If you secretly aspire to dress up in leotards, patrol your town and do battle with street criminals, then allowing yourself to be bit by a spider – even a radioactive one – is unlikely to be of much help. But if you think your inner drive to make the world a better place can be satisfied by drastically reducing your carbon footprint, then an insect bite could be just what you need.
Scientists say that one of the chief causes of climate change is incarcerating and killing animals for human consumption (commonly called the meat industry). If only people were to reduce their reliance on animals by eating less meat and focusing on other sources of protein, the planet wouldn’t be hurtling towards its own doom; perhaps it would only be drifting towards its own doom at a more leisurely pace.
But for some people, switching to a vegetarian or vegan regime is no easy feat. After having been brought up on a steady diet of chickens, pigs and cows, many of us find it quite difficult to phase out, or even significantly reduce, our intake of animal meat. Thankfully, another group of scientists have discovered an easy and inexpensive way to go cold turkey from turkey: getting bit by a tick.
It’s not that a bite from an amblyomma americanum – colloquially called the Lone Star Tick – rids people of their appetite for meat. Rather, its bite contains a type of sugar found in most meats and milk products, and when this enters a human’s bloodstream, it triggers an immune reaction. From that point forward, eating meat will set off unpleasant allergic reactions: fevers, shakes, swelling and difficulty breathing.
Thomas Platts-Mills, the University of Virginia scientist who first realized that the tick’s bite is responsible for these meat allergies, is cursed – or blessed, depending on your perspective – with the same fate as his patients. Platts-Mills was bitten by hundreds of the ticks while he was hiking through the Appalachian Mountains in 2007, and he developed a meat allergy later that year. The Lone Star Tick is a common critter in Texas and other rural areas throughout the eastern United States.