Category: Weird Experiments


mushroom cloud box jellyfish

Two causes of the sense of impending doom. Note uncanny similarity.

by chelsea schuyler

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An Actual Scientific Symptom

Winner of best science symptom contest: ‘a sense of impending doom.’ I love it when scientists are forced use their words.

twilight cover

No! You have so much (else) to live (read) for!

And this isn’t your gloomy, sullen, withdraw-from-the-world (because patriarchy), plunge into a Twilight binge kind of impending doom. This is a violent, fear-ridden, panicked sense of impending doom.

When I wrote a blog about common fruits and vegetables bent on our destruction (Produce, Prodeath), I was delighted to find that overindulging on nutmeg can cause nutmeg psychosis, which includes ‘feelings of impending doom.’

Well, it was recently brought to my attention by a fan (thanks Michelle!) that there is yet another source of this jolly symptom – the jellyfish.

The Culprit

Not just any jellyfish of course, but the giant, ship-drowning, MEGAJELLY!!!! One assumes.

blue tang and box jelly

I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy

Wrong! Actually it’s a tiny, translucent, four-armed box jelly of the “Squishy” variety.

But still, fear it! Make no mistake, this single centimetered fraud can cause wide-spread hysteria and agony in the body. Included is the ever awesome ‘sense of impending doom.’

It’s called Irukandji syndrome, after the aboriginal tribe that had lived in the region with the most cases. (Always name a horrendous syndrome after a marginalized people, because every little racist bit helps.)

aborigines

Aborigines: “It’s just that there’s been so little to demonize us lately”

Checklist of Doom

Victims of the unassuming Carukia barnesi jellyfish become so utterly convinced that they’re going to die that “they’ll actually beg their doctors to kill them just to get it over with,” according to Australian biologist and jellyfish expert Lisa Gershwin.

It’s not just some psychological psychobabble either, there’s plenty of evidence to help them feel quite confident of suffering their last hours. Mainly:

  • excruciating back pain (“similar to an electric drill drilling into your back” – Gershwin again.)
  • nausea accompanied by vomiting EVERY 90 SECONDS for up to 12 hours

    drill | The Chelsea Scrolls

    The experience is a drilling adventure ride.

  • full body cramps
  • raining sweat
  • the perception that you can’t breathe
  • pain when moving any muscle, which might be okay except for:
  • muscle restlessness

It’s a sneaky thing too – you don’t even know that you’ve been stung. With regular jellyfish, you know it immediately by a searing pain, throbbing, and blistering. But with this little jelly, you know nothing Jon Snow. Until about half an hour later, with the vomiting and the dooming.jon snow, kit harrington | The Chelsea Scrolls

Totally Moral Test Subjects

Because of this doom delay, it actually took a long time to figure out what exactly was causing this horrendous hellflood. But after studying currents and patterns and stuff, scientist Jack Barnes figured he had it figured. But how to know for sure?

Good ole Science Jack is hangin out on an Australian beach. He thinks he’s found the rascal culprit causing this terrible syndrome, so he nabs some teeny box jellies to prove it. But who does he test them out on?

fingers | The Chelsea Scrolls

I bequeath unto you, my son, my unbridled  inappropriateness

Well, himself of course. No potential movie rights are complete without the stereotyped, obsessive scientist blazing through the scientific method with enough overconfidence and impatience to self-stun. (Must I always have to reference The Fly?)

But why take just your own word for it, Jack? Better include more subjects.

Hey look, a 9-year-old boy that happens to be your son. Definitely. Why spare your child the maturity of depressing worldviews that only a harrowing experience of impending doom can bring?

lifeguard tower | The Chelsea Scrolls

Um..lifeguard? Lifeguard?

Hmm, how about just one more. Ah, the lifeguard. Looking at a beach’s worth of possible subjects, the lifeguard certainly serves the least use.

The Results

And so, using his plethora of diverse subjects (three, slightly-differently-aged, white males), we have our experiment! Ah, the days before an Institutional Review Board.

After 40 minutes, Barnes reported that “the abdominal musculature of the three subjects was in unrelenting spasm…subjects were seized with a remarkable restlessness, …stamping about aimlessly winging their arms, flexing and extending their bodies, and generally twisting and writhing”. That’ll do jellyfish, that’ll do.

Not doubt his son is proud that his traumatizing experience, subsequent trust issues, and years of therapy could help put the ‘Barnes’ in C. barnesi. Sorry kid, your dad was an A-hole. Science!

Should I Pee On It?

nutmeg jellyfish chelsea scrolls

Nutmeg and jellies, in it together…how, why?

So what do you do if you get stung? By this, or any jellyfish for that matter? Well, first, don’t worry,  arguably only two people have died from the impending doom jellyfish (the exact same death toll for nutmeg psychosis! Coincidence?).

Next ask yourself: “Am I in Australia and vomiting by the minute?” If yes, go to the hospital.

If no, and therefore it’s definitely just a regular jellyfish sting, then first things first: DO NOT pee on it. This is a great general rule for fixing most problems.

friends monica and joey | The Chelsea Scrolls

sorrowful humiliation

Remember that Friends when Monica pees on Joey’s jellyfish sting and it worked? Yeah, don’t do that. Cuz it won’t.

See, when jellyfish sting, they leave behind a bunch of stinger cells in you called cnidocytes (vermicious knid…o-cites). Inside these cells are little ticking time bombs – organelles called nematocysts. These explode with venom at the slightest jostle.

Don’t scratch it – that will set off the bombs. Don’t pour your water bottle on it either. See, the inside and outsides of cells are always trying to be in balance. Water outside a cell makes there be an imbalance of solutes, so cells will release solutes to make the outside equal the inside. Freshwater therefore draws solutes out of cells, which also happens to make the nematocysts release more pain juice.

Urine, as it turns out, can act a lot like freshwater, so you might actually feel more pain, not just the humiliation of a story you will never live down.

What Does Work?

warning sign | chelsea scrolls blog

Absolutely no fun-having on this Australian beach. Also, every danger is present. Use vinegar.

Turns out, vinegar and it’s 5% acetic acidness is just the thing. And talk about convenient, as what self-respecting beach trip is complete without a good gallon of delicious vinegar?

