Bitten by the Flea Bug

Today is the 89th birthday of naturalist Miriam Rothschild, a self-trained English naturalist and the world's foremost authority on fleas. Rothschild had no formal education growing up, but learned about insects from her zoologist father and an uncle who was an avid specimen collector. As a teenager, she studied marine life, particularly parasites that plague mollusks. During World War II, Rothschild worked on the British Enigma project, a secret effort to crack the German code.

Rothschild is best known for her research on fleas--explaining how they reproduce, choose their hosts, and leap enormous distances. This work was consolidated into six volumes and took 20 years to complete. Rothschild also worked with Nobel Prize-winner Tadeus Reichstein on research showing how monarch butterflies are protected from predators because of the chemicals, called glycosides, they ingest in milkweed.

[Source: Emily McMurray, Ed., Notable Twentieth Century Scientists (Gale Research Inc., ITP, 1995).]

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