DISGUSTING! BUT FASCINATING

Roger M. Knutson, Fearsome Fauna: A Field Guide to the Creatures That Live In You

Types of Parasites

There are three main types of parasites that can affect humans: protozoa, helminths, and ectoparasites. They can live on or in the human body and cause various diseases. The Cleveland Clinic provides clear, succinct descriptions, as follows.

Ectoparasites

Ectoparasites live on the outside (exterior) of the body. They carry diseases between other animals and humans and usually carry infections through blood. They generally include the following:

  • Fleas are small, wingless insects with strong back legs that they use to jump long distances. Infected fleas can spread disease when they bite or if a person accidentally swallows an infected flea.
  • Head lice and pubic lice (crabs) are tiny, flat insects that travel by crawling. Both types of lice travel from person to person through close contact, which may include sexual intercourse or sharing personal items like hats, sheets, pillows, or towels.
  • Mites are small arachnids, relatives of spiders and ticks. They’re small, about as tall as a stack of 10 sheets of paper. They may cause scabies.
  • Ticks also are arachnids. Their bites usually don’t cause pain or itchiness. They typically bite you and then burrow into your skin.

Helminths

Helminths are worms that usually live in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. They are visible to the naked eye in their adult stage — and range from greater than 1 millimeter to a little longer than 39 inches (slightly smaller than the width of a doorway).

Ascariasis, a soil-transmitted parasite

The main types of helminths that affect people include the following:

  • Flukes (Trematodes) are a type of flatworm that can spread through contaminated water or aquatic animals (including snails, crabs, and fish). The many different types of flukes may infect your blood, urinary bladder, liver, lungs, intestines, and other organs.
  • Tapeworm (Cestode) adults are long, flat worms that live in the intestines and feed on the nutrients that you get from eating food. They spread by laying eggs that leave your body when you poop. The eggs then spread through infected food and water or undercooked meat.
  • Roundworms (Nematodes) are small parasites that also live in your intestines. They spread from infected poop or soil.

Protozoans

Protozoans are one-celled organisms that live in your intestines or blood and tissues. You can’t see them without a microscope. They can spread through several means, including contaminated food or water and person-to-person contact.

A variety of protozoan parasites found in drinking water

There are tens of thousands of types of protozoans. Experts classify them according to how they move. The main types that affect people include the following:

  • Ciliates use many short, hairlike structures (cilia) to move and gather food. Balantidium coli (B. coli) is the only ciliate that affects people. It causes dysentery.
  • Flagellates use one or many whip-like structures (flagella) to move and sense their surroundings. The flagellate Giardia intestinalis causes giardiasis, and Trypanosoma brucei causes sleeping sickness.
  • Sporozoans (apicomplexan) aren’t capable of moving in their adult stage. They eat the food you are digesting or your body fluids. The sporozoan Plasmodium causes malaria, and Cryptosporidium causes cryptosporidiosis.

Human(-Infesting) Parasites

According to Knutson, the parasites that live in humans are generally ugly, not smart, and extremely motivated to reproduce.

Given where they live, parasites have little need for such sense organs as eyes or a sense of smell. As Knutson says, “Better you should have a good set of hooks, suckers, or clamps or a mouth for hanging on or the capacity to swim with vigor.”

According to the CDC, more than 60 million people in the US are infected with parasites. The overall prevalence of intestinal parasitic infections was 16.1%, according to the NIH. Soil-transmitted helminth infections (14.3%) were more common than protozoan infections (1.8%).

I’ve focused on the U.S., where neglected parasitic infections are not rare. NIH says neglected parasitic infections affect at least 12 million Americans, either through new infections (e.g., trichomoniasis) or from prevalent persistent infections resulting in chronic conditions. Limited access to clean water and sanitation are major factors. Practicing good hygiene, thoroughly cooking meat, and drinking clean water also helps prevent many parasites.

Roger M. Knutson, Fearsome Fauna: A Field Guide to the Creatures That Live In You

Treating Parasites

Thanks to the coordinated efforts of many international organizations, including Jimmy Carter’s legacy Carter Center, guinea worms (a type of nematode parasite) have been almost completely eradicated. In 1986, doctors estimated 3.5 million people had guinea worm infections. In 2023, there were only 14 cases reported worldwide.

Treatment is extremely important. You may develop a serious infection with severe symptoms if you don’t get treatment and follow your doctor’s orders carefully.

Treatment specifics depend on what type of parasite you have.

For treating ectoparasites such as lice, fleas, and ticks:

  • Bathing with soap
  • Shampoos
  • Ointments
  • Washing your clothing, bedding, and towels in hot water
  • Vacuuming carpets, mattresses, and furniture and emptying the vacuum bag into the trash outside

For other types of parasites, your healthcare provider may prescribe:

With a proper diagnosis and treatment, most people make a full recovery. So carefully follow your provider’s instructions. If you don’t, your parasite may come back.

Symptoms of Parasites

How can you know? Because there are so many different types of parasites, the symptoms also vary widely. According to the Cleveland Clinic, common parasite symptoms include:

Not too long ago, some people actively sought the weight-loss symptoms of parasites!
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Problems sleeping (insomnia)
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Skin rash

You may have a parasite and no symptoms, or the symptoms may appear a long time after infection. You may also not have any symptoms and accidentally pass a parasite to another person who develops symptoms.

Parasites Everywhere!

NIH estimates that there are between 75,000 and 300,000 helminth species alone parasitizing vertebrates. But they have no credible way of estimating how many parasitic protozoa, fungi, bacteria, and viruses exist. According to an article in Salon, several estimates suggest that parasites actually outnumber “free living” organisms by about 3 to 2. In short, they’re everywhere.

Conclusion: although you might feel queasy to learn that you have a parasitic infection, don’t take it personally. Instead take appropriate steps to recover and to avoid having anything eating you in the future!

