Stories tagged the horror

Jan
30
2009

Into flow charts?: This is a flow chart of a relationship. Start at the bioluminescent spike, and end at the parasitic gonads.
Into flow charts?: This is a flow chart of a relationship. Start at the bioluminescent spike, and end at the parasitic gonads.Courtesy steev-o
It’s Friday (T.G.I.F.), Buzzketeers, and you all know what that means. That’s right, it’s time for the Science Buzz Friday Relationship Extravaganza! (S.B.F.R.E.)

I know how much y’all like relationships, and how much you like talking about them, so it’s only natural that you clicked on the S.B.F.R.E. so quickly. But that’s not all! See, here at the S.B.F.R.E., “relationship” is also a code word for… S-E-X! Oh, naughtiest of naughties! It’s a red-letter day! Relationships and S-E-X-ual science… y’all had better sit down.

Seriously, sit down. Make yourselves comfortable. Now, I want y’all to know that this is a safe space, and we should be free to say whatever we’re feeling. Good, good… I think we’re about ready to start.

So… I understand that you feel like he has some real problems in communicating his feelings?

Why do you think that is?

No, I’m sorry, let’s let him finish—we’ll all have a chance to talk, and it’s his turn right now.

OK. I think I see what you’re saying. How do you want him to communicate? What do you wish he would say to you?

And how does that make you feel? Is that something you can do? OK… Why do you think you’re not being listened to?

I see.

Well, let’s look at it this way: at least y’all aren’t anglerfish. You know anglerfish, right, Buzzketeers? Anglerfish include those awful deep sea fish, with the big eyes, and teeth all over the place, and a glowing spike sticking out of their awful, lumpy heads. You know what I’m talking about. You saw those pictures, and then learned that they were only a few inches long, but were still kind of grossed out. And maybe some holier-than-thou biologist type pointed out to you that they weren’t gross, they were just fish that had made some spectacular adaptations to their environment, and were just living their lives like every other animal.

Well, don’t worry, you were right in the first place: angler fish really are awful and gross.

See, when they first discovered these creepy anglerfish, scientists were only finding female specimens. No males at all. So where’s the relationship relationship?

Well, eventually they did find some males, and some remarkable observations were made. The male anglerfish were pretty normal in their youth, but once they reached sexual maturity, their digestive systems degenerate. So they are unable to feed themselves. Naturally, what a mature male needs to do at that point is find a sugar momma. And fast (because, again, they’re starving to death). When the male tracks down a female anglerfish, he bites her, latching on to her body with his teeth. Enzymes in the male then break down its own mouth, as well as the female’s body, so that the two fish fuse together, to the point where they even share blood vessels. A source of sustenance now secured, the male kind of “lets itself go,” if you will. But instead of gaining weight and watching too much TV, the body of the male anglerfish, still fused with the female, degenerates, eventually becoming just a pair of gonads that hang off the female. When the first female anglerfish were discovered, scientists thought that they had parasites hanging off of them. Nope. Those were the remains of male anglerfish.

When the female is ready to release eggs, the gonads sense the change in hormone levels in the blood that still flows to them, and they release sperm, so that the eggs can be fertilized, and more horrible anglerfish can be created.

I don’t know who has it worse here—the female that has to nourish a pair of parasitic testicles (or multiple pairs), or the male, who has to latch on to a female to survive, and then becomes a pair of parasitic testicles. Either way, though, I think you’ll agree that your own messed up relationship seems pretty ideal right now, doesn’t it?

So remember, until the next Science Buzz Friday Relationship Extravaganza, keep your emotions bottled up, and if you’re ever feeling bummed out about things, just think of the never-lonely anglerfish.

Nov
12
2008

A regular flaming ball: Flaming DEATH balls are on back order, I'm afraid. Also, the Pentagon doesn't really like talking about them for some reason.
A regular flaming ball: Flaming DEATH balls are on back order, I'm afraid. Also, the Pentagon doesn't really like talking about them for some reason.Courtesy mynameisharsha
Imagine being burned to death. Ugh. Just awful. And, sometimes, we soft little human beings with families and goofy favorite foods do it to other soft little human beings with families and gross old pets that they love. On purpose.

