Q: Why are there far fewer "bugs" this summer than you might think?

A: Not just this summer but every summer, since "many critters blamed for bug bites are not technically bugs at all," including mosquitoes, ticks, flies, fleas, lice, chiggers, mites, says Gemma Tarlach in "Discover" magazine. For all you nit-picky types, bedbugs are "true" bugs of the order "Hemiptera," and researchers have recently discovered that these "little guys have evolved the largest array of special proteins in their saliva that block their host's pain sensations, allowing for repeated, swat-free feeding." Though many people find bedbugs more repulsive than mosquitoes and ticks, cases of bedbug-human pathogen transmission are rare.

Among biting non-bugs are female botflies that attach their eggs to the underside of mosquitoes, depositing them on the mosquito's victim; when the eggs hatch "larvae burrow into the victim's skin, causing painful bumps that can lead to sepsis if untreated." As to fleas, itchy bites often bring on scratching that "breaks the host's skin and pushes in flea feces and vomit, which can be loaded with pathogens." Ugh!

Finally, for those moms-to-be that feel mosquitoes target them more than non-pregnant women, they're right, in fact twice as likely, says the research. Several reasons have been offered, including pregnant women's increased body temperature. So don't forget the mosquito repellent.


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Q: How do Moscow's homeless dogs have an uncanny sense of where their next meal is coming from?

A: Of the 35,000 homeless dogs in Russia's capital, about 500 have become semi-permanent denizens of the Moscow Metro subway, says Dan Lewis in his book "Now I Know More." Perks include a roof over their heads and food tossed their way by riders or dropped by frightened snackers. Taking the game of bark-and-eat to a higher level are about two dozen commuting dogs that follow the flow of passenger traffic, moving into the city's crowded office buildings during the day and then out to more populous residential neighborhoods in early mornings and late evenings.

Independent reports have confirmed that Metro pups "have figured out how to navigate the train network to optimize their locations throughout the day." Moreover, they've discerned which trains are less crowded "so they can curl up on a bench for an in-transit snooze."

Q: When it comes to idiomatic geography, what's going on when "hell freezes over"? And there's more to come.

A: That's Hell, Mich., where the average January temperature is 17 degrees F., reports "Mental Floss" magazine. Supposedly, its name goes back to the 1830s, when local wives would lament their husbands visiting a nearby moonshiner, saying the men had "gone to hell."

Ask residents of Setenil de las Bodegas, Spain, whether they "live under a rock" and most likely they'd answer "yes." Rooted in a river gorge, part of the town was built into mountain caves, thus "turning a large rock overhang into a readymade roof."

With their heads at times literally "in the clouds" are inhabitants of El Alto, Bolivia, a city of one million sitting at 13,650 feet, nearly three times as high as Denver. It's "like dropping San Jose, California, on top of the Grand Tetons."

And for those who would embrace "the wild goose chase," there's no better place than in Canada's Dewey Soper Migratory Bird Sanctuary, the planet's largest goose sanctuary and home to about 30 percent of Canada's breeding geese. But be careful about a literal goose chase, says the magazine. "Geese can be vicious!"

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at sbtcolumn@gmail.com.