Or you can just avoid Australia, as this sign seems to imply. But, like celibacy, where’s the fun in that?

(Speaking of nonwhizzing, this blog brought you by the memory of Ren & Stimpy and the game they introduced to the world:)

Photos in public domain except:
box jelly – photo by Forgerz, CC by SA 3.0
twilight – photo by norika21, CC by SA 2.0
jellyfish in tube – photo by GondwanaGirl, CC by SA 3.0
jon snow (Kit Harrington) – photo by Kevin Dougherty, CC by 2.0
“Friends” – photo by Peter Pham, CC by 2.0

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ivan pavlov

Science’s Santa Claus, Ivan Pavlov

by chelsea schuyler

PAVLOV – NOT THE FRIENDLY (science) GIANT?

What (we think) Pavlov taught us: ring a bell before feeding time, and a dog will learn to associate the bell with food, and salivate just at the ring of it.

Wait, we can trigger automatic reflexes with mere association? Epic! This concept of ‘classical conditioning’ has led to treatments of phobias as well as effective marketing.

pavlov experiment

DIY dog drool

We love Pavlov because this experiment sounds like a nice, friendly one you could do at home with full PETA approval.

Even the apparatus just involves loose rope to hold the dog at a wooden structure, and a little test tube attached to the jowls to catch and measure the saliva. Kinda neat.

pavlov dog

Taxidermy dog of Pavlov with test tube accessory. Because nothing is sacred

However, there are two things wrong with the previous impressions:

  1. Pavlov may or may not have even used a bell.
  2. Pavlov was not kind to animals

Oh, and

  1. Americans are not kind to babies.

That third one is a bonus misassumption that I bet you didn’t even know you were assuming! Allow me to explain:

NERD DEBATES – DEFINE ‘BELL’

The best part of science is the nerd arguments among researchers – the red rage of their faces when debating whether T. Rex was a scavenger, or whether Neanderthals bred with humans – it’s the best part of any documentary.

spock

I fail to comprehend your indignation

yosemite sam

OOO!! that rackin’ frackin’…

The Spockian part of their conscience tells them to calm the F down and be presentable as a logical scientist, while the Yosemite Sam part is OOOOoooo!!! bursting with the Bunsen burner flames of the years of research at stake from this varmint!!

I’m not sure it got quite to this level, but in 1994, yet another mostly useless debate began about whether the famed Russian scientist in fact used a bell.

First guy: there’s no evidence he did
Second guy: yeah, it was the reporters misled us
Third: No, here are three instance that specifically say ‘bell’ in Pavlov’s writings
Fourth (or back to first? I’m lost now): but maybe ‘bell’ refers to an electronic sound?

…until even I was like OH MY GOD it’s so not the point! The only thing at stake is whether the joke “Does Pavlov ring a bell?” even works anymore.

WHAT PAVLOV ACTUALLY USED

michael jackson

Annie was in fact ‘okay’ according to science dogs

Whatever, regardless, Pavlov didn’t use bells often – what’s actually more interesting is what he did use, which includes a buzzer, a harmonium, a metronome, and electric shock.

And it didn’t just stop at one sound. For example, in one trial he only fed the dogs when the metronome was at 60 beats per minute. 120 beats per minute, no chow for you.

Interestingly, the dogs subsequently became more discerning, only salivating at the speed of say, the classic Michael Jackson original “Smooth Criminal”, while dry-mouthed at the spastic Alien Ant Farm version.

NOBEL PRIZE IGNORES BELLS, PRAISES TORTURE

Pavlov did win a Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine but not for his (non)bell experiments. It was actually for researching the digestive system of mammals, via dogs.

Horrifyingly, this involved surgically removing their esophagus and adding a tube so that the food would just fall right back into the bowl. Pavlov would measure the gastric juices that the stomach (from another tube) makes when expecting to get humanely treated, I mean, fed.

Meanwhile, another tube was inserted into the stomach so the gastric juices could be collected and measured. …And then sold as a treatment for dyspepsia – digestive trouble. Let the irony sink in there for a minute.

pavlov dogs

Pepto bismol factory of old

This was a good side business – some dogs could reportedly drop a thousand cubic centimeters of gastric goodness a day! (Which is like a quart, but sounds way impressive to Americans cuz of the word ‘thousand’ and because metric jargon is inconceivable to us. “This lettuce is five thousand cents per kilogram – it’s an outrage!”)

I guess we didn’t really know anything about digestion, so, this was epic.

AMERICA JUMPS ON THE TORTURE TRAIN

Okay, so Ivan “Dr. Moreau” Pavlov removed parts of dogs to catch the fluids at every part of the digestive system. Many dogs didn’t survive the surgeries let alone enjoy being Dr. Suessian machines behind curtains, but don’t give all the heinousness credit to the Russians.

frog

Frogs everywhere however, would like to thank Pavlov for his subject choices

First of all, Pavlov was kind of anti-Russian. He called Marx a fool, wrote to Stalin that he was “ashamed to be called a Russian”, and said publicly “For the kind of social experiment that [Russia is] making, I would not sacrifice a frog’s hind legs!” to which his dog subjects were moderately offended.

Anyway, while Russia was removing any non-red citizens, America took Pavlov’s dog torture and brought it to the next level: babies and Santa Claus.

THE LITTLE ALBERT EXPERIMENT

John B Watson

American Horror story, John B Watson

Arguably (always arguably!) the greatest and most deplorable application of Pavlovian concepts was carried out by oft-cited American psychologist John B. Watson. In his famous ‘Little Albert’ experiment, he wished to show that he could turn what is naturally pleasant to all human children, furry things, into terrifying realizations of our nightmares.

He took a nine month old infant, and first simply allowed him to interact with a monkey, a rat, a rabbit, a dog, fur coats, etc. The child was happy and unphased.

Then Watson paired the items/animals with the deafening sound of a hammer hitting a steel bar behind from where the child could see. After doing this, well, more than once and therefore, a horrendous number of times over days, the child burst into tears at the mere sight of the fur of any his former plush pals.

john b watson and little alfred

dear god people

INCLUDING (and it doesn’t get better than this) Dr. Watson himself in a crude Santa mask with all the poofy white fur attached, on his hands and knees getting right up into the kid’s grill. Science!