Bottom Line: Parasites are an ugly fact of life. But you don’t have to despair. And learning about them can be fascinating.

SPIDERS

Why not? There are now upwards of 50,000 named species worldwide, on every continent except Antartica. Chances are you cross paths with spiders frequently.

The vast majority are harmless. They’re actually helpful to humans. Without spiders to eat pests harmful to agriculture, it’s thought that our food supply would be at risk. And there would be a heck of a lot more mosquitoes, ants, and flies around!

Some people actually leave spiders alone in their houses to take care of these other household pests.

Is Everyone Afraid of Spiders?

Even so, spiders are far from popular. We all try to avoid things that make us feel uncomfortable, and most people are not comfortable with spiders!

If you give children a free option to tell researchers what sorts of things they fear the most, both boys and girls report “spiders” as their top fear (the second fear is being kidnapped, third is predators, and fourth is the dark).

Insight Pest conducted a survey about people’ fears, with the following results:

  • The first question we asked in the survey was on the most frightening pests in general.
    • Interestingly, the most frightening pest for most people is actually a snake.
    • Spiders are second, followed by wasps.
  • Men are more scared of snakes and wasps than women are, and women (24%) are more scared of spiders than men (17%).
  • Level of spider fear (1-10): men 4.4, women 5.6
  • Fear of spiders by age: 26% of those 18-34; 20% of those 35-54; 13% of those 55 and older.
  • Level of spider fear (1-10): 5.1 for those 18-34, 5.0 for those 35-54, and 4.70 for those 55 and older.
Telaprocera Joanae

Visit the website for more info on the worst place to find a spider, how people deal with spiders, who would tolerate a house infested with spiders, sleep problems related to spiders, etc.

FYI, to remove a spider in the house, put a clear plastic cup over it, slide a thick paper sheet under the cup and spider, and let it go outside.

Based on the literature, arachnophobia affects 2.7–6.1% of people in the general population and is significantly more prevalent among women than men. Arachnophobia differs from a fear in that a phobia is an intense and irrational fear. Most spider phobias are completely unwarranted. Only 0.5% of spiders are potentially harmful to humans and most of those are in Australia and South America.

Why Do We Fear Spiders?

Daniel Frynta at Charles University, Prague, and colleagues posit that we evolved to fear not “essentially harmless” spiders but a dangerous close relative with a similar body plan. Scorpions do pose a real threat, killing an estimated 2,600 people every year. Their data don’t prove that people generalize an evolved fear/disgust of scorpions to spiders. Unlike the vast majority of spiders, scorpions are also an ancient group, and species with a venom tailored to mammals are native to Africa and the Middle East — so our distant ancestors and dangerous scorpions could have evolved side-by- side. “Fear of scorpions therefore seems to be better warranted than fear of spiders,” the team writes. The corresponding conclusion is that our brains over-generalize, reacting to spiders in the same way.

Other explanations of spider fears include classical conditioning following a traumatic incident, and learning from parents and those around the child.

Don’t Be Afraid!

Fun facts that may (or may not) make spiders seem less creepy.

Micrathena Sagittata (Pikachu spider)

According to National Geographic, most species are carnivorous, either trapping flies and other insects in their webs, or hunting them down. They can’t swallow their food as is, though—spiders inject their prey with digestive fluids, then suck out the liquefied remains.

Spiders are arachnidsi.e., their skeletons are on the outside—so they aren’t insects. They have eight legs, a body in two segments, a spinneret to exude incredibly strong silk, and fangs generally able to inject venom.

Synalus Angustus (Narrow Crab Spider)

Though all spiders have venom to one degree or another, only a handful are dangerous to humans. Those include the black widow and the brown recluse, both found in the United States.

Though not all spider species build webs, every species produces silk, a strong, flexible protein fiber. They use the silk to climb, to tether themselves for safety in case of a fall, to create egg sacs, to wrap up prey, to make nests, and more.

Most spider species have eight eyes, though some have six. Despite all of those eyes, though, many don’t see very well.

A notable exception is the jumping spider, which can see more colors than humans can. Using filters that sit in front of cells in their eyes, the day-hunting jumping spider can see in the red spectrum, green spectrum, and in UV light.

Bottom Line: Wherever spider fears come from, they are as common as they are irrational. And spiders are fascinating!

YOUR BODY’S CLOCKS

Circadian rhythms are the physical, mental, and behavioral changes an organism experiences over a 24-hour cycle. The word stems from the Latin “circum” (approximately) and “diem” (day). Light and dark have the biggest influence on circadian rhythms, but food intake, stress, physical activity, social environment, and temperature also affect them. Most living things have circadian rhythms. In humans, nearly every tissue and organ has its own circadian rhythm—which is why I’m talking about your body’s clocks, plural—and collectively they are tuned to the daily cycle of day and night.

Circadian rhythms influence many functions, such as:

  • Sleep patterns
  • Hormone release
  • Appetite and digestion
  • Temperature

How Long is a Circadian Rhythm?

Early research suggested that most people preferred a day closer to 25 hours when isolated from external stimuli like daylight and timekeeping. However, this research was faulty because it failed to shield the participants from artificial light. Although subjects were shielded from time cues (like clocks) and daylight, the researchers were not aware of the phase-delaying effects of indoor electric lights. The subjects were allowed to turn on light when they were awake and to turn it off when they wanted to sleep. Electric light in the evening delayed their circadian phase.

More recent research has shown some more specific things:

A study by Czeisler et al. at Harvard found the range for normal, healthy adults of all ages to be quite narrow: 24 hours and 11 minutes ± 16 minutes.

In normal subjects in the real world, the body’s “clocks” are reset, primarily by exposure to light, so that they follow the 24-hour light/dark cycle of the Earth’s rotation.

