Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Acorns and Bubonic Plague

This item delves into the curious relationship between bubonic plague and rat populations and acorns.  There is obviously an ecology here that is somewhat subtle but worth understanding

Curiously, bubonic plague continues to be naturally endemic out in the wild.  Humanity has merely mastered the art of good housekeeping and no longer shares any exposure at all. 

In fact, good housekeeping, clean water and limited access to animal pets have possibly done as much as any other thing to keep humanity healthy.  Most diseases are cured long before we even notice them.

Maggie Koerth-Baker   Sep 4, 2010
What would you make of medieval historical records that prominently note the occurrence of large crops of acorns? It's a bit of a weird departure from the kinds of things these records normally care about, i.e. battles and the deaths of famous people. In fact, the people keeping these records didn't even eat acorns, and other, more useful, crops aren't mentioned at all.
But, sometimes, an acorn might be more than just an acorn, according to a 2003 paper by classicist David Woods. That's because the Latin word for "little nut" and the word sometimes used to describe the swollen lymph nodes caused by the Capital-P Plague are one and the same.
The Latin term glandularius is the root of our word for gland; etymologically, glandula means 'little nuts' because this is what they felt like when palpated. There is at least one other example of a plague record using glandulara as a descriptor. In c. 660 the Burgundian 'Chronicle of Fredegar' describes the 599 plague of Marseilles as a cladis glanduaria.
So "a spark of leprosy and an unheard of abundance of nuts", becomes the far more logical, "we've had some issues with leprosy and The Plague this year".
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libelle • #2  At least here in California, there's another relationship between acorns and the plague. Bubonic is endemic here, and there's a significant reservoir in the squirrel and groundsquirrel populations. When a worse-than-usual outbreak occurs, many of the squirrels die off, leaving acorns to accumulate. Similarly, there will follow a glut of young oak saplings, because all of the buried acorn caches have a better than normal opportunity to sprout.

Lexicat • #3  mast blooms go in cycles. in years with large acorn production, there will be a lot of very well fed squirrels, mice and other vermin. the following year there will typically be high births among these species. some of them are vectors for human diseases. there can also be subsequent bursts in the populations of the animals which prey on them. A productive masting season may therefore be the harbinger of disease, harvests attacked by unusually large numbers of vermin, and other ecological phenomena important to human well being.

ROSSINDETROIT :  Many trees produce unusually large seed crops when they're under stress. Trying to get their DNA out there in case they don't make it. Maybe there's a connection between weather and human disease that would account for both increased infections and increased nuts.

This year the spruce trees are absolutely burying us in cones. In 10 years I've never seen so many. The red squirrels don't even try to keep up.

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