P.S. The idea that Santa Claus produces an innately friendly response has been disproved by decades of photographic evidence of screaming children in shopping centers. Let alone an aggressive man-stranger with a mask a 4yr old could have glued together more tastefully.

THE PSYCHOLOGY TRAIN WRECK CONTINUES

But be comforted baby Albert, in a mere 54 years, they’ll make the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects. Oh, and sorry that Dr. Watson didn’t desensitize you. Why?

Rosalie Rayner

Rosalie ‘is this tainted?’ Rayner, who is: “unanimously in favor of breaking the mother attachment as early as possible”

Because he was fired. Not because of child abuse, no, but for having an affair with his grad student assistant, Rosalie Rayner, who later died young from eating tainted fruit. Because Watson, I guess, just wasn’t tainted enough.

But she managed to co-author the book Psychological Care of Infant and Child, in which she tells mothers thatWhen you are tempted to pet your child remember that mother love is a dangerous instrument.”

And because the fun never stops, she and Dr. Watson’s two children both suffered depression and  attempted suicide, with one saying that their upbringing “eroded [their] ability to deal effectively with human emotion.” You think?

DEBATE! WHERE’S ALBERT TODAY?

Little Albert

Have you seen me? I’m likely in therapy and frantically scrambling away from malls around Christmas time…

But why focus on the horrors of our past ideas of child-rearing when there’s a pointless debate to be had? Decades later some scientists dutifully wondered, where’s Albert now?

Some say that he was Douglas Merrite who was sadly sick with neurological problems (not divulged by Dr. Watson, and therefore totally disqualifying any results humanity can scrape from this disaster) who, also, died 5 years later.

But wait no – that kid would have been vastly underweight and clearly from the video (shown below!) he is not. So maybe it’s Albert Barger who reportedly disliked animals, especially dogs, and died 10 years ago! Let’s speculate with creepy, old timey video (Santa footage at 3:10)!

Photos are public domain except:
Pavlov drawing: photo by Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0
Taxidermy dog: photo by Rklawton, CC BY-SA 3.0
Spock: photo by e_chaya,  CC BY 2.0
Yosemite Sam: photo by Mark Anderson, CC BY 2.0
Five dogs: photo by Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0

old yeller poster rabies

Rabies poster child from Disney. Disney: tragically killing animals since 1957

by chelsea schuyler

The Zombie Apocalypse Was SO 131 Years Ago

rabid man

Besides agitation, hallucinations, loss of motor control, and death, rabies can also cause panic in association with water (hence the old name ‘hydrophobia’), as swallowing induces horribly painful spasms. The virus spreads through saliva from biting, so swallowing = less saliva = unpatriotic to the zombie cause.

While an excess of movies and books have been preparing us to meet an inevitable zombie apocalypse, fear not. We’ve actually been facing it for thousands of years, and are now simply in a post-apocalyptic residue phase.

Why? Because zombies are in fact tiny, itty-bitty viruses that eat brains and cause zombification, known more commonly as: rabies.

Think about it – super aggressive, no longer recognizable, frothing at the mouth, walking and moving all weird – total zombie. It even affects multiple mammals, just like I am Legend, Resident Evil, 28 Days Later, and other equally authoritative sources have shown.

Walk like a (rabid) Egyptian

Walk like a (rabid) Egyptian

Rabies is well described in writings by Egyptians dating back to 2300 B.C., but a vaccine was found in 1885.  So, slightly anticlimactically, this apocalypse has already happened, and now we’re left twitching and scarred to the tune of 55,000 people a year still getting it (mostly in Africa and Asia).

The Golden Years

Motherland!!

Motherland!!

But let me offer you a story of simpler times – a glorious age of “viper’s venom, crayfish eyes, and the liver of a mad dog.” The perfect witch’s brew? Why no, rabies treatments of course! Well, alternative treatments anyway. Naturally, the standard treatment was a red-hot iron at the site of the bite, which usually did nothing and the person died anyway.

This is why we all miss the old days, which was filled with dandy perks like pre-death scaldings, leeches, and blood-letting. Name an obscure animal part or barbaric practice – anything goes (went)!

But then a boring old white guy had to ruin it for everyone with ‘science’ or whatever. The story:

Rabies Cure Origin Story

Joseph Meister rabies survivor

Joseph “fiest” Meister himself

One day in October of 1885, in a town just like this one (not really), a small boy just about your age and size (if you are a 9 yr old French boy) was sent to town to fetch ingredients for his father’s bakery.

As little Joseph Meister made his way, he encountered a terrifying rabid dog that bit his hand and legs a total of 14 times. Luckily, a locksmith beat the dog away with an iron bar (locksmiths are SO handy!).

Who needs arrows and swords when you have locksmiths?

“Call the locksmith!” Takes on a whole new meaning.

The doctor came later that afternoon. You know, after the mini-zombies had had plenty of time to populate the body, establish a government, and draw up plans for a fully funded, full-scale brain takeover.

Here, let me just rabies that for you

Here, let me just rabies that for you

The doctor uselessly cauterized all 14 wounds, and left – because the horrific pain of being mauled by drooly fangs isn’t complete without the searing sensation of your own bludgeoned skin melting together. Don’t forget the lack of pain medication folks. Fun times all around!

The boy’s options at this point were a horrible slow death, or to be suffocated between mattresses – which was sometimes used to put victims out of their misery. It just gets better and better right? Simpler days…

Here, let me just mattress death that for you

Here, let me just death that for you

Luckily, rumor had it that a guy in Paris could help. Word spread to the parents, and the mangled, blistered boy was on the next bumpy wagon to the city of romance, a doubtlessly comfortable and restful trip.

Got Milk Disease?

MEANWHILE IN PARIS: people were not big fans of medical facilities – who needs science when you’ve got home visits from doctors with lava sticks at the ready?

Louis Pasteur with rabbit spine

Pasteur with the infinitely coolor science equipment of back in the day

So, scientists like Louis Pasteur had to make do with little money, but he did okay by figuring out how to prevent wine from ‘disease’ (going bad). Pasteur had suspected that a living organism was the culprit, and not a spontaneous generation of badness (the generally accepted idea).

