Bang on time, an island-hopping analogy

Just as predicted, a couple of weeks into the new term and 8-year-old was caught scritch-scratching behind the ear.

We’ve invested in a new nit comb, after the one we bought in Canada 5 years ago started to shed tines.

And tonight three little louselings have been dredged out.

This being the 21st century, we no longer believe in spontaneous generation, so a model of island biogeography offers us the best understanding of what has occurred.

First, there are no adults, not one. Second, the louse nymphs are all the same size, about 0.5 mm long. This implies that a mature, egg-laden female visited the island (8-year-old’s head) from some other part of the archipelago (class of schoolmates). She laid her eggs over a very short period, probably an hour or two, then moved off to another isle (probably during literacy lesson). A week later the eggs are hatching synchronously and the baby lice are starting to crawl about and to feed.

Of course, there is no actual island hopping (or skipping, or jumping) because head lice only crawl, but instead of having to negotiate seas between the islands, these islands conveniently visit and bump each other, head-to-head.

We got in quick, this time, with our vermin eradication programme. But we must keep vigilant.

Thankfully, the no-nits policy is long past

The editor of the 8-year-old’s school newsletter has chosen exactly the right time to make the usual head louse announcement — two weeks into the autumn term.

After several louse-free summer months the kids return to the heady (literally) maelstrom of head-to-head learning; just perfect conditions for louse spread.

It is a great relief to see that the school continues to offer sage advice about finding nits (i.e. combing) and they maintain their policy of not excluding nitty children.

The ugliest insect in the world?

For anyone who missed it, the blobfish has, apparently, been voted the ugliest animal in the world. I can’t work out whether I’m frustrated or relieved that this accolade didn’t go to an insect.

There are plenty of contenders. In Extreme Insects, I put forward the caterpillar of the lobster moth, Stauropus fagi, for this title. Imagined, by the ancients, as being half scorpion, half spider, it presents a truly gothic appearance. This, of course, is part of its defence against predators. It doesn’t look like an edible morsel. It doesn’t look like anything, actually.

Lobster moth caterpillar. Ugly.

Lobster moth caterpillar. Ugly.

But then marine biologist Maya Plass helpfully pointed out that, in her opinion, head lice could have out-done the blobfish:

“Nits are as close to ugly as I can imagine…Although [I’m] still impressed at their ability to cling to hair with their evil little limbs.”

16. Hooke

Yuck. Even in Hooke’s Micrographia, 1665.

She’s right, of course. ‘Cadaverous ashy-white’ is the best description of a head louse that I can find, from Denny’s Monographia Anoplurum Britanniae, published in 1842.

Maybe I should make a real push and get the head louse nominated next year.