Wednesday, June 21

The Debunker: Will Earwigs Nest in Your Ear?

by Ken Jennings

Ah, June. The bees are buzzing, the crickets are chirping, the fireflies are glowing, and the June bugs are—doing whatever June bugs do, I guess? It's their month. In the United Kingdom, the connection between summer and the insect kingdom has been formalized by turning the last week of June into National Insect Week. We're also celebrating our six-legged friends all month, and we've called in Ken Jennings (not an insect, but at least a WASP) as a guest expert. He tells us that our insect knowledge has a few bugs.

The Debunker: Will Earwigs Nest in Your Ear?

The word "earwig" comes from the Middle English "eare wicga," meaning "ear-beetle." There are similar etymologies in at least six other European languages, and The Oxford English Dictionary credits that to a folk belief, at least a thousand years old, that the insects like to burrow through people's ears to their brain, where they nest, lay eggs, and cause insanity. This is a horrific idea that it's probably best not to imagine too much—though at least it gave us that crazy scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan where Chekov gets mind-controlled by the alien earwig (oh, all right, the Ceti eel) that Khan sticks in his spacesuit helmet.

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Tuesday, June 13

The Debunker: Does a Bumblebee's Flight Defy Physics?

by Ken Jennings

Ah, June. The bees are buzzing, the crickets are chirping, the fireflies are glowing, and the June bugs are—doing whatever June bugs do, I guess? It's their month. In the United Kingdom, the connection between summer and the insect kingdom has been formalized by turning the last week of June into National Insect Week. We're also celebrating our six-legged friends all month, and we've called in Ken Jennings (not an insect, but at least a WASP) as a guest expert. He tells us that our insect knowledge has a few bugs.

The Debunker: Does a Bumblebee's Flight Defy Physics?

In popular culture, the fact that the roly-poly little bumblebee can fly with those flimsy little wings is often used an inspiring bit of motivational puffery. "By the laws of physics, science says that a bumblebee shouldn't even be able to fly!" we are told. "And yet it can." The implication is a little confusing: if I'm not able to accomplish tasks that literally violate physical law, then I'm falling disappointingly short of my full potential? That seems like an awful high bar.

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Tuesday, June 06

The Debunker: Are Ants Hard Workers?

by Ken Jennings

Ah, June. The bees are buzzing, the crickets are chirping, the fireflies are glowing, and the June bugs are—doing whatever June bugs do, I guess? It's their month. In the United Kingdom, the connection between summer and the insect kingdom has been formalized by turning the last week of June into National Insect Week. We're also celebrating our six-legged friends all month, and we've called in Ken Jennings (not an insect, but at least a WASP) as a guest expert. He tells us that our insect knowledge has a few bugs.

The Debunker: Are Ants Hard Workers?

Every time you see an ant, it always looks like it has someplace to be, right? Ants are the head-down, earbuds-in-ear, man-on-a-mission fast-walkers of the insect kingdom. Ants are in a hurry. When Aesop wanted an industrious animal for his fable about provident hard work, he chose the ant as his protagonist, the one who tells off the hungry, lazy grasshopper. Get a job, grasshopper!

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Wednesday, September 03