He realized that if he heated the wine to a certain temperature he could kill it off. This procedure was passed on to milk (etc.) as well, and we now know it as ‘pasteurization’.

But because saving millions of people from botulism and the like is never enough, Louis Pasteur wanted to continue his work on little organisms and apply it to human disease.

Rabid Rabbits, Happy People

Though someone had made a smallpox vaccine, nobody really knew why it worked. Pasteur, however, was beginning to put two and two together (horrifying disease, tiny creatures (zombies)).

Louis Pasteur with rabbits

Pasteur and his hare-raising experiments. (Halloween pun – CHECK)

Pasteur grew rabies in the brains of a bunch of adorable rabbits (like ya do), then killed the rabbits and dried out the tissue to ‘weaken’ the virus.

He tried out the new vaccine on dogs with much success (because when you’re already brutalizing bunnies, why not generate more compassion from the public by throwing in a few puppies?).

Enter a terrified Madame Meister and a mutilated, sickly boy. Though unlicensed to practice medicine, Pasteur was persuaded to treat the boy, and it worked. The people rejoiced, forgave his malpractice, poured money into the lab, and came from all over the world to receive the rabies treatment. ‘Institut Pasteur’ thrives to this day as a non-profit studying micro-organisms, diseases, and vaccines.

Institut Pasteur

Epic gate of which Meister became the keeper (keymaster unknown).

Epilogue:

Happily: The boy grew up, sold the family bakery, and became the gatekeeper at the very Institute that saved his life. He married and had a couple of daughters.

Unhappily: When the Germans invaded France in 1940, Meister heard that his family had been killed in the bombings, and so committed suicide with gas. His wife and daughters returned just hours later, safe.

Nothing says Halloween like epic tragedy, eh?!

oregon rabies map

Best. Map. Ever. Fox has appealed to be removed from the legend due to lack of involvement.

 

Rabies Today

Rabies is still everywhere here in the US – in the saliva of usually wild animals, especially bats.

The only sure method for determining if an animal has rabies is to look for the virus in the brain. Which, I can say from veterinary experience, is done by literally cutting off the head with tree clippers (standard zombie kill treatment!!) and mailing it to a lab. Good to know that some barbarism still thrives.

Batman and any others whose primary workspace is a cave is advised to be vaccinated.

Batman and any whose primary workspace is a cave are advised to be vaccinated.

You can get the vaccine, but it’s expensive and you have to do it three times. So, only do so if you’re a vet or a field biologist. Or if you’re just really, really into bat-riddled cave exploration.

The frugal spelunker like myself can take comfort in the fact that you can get the vaccine even after being bitten by a suspicious animal. But be quick about it.

Oh, and by the way, according to the WHO, “Human-to-human transmission by bite is theoretically possible but has never been confirmed.”‘ Yet, my friends…yet.

Thanks to Danielle who requested this topic!

Photos are in the public domain except:
Crayfish: photo by Monica R., CC by 2.0
Institute gate: photo by Lamiot, CC by 3.0

Global Worming

genius in subtlety

genius in subtlety

by chelsea schuyler

National Geographic's HD full color detail helps us understand worms in comparison to what it really comes down to. Teacups.

Thank you National Geographic. We all understand now.

Why Do Earthworms Come Out in the Rain?

Behold the earthworm. I would like today to focus on this serpentine slime beast and point out some oddly unknown, awesome facts.

sandworm-size-chartYou mean, besides having FIVE hearts and yet never featuring on Valentine’s Day cards? besides being the only ones who know exactly what it’s like in a wormhole yet are never asked? besides grossing people out instead of getting respect for their role in the general health of basically All Land Everywhere? Yes.

A friend asked me “When it rains and the sidewalk is besieged by worms, are they trying to escape drowning in mud or are they happy for the opportunity to go swimming across the sidewalk?” As usual, I had never considered this. So I dun looked it up.

wormwhat?

a wormwhat? a whathole?

Hypothesis 1: Avoiding Drowning

Indeed, the common thought was that earthworms came up because they are trying to avoid drowning. Turns out this is a common mammalian, lung-centric assumption. Earthworms breathe through their skin, getting oxygen through diffusion, a process requiring moisture, so it’s actually being too dry that will make them suffocate. They can live submerged in water for days, even weeks. (Which I’m sure was discovered in a totally PETA approved experiment.)

Yet, didn’t we know this already? Fisherfolks, back me up here, if we can throw a worm into a river for hours and expect them to squirm for fish, whilst being speared with a metal hook no less, wouldn’t they be okay with a little moisture in their tubes?

Anyway, whatever, the point is we don’t think it’s a drowning thing anymore. Nor do we think they’re using the chance to mate cuz only a few species mate above ground (you wanna do it, up there? in front of god and everyone? Have some decency woman!).

mouth, hearts, and multiple genitalia, all up front

mouth, hearts, and multiple genitalia, all up front

(Remember that joke about the indecent feminine worm? Good times. But I should point out that earthworms are hermaphroditic, having both the girl parts and the guy parts, so leave your slut shaming comments to a min. kthanxbai)

Hypothesis 2: Exploration

My friend’s latter hypothesis (that worms just want to swim on sidewalks) turns out to be a pretty astute speculation. Our guess now is that rain time is a worm’s best chance to get around without a bunch of pesky dirt to chew through or sunshine to incinerate in.

Where no worm has swept the floor

Where no worm has lawned before

This is the superhighway of wormland, their continuing mission, to explore uncramped worlds and nontunneled civilizations–space being, indeed, the final frontier. Unfortunately, a lot of that space has been paved by cement-happy humans, which I think is the only sidewalk connection.

you went up to the surface again didn't you?

you went up to the surface again didn’t you?