When the Body’s Clocks Break

Circadian rhythms can fall out of sync with the outside world because of factors in the human body or environment. For example

Drowsiness, poor coordination, and difficulty with learning and focus may occur when circadian rhythms fall out of sync short term.

Working swing shifts can also disrupt the body’s clocks. Forcing oneself to wake up and go to sleep at varying intervals from one day to the next leaves the body confused. Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD) can cause trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, sleeping deeply, and waking up. People who work as nurses, late-night retail workers, overnight hotel staff, or fire fighters (just to name a few) often experience insomnia, hypersomnia, or both.

Jet lag causes disruptions in the circadian rhythm because modern travel allows the body to cross time zones faster than the body’s clocks can adapt. Earlier methods of travel, even early air travel, were slow enough that the body could keep up with changes in sunrise and sunset times. That’s why you won’t get jet lag on a boat!

Long-term sleep loss and continually shifting circadian rhythms can increase the risks of obesity, diabetes, mood disorders, heart and blood pressure problems, and cancer, and can also worsen existing health issues.

Changes With Age

According to National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information circadian rhythms shift throughout the lifespan, peaking in lateness during adolescence and then gradually shifting back as we age. This shift mirrors the U-shape curve of happiness, which some researchers suggest may be related.

Consistent with the transition to a morning chronotype in older adult humans, the circadian phase of sleep onset and wakening advances with age, whereby older adults (mean age of 68 years) report preferred bedtimes 1 to 2 hours earlier, on average, compared with younger adults (mean age of 23
years) (National Institutes of Health (NIH).

With age, people are less able to recover and recover quickly from disruptions to our circadian clocks. Changes to the circadian rhythm are a common cause of sleep problems in older adults .

Bottom Line: Be aware of your body’s clocks and work with them, not against them, to maximize your physical and mental well-being.

Happy Holidays!

I’m celebrating lots of things on this December 26th!

Kwanzaa (USA)

Mummer’s Day (Cornwall)

Boxing Day (UK, Australia, Canada)

Junkanoo (Caribbean Diaspora, see image above)

South African Day of Goodwill

Poya (Sri Lanka)

Candy Cane Day (USA)

Zartosht No-Diso (Ancient Persia and Zoroastrianism)

Slovenian Independence Day

Feast of Our Lady of Andacollo (Chile)

Family Day (Vanuatu)

Saint Stephen’s Day (Ireland)

The beginning of the Decembrist Uprising against Tsar Nicholas II (1825, Russia)

Lá an Dreoilín, Hunt the Wren Day (Ireland)

First exhibition of wood pulp paper (1854, Buffalo NY)

National Whiner’s Day (USA)

Quviasukvik (Inuit, Upik, Aleut, Chukchi, and Iñupiat)

Grant of patent for FM radio (1933, USA)

Second Day of Christmas

Proclamation Day (South Australia)

Dionysia ta kat’ agrous (Rural Festival of Dionysius, Ancient Greece)

Father’s Day (Bulgaria)

Howdy Doody Day Eve

And NO VIVIAN LAWRY BLOG DAY!

AN UP-SIDE TO FORGETTING?

Virtually everyone has experienced the frustration and/or embarrassment of forgetting. And as people age, forgetting becomes more frequent, at which point the brain adds anxiety or fear to the mix. But is forgetting always a bad thing?

Necessary Forgetting

On the contrary, research indicates that forgetting might be necessary to our mental functioning.

According to Dr. Scott A. Small, professor of psychiatry and neurology at Columbia University, a “constellation of findings” indicates that sifting and discarding the vast amount of information the brain collects is a necessary function. It may even be as essential for survival as the gathering of useful knowledge. And some researchers (including Small) are exploring ways that not being able to forget might provide insights into dealing with psychological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We were all taught forever, everyone, that forgetting is a passive breakdown of the memory mechanisms. The fundamental insight—the eureka, I think, of the new science of forgetting—is that our neurons are endowed with a completely separate set of mechanisms … that are dedicated to active forgetting.”

Dr. Scott A. Small
Director of Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Columbia University
Author of Forgetting: The Benefits of Not Remembering

Oliver Hardt, an assistant professor of psychology at McGill University says forgetting is “one of the most fundamental aspects of a memory system. Without forgetting, nothing would work.” You may notice that your hairdresser/barber is wearing a green plaid shirt, but remembering that long term would just (in my words!) junk up your brain.

Neuroscientists have discovered that it is actually a positive thing that we cannot remember every detail of every day. Dr. Andre Fenton, a neuroscientist at New York University, claims that would be potentially very distracting. For example, experiencing intruding memories could make it very difficult to focus during cognitive tasks like doing homework or deciding what to eat for dinner.

Beneficial Forgetting

As Ingrid Wickelgren wrote in Forgetting is Key to a Healthy Mind, being able to forget has ripple effects on personality. If you cannot shake negative memories, for example, you might fall easily into a bad mood. Although the inability to forget does not cause depression, research shows that depressed patients have difficulty putting aside dark thoughts. In other words, being able to forget negative, stressful, or traumatic events and information might be beneficial to our mental health.

More generally, according to the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, “The ability to forget helps us prioritize, think better, make decisions, and be more creative. Normal forgetting, in balance with memory, gives us the mental flexibility to grasp abstract concepts from a morass of stored information, allowing us to see the forest through the trees.”

And this isn’t just a Columbia opinion!

Oliver Hardt is among the many scientists who suspect that this culling of nonessential memory is one of the key purposes of sleep. A good night’s sleep quite literally produces a clearer mind.

Why Do We Forget?