Burning each other to death is an old human trick, but it really makes one wonder if we ought to totally re-think what is even remotely acceptable in our conflicts.

That said… check this out.

Weaponized, flaming, rocket, bouncy-balls. Holy cats. The Pentagon has developed what are essentially hollow bouncy balls made of rubberized rocket fuel. They have one little hole that acts as a vent, so when they are ignited they are propelled by a stream of 1000-degree exhaust to ricochet randomly around the inside of a structure.

Did you ever take one of those rubber super balls and just wail it into a room, hoping that your face wasn’t going to be in whatever path it chose in its crazy bouncings*? This would be sort of like that, but way hotter and faster.

You have to admit… it’s kind of cool.

Using explosives to destroy a facility housing or building weapons of mass destruction is a bad idea, because they can cause materials of mass destruction to be scattered everywhere. But filling the same structure with super-hot, flaming bouncy balls would pretty much wreck everything just as well, without blasting radioactive material all over a city.

Flaming death balls. Whoa.

*Are you trying to say you haven’t ever done that? Your loss.

The best part of your day: It's thinking about liquefying the insides of a bird.
The best part of your day: It's thinking about liquefying the insides of a bird.Courtesy Shreeg88
Things are looking up today, right?

Wrong! Look, a giant spider eating a bird!

The spider is a Golden Orb Weaver, and the bird is unlucky. It's known that larger specimens of orb weavers will occasionally eat birds, but it's very rare. So enjoy it.

Aug
19
2008

A tapeworm: like a friend that will always be with you. A friend that's taller than you are. Living in your intestines.
A tapeworm: like a friend that will always be with you. A friend that's taller than you are. Living in your intestines.Courtesy Savadorjo
I just came across this tasty little item on CNN.com: A Chicago man recently passed a nine-foot-long tapeworm, which he believes to have gotten from undercooked salmon.

I’m not sure of the best way to express my feelings on this subject, so let’s just talk about tapeworms.

Tapeworms are, of course, parasitic flatworms. Humans can become infected with tapeworms by consuming food or water contaminated with the eggs or larvae of the worm. You might not think it, but whether one is infested with eggs or larva can make a big difference. If you accidentally eat the eggs, the larvae that hatch from them may migrate out of your intestines, and make little cystic homes in other parts of your body, like your lungs or liver. These cysts are both super gross, and super dangerous—you can die from them, and treatment is difficult. If, on the other hand, you unwittingly eat tapeworm larvae, it’s much more likely that the baby worm will snuggle up in your guts, and eat what you eat. This is super gross, and still pretty bad for you, and it’s best if you avoid it.

If you do get a tapeworm living in your intestines, as the man in the story did, you may suffer from nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, weakness, and loss of weight. Or you might not demonstrate any symptoms at all. But you’ll still have a huge worm living inside you.

There are a variety of tapeworm types that might infect you, including the beef tapeworm, the pork tapeworm, the dwarf tapeworm, and the fish tapeworm. Some tapeworms go through their whole lifecycle inside one host, developing from egg to larva to adult, while others attach themselves to the lining of the intestine, and others still allow themselves to be passed (into the toilet).

According to the Mayo clinic’s page on tapeworms, adult worms can grow up to fifty feet inside their hosts. So, all things considered, the Chicago guy should feel lucky.

Tapeworm eggs can be passed from one person to another via… stool… so be sure to wash your hands. Constantly.

Jun
24
2008

Nothing to do with the cat, actually: She just realized that she forgot her cell phone.
Nothing to do with the cat, actually: She just realized that she forgot her cell phone.Courtesy dieselbug2007
How has your day been so far? Good? I suppose it’s a little early to be asking that.

Depending on how you feel about no-faced cats, your day may be about to take a dive, or really look up.

When I say “no-faced cat,” what I mean is “a real cat with no face.” This one, in particular.

Not only has Chase recuperated beautifully from having her face and leg removed, but she’s started a blog!

Medicine is amazing, cats are amazing, and the Internet is amazing.