But then again, I don’t get that we have the real motivation here, cuz it’s not like they never come out otherwise. They feed on plant litter at night, hence the early bird getting the worm, it’s still dark enough that the worms are out. And hence the alternate name, “nightcrawler.” So why all the craze when it rains? Wouldn’t they rather sleep in? A couple ideas:

Hypothesis 3, 4, 5, 6:

  • Sure they can survive for days in water, but maybe it’s totally uncomfortable being in suspended animation for that long.
  • Though worms are without eyes, there is still a sensor in their heads that can sense light so they won’t go vaporize themselves during the day. Maybe when it rains, the cloud cover makes it dark enough that they know a party on the surface is gonna rock.
  • Over-oxygenation. Ironically, scientists think that perhaps the worms are sensitive to the rush of oxygenated water. An ironic opposite of drowning.
  • Maybe they just got places to be. A guy’s gotta go to the grocery once in awhile you know?
Mole McWhack: not it

Mole McWhack: not it

Non-Hypothesis: Moles

One theory we can rule out, scientists assure us, is moles.

And thank god for that.

Did You Know: that if you shove a stick into the ground, then rake a flat piece of metal over the protruding end, over and over, the earthworms will sprint out of their holes like rats to a pied piper? It’s called worm-grunting, and there are festivals and competitions for it in Florida that got so out of hand they had to regulate it with permits to make sure they didn’t kill off all the worms in the state.

Sopchoppy, where the fun don't stop choppy

Sopchoppy, where the fun don’t stop choppy

Ah, Florida.

Anyway, it works because the vibration mimics the sound of a worm’s top enemy, the mole. How fisherman accidentally discovered this trick without knowledge of the mole factor is a mystery, but at least we can clear the proposed practice round to Whack-a-Mole, “Whisper-a-Worm,” for fact-checked accuracy.

Rain Experiment: Fail

Once scientists verified that worms erupt like fireworks in the presence of a mole, they wondered, ‘What if raindrops also sound like mole vibrations, and confuse the worms into emerging?’

But when they created rain onto worm-bins with 300 worms, only 6 emerged. After 24 hours of the soil being completely saturated with standing water on the surface, they examined the worms and all appeared to be healthy. Not afraid of drowning, and not thinking that rain was a mole. To which worms responded, “yeah, shocking. Screw you guys.” To which humans responded, “dude, you thought a stick was a mole.” To which worms responded, “suck it, it’s uncanny!”

deep thoughts

deep thoughts

But Wait, Worms are Awesome Experiment: Success

Speaking of mysterious motivations, the really interesting thing that scientists discovered is that worms make group decisions. Belgian PhD student Lara Zirbes, et al aimed to study how worms interact with microorganisms, but noticed meanwhile, that the worms often moved together after touching.

So naturally they put a bunch of worms into a central chamber that had two arms extending out in different directions. After squirming all over each other, the worms almost always went together to one side of the chamber over the other. It’s the first documented, collective orientation of any animal influenced by touch.

They're moving in herds. They do move in herds...

They’re moving in herds. They do move in herds…

“We can consider the earthworm behavior as the equivalent of a herd or swarm.”

Whoa, let’s go with herd. ‘Swarm’ may not have the best, non-panic inducing connotations, and earthworms have enough PR problems as it is.

Herd Swarm

Herd                                                                                               Swarm

The next question they want to pursue is the why. Individuals of these Belgian worms secrete fluids that contain antibacterial properties and a yellow goo that puts off the predatory flatworm. Safety in mucousy numbers? Or maybe it’s just lonely being blind, deaf, and stuck in a dark hole all the time. I don’t know, too lung-centric?

Worm MythBuster

Dead-EndOne final buzzkill before I go – if you cut a worm in half it doesn’t turn into two worms. The part with the head might live through it and grow back, but the butt end, that’s just gone. That myth was kind of a dead end. It won’t ever grow to its full potential. But its got a good head on its shoulders.

hummingbird-flyingby chelsea schuyler

hum helmet

not a busy man

I have never met a person who doesn’t admire the hummingbird. I have met several people however that despise statistics.  Probably because numbers often feel irrelevant, and are easy to manipulate. I freely admit that the following statistics about hummingbirds have been engineered for the sole purpose of blowing your mind (vote hummingbird):

A hummingbird’s brain is 4.2 % of its body weight, more than any other bird (human brain = 2 %).

A hummingbird’s feet are so weak they cannot walk on them, only perch.

A hummingbird has virtually no sense of smell.

dive! dive! dive!

dive! dive! dive!

A male hummingbird dives in mid-air to impress a female, moving 400 body lengths a second. Relative to size, that’s faster than the re-entry of a space shuttle into Earth’s atmosphere.

hummingbird's like "what? oh I'm sorry, did you think that was fast?"

hummingbird’s like “oh I’m sorry, did you think that was fast?”

The rufous hummingbird weighs a mere 3 grams.
3g = 0.1 oz
1 pinch = 0.013 oz (Yes, a “pinch,” say, of salt, is an actual measurement)
1 hummingbird = 8 pinches. or 3/4 teaspoon ish.

Add 1/8th hummingbird

Add 1/8th hummingbird

What’s great about these facts is you will not remember them. You will tell a friend “Man, I just learned that hummingbirds weigh like…some crazy, tiny amount of salt.” Your friend will then raise their eyebrow while simultaneously reevaluating your sanity and also the degree to which they would like to be seen with you in public. And then you will have to send them to my blog to prove you’re not exaggerating and their mind can be blown in precisely the same way.

However, if I were to tell a hummingbird these statistics, it would probably remember them, because it turns out, they have a crazy high amount of memory. How much amount? you ask?

Well, because hummingbirds are so spastic fast, but still warm-blooded, they need to eat (a lot) to maintain their metabolism. But spending a ton of time foraging for food wastes precious energy. The heart of a hummingbird beats 250 times a minute at rest, but during flight it escalates to over 1200 times a minute. So, how to maximize the efficiency of searching for food?

Answer: be a Ninja.

Answer: become a Ninja.

Hummingbirds are nectarivores (actual word), they depend on the sugar-high from flowers for their diet. Those flowers, once sucked dry, replenish their nectar after a certain time. The problem is, the amount of time it takes to replenish is different with every flower.

Houston the hummingbird has a problem

Houston the hummingbird has a problem

Imagine the advantage it would be to a hummingbird to just know which flowers have replenished their nectar already instead of wasting energy trying at random. Are you there yet? Are you there yet? How about now? And…I’m exhausted. And…I’m dead. And…I’m extinct.

