Strange But True: Number of insects in world may 'bug' you


Q: If you're not too "bugged" by big numbers, consider 10 quintillion, or 10 followed by 18 zeros. What's this all about?

A: That's the number of insects alive on Earth at any given time, according to Harvard entomologist Edward O. Wilson, as reported by James O'Donoghue in "New Scientist" magazine. You can make that more than a billion (1,000,000,000) insects for each person on the planet.

One million insect species make up three-fourths of all animals, with several million yet to be discovered. They're on every continent, whether in air, land or water. "They even live on us — lice evolved as soon as there were hair and feathers to set up home in ... and are the most successful group of animals that has ever lived."

So are all of these insects a bane or boon to humankind? On the one hand, they spread the deadly malaria and typhoid, destroy crops, bore into wood and can make life miserable. But on the other hand, insects are prime pollinators of four-fifths of the world's crops, control pests, fertilize soil, scavenge waste and have even been instrumental in medical breakthroughs. And "they are packed with protein, which could one day feed the world."

Q: When the editors of "Mental Floss" magazine set out to "people" the "Left-Handers' Hall of Fame," who did they choose for the distinction — using the word "people" loosely?

A: The delightful Muppet Miss Piggy is a lefty, since "puppeteers tend to use their right hand to control the head, the left for arms." Then, too, as pointed out by the journal "Current Biology," kangaroos have a strong preference for left forelimb use, employing their left hand 95 percent of the time (scientists speculate this is due to their bipedal posture).

From the artistic world, writer Eudora Welty was left-handed, as were her mother and uncle, but her father taught her to be ambidextrous. And pianist Leon Fleisher performed with just his left hand after losing control of his right hand. Surprisingly, "Jimi Hendrix restrung his guitars and flipped them upside down to play left-handed."

Now perhaps you're a lefty but can't get used to the scissors you're using: Then give thanks to Quincy Hershey, who in 1931 filed patent US1846867A for "convertible right- and left-handed scissors." Finally, if you're a college-bound lefty, you may want to keep in mind Pennsylvania's Juniata College, where each year two incoming southpaws are given scholarships of up to $1,500.

Q: Can you identify the "third-degree murderers" that ravaged the Atlantic Ocean region from 1963 to 2012, committing 59 offenses?

A: According to the American Meteorological Society, hurricanes killed 1,803 people directly and another 1,418 indirectly, as reported in "Science News" magazine. "Hurricane reports typically include only the deaths directly attributable to a storm's physical forces, such as drowning in floodwater or being struck by airborne debris."

But they miss the bigger picture, scientists say. Going by new studies, indirect deaths often outnumber the direct deaths, accounting for close to half of all human fatalities: falls, fires in residences with open flames, electrocution, carbon monoxide poisoning, vehicles striking a tree, vehicle accident during evacuation, or cardiovascular failure during evacuation, plus hundreds more that could not be easily categorized.

These third-degree murders have classically been ignored in the fatalities count.

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at


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