Poppies for Remembrance or Forgetting (depending on the source)

New research by Blake Richards and Paul Frankland indicates that being forgetful doesn’t mean you’re losing your marbles. In fact, it could mean that you are exceptionally intelligent. People with excellent long-term memories often forget details once they are no longer needed. On the other hand, people whose brains are not cluttered by memories of minutiae may be better at intelligent decision-making.

Both memory and forgetting are based on brain physiology/chemistry. The synaptic connection point between neurons is what makes a memory. For transient short-term memories, that change is temporary. The more a person revisits and repeats a memory, however, the stronger and more enduring that change becomes.

That may be good or bad!

Emotional memories are often difficult to forget because of the involvement of an area of the brain that plays an important role in controlling behaviors that are important to your survival, including feelings of fear. People with post-traumatic stress disorders may have an overgrowth of synaptic connections in the amygdala (the part of the brain that stores fear memories).

Dr. Sheena Josselyn, a senior scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children, and a professor of psychology and physiology at the University of Toronto, researches precisely how humans learn and remember. The purpose of memory, she says, “is not to allow us to sit back and say, ‘Oh, do you remember that time?’ It really is to help us make decisions.”

How to Forget?

Choosing to forget something might take more mental effort than trying to remember it, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin discovered. But given the results summarized above, it’s probably worth the effort. Unfortunately, the more emotionally charged a memory is, the more difficult it will be to forget.

Researchers are working to develop treatments to help patients deliberately forget targeted memories. Patients can use these “active forgetting” techniques, such as identifying and removing memory cues or consciously interrupting and shutting down memory recall, to weaken the hold of traumatic memories. However, like most medical treatment, this should be done under the supervision of a licensed professional.

According to Small, one of the best ways to help your brain forget things you’d like to forget is to stay social and engage with life. He theorizes that this might be one of the reasons why the Coronavirus pandemic has been so damaging to the world’s mental health. Quarantined and isolated people stayed indoors and brooded on painful memories rather interacting socially. As restrictions lift, try going out among people to make yourself forget!

Bottom Line: A consensus seems to be emerging that forgetting is both inevitable and valuable.

EYELASHES!

Why eyelashes? Why not? They’re more interesting than you might think. For one thing, they are functional.  Eyelashes protect the eye from dust or other debris. They are very sensitive to touch, and may close reflexively if an insect or whatever is too close. In addition, they contain sebaceous glands at the base that lubricates and protect from dryness and irritation.  Babies are born with eyelashes. 

Eyelash Information

Eye and eyelash parts

The lifespan of an average eyelash is three to five months, compared to the rest of your hair, which lasts two to four years. 

Baby eyelashes
Photo by Carlos ZGZ

For all that they look fine, lashes are the thickest hair on the human body—which I find hard to believe, but whatever. 

Most people have 150-250 individual lashes on the top of the eyelid and between 50-100 on the lower lid. They grow in uneven rows, 5 to 6 on top and 3 to 5 on the bottom. Just like head hair, eyelashes naturally fall out and replace themselves in a natural cycle every six to 10 weeks, so it’s totally normal to lose between one and five lashes each day.  The older people are, the slower the growth process becomes. This is how/why lashes start to thin out.

You Jianxia
World's longest eyelashes
You Jianxia

In addition, aging and menopause are considered to be leading factors that cause shorter eyelashes due to certain hormonal imbalances that affect the growth cycle of hair follicles. Other factors include stress, lack of sleep, and allergic reactions to medications.

In high school, I knew a girl whose lashes were so long that they brushed the lenses of her glasses.  According to the Guinness Book of Records, the longest eyelash measured 20.5 cm (8.0 in) long, grown on You Jianxia’s (China) left upper lid.

Feather eyelashes

The lashes on the top eyelid are usually between 7-13mm in length while the lashes on the bottom usually never grow longer than 7mm.  The average length of the normal lashes is 10mm-12mm  The researchers, led by Farid Pazhoohi of the University of British Columbia in Canada, estimate that the optimal eyelash length for women is about one-quarter to one-third of the width of one’s eye. The optimal eyelash length for men is a bit less, about one-fifth of the width of one’s eye.

Ethnicity does not have an impact on eyelash length. However, Asian people and those of Spanish and Eastern European descent commonly have straight lashes while others have curlier lashes.

Ideal Eyelashes

False eyelashes
Performers in Jakarta applying false eyelashes
Eyelashes

Does eyelash length really matter? It depends on who you ask. According to ancient Chinese face reading tradition, long lashes are for the sensitive and imaginative. Long lashes indicate more fire chi presence and it means that people who have them are extra sensitive.

Pliny the Elder, a Roman scholar born 79BCE, claimed that long eyelashes were a sign of purity and chastity. He claimed, “Eyelashes fell out from excessive sex, and so it was especially important for women to keep their eyelashes long to prove their chastity.”

Eyelashes

People have been darkening their eyelashes with soot, kohl, berry juice, oil, ink, or lead for millennia. The Algerian town of Mascara produced great quantities of antimony, which the locals applied to their lashes for beautification as well as to provide protection from trachoma and eye diseases. Ancient Egyptians combined galena, malachite, soot, crocodile dung, and honey to create the kohl they used to darken their eyelids and lashes.

Lash Lure
Eyelashes

In 1933, Lash Lure promised consumers that a “new and improved mascara will give you a radiating personality, with a before and after.” Unfortunately, the permanent eyelash and brow dye contained para-phenylenediamine, which caused dermatitis, conjunctival edema, keratitis, corneal ulceration, and necrosis. The damage permanently blinded fifteen women and killed one.

Eyelash extensions have been a fashion trend for more time than most people think. The desire to have luscious lashes has transformed dramatically since their beginning in 3500 B.C. While the reasons to have long eyelashes were more symbolic back then, today, they are an indication of beauty.