Turns out, they do know, all from memory (ninja). To demonstrate how awesome this is, scientist chicks and dudes in Alberta, Canada (Henderson, et al) decided to mess with a bunch of wild rufous hummingbirds. They set up sets of 8 fake flowers in multiple male hummingbird territories.

to make flower you will need, cardboard, one cork, a syringe, and an adult

to make flower you will need, cardboard, one cork, a syringe, and an adult

Four of the flowers were refilled 10 minutes after being emptied.
The other four, in 20 minutes.
Each flower was a different color and pattern and the 10 minute and 20 minute flowers were mixed together. The hummingbirds therefore, had to figure out how long it took for which flower in which location to refill.

Spoiler alert, they did, but it’s not just that they figured out the times. Remember these are wild hummingbirds, and they got business to take care of. Example:

hum sticks

hum sticks

It’s dawn (insert William Tell Overture here), and Humphrey the hummingbird is hanging in his space. He sees the 8 hideous flowers nature did not smile upon, knowing which one takes how long (he learned yesterday). So he visits a few, and empties them. Let’s say he visited two 10 minute flowers, and two 20 minute flowers. He goes on to real flowers too, and then resumes his perch. Somewhere in his mind, 4 timers have started counting down, two to 10 minutes, two to 20.

8:05, he visits the remaining 4 fake flowers. Four new timers start.

8:10, The first two 10 minutes flowers are ready, but just then a rival male shows up, and Humphrey has to chase him off. It’s now 8:13, so he visits the two 10 minute flowers, and resets those two timers to 10 minutes, remembering that the two original 20 minute flowers will be ready in 7 minutes, but the second set of 10 minute flowers in 3 minutes, and the remaining…oh look, a female, must impress with my crazy fast dive! Okay, so now the second set of 2 is past ready, and I have 2 minutes for…have you gone cross eyed yet?

yeah, color not so helpful. location location, location

yeah, color not so helpful. location location, location

Each hummingbird not only remembered the refill rates of each flower, but also where each was and when he emptied them last. (Other experiments show that hummingbirds actually depend on location before they depend on color, relying on color only when mad scientists kept moving the friggin flowers around all the time.)

It’s not quite as to the minute as I have made it sound in the example, but it’s pretty dang close. This kind of when and where timing has never been shown to occur in the animal kingdom before to this degree, and was thought to be a human trait.

Human trait? I can’t even cook one pot of rice without the oven timer. This would be like having eight different pots of rice, with different cook times, with different start times, and then having to go buy stamps at the post office in between, arriving back late, and resetting whichever ones, but not others,.. I would starve basically.

OH GOD

OH GOD

The even more mind-blowing thing? These hummingbirds were proven to keep track of eight flowers. But the average hummingbird territory can contain two thousand. …4.2% brain…

Dung Ho

dung starby chelsea schuyler

dung beetle of my south african travels does kung fu

dung beetle of my south african travels does kung fu

Dung beetles.  The little critters that roll the excrement of others into a ball and push it around.  Somehow, this is awesome, and they are properly admired.  I saw some about an inch and a half long in South Africa, and I was pleased.  Until I discovered that they can be as small as a millimeter, and as I picture mini-beetles making adorable, bedazzle beads of bowels, I can’t help but feel a bit cheated. Oh well, new goals.

Poop is a very competitive market.  Not only is it their food and water, but their young’s food as well.  Adults lay eggs inside a buried dungball so when they hatch and pupate they’ll have a stockpile waiting.

diagram There are six thousand species of dung beetle, on all continents but Antarctica.  How to keep track of which species is which?  Luckily, they’re packed into three convenient, ziplock bag categories: tunnellers, rollers, and dwellers. Tunnellers find the mudpie, dig a tunnel directly underneath it, and drag some of that fine pooppourri with them.  Rollers find the mudpie, roll it into a ball, and then make a bee(tle)line away from the pile, pushing the ball with their back feet, to bury it elsewhere. Dwellers are like F that, and just set up shop right in the pile.

In this article we’ll only be talking about rollers, cuz that’s just the way I…

atlasSpherical enthusiasm is not a rollers only interesting feature.  It’s how they get their sense of direction that is the really impressive part.  See, after a male finds a steaming pile of rhino roca and sculpts it into a ball, he has to get it away as fast as possible before lazy, freeloader dung beetles move in and steal his hard earned Atlas impression, forcing him to start all over and lose the girl.  A straight line away from the dung pile is the fastest way to escape, but how it is that they know what straight is and don’t accidentally curve right back around to the pile?

Well, first scientists discovered that they have special photoreceptors in their eyes that make them able to see a symmetrical pattern of polarized light around the sun (we, less cool, can’t see it), and go off of that.  This is common in insects.  But what about at night?  Well, the moon.  Right?

also not needed.

also not needed.

To find out more, Marie Dacke and Eric Warrent took a team of scientists and went to South Africa to study them, but to their astonishment, when there was no moon in the sky, the beetles were unaffected.  They didn’t need no stinkin moon. What does that leave?  Stars?! Sure, humans and seals and birds use the stars, but insects? Never before have insects been known to use stars for navigation.

Baffled, the scientists built a giant table with dung in the middle, and a dry moat all around it to catch the dung beetles as they Myth of Sisyphused their way off the table. Also, there were walls to rule out the use of terrestrial landmarks. The dung beetles performed normally.  Then, according to National Geographic, “the team put little cardboard hats on the study beetles’ heads, blocking their view of the sky.”

Mandatory moment of meditation.  Push away all thoughts, all worries; focus on nothing but little cardboard hats on dung beetle heads…Nirvana achieved. …

Indeed, with the sky the-inside-of-a-cereal-box black, the dung beetles flailed in their direction, going every which way.

who knows what lies within the darkness...

who knows what lies within the darkness…

Now keep in mind, this is science, so you can’t just go around putting hats on beetles without a control group. It becomes necessary to also put clear hats on a few, to show that it was not simply the act of wearing a hat that totally freaked them out and Death Starred all their dung maneuvering hopes.

But, though doubtless humiliated, the now clear-visored Dig Dougs were still straight shooters, unaffected by the headgear.

Experimental beetle: Darth Vader #8, Control beetle, Starfighter reject #?

