Six-Legged Soldiers discussed at LC Bird

Your vacation was going swimmingly until you noticed those little welts that began to burn and itch like nasty mosquito bites. “Gross” is the first word that comes to mind when you realize that you have been a meal for bed bugs. The good news is that bed bugs won’t make you sick unless the welts get infected, but mosquitoes can pack an itchy wallop and even kill you.

L.C. Bird High School’s Author Visitation Program, now in its 15th year, will feature discussions of Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War by Dr. Jeffery Lockwood. Mosquitoes and other deadly little creatures will be center stage on Oct. 20, when Lockwood spends the day with science students and then conducts a panel discussion with students and the public in the evening at 6:30 p.m. in the Bird auditorium.

According to Dr. Melanie Haimes-Bertolf, science instruction specialist for Chesterfield County Public Schools, the discussion could be lively, as this “theme is very interesting and will appeal to a broad based audience.” In his book, Lockwood describes the use of mosquitoes as a terrorist’s weapon.

“Dusk descends on a sweltering New Orleans. A naked man lies moaning in an apartment a few blocks from Canal Street. His jaundiced body is mottled with bruises where vessels have hemorrhaged. The pillow and bedside are caked with blood that he has vomited. The man’s breathing is labored as he drowns in his own fluids.

“The window of the room is shut tightly, letting in no breath of air - and letting out none of the thousands of mosquitoes that cover the walls and the man’s body. Aedes aegypti is not the most common species along the Gulf Coast, but anyone with a course in medical entomology could build a simple trap and conscript a bloodthirsty army.

“Across the hall, another man cracks his door and peers out. Seeing nobody in the hallway, he emerges wearing beekeepers’ garb. After slipping into the sickroom, he watches as a convulsion wracks the martyr’s body. The insects rise in a ravenous cloud, droning their annoyance at having their meal disturbed.

“Taking advantage of the moment, the garbed man crosses the room and opens the window...”

Plague-infected fleas, cholera-coated flies and mosquitoes infected with encephalitis could be the next weapon employed by a host of terrorists bent on the undoing of the United States and a bevy of other countries.

Lockwood postulates that we should build a public health system that will be ready to defend against these insect warriors, suggesting that expanding troop presence at our borders can’t squash this formative enemy.

Science students at Bird will spend the day with Lockwood on Oct. 20, along with Monacan High School science students who will be visiting for the day. Bird’s students have already been exploring the concepts of the book. Thirty students and four faculty members visited Virginia State University’s (VSU) Randolph Farm recently, touring the facility and experiencing firsthand the roles of insects and bogs in agriculture sciences. Students witnessed research being done at the farm on honey bees, aquaculture, fruits and vegetables and small ruminants. Under the guidance of Dr. Krishan Agrawal, chair of the Department of Mathematics & Computer Science at VSU, the school has been partnering with CCPS on the Author Visitation Program since its inception.

Bertolf said the program has also been expanded to include some middle school students this year. “It’s important we broaden our connection especially in the digital age,” she said.

The public is invited to the panel discussion in the school’s auditorium at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 20. Panel members, students and audience participants will be able to join the discussion on bugs with attitudes.

“A person with $100 worth of supplies, a set of simple instructions and a plane ticket from an afflicted African nation to the United States could introduce the disease with virtually no chance of being caught,” Lockwood said. The science department at Bird is looking forward to the community joining the discussion.

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