The Age of Reptiles

The Age of Reptiles
The Age of Reptiles, a mural by Rudolph F. Zallinger. Copyright 1966, 1975, 1985, 1989 Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Human Parasite?

This story is the sort of gem I come across every now and then while sorting through the Invertebrate Zoology archives. A Dr. C. Ritter from Brooklyn, New York sent Addison Verrill a letter dated 16 Nov 1887, informing him he is sending a segment of tape worm removed from a “customer.” This isn’t as shocking as it sounds, as Verrill was one time the Connecticut state parisitologist. A note written on the letter by Verrill expressed doubt that it was a human parasite.

A subsequent letter from Carl Gissler, an invertebrate zoologist and acquaintance of Verrill’s, dated 22 Sep 1888, vouches for the authenticity of the specimen. He says he was present when the tapeworm proglottids were removed from the unfortunate man. I’ll leave it to the reader to look up how a person usually finds out they are infected by tapeworms. Gissler suggests it is either a Taenia, a common human tapeworm or Ligula, a genus of tapeworm found infecting fish. Unfortunately, I can find no specimen in the collection that relates to these letters. It is possible it was returned, but it would have been even more interesting to know the true identity of the parasite.

In today’s instant communication age, it’s interesting to read the conversations people such as Verrill were having through hand written correspondence. Answers could sometimes take months, if not years. Many of Verrill’s correspondence are requests for papers or specimens and the researchers could have to wait months to get the required information. Today we just send an email or go to the web.

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