Experimental beetle: Darth Vader #8                                    Control beetle: Starfighter reject #?

Hmm, looks like stars must be it.  But stars aren’t really that bright, in fact the brightest thing in the night sky is the Milky Way Galaxy.  Only one thing to do. The scientists gathered up some dung beetles, and brought them to the Johannesburg planetarium.

The Milky Way as viewed from the surface of Mars

The Milky Way as viewed from the surface of Mars

How to test dung beetle navigation in the most awesome way possible:

1) Take said dung beetles to the local planetarium.
2) The end.

The scientists set up their little diorama of dung in the now worst smelling planetarium ever, and programmed the ceiling to take away all the stars except those in the Milky Way galaxy.  Straight lines all around.  Then, they took away the Milky Way galaxy, and left only the stars. National Geographic reports, “Those beetles just rolled around and around aimlessly.”

humans. discuss.

humans. discuss.

Man, if aliens descended right now and chose these particular humans to study…  “Well Herboxon, they appear to have to built a giant dome where they can obsess over an insect that rolls s#@! into balls!” “Yes, Miffzin, and if the creatures run in nonlinear fashion it is cause for international news! Bizarre these humans….”

So, the first creature we know in the world to use the Milky Way Galaxy as a reference point (thanks to Michelle for this awesome blog idea!) Scientists think this could be more common, that moths too may possess the same skill.

Just wait, in 20 years all the thrift shops are going to be filled with tiny, vintage, insect hats. Available in pizza box brown or broken window clear!50_banner

the curse

(new book by Brian P. Kayser)

vostok stationby chelsea schuyler

Update!  Remember that time I told you about the Russian Antarctic research station called Vostok?  And how underneath that station there turned out to be a gigantic lake called Vostok? (isn’t dat veird?)

what are we waiting for??

what are we waiting for??

WELL, the water they sampled from below 2 miles of ice did INDEED result in bacteria!  Living life forms in one of the most extreme environments known on earth.  One form had DNA that was less than 86% similar to anything we’ve seen before.  Which means it’s official, that ice-covered moon of Jupiter, Europa, is probably teeming with sea-aliens.

So, that’s exciting.  But hardly worth a blog by itself!  So allow me to add some useless filler ..a backstage pass if you will, to give you an idea of the impact this blog is making on the global population (i.e. who reads this crap?).

Odd stat facts:

why save the panda when we got em right here?

WWF is not amused.

1)  a) Most common search term: “chow chow panda.” 1700 people entered this into a search engine and ended up reading my blog on dye-ing dogs absurd colors, shapes, and animal prints.
b) 2nd most common search term: “black lung.” Over 600 people were inevitably disappointed to find my incredibly brief mention of black lung in my blog “Dust: the Particle That Helped Bring Us the 30!”
c) 3rd most common search term: “cats in space.”  Actually beats black lung if you include “cat in space” too.  Now I’m just proud.

fat cat in space2)  By far Thursday is the day I receive the most views, by a freakishly high margin. The worst day is Saturday.  Which means everyone reading this blog is slacking off at work, waiting til Friday when they can call in sick and have a three day, not-blog-reading weekend.

3)   This blog is viewed in 113 countries, mostly the US, Canada, and the UK, but also by countries I have never heard of and honestly would have guessed were baking ingredients, like Macao and Malta.

I welcome you, presumed maker of Whoppers

I welcome you, presumed maker of Whoppers

4)  My best day was July 10, 2012, I got over 401 viewers.  (My average is 50 or so).  Turns out that that day Morning Edition aired a 2 parter about safety fraud in coal mines leading to increased cases of …The Black Lung.  Ahhhh….

So, in conclusion, my readership, or “audience” are cat astronauts who listen to NPR and enjoy mocking their terrestrial enemies, dogs.

The_Cat_From_Outer_Space_1978_801

good times

But what behind the scenes would be complete without spam?  My latest favorite:

 

“I was reading through some of your blog posts on this site and I believe this website is rattling instructive! Retain putting up.”

Rattling instructive! Praise the thesaurus for donating us the profligacy to injustice it regularly!  Though I must insist my spammers stop out-funnying me.

by chelsea schuyler

Once again, it’s all about space.  Space cats.  Thunder cats had it all wrong (but oh so right, …I digress).

So I was thinking the other day, I says to myself I says: “how could purring possibly have evolved? What would have selected for such a complicated, albeit endearing, form of expression?” And self was all:

Yes, cats use purring to express contentment, but  it turns out that cats purr during births, injuries, and severe distress as well as when blissed out.

PURR!!

Not just domestic cats purr by the way, any feline that doesn’t roar can purr. Cheetahs, cougars, ocelots, servals, and caracals can all do it, and some have evolved it independently. So what’s the big advantage?

Meanwhile, IN SPACE, astronauts muse that though they have the coolest job, they suffer a high price, mainly, bone density loss. And vomit that floats around. Anyway, because Neil Armstrong, et al have no gravity to demand simple resistance exercises like standing and walking, their muscles fall to disuse and bone density decreases. They’ve made specialized exercise machines, but i guess they aren’t working so well.  What To Do?

plus healing superpowers

Meanwhile, IN CATS, we’re noticing how ridiculously well cats heal themselves. Over 90% of 132 cats survived 5.5 story falls from apartments (point 5? damn you mezzanine!). Skin grafts and surgery recovery are extremely successful and speedy. Cats are healthier than dogs, they never seem to suffer from dysplasia or luxating patellas or other bone badnesses (bad to the). (Granted humans have been more obsessive about selecting for horrendous skeletal structures in dogs, see bulldogs, dachshunds, german shepherds, etc but even so, the statistics are impressive.) Why they so lucky?

Enter the scientists! Specifically Dr. Clinton Rubin, who put it together that healing and bone mass are both stimulated by vibration, and what do you know, purring in cats happens to fall within 25-140 Hz (Hz = Hertz = cycles per second) which is proven to be physically therapeutic. Most cat species have the perfect harmonics in their purr to contribute to pain relief and tendon repair.

But how do you prove that it’s the purring specifically helping the cats out? You can’t take the purr out of the cat to see what happens cuz it’s all related to the diaphragm n stuff, and the trauma to the animal would automatically disqualify your observations.  and reserve your spot in hell.

