Most annoying urban myths debunked – part 5
There are countless urban myths floating around. Some are amusing, some are terrifying and some are just plain weird. But there are also plenty of urban myths that I just find utterly annoying. Most of them are things I’ve believed in myself in the past, but when thinking about it logically realising couldn’t be true. Which is why I find them so annoying!
9. If you jump in piles of leaves you get covered in leeches
It’s a beautiful autumn day, the sun is shining and you’re out walking in the woods. As you follow the path, you come across a big pile of fallen leaves on the ground. You suddenly remember your childhood plays, and decide to jump into the inviting leaves. But then you remember your mother warning you about leeches in old leaves, and reluctantly compose yourself. As you carefully walk around the pile of leaves as a proper adult, you mutter to yourself: “Bloody nature! I can’t even jump in a pile of leaves without getting covered in horrible leeches!”
No. Piles of leaves aren’t full of leeches. Most leeches live under water in shallow ponds or small streams, In fact, there are only a few known species of terrestrial leeches in temperate regions (3 in America and 1 in Europe), and even they are mostly found very close to water, like under the bark of partially submerged logs or in patches of wet moss in marshes and bogs.
And even if you did happen to find a leech on land it wouldn’t be of the parasitic blood-sucking kind. Terrestrial leeches in northern parts of the world only feed on small invertebrates like slugs and worms.
Things are slightly different in the southern hemisphere though. If you were to trek in an South-East Asian rain forest, you would no doubt encounter parasitic land leeches. In some places they’re so numerous that it might look like the whole ground is moving when you get close. They have heat sensors to alert them of potential hosts walking past, and will move towards you en masse.
But unless you live in South-East Asia or Australia, there is no risk of getting covered with leeches when jumping into a pile of leaves. And if you do live ‘down under’, there are far worse things to worry about in fallen leaves, like giant centipedes, hairy Tarantulas or any number of highly venomous vipers.
So I believe the main reason your parents warned you about leeches in piles of leaves was because they didn’t want you to get your clothes dirty. Or possibly because they’ve just spent the whole afternoon raking all the fallen leaves into a nice big pile and wouldn’t have appreciated you kicking it out all over the garden again.
10. Don’t let your kids eat the blue M&M’s!
Reports of a chemical in blue M&M’s that make kids hyperactive have had parents frantically go through bags of M&M’s and secretively discarding the blue ones before their children got hold of them. Apparently, the colouring used in the blue M&M’s effects your children’s brains and make them go crazy.
No. Blue M&M’s will not make your kids go nuts. The food dye that is used to colour blue M&M’s is called Brilliant Blue FCF, and it has been extensively studied over many years. Even though it is true that the compound wasn’t allowed in several countries some years back, it’s now widely acknowledged that Brilliant Blue FCF is safe for human consumption and it is currently allowed as a food additive in most countries.
In addition, the National Institutes of Health has confirmed that the dye does not in fact cause hyperactivity, which, to be honest, is something I could have told them for free. (I’ve eaten my fair share of blue M&M’s and I’m still the same old lazy bugger I’ve always been.)
Rather, recent studies (Warning: contains a picture of rather a blue rat) has shown that Brilliant Blue could have medical benefits by helping to repair damaged nerves in spinal injuries. Experiment has demonstrated that, if given quickly after the trauma, major damages to nerve cells can be avoided or even reversed. A potential downside would be that the patient’s skin would take on a blue colour (although this effect is temporary), so expect to see a few blue-skinned patients in hospitals’ intensive-care units in the future.
To summarise, there is no risk involved in you (or your kids) enjoying all the different colours of M&M’s – even the blue ones. You will not go nuts. And, if you happened to suffer a horrible spinal injury, having just munched a handfull of blue M&M’s could make all the difference*!
* Not really. For one thing you would need to inject the dye, rather than take it orally. And secondly it’s not actually Brilliant Blue FCF that is required, but a similar dye called Brilliant Blue G.