Are cute little gerbils to blame for Bubonic Plague?
Are cute little gerbils to blame for Bubonic Plague? (Thinkstock)
Are cute little gerbils to blame for Bubonic Plague?
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Scientists say they may have solved a centuries-old whodunit.

Why did Europe experience outbreaks of bubonic plague over hundreds of years? It began with the Black Death of 1347 to 1353.

Maybe you can blame gerbils in Asia.

The disease is caused by a bacterium. It lives in rodents. The general thought had been that once the germ arrived from Asia to kick off the Black Death, it settled into European rodents. The disease periodically jumped to humans. It disappeared in the early 1800s.

But now, scientific sleuths are suggesting that the true source of those periodic outbreaks was Asia. Maritime trade may have inadvertently imported the disease. It might have repeatedly come from great gerbils and other small mammals in Asia.

"I don't think there was any sustainable reservoir in Europe," Nils Stenseth of the University of Oslo said in an email.

He and co-authors make their case in an article published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Their smoking gun is ancient tree rings. The rings preserve fine-grained records of climate in Europe and Asia. Plague jumps from wild rodents to humans in response to climate shifts. The scientists looked to see if they could match those shifts to the times of regional outbreaks.

They found no evidence of a European reservoir for the disease. But climate records from Asia told a different story.

The researchers identified 16 instances between 1346 and 1837 in which plague might have arrived at a European port from Asia. These events were consistently preceded by climate fluctuations in Asia. The climate changes were recorded by tree rings from Pakistan, with a lag of about 15 years.

Maybe camels, people and fleas in caravans passing through Asia picked up the germ. That is how it could have started on its journey to Europe via trade routes, the researchers said.

Critical thinking challenge: How did tree rings help scientists?

Source URL: https://www.tweentribune.com/article/tween56/are-cute-little-gerbils-blame-bubonic-plague/

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COMMENTS (137)
  • ZachG-1
    3/02/2015 - 01:02 p.m.

    The Bubonic plague killed thousands of humans, scientist have found out how this started. By gerbils. The plague was spread by many rodents such as rats and gerbils at the time. In Asia the plaque first started then trade ships brought it to all of Europe. Many people died because of the Bubonic plaque.

    This is insane that little creators brought these to thousands of people, but how did it get from a person to the gerbil?

  • alyssa.knight71
    3/02/2015 - 01:08 p.m.

    Gerbils did not start the bubonic plague. Fleas started the bubonic plague (black death). The fleas jumped onto the rats and bit them giving them the plague, and since the people went to the bed on the ground the rats walked over them. When the rats walked over them they dropped feces which had the bubonic plague in it. Once the people were infected they were supposed to stay inside, but sure enough they didn't' t and infected everyone around them. Gerbils aren't even in the same family. They were known as the desert rats, but they were not related.

  • mykalb-Orv
    3/02/2015 - 01:19 p.m.

    well I'm not sure if this is true but, i do know that it must suck if your little gerbil that you care for and love gives you a disease that is very serious.

  • AB2001blue
    3/02/2015 - 01:40 p.m.

    The rings preserve fine-grained records of climate in Europe and Asia. Plague jumps from wild rodents to humans in response to climate shifts. The scientists looked to see if they could match those shifts to the times of regional outbreaks. That is why the three rings help scientists.

  • GD2000marinecorp
    3/02/2015 - 01:46 p.m.

    Tree rings have helped scientists to determine this occurrence in climate change in European countries and Asian countries, because they help decide if the black death, or black plague jumped from rodent to human.

  • dominique w19
    3/02/2015 - 01:47 p.m.

    Gerbils; this articles about how scientist today have discovered that outbreaks of disease could have been caused by gerbils and other small critters that have originated in Asia. The rings in a tree help identify when the climate changed in any country. Diseases jumped from animals to human when the climate changes.

  • PaulT.
    3/02/2015 - 01:53 p.m.

    Animals. Most people think the plague was spread by rats, caravans and insects when really the plague spread from people who had the plague to people who didn't have the plague.

    CTC: The tree rings preserve climate change in Europe and in Asia to help scientists.

  • carlosr8
    3/02/2015 - 01:58 p.m.

    Animals: Scientist say that they may have solved a centuries-old whodunit. Europe already experienced the bubonic plague over hundreds of years ago. The disease is caused by bacterium which lives in rodents. Plague jumps from wild rodents to humans which is caused by climate shifts. Researchers identified 16 instances between 1346 and 1837 in which the plague might have arrived at a Europe port from Asia.


    CTC: How did tree rings help scientists? The rings preserve fine-grained records of climate in Europe and Asia.

  • damarya b 7
    3/02/2015 - 02:01 p.m.

    animal: they couldn't have that someone or something would be so bad that they would have to think about what to do they must of thought it was a normal sickness and they could cure it so easy and that it would be gone so fast but it lasted a long time that people didn't know what to do they thought people were just sick

    Critical thinking challenge: How did tree rings help scientists

    It helped them learn about the past

  • ShaneB77
    3/02/2015 - 02:04 p.m.

    ANIMALS: Scientists are saying that they may have found out why Europe Europe experienced outbreaks of the Bubonic Plague. Scientists say that gerbils may be the main cause of the disease. The disease, called bacterium, lives in rodents. Scientists think that the disease started in Asia and spread through European rodents and then to humans. That is how the scientists say the Bubonic Plague spread through Europe.

    CTC: -Q- How did tree rings help scientists? -A- Tree rings help scientists because The rings preserve records of climate in Europe and Asia.

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