According to an article in the Dundee Courier in 1899, fashionable women in Paris could have hair from their own heads sewn “through the extreme edges of the eyelid between the epidermis and the lower border of the cartilage of the tragus.” Doctors would rub the patient’s eyelids with a solution of cocaine before taking a needle to them, so I’m sure it didn’t hurt a bit!

Early false eyelashes
Peggy Hyland applying false lashes, 1917

The darkness of eyelashes is related to (natural) hair color. 

For all that eyelashes are functional, we often associate them with beauty, the ideal being long, curved, and dark. There are actually eyelash salons! Who knew? (Not me, obviously.)

False eyelashes? One can get single lashes or strips. And fake lashes can be anything from mink to velour to real human hair.

A surprising number of people make and wear false eyelashes cut from paper. They design intricate patterns in strips of thick, waxy paper and attach them to their lids, just like false lashes made from hair or feathers.

Mink eyelashes
Mink

Gorgeous as they can be, fake eyelashes may cause temporary or even permanent loss of one’s natural eyelashes.  Taking the fakes off can break natural lashes, and possibly damage the hair follicle, causing lash regrowth to fail.

Problem Eyelashes

There are a number of diseases or disorders involving the eyelashes:

Trichiasis
Ingrown Eyelashes
Trichiasis
Demodex folliculorum
eyelashes
Demodex folliculorum

Eyelash and eyebrow transplant surgeries may help to reconstruct or thicken lashes or eyebrow hair.

On the stranger side, the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages linked the exposure of any hair (including eyelashes) to having an excessively erotic disposition. To demonstrate their modesty, Medieval women covered their hair and plucked their brows and lashes.

Animal Kingdom Eyelashes

People share eyelashes with other animals.  Lashes, being hair, are found in all mammals except the aquatic ones (dolphins and whales). 

Hornbill Eyelashes
Hornbill
  • Classically long and elegant, elephant lashes have been making history since the days of the woolly mammoth.
  • Camels‘ lashes are remarkably long and thick. 
  • Horses and cows feature lashes as well, as do dogs cats, and mice.
  • Lashes differ in length and density depending on where the animal lives 
  • Inherited eyelash problems are common in some breeds of dogs as well as horses. 
Eyelash viper
Eyelash Viper

Eyelashes are an uncommon but not unknown feature in birds.  Hornbills have prominent lashes (vestigial feathers with no barbs), as do ostriches. Among reptiles, only Eyelash vipers show a set of modified scales over the eyes which look much like eyelashes.

As best I can determine, the function of eyelashes for animals is the same as for humans: protection.  For animals that live in dusty areas, their lashes stop them getting specks of dust in their eyes. This is why camels, kangaroos, elephants, and giraffes have several rows of long eyelashes, not just one row.

Bottom line: There’s more to eyelashes than meets the eye!

CELEBRATE PECULIAR!

Peculiar People Day
How peculiar!

January 10 is Peculiar People Day, an annual opportunity to recognize and celebrate peculiar people. Oxford Languages defines peculiar as, “strange, odd; or unusual.” Pretty straightforward. But when talking about this day’s peculiar people, other issues tend to mix themselves in.

For example, saying it’s those who refuse to conform to the world’s idea of normal assumes a conscious resistance. 

Peculiar People Day
Quite peculiar!

Some put it even more baldly: Peculiar People Day is to celebrate the leaders of the strange and unusual, who refuse to succumb to the world’s idea of what is normal and sane.  This view, by adding the role of leadership, requires influence.

Even taking out resistance and influence, honoring individuals who are eccentric, non-conformist or unique in some manner is still subjective. Indeed, we’re all deviants by someone’s standards, in some places, at some times.

Peculiar People Day
Doubly peculiar!

Finding/knowing who to celebrate is a public vs. private dilemma: in order to be labeled quirky (or whatever) one’s behaviors, beliefs, or attributes need to be perceived.  If a peculiar tree falls peculiarly in a forest and no one sees it doing so peculiarly, was it still peculiar?

The etymology of ‘peculiar’ is, in itself, fairly peculiar. Originally, it referred to a herd of cattle privately owned, from the Sanskrit word ‘pasu-‘ for cattle. Not until the 16th century did ‘peculiar’ develop its modern connotations of something distinguished or special, generally in reference to those especially well-endowed in wealth or social standing. By the 17th century, ‘peculiar’ had come to refer to something strange, curious, or unusual.

Of all individuals, the hated, the shunned, and the peculiar are arguably most themselves. They wear no masks whatsoever in order to be accepted and liked; they do seem most guarded, but only by their own hands: as compared to the populace, they are naked.” –

Criss Jami, Healology

I couldn’t find any solid info on the origins of Peculiar People Day; the earliest record (that I could find) showed up on a list of January Days published in the The San Francisco Examiner on January 1, 2002. But Peculiar People Day has too many options for fun and awareness to disappear anytime soon.

Peculiar People Day
Very peculiar indeed!

Peculiarity manifests in many dimensions:

  • Jobs
  • Opinions
  • Appearance
  • Physical characteristics
  • Speech or phrasing choices
  • Mannerisms
  • Pets
  • Reading Habits
  • Talents
  • Hobbies

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs is a fascinating fantasy read! But that’s not the only book with peculiar people:

A bit peculiar!
  • “I thought to myself Mr. Rochester is peculiar — he seems to forget that he pays me £30 per annum for receiving his orders.”
  • “I love my love with a b because she is peculiar.”
  • Don’t you realize that in my world my parents are peculiar because they’d never been divorced? Basically because it would have been too much trouble. But you live in a world where not only are your parents not divorced, they appear to love each other.”

Still need a reason to celebrate? Some believe people who are termed ‘peculiar’, ‘different’, ‘strange’, or ‘abnormal’ set the world in motion.