Enter the…chickens?  Apparently you don’t take the purr away, you give it to something else.  Dr. Rubin stuck a bunch of chickens on a vibration plate for 20 minutes and then measured their bone strength.

yes! though a turkey stands in for a chicken, this is actually Dr. Rubin. you have no idea how excited I was to find this picture. I think i just anabolized 2% more bone density

Yep. Science ladies and gentlemen. Best. Subject. Ever. I wish someone would explain to me why chickens were the obvious choice for this exercise, though the hilarity of chickens bouncing around like popcorn in a box cannot be denied. (Of course the vibrations weren’t that strong, barely even visible).

10 minutes a day

And I don’t see how a plate is more accurate than strapping a cat to each chicken, but I suppose they knew what they were doing.

The experiment was repeated on rabbits (um, thank you, way more sense. Low to the ground, quiet, sane, mammals) and their bone strength increased 20%.

only rats. not a far cry really...

Then the rats came in, and things got really creative. They had three groups.  Group 1 was prevented from using their back legs during the day. (i’m picturing those paralyzed dogs they attach little wheelchairs to. I so hope that’s how they did it, I would totally take a picture and put it on facebook)

Group 2 the same, except for 10 minutes each day they were allowed to walk around normally. Group 3 same, except they had 10 minutes of vibration therapy instead of exercise.  Results?

Group 1 (no nuthin never) – 91% bone formation loss.
Group 2 (10 min  exercise) – 62% bone formation loss.
Group 3 (10 min good vibrations)– almost no loss whatsoever.

Remember these? Actually making you big boned! The irony!

This is all still controversial (you say one thing about chickens on vibrators and astronauts get all raised-eyebrow), but it could be that we can save those poor orphaned astronauts from breaking their legs upon re-entry to Earth by applying purr technology. And you thought it was just a small step for man….Sources: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/ast02nov_1/
http://www.fasebj.org/content/15/12/2225.full
http://www.animalvoice.com/catpur.htm
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-do-cats-purr
http://www.suite101.com/content/purring-helps-with-healing-a58330

Get One Load of This

moderate-extremely creepy

Spider webs.  Have you ever wondered how spiders can possibly make so much of that stuff?  It’s constant webbing all the time.  I thought our perpetual saliva production/recycling was impressive, but then someone gave me 6 saltines and i was sorely disappointed in our race.  Like it’s not bad enough that we only have two legs and two eyes.  The only satisfaction I have is that webbing is carried in liquid form in a sack inside the spider (only when it makes contact with air does it solidify and be the default webbing we know and love and wipe off our face 7 times every friggin time we go empty the compost.  not that i’m bitter). I may not be able to construct stronger-than-steel dreamcatchers on any ole branch, but at least i don’t feel like i have to pee all the time.  Four sets of crossed legs amuses me.

But scientists aren’t satisfied with such  mediocre sour grapes.  They’ve invented all kinds of villainous comic book ways to discredit the spider’s incredible creations.  Surely you’ve all heard of drugged spiders, which will always be fascinating, it’s the law.  I thought i would include this picture on principle, as a subtle reminder to the coffee drinkers of Portland just what Caffeine is doing to their productivity.  See other drug effects here.

the real price of coffee

1970s anti-gravity web-building station

What you may not have seen, are spiderwebs…SEEN FROM SPACE! (((SPACE, space, space))). No wait, UNDER THE EFFECTS OF SPACE!  (((um, space space space.  *ahem*))).

In 1973 two sad, humiliated European Garden Spiders (Anita and Arabella) were put onto a shuttle called Skylab 3 by sick-in-the-head Massachusetts college student Judy Mills to see if anti-gravity webs would be any different then peaceful, flowers-in-your-hair, earth webs.  The “spidernauts,” having been launched in their space vials, were totally WTF for a few days and had to be coerced onto the provided window box after impatient experimenters got tired of waiting.  Eventually, Arabella did make a web, the silk varied in thickness, unknown in gravity-laden spiders, but you try making a web in space and see how perfect you can be.   They then fed the spiders fillet mignon, gave them more water, and Arabella made a more consistent web.  Yes, fillet mignon, i wasn’t kidding.  Nasa Mignon is right next to the space ice cream at the science museum evidently.  Both spiders died on the flight.  Why?  Well, there was evidence of dehydration, my dear Watson.  Here lies the most confused spiders that ever lived, ever.

Exactly 30 years later another shuttle was launched, the STS-107 (lame, what happend to cutesy 70s names like ‘Skylab3?’), one entirely for scientific research with over 30 experiments to conduct and 7 crew members to conduct them.  The shuttle was in space for its scheduled 16 days.  However, it disintegrated upon reentry into the earth’s atmosphere, leaving no survivors.  Didn’t see that coming?   Apparently some foam piece broke off the thermal protection syst–whatever, the spiders totally did it.

So kids, don’t embarrass spiders, and never, ever, feed them fillet mignon.

Austrian artists collective "For Use" made a web out of 700 rolls of packing tape in this awesome Viennese building

um, little help...

too close, a little too close

Flies.  yeah, they’re gross, but we’re not here to talk about that.  We’re here to appreciate the magnificence belonging even to those creatures attracted to slimy carrion (they can smell it from 10 miles away!) or the ever delicious ex-scream-ment.  (halloween puns may or may not be essential to an october blog.  discuss).

Frank (enstein)ly, our eyesight is pathetic, and a fly’s put ours to shame.  Blow flies (the family of which includes most every basic fly you can think of), can see 100 frames per second (FPS).  We can see 20 ish FPS.  Your basic movie is filmed with cameras shooting at 24 FPS, which when projected together appears as motion to our eyes.  But if a fly were to watch, say, The Fly, they would see one single image followed by a long period of stillness, then another image followed by more stillness.   Like watching stop motion animation on 5 x slow-mo.  Boredom and frustration ensue.  Which is really the result for a human too, but at least we can appreciate  jeff goldblum pre-jurassic park, or vincent price pre-death (depending on which version you happen to be watching).

fly flight simulator (fly at bottom, eez tie-knee)

In fact, that’s how scientists (enