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Zooming In: Visualizing the Relative Size of Particles

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Zooming In: Visualizing the Relative Size of Particles

View the full-size version of this infographic.

Lately, the world’s biggest threats have been microscopic in size.

From the global COVID-19 pandemic to wildfires ripping through the U.S. West Coast, it seems as though our lungs can’t catch a break, or more aptly, a breath.

But just how small are the particles we’re currently battling? And how does their size compare to other tiny molecules?

Specks Too Small to See

While the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is relatively small in size, it isn’t the smallest virus particle out there.

Both the Zika virus and the T4 Bacteriophage—responsible for E. coli—are just a fraction of the size, although they have not nearly claimed as many lives as COVID-19 to date.

Coronavirus particles are smaller than both red or white blood cells, however, a single blood cell is still virtually invisible to the naked eye. For scale, we’ve also added in a single human hair as a benchmark on the upper end of the size range.

ParticlesAverage Size (microns, μm)
Zika virus45nm
T4 Bacteriophage225nm
Coronavirus
COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2)
0.1-0.5μm
Bacterium1-3μm
Light dust particle1μm
Dust particle: PM2.5≤2.5μm
Respiratory droplets containing COVID-195-10μm
Red blood cell7-8μm
Dust particle: PM10≤10μm
Pollen grain
15μm
White blood cell25μm
Visibility threshold
(Limit of what the naked eye can see)
10-40μm
Grain of salt60μm
Fine beach sand90μm
Human hair50-180μm

On the other end of the spectrum, pollen, salt, and sand are significantly larger than viruses or bacteria. Because of their higher relative sizes, our body is usually able to block them out—a particle needs to be smaller than 10 microns before it can be inhaled into your respiratory tract.

Because of this, pollen or sand typically get trapped in the nose and throat before they enter our lungs. The smaller particles particles, however, are able to slip through more easily.

Smoky Skies: Air Pollution and Wildfires

While the virus causing COVID-19 is certainly the most topical particle right now, it’s not the only speck that poses a health risk. Air pollution is one of the leading causes of death worldwide—it’s actually deadlier than smoking, malaria, or AIDS.

One major source of air pollution is particulate matter, which can contain dust, dirt, soot, and smoke particles. Averaging around 2.5 microns, these particles can often enter human lungs.

At just a fraction of the size between 0.4-0.7 microns, wildfire smoke poses even more of a health hazard. Research has also linked wildfire exposures to not just respiratory issues, but also cardiovascular and neurological issues.

Here’s an animated map by Flowing Data, showing how things heated up in peak wildfire season between August-September 2020:

What’s the main takeaway from all this?

There are many different kinds of specks that are smaller than the eye can see, and it’s worth knowing how they can impact human health.

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Ranked: Top 10 Deadliest Animals for Humans

Dogs may be our best friends, but as a carrier of the rabies virus, they end up fourth on the list of top 10 deadliest animals.

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A cropped chart ranking the top 10 deadliest animals by the number of people killed per year.

Ranked: Top 10 Deadliest Animals for Humans

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

While running into wild animals in a forest can seem like the worst situation for humans, there are plenty of other animals that are far deadlier than large predators.

We rank the top 10 deadliest animals by the number of people killed per year. Data for this visualization and article is sourced from BBC Science Focus.

Spreaders of Diseases are Deadliest for Humans

Mosquitoes, of course, are the reigning champions on the toll they take on humans. Every year they kill more than 700,000 people through a multitude of deadly diseases—dengue, yellow fever, and malaria.

By some estimates, mosquitoes are responsible for the deaths of half of all the humans that have ever lived.

RankAnimalHumans Killed Annually
1🦟 Mosquitoes*725,000
2👫 Humans**400,000
3🐍 Snakes138,000
4🐕 Dogs*59,000
5🐜 Assassin Bugs*10,000
6🦂 Scorpions3,300
7🐊 Crocodiles1,000
8🐘 Elephants600
9🦛 Hippos500
10🦁 Lions200

Note: *Spreads diseases. **Homicides only.

Meanwhile, humans are (almost) their own worst enemies. Every year, nearly 400,000 homicides take place, making humans the second-deadliest animal for other human beings. And this doesn’t account for all the human-caused accidents that result in fatalities.

At fourth place, dogs may be our best friends, but as a carrier of the deadly rabies virus, they end up fourth on the list of top 10 deadliest animals.

Rounding out the top five are assassin bugs, which spread the parasite that causes Chagas disease, a condition that can go untreated for years and can result in serious complications that make it life-threatening.

Large mammals, including lions, hippos, and elephants round out the top 10. Interestingly, bears kill around one person a year on average and wouldn’t be anywhere close to making this list of the deadliest animals.

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