Bottom Line: Celebrate and recognize yourself as well as others on Peculiar People Day.

Peculiar, Missouri seal
Peculiar People Day
“Where the ‘odds’ are with you”

WHY NOW?

A resolution is a firm decision to do or not to do something. As such, you can make a resolution any old day. You needn’t wait for New Year’s resolutions.

In practice, people tend to make resolutions when something personally significant happens: birthdays, anniversaries, birth of a child, death of a loved one, when celebrating a big achievement or suffering a major defeat…

But New Year’s Day is the single most popular day to do so.  Based on the average of five studies, 38.5% of U.S. adults make New Year’s resolutions. Younger adults are more likely than older adults to do so.

Why this day? “The New Year offers a blank slate — an opportunity to get things right. When we set New Year’s resolutions, we are utilizing a very important concept called self-efficacy, which means that by virtue of aspiring to a goal and following through on it, I have a sense of control over what’s happening in my life.” (Piedmont.org

New Year’s Resolutions Then

New Year’s resolutions aren’t a new thing. According to Merriam-Webster, the practice has been around since the early 19th century, and perhaps as far back as the late 17th century.  Anne Halkett wrote a number of “Resolutions” in her diary on January 2nd, 1671.

New Year's resolutions
Aketo festival, Duhok
Celebrating Akitu (Aketo) in modern-day Duhok, Iraq, 2018

On the other hand, History.com says the ancient Babylonians were making New Year’s resolutions 4,000 years ago. They also held the first recorded celebrations of the new year, called Akitu—though for them the year began in mid-March.  They made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed.

When Julius Ceasar established the Julian calendar circa 46 BCE, he named the first month of the year after the god Janus, who looked both backward and forward. Romans believed that if Janus had seen them making improvements in their lives during the previous year, they could start the new year with a clean slate. At New Year celebrations, Romans made offerings to Janus and promised the god that they would behave better.

New Year's resolutions
Peacock vow, medieval knights
Knight taking the Peacock Vow
from the Codex Manesse, c. 1304

Inspired by a 1312 poem by Jacques de Longuyon, medieval knights began the practice of taking the Vow of the Peacock (les voeux du paon) at New Year banquets. During the presentation of the subtlety (a special dish designed for visual or entertainment value more than actual nutritional value), people frequently made boasts, pleadges, and vows. When the host presented a roast peacock at a New Year feast, dressed in its own plumage, knights would vow upon the bird to uphold the values of chivalry.

For early Christians, at least as far back as 1740, the first day of the new year was the time to think about one’s past sins and resolve to do and be better in the future. John Wesley, an English clergyman and founder of Methodism, held a Covenant Renewal Service in 1740. Many Christian communities still hold Watch Night services overnight on New Year’s Eve.

New Year's resolutions
Jewish High Holy Days
New Year’s postcard made by the Hebrew Publishing Company, 1900

The Jewish calendar begins with the High Holy Days (יָמִים נוֹרָאִים), running from Rosh HaShanah (רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה) to Yom Kippur (יָמִים נוֹרָאִים). During the ten days between, people work to improve the judgement presented upon their actions during the previous year. They seek atonement, donate to charity, and ask forgiveness from those they have wronged. Many Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur customs, including wearing white and eating honey with apples, originated in the Middle Ages among the Ashkenazi community.

New Year’s Resolutions Now

Now, of course, New Year’s celebrations are mostly secular and resolutions are usually promises to oneself. The most common resolutions are to continue good practices, change an undesired trait or behavior, accomplish a personal goal, or otherwise improve their behavior. In particular, according to 413 U.S. adults (18-89 y/o) surveyed Oct. 25-Nov. 2, 2022, who intended to make one or more resolutions (Source: Statista Global Consumer Survey);

New Year's resolutions
Family and friends
Spend more time with family and friends
  • To exercise more, 52%
  • To eat healthier, 50%
  • To lose weight, 40%
  • To save more money, 39%
  • To spend more time with family/friends, 37%
  • To spend less time on social media, 20%
  • To reduce stress on the job, 19%
  • To reduce spending on living expenses, 19%

But note: according to Discover Happy Habits, only 23% of survey participants planned on making new years resolutions for 2023. And the most popular resolutions for the coming year are living healthier (23%), personal improvement and happiness (21%), and losing weight (20%).  

Twelve percent of new gym memberships are created in January. Sales of healthy food spike by nearly 30% in January every year, though sales of junk food do not diminish much during the same period.

Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

But why bother? Do resolutions really work?  Of those who make New Year’s resolutions, after 1 week 75% are still successful in keeping it.  After two weeks, the number drops to 71%.  After 1 month, the number drops again to 64%.  After 6 months, 46% of people who make a resolution are still successful in keeping it.  And by year’s end, only 9% are successful. (Medical News Today)

Work on your goal with a friend to keep you both on track

To increase your chances of success (according to various things I’ve heard or read):

  • Be specific. (Lose XX pounds vs. lose weight)
  • Write it down.
  • Make it public.
  • Start small to see success early. 
  • Consider the steps it will take to reach your goal. 
  • Track your progress.

If you are tired of the same-old, same-old, consider some more unusual resolutions. In 2016, I shared suggestions for New Year’s resolutions for writers. Real Buzz published some more suggestions for unusual New Year’s resolutions, including the following:

  1. Take your photo in five interesting places
  2. Learn a decent party trick
  3. Break a record
  4. Make a new friend each month
  5. Develop a good relationship with your body
  6. Learn something you didn’t learn as a child
  7. Try new food each week
  8. Make the usual unusual
  9. Sort out financial worries
  10. Do something nice for someone else every day

BOTTOM LINE: To resolve or not? And remember, anytime, anything. Make it your own.

