A new study published in Science magazine shortly after this article was written has found that the current rate of species extinctions is more than 1,000 times greater than the natu- ral rate. The estimates are based on the fossil record and genetic data spanning millions of years. "These are higher than previously esti- mated and likely still underestimated. Future rates...are poised to increase. [R]apid progress in developing protected areas...are not ecolog- ically representative, nor do they optimally protect biodiversity."
Hmm. Maybe snakes are the world's dead- liest, come to think of it. Certainly, the answer is one of these four "deadly" animals, right?
Wait. What about big cats? Man-eating tigers, for example, might be a problem if they weren't nearly extinct now. In fact, most of the world's big cats – lions, panthers, leopards, cougars – are fac- ing extinction within two decades, according to conservation scientists. Sadly, they've been deci- mated by an even more deadly species bent on killing every last one.
When it comes to our primordial fear of animals that can kill us, it's often hard to sepa- rate fact from fiction. Science is fine, but when science contradicts our gut reactions to a thing (spiders!), emotion trumps reason.
That said, here's a little multiple-choice quiz. If you get all three questions right, you're a certifiable genius. If you get two out of three
right, you have a bright future in rocket science or possibly neurobiology. If you get one right, don't feel bad – you're above average. Finally, if you get 'em all wrong and any- body asks you how you did on the quiz, just shrug and say you don't want to brag.
Question #1 – Name the world's deadliest animal:
A. Snake B. Wolf C. Shark
D. Mosquito E. Crocodile F. None of the above
Question #2 – Name the world's second deadliest animal:
A. Tsetse fly B. Tapeworm C. Human
D. Snail E. Shark F. None of the above
Question #3 – Choose the pair in this list that cause the fewest human deaths each year:
A. Mosquitoes and humans B. Roundworms and tapeworms C. Sharks and wolves D. Dogs and elephants E. Tsetse flies and assassin bugs F. Butterflies and honey bees The correct answers are D, C, and C. If you
got the first two right and missed the third one,
don't tell a soul. I'm pretty sure I would have missed all three if it hadn't been for my buddy, Bill Gates. Okay, we're not buddies, but he recently posted a very cool chart ("The World's Deadliest Animals) on his blog at http://www.gates-
notes.com. The chart ranks the world's 15 deadliest animals and how many people they kill each year:
1. Mosquito: 725,000 2. Humans: 475,000 3. Snakes: 50,000 4. Dogs (rabies): 25,000 5. Tsetse fly (sleeping sickness): 10,000 6. Assassin bug (Chagas disease: 10,000 7. Freshwater snail (schistosomiasis): 10,000 8. Ascaris roundworm: 2,500
9. Tapeworm: 2,000 10. Crocodile: 1,000 11. Hippopotamus: 500 12. Elephant: 100 13. Lion: 100 14. Wolf: 10 15. Shark: 10 When it comes to killing people, mosqui-
toes make sharks look benign by comparison. Malaria, Gates writes, "kills more than 600,000 people every year; another 200 million cases incapacitate people for days at a time. It threat-
ens half of the world’s population and causes billions of dollars in lost productivity annually. Other mosquito-borne diseases include dengue fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis."
Sharks, crocs, wolves and snakes get a lot of press — especially sharks. Gates: "Sharks kill fewer than a dozen people every year.... Mosquitoes kill 50,000 times as many people, but if there’s a TV channel that features Mosquito Week, I haven’t heard about it." Ouch, that stings.
Strange to think that the only thing in this world more dangerous than a human with a gun is a mosquito with a pathogen. Sleeping under a mosquito net greatly reduces the risk of contracting malaria in the tropics. It's just one example of a simple step that can save thousands of children's lives.
Unfortunately, as young Elliot Rodgers' rampage in Santa Barbara reminds us, science has no answers for how to protect ourselves from the second biggest threat to humans – us.
And our craven politicians are certainly no help.
Tom Magstadt writes and cooks in the log cabin of his dreams. He lives on a mountain in Ouray County and frequents Colorado Boy almost enough to qualify as a regular. Visit Tom’s blog at http://open.salon.com/blog/dakotakid