2. Ascaris lumbricoides


Ascaris lumbricoides
is one of the largest parasites to infect humans. About a quarter of the world's population carries around this roundworm, which can grow to be as thick as a pencil and as long as two or three. Ascaris hangs in your small intestine, where it eats food passing through. A female Ascaris can fill up said intestine by laying around 300,000 eggs a day. Those babies have to go somewhere, and that's when the trouble really begins, as one expert described: "Ascaris has a tendency to wander places it shouldn't. If the conditions start to become unfavourable (e.g., the host gets a fever, undergoes anaesthetic or takes worming tablets), the worms will try to get away. If they wander down the intestine, they may be passed with the stool (giving one an awful fright the next time one goes to the toilet), [or] they may wander back up through the stomach and be vomited up (there have been cases of the worms suffocating infants by climbing up behind the nasal passages) . . ."

3. Plasmodium

No list of human parasites would be complete without plasmodium, the protozoa that causes malaria, which originally earned the nickname "jungle fever." Transmitted through the bite of the Anopheles mosquito, plasmodium takes up residence in your liver within 40 minutes. There it reproduces inside your cells. If enough of these cells burst at one time, your fever spikes. From the liver, the plasmodia can invade other organs like the spleen, kidneys, and brain. As many as 500 million people a year contract malaria, with a particularly heavy toll among children.

4. Lice

Lice come in several hundred varieties, three of which use the human body as a condominium: body, head, and pubic lice. Their preferred food is warm human blood. Eggs and baby lice are called "nits," hence the expression "nit-picking." Head lice can spread to the eyebrows, eyelashes, and beard. Their primary symptom is intense itching triggered by lice saliva. The other sign you may have crabs is brown spots in your underwear: lice droppings. Unfortunately, good hygiene can't protect you; you can win a grooming award and still have lice. "If you don't like doing laundry," one mother of three told me, "you'll be sad to have lice come into your home." In some upscale communities, salons offer a lice package so kids can get treated without having to feel the stigma of their peers' ridicule.

5. Trichinella

You can get the worm Trichinella by eating raw or undercooked pork—or bear, fox, horse, seal or walrus. However, as one insightful Stanford student pointed out, "you CANNOT spread trichinosis to others (unless they eat you)."

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6. Amoebas

Amoebas are cute when they're swimming around on your microscope slide, but they can wreak havoc inside you. One illness caused by amoebas, amebiasis, is transmitted via contaminated food or anal sex. Amebiasis is very common; it kills more people than any other parasite besides the malaria plasmodium. The much rarer amebic meningoencephalitis involves amoebas eating your brain. Ninety-five percent of people with this condition die.

7. Hookworms

Hookworms are shaped like rough hooks, with bent heads that latch on to the inner wall of your intestine. Like lice, they suck your blood. Remember Jeff Foxworthy's jokes about the chronic laziness of rednecks? Well, the propensity of some rural Southerners for lying around was probably due, at least in part, to their hookworm problems. You're not going to feel like doing much work with several thousand worms inside your gut.

And now for our feature presentation...

Chris Weber is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com.

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9 Things You Should Keep in Mind Around Someone Observing Ramadan
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To mark the ninth (and most holy) month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims around the world observe Ramadan. Often compared to Lent in Christianity and Yom Kippur in Judaism, Ramadan is all about restraint. For one month, Muslims observing Ramadan fast during the day and then feast at night.

By abstaining from food and water (as well as sex, smoking, fighting, etc.) during daylight, Muslims strive to practice discipline, instill gratitude for what they have, and draw closer to Allah. To be respectful and not annoy observers, here are nine things you should never say or do to someone observing Ramadan.

1. DON'T JOKE ABOUT WEIGHT LOSS.

A traditional iftar meal.
A traditional iftar meal.
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Although it might be tempting to joke about Ramadan being a good excuse to lose weight, it is a time for spiritual reflection and is a serious matter. Observers undertake the challenge of fasting for religious and spiritual reasons rather than aesthetic ones. And, once the sun sets each night, many Muslims prepare a hearty iftar (the meal that breaks the fast) of dates, curries, rice dishes, and other delicious foods. The suhoor (the pre-dawn meal) is often fresh fruit, bread, cheese, and dishes that are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. So the idea of a cleanse is pretty far from their minds.

2. DON'T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.

An Indian Muslim student recites from the Quran in a classroom during the holy month of Ramadan.
NOAH SEELAM, AFP/Getty Images

There are approximately 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, but not all of them observe Ramadan the same way. Although most observant Muslims fast for Ramadan, don't assume that every Muslim you meet has the same methods, traditions, and attitudes towards fasting. For some, Ramadan is more about prayer, reading the Qur'an, and performing acts of charity than merely about forgoing food and drink. And for those who may be exempted from the daily fasting, such as pregnant or nursing women, the elderly, or those with various health conditions, they might not appreciate the reminder from nosey busy-bodies that they aren't participating in the traditional way.

3. SAY "RAMADAN MUBARAK" INSTEAD OF "HAPPY RAMADAN."

A sign which reads
A sign which reads "Ramadan Kareem" in Arabic is seen pictured in front of the Burj Khalifa in downtown Dubai.
GIUSEPPE CACACE, AFP/Getty Images

Rather than wishing someone a happy Ramadan, being more thoughtful with your choice of words can show that you understand and respect the sanctity of their holy month. Saying "Ramadan Mubarak" or "Ramadan Kareem" are the traditional ways to impart warm wishes—they both convey the generosity and blessings associated with the month. The actual party comes after Ramadan, when Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, an up to three-day festival that involves plenty of food, time with family, and gifts.

4. DON'T BE A FOOD PUSHER.

Muslim woman saying no to an apple.
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Even if the idea of not eating or drinking all day might be unfathomable to you, don't push food onto anyone observing Ramadan. While fasting all day for a month can cause mild fatigue, dehydration, and dizziness, don't try to convince participating Muslims to eat or drink something—they are fully aware of any side effects they may feel throughout the day. Instead, be respectful of their decision to fast and offer to lend a hand with something like chores, errands, or anything unrelated to food.

5. ACCEPT THAT WATER ISN'T ON THE MENU.

Dates and a glass of water.
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Muslims who observe Ramadan don't sip any liquids during daytime. No water, coffee, tea, or juice. Zilch. Going without water is even harder than going without food, so be aware of the struggle and accept it. It's all part of the sacrifice and self-discipline inherent in Ramadan.

6. RESPECT PEOPLE'S PRIVACY.

Pregnant woman doing yoga.
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Some Muslims choose not to fast during Ramadan for medical or other personal reasons, and they may not appreciate being badgered with questions about why they may be eating or drinking rather than fasting. Children and the elderly generally don't fast all day, and people who are sick are exempt from fasting. Other conditions that preclude fasting during Ramadan are pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menstruation (although, if possible, people generally make up the days later).

7. BE MINDFUL OF ENERGY LEVELS.

Woman running on the beach.
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Eschewing food and drink for hours at a time can cause lethargy, so be aware that Muslims observing Ramadan may be more tired than usual. Your Muslim friends and coworkers don't stop working for an entire month, but they may tweak their schedules to allow for more rest. They may also stay indoors more (to prevent overheating) and avoid unnecessary physical activity to conserve energy. So, don't be offended if they aren't down for a pick-up game of basketball or soccer. We can't all be elite athletes.

8. DON'T OBSESS OVER FOOD AND HUNGER.

Family playing in the park.
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One of the worst things you can do to someone on a new diet is to obsess over all the cheeseburgers, pizza, and cupcakes they can't have. Similarly, most Muslims observing Ramadan don't want to have in-depth conversations about all the food and beverages they're avoiding. So, be mindful that you don't become the constant reminder of how many hours are left until sundown—just as you shouldn't joke about weight loss, you shouldn't call attention to any hunger pangs.

9. DON'T BE AFRAID TO EAT YOUR OWN FOOD.

Coworkers discussing a project on couches.
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Although it's nice to avoid talking about food in front of a fasting Muslim, don't be afraid to eat your own food as you normally would. Seeing other people eating and drinking isn't offensive—Muslims believe that Ramadan is all about sacrifice and self-discipline, and they're aware that not everyone participates. However, perhaps try to avoid scheduling lunch meetings or afternoon barbecues with your Muslim colleagues and friends. Any of those can surely wait until after Ramadan ends.

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