New Year's resolutions

COSMETICS FOR PEOPLE OF COLOR

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about makeup for men. Researching that topic took me deep into the worldwide history of cosmetics. But discussions of cosmetics for African Americans or Native Americans were glaringly absent.

There are many reasons for this, ranging from forced relocations disrupting a community’s access to materials traditionally used for beautification, to societal beauty expectations, to cultural practices, even to the way film development parameters affect the way darker skin tones appear in photos and movies. The history of makeup use in darker-skinned communities in America also reflects the segregation and discrimination non-white people have faced. Cosmetics marketed to lighten or bleach skin, hair care products advertised to change texture, and a variety of treatments purported to change one’s racial appearance have been on the market for as long as the market has existed. The idea that one must mimic European ideals of beauty to be attractive is slowly changing.

Native American Cosmetics

In researching Native Americans, I found little that was specified for beautification, but many practices that would improve appearance. Across the entire North American continent, many different environments present very different challenges and materials for skin care and beautification. A Miccosukee person living in the heat and humidity of Florida would have a very different beauty regimen than a nomadic Assiniboine person living on the northern Great Plains. Better Nutrition identifies these 5 specific sources of health and beauty for Native Americans commonly used in the Mojave Desert. The article does not specify which tribe used these methods, but the author mentions researching in Sedona Arizona, where the Yavapai, Tonto Apache, Hopi, and Navajo lived at various times in history. (Bolding added.)

“Desert-dwelling Native Americans used aloe vera gel to expedite wound healing, soothe sunburn, and hydrate skin. Aloe is antimicrobial, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and it contains antioxidants. Aloe also has phytosterols that help soothe itches and irritation. The bioactive compounds in the plant are rich in vitamins A, B, C, D, and E as well as magnesium, potassium, and zinc that aid healing.

Agave nectar is antimicrobial and was mixed with salt by Native Americans to heal skin conditions. Agave’s sugars soften skin and lock moisture inside hair. These sugars form complex bonds with internal proteins to add strength, resiliency, and elasticity to skin and hair.

“Native Americans ate the prickly pear and used oil from the fruit’s seeds to help strengthen skin and hair. The oil contains twice as many proteins and fatty acids as argan oil, and is rich in vitamin E, making it an excellent remedy for damaged or mature skin and dry hair. Linoleic and oleic fatty acids help moisturize and restore skin’s elasticity. The vitamin K in prickly pear helps to brighten dark spots and undereye dark circles.

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“Native Americans discovered that juniper berries produce a stimulating, astringent, and detoxifying oil. They used it to remove impurities. Today, juniper oil is a key ingredient in detox skin products. It can balance oily skin and open blocked pores and keep them clear. Juniper improves circulation and reduces swelling, making it an ideal ingredient in massage oil.

“Native Americans used the juice from the yucca root to make soap and shampoo because of its ability to lather. Since it’s packed with vitamin C and other antioxidants that soothe and nourish the skin and scalp, they also used it to treat ailments from acne to hair loss. Yucca is also anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and detoxifying.”

Many ingredients in modern beauty products were first used by Native Americans. In areas where maize was a prominent crop, people ground corn to use as a skin cleanser. It was often rubbed on to the skin to remove impurities from the body, sometimes for ceremonial purposes.

By “cosmetics” one usually means preparations intended to make the wearer more attractive, used as part of one’s regular toilet. Such cosmetics are typically removed daily.

Although not cosmetics in the above sense, the oldest materials used in Native American face paint were derived from animal, vegetable and mineral sources, with earth or mineral paint being the most common. White and yellow paint was obtained from white and yellow clays along river beds, and buffalo gallstones produced a different kind of yellow.

A growing number of cosmetic and skincare brands owned by Native people make use of traditional materials. Cosmopolitan recently published an article highlighting makeup brands owned and run by Indigenous Americans, including Prados Beauty, Cheekbone Beauty, Ah-Shí Beauty, and Sḵwálwen Botanicals. Huffington Post wrote about how some of these brands are using marketing and product design to break down harmful stereotypes and educate consumers about distinctions among the many, varied tribal cultures.

Black Cosmetics

By comparison, searching for African American/Black cosmetics turns up a long history of a population underserved by commercial cosmetic companies.

A black man born during slavery, Anthony Overton, opened the Overton Hygienic Manufacturing Co. in Kansas in 1898, to sell baking powder and other products to drug and grocery stores. Recognizing the absence of cosmetics in skin tones for women of color prompted his foray into makeup.

In the early 1900s, large department stores did not stock products for people of color, so Overton developed a network of salespeople who visited small stores with samples. People could also send for his products by mail.

Sales of Overton’s “high-brown” face powder boomed in the United States and countries like Egypt and Liberia. Overton Hygienic relocated to Chicago’s South State Street in 1911, and the next year went on to manufacture more than 50 products, including hair creams and eye makeup. The face powder expanded from “high brown” to include darker and lighter shades, such as “nut-brown,” “olive-tone,” “brunette,” and “flesh-pink.” Importantly, Overton (who had a chemistry degree) insured that his makeup was safe, unlike many products then on the market.

Valmor Products’ Sweet Georgia Brown skin lightening creams

In 1926, Morton Neumann, a Hungarian American also a chemist who grew up in Chicago, established Valmor Products Co., which largely targeted black customers. A big seller was Sweet Georgia Brown face powder, then available for 60 cents in colors like “tantalizing dark brown,” “aristocratic brown,” “sun-tan,” and “teezum [tease ’em] red.” Sweet Georgia Brown also widely marketed skin bleaching creams, reflecting the continuing trend trend of equating lighter complexions with beauty and desirability.

What does it tell you that one ad for the face powder promised a “lighter appearance in 10 seconds” and pointed out that the powder “is specially made to give tan and dark complexions the BRIGHTER attractive beauty that everybody admires.”

Unfortunately, skin bleaching has not gone away. Many companies still produce creams, powders, and even drugs that cover skin, chemically bleach skin, or disrupt melanin production, often with painful and dangerous side effects.

In 1923, two white, Jewish chemists — Morris Shapiro and Joseph Menke — opened Keystone Laboratories in Memphis. They split up, and Shapiro launched Lucky Heart Laboratories in 1935. Lucky Heart products were sold only by representatives, often community members, to show the cosmetics “to friends, neighbors, people you know at work, church or in social groups.”

“Both Keystone and Lucky Heart are still in business today. They primarily sell hair and skincare products, with some relics of the past, such as Lucky Heart’s beauty bleaching cream. Lucky once offered makeup products like tint cream and a Color-Keyed Cosmetics line. However, another Memphis cosmetics business, the Hi-Hat Company, prided itself on offering “smart shades for every complexion.” Hi-Hat’s Jockey Club face powder came in hues such as ‘Harlem tan,’ ‘Spanish rose,’ ‘chocolate brown,’ and ‘copper bronze.’”

(racked.com)

In the 1960s, mainstream brands like Maybelline and Avon got into the act. During the five years that ended the 1960s, a half-dozen cosmetics lines for black women debuted. One of them, Flori Roberts, bills itself as the first such line that department stores carried.

In earlier years, women of color mixed shades to make the right foundation shade for their skin. But that didn’t address issues of oil or silicone.

IMAN Cosmetics Shade Guide

In 1994, Somali supermodel Iman Abdulmajid started IMAN Cosmetics, to serve women whom other makeup manufacturers had overlooked — blacks, Latinas, Asians. The basic premise was/is that skin tones overlap, so cosmetics companies shouldn’t target one ethnic group.

Today, women of color have more options when looking for cosmetics to match or complement their skin tones. Mainstream brands such as AJ Crimson, B.L.A.C Minerals, Plain Jane Beauty, M.A.C., Bobbi Brown, Cake Cosmetics, Makeup Forever, Nars, Lancôme, and others have widened their color palettes in foundation, eyeshadow, lipstick, liners, and contouring. Ulta Beauty, one of the largest makeup retailers in the country, has an entire section of Black-owned brands of skincare, hair care, and makeup products.

Bottom Line: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And today women (and men) have more makeup and cosmetic options than ever before.

DECEMBER, IS IT ANYTHING MORE THAN CHRISTMAS?

Why, yes. Yes, it is. No wonder you wonder, given that we are bombarded with ads, decorations, parties, movies, etc., etc., etc. Even if you don’t observe Christmas in any way, you can’t escape.

Some Places Observe Christmas All Month Long

  • Christmas in the Villages: Van Buren County, Iowa
    • Features a house tour, Festival of Trees, bake sale, Santa visits, holiday dinners, lighting displays, soup suppers, as well as the natural beauty found around the county
  • Christmas New Orleans Style: Louisiana
    • Cathedral Christmas concerts, caroling in Jackson Square, parades with Papa Noel, cooking demonstrations, Celebration in the Oaks, tours of 19th century houses decorated for the season, Réveillon dinners, and traditional Creole holiday dishes
  • Colonial Christmas (Christmastide in Virginia): Jamestown Settlement, Williamsburg and Yorktown, Virginia
    • 17th and 18th century holiday traditions
    • At Jamestown Settlement, a film and guided tour compare the English customs of the period with how Christmas might have been observed in the early years of the Jamestown colony.
    • At the Yorktown Victory Center, you can learn about Christmas and winter in a military encampment during the American Revolution ands holiday preparations on a 1780s Virginia farm.

Christmas Isn’t the Only Religious Observance

Other Christian Observances:

  • Dec. 6: St. Nicholas Day
  • Dec. 8: Immaculate Conception
  • Dec. 12: Feast Day of our Lady of Guadalupe
  • Dec. 16: Posadas Navideñas
  • Dec. 27: Feast of the Holy Family
  • Dec. 28: Holy Innocents Day
  • Dec. 31: Night Watch

Non-Christian Religious Observances:

  • Dec. 8: Rohatsu (Bodhi Day, when Siddhartha Guatama achieved enlightenment), Buddhism
  • Dec. 10-18 in 2021: Hanukkah (anniversary of the rededication of the Second Temple), Judaism
  • Dec. 21: Solstice (shortest day of the year and start of winter), Wicca/Pagan
  • Dec. 26: Zarathosht No-Diso (Death of Prophet Zarathustra), Zoroastrian

Observances That Have Nothing to Do With Religion!

N.B.: Observances that cross categories are listed only once.

Kwanzaa

“Matunda ya kwanza” means “first fruits” in Swahili and is the origin of the holiday’s name. Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga, creator of the holiday, wanted to celebrate family, community, and pan-African cultural traditions. The seven days and nights of Kwanzaa are full of significant sevens. The seven Principles (unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and joy) and seven Symbols (Kinara candleholder, seven candles, crops, corn, unity cup, gifts, all on a traditional mat) were celebrated by nearly seven million people last year.

  • Food Related
    • Buckwheat Month
    • Cooked Grasshopper Month
    • Exotic Fruits Month
    • National Eggnog Month
    • National Fruitcake Month
    • National Pear Month
    • Noodle Ring Month
    • Quince and Watermelon Month
    • Root Vegetable Month
    • Tomato and Winter Squash Month
    • Tropical Fruits Month
  • Recreation and Leisure Related
    • Bingo Birthday Month
    • National Closed Caption TV Month
    • Read a New Book Month
    • Sign Up for Summer Camp Month
    • Stress-Free Family Holidays Month
    • Write a Friend Month

BOTTOM LINE: December doesn’t have to be all about Christmas! Live a little, along with other like-minded folks.

Happy Solstice!