Who knew a cat could even type?

Jun
23
2008

It's probably not the worst day in this caterpillar's life: But it's the worst day it will remember.
It's probably not the worst day in this caterpillar's life: But it's the worst day it will remember.Courtesy The Agricultural Research Service
That’s a lie, really—If I suddenly discovered that I had the ability to lay eggs inside a living caterpillar, I would probably have myself sealed in a basement. An eternity of being bricked off in an alcove is probably preferable to an all-encompassing desire to stab an ovipositor into moth larvae.

Unless you’re a wasp. It seems that the world, in its unceasing attempts to gross us out, has come up with something new: a wasp that lays eggs in a caterpillar. That, obviously, is nothing remarkable—all sorts of things stick their offspring in other things. This wasp, however, turns the caterpillar into a zombie guardian of the wasp larvae as they hatch and crawl out of its body. Oh, man! What a trick!

So, the wasp larvae hatch (again, inside the body of the caterpillar), and then chew their way out of its body. Once they’re out, and doing…whatever it is parasitic wasp larvae do (Sega Genesis?), the caterpillar stops eating, remains close to the larvae, and uses its head as a club, thrashing its body to beat away any predators.

I’m sure that all the other little wasplings are super jealous of those who have huge zombie bodyguards, but, more than that, research has shown that zombie caterpillar bodyguards increase chances of larvae survival by 200%.

So, to refine my earlier statement, if I could turn caterpillars into zombie servants, I would. But not if it meant that I had to lay little JGordon eggs in them. Yuck. I don’t think that’s how I was born (although my mother has always been pretty vague on the subject, and my father always refused to discuss it at all).

May
10
2008

It's brown and the consistency of motor oil...: But what does it smell like?
It's brown and the consistency of motor oil...: But what does it smell like?Courtesy Jill Greenseth
Here at Science Buzz, we strive to keep all y’all Buzzketeers surfing on crest of the new wave, sliding down the cutting edge of the razor that is the future, and, um, up to date on new things. With this in mind, I thought it was important to inform you of the latest, greatest craze in dealing with your useless dead body: alkaline hydrolysis. For everyone already in the know, please just put your heads down on your desks, and wait quietly while the rest of us catch up. Thank you.

Alkaline hydrolysis is, if possible, even cooler than it sounds, and as simple as ABC, but I’ll walk you through it from the beginning. So… You’re born (embarrassing!), you go to prom (best night ever), you live your life (boooring), and then you die. And then what? You’ve got this dead body on your hands, and it’s too big for the garbage disposal in the sink, and Goodwill won’t accept them any more, so what are you supposed to do? Bury it? Yeah, if you’re some kind of chump. Oh, hey, why not bury your body? People have only been doing that for, like, thousands of years. Please. You wouldn’t wear sunglasses from a thousand years ago—everybody would know how lame you are—so why bury your lousy body like they would then? What else…a Viking funeral, maybe? Well, I hate to break it to you, but there some things are just too cool, and most people can’t pull them off. For your average dead Joe, trying to go out with a Viking funeral would be like…like wearing an Armani suit to your fish gutting job—not the right fit.

Fortunately, for the rest of us, technology has come through and offered a fancy new way to go: dissolving your body in lye. One minute you’re a sad, dead old man lying on a slab, and a few hours later you’re a “brown, syrupy residue” ready to be dumped out on the street. This is alkaline hydrolysis.

Basically what happens is this: you’re put into a large tank filled with a lye solution, heated up to 300 degrees, and submitted to about 60 pounds of pressure per square inch (about the same as the pressure in a bicycle tire). It’s like being in a pressure cooker, kind of, but a little more intense. What’s left when you’re done cooking are a few little crunchy solids, and a “coffee-colored liquid with the consistency of motor oil and a strong ammonia smell,” which can be safely poured down the drain (or toilet, depending on your preference). Or maybe you could have it misted over the guests at your funeral service. Anything’s possible!Another body prepared in lye: but this one is for eating!
Another body prepared in lye: but this one is for eating!Courtesy hilderbrant

Alkaline hydrolysis is currently only legal—in medical facilities—in Minnesota (yes!) and New Hampshire, but some folks are pushing to have it become a legal process at funeral homes around the country. It’s environmentally cleaner, they argue, than cremation, and doesn’t require the physical space of burial. It would hardly be the grossest thing dumped down our drains, too, as blood and spillover embalming fluid are routinely flushed away at funeral homes. Opponents point out that it’s kind of yucky. Also, some believe that the process is an “undignified” way to treat a human body. To this I say, “True, sir, true, but you know what else is undignified? Belly shirts. And we’ve gotten used to those. Some people even like them.”

So, yeah, get used to it folks. The future is now, and it’s brown, syrupy, and smells like a litter box.

May
03
2008

A harmless bot fly: kind of cute, really.
A harmless bot fly: kind of cute, really.Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Have you thrown up yet today?

Oh, you haven’t? That’s fine if you haven’t. Not even an issue, really.

Forget that. Let’s go and learn about science!

Have y’all heard of the bot fly? They’re a little gray fly, native to the Americas, and they’ve got the most fascinating life-cycle.

Just a second—it feels like there’s a tiny person with diarrhea camping out in my stomach. Sorry, that was totally unrelated.

Anyway, the bot fly has a remarkable life cycle, especially the bot fly species dermatobia hominis. Pupating in the soil, the adult d. hominis emerges after about a week, and sets out looking for a mate and a mosquito. Once the bot fly finds and catches a mosquito, surprisingly, it doesn’t hurt the captured insect at all. The fly just attaches its own eggs to the mosquito’s body.

Now, I know what you’re thinking—you’re thinking that this is going to be one of those bugs that lays its eggs in another insect and leaves it alive so that when the eggs hatch the new larva can eat the living host. Get that thought out of your head right now; it’s simply not the case.

Oh, man, I feel like I’m salivating a lot. And burping.

Anyway, now we have this mosquito giving bot fly eggs a friendly lift. The mosquito goes about its life, looking for a blood meal. When the mosquito finds a mammal to drink from (usually a monkey or a person in the case of d. hominis), the eggs hatch, and the itty-bitty bot fly larva drop off the mosquito on to its host. The larvas then crawl into the tiny hole conveniently provided by the mosquito, and make a little home for themselves. For the next eight weeks, they feed off the tissue under the skin of their host until they grow into a large grub, about three quarters of an inch long, ringed with strong, hooked barbs, which make extracting the larva quite difficult and painful. Once the eight weeks are up, they chew their way out of the skin, and drop to the ground, where they burrow into the dirt. And about a week later…an adult fly is born once again! Isn’t nature a miracle?

Wait! Don’t leave yet! I have something else for you: a video I like to call The miracle of (bot fly) birth. I can’t make you watch it, but you probably should.

Now I think I have to go lie down and take some deep breaths

Apr
30
2008

The AMNH's famous squid and whale.: Pretty cool, but not as good as The House on the Rock's under appreciated masterpiece.
The AMNH's famous squid and whale.: Pretty cool, but not as good as The House on the Rock's under appreciated masterpiece.Courtesy Fritz Geller-Grimm
And if you were bad? What do you become then? A hagfish. And if you were really bad? You become a tufted titmouse, nature’s pervert. Do you know what a titmouse thinks about all day? It thinks about ways to incorporate animal abuse* into really dirty jokes.

Ah, but if you were good, if you were really good, then when you die you become a colossal squid, nature’s video arcade, nature’s He-man, nature’s candy. Normally I detest mollusks—how can you trust something so different? I wouldn’t make friends with an annelid, why should I treat mollusks any differently?—but the colossal squid, and its gracile cousin, the giant squid… they’re something special. Huge, big-brained, terrifying sperm whale food, just hiding out in the deep. When angels see giant squid, they get jealous—check it out, it’s in the bible.

But what made me think of the colossal squid just now? Good question, but unnecessary—I think about the colossal squid all of the time. It just so happens, however, that the big squid is in the news.

You may recall that in February of last year the first ever intact colossal squid was captured by a fishing boat, and then flash frozen for future study. If you don’t recall, let technology do it for you. Well, the time has come for the frosty squid to get its once- and twice-overs.

Initial examination determined that the squid was an adult, and, at about a thousand pounds, the largest cephalopod ever documented. Shorter but much heavier than the giant squid, the specimen was only 4.2 meters (about 15 feet) long, although it’s believed that the creature’s two longest tentacles probably “shortened and shrank” after it died (the squid was eating a toothfish when the fishermen snagged it, and was still slightly alive when they finally got it on board). Before the tentacles shrank, the squid could have been several meters longer.

Marine biologists have determined from the recent study of the body, however, that the beast was far from being fully grown; judging by the development of its beak (squids have beaks! Check this out!) the scientists figured that the squid could have grown five or six hundred pounds beyond its already impressive weight.

The scientists also observed that the squid’s eyes, when alive, probably measured about a foot across. The eyes of colossal squid are the largest of any known living creature (I think some extinct ichthyosaurs came close, though). Often living a mile or more beneath the surface of the ocean, squid need huge eyes to see in the low light.

To help grip their prey, the suckers on giant squid’s tentacles are lined with tiny teeth. The colossal squid has something similar, and slightly more awesome: the biologists found hundreds of sharp, swiveling hooks on the suckers at the ends of the colossal squid’s tentacles. Sperm whales, which feed on giant and colossal squid, are often covered with slashes and circular scars from the tentacles of struggling squid.

Interestingly enough, the team of biologists admitted to eating part of another colossal squid that was under examination. This I understand—who wouldn’t want to take some of the strength of a colossal squid for their own. The meal was described as being “very much like sashimi” and “nice.” One scientist also said that “it left a real taste in your mouth and stayed there for quite a while,” which doesn’t necessarily sound “nice.”

I’m always looking for reasons to talk about colossal and giant squid, so if you’re into that keep your eyes peeled at Science Buzz. Until then, though, be good. Otherwise you might end up as a sneaky hagfish, filthy little titmouse.

*Thanks to Thor for the link.

Feb
17
2008

Roborat 1.0: Future models, I expect, will have teeth. Lots of teeth.
Roborat 1.0: Future models, I expect, will have teeth. Lots of teeth.Courtesy The Weizmann Institute of Science
The way that scientists seem to be able to read my mind, or at least predict the things I’ll want, is frightening to me sometimes. Frightening in the best way, of course, like how a birthday party is frightening.

See, just the other day I was lying on the floor of my room, thinking about rats. I was thinking about how great rats are, and wishing that there was some way to increase the ratty-ness of the world. Because, for all the great things about rats, they still have their drawbacks. Their size, for one—rats can get pretty big, but, in my opinion, not nearly big enough. Also, rats die. Could there possibly be a way, I wondered, there on the floor, to create a rat that can’t die? Maybe a whole race of undying rats? Dreams, I thought, just dreams…

Not so. Scientists have done their thing (science) and created a robotic “whiskered” rat (and remember, robots can’t die, not really). And don’t change your pants just yet, not until you hear this—the robo-rat is also four times the size of a real rat! Where dreams end and reality begins is no longer obvious to me!

The “whiskers” of the robot are intended to allow it to identify objects through touch (an angle largely ignored in robotics). Using this powerful sense, researchers say, “the whiskered robot will be able to quickly locate, identify and capture moving objects.” Wonderful! All that sentence needs is for a “kill” to be inserted, and we’ll have perfection.

Oddly enough, the creation of a giant, blind, robotic rat is not the ultimate goal of this research. By building a robot to that mimics an animal’s senses, scientists hope to learn more about the way the brain processes and interprets data gathered by these senses. The step-by-step construction of this “brain like system” allows scientists to find the most efficient and accurate methods of interpreting sense data, and the result is likely very similar to the brain’s own processes. The results of a project like this one might eventually be applied to the construction of machines, for instance, that could be used “in rescue missions, as well as search missions under conditions of restricted visibility.” Or, ideally, to fill the nights of the future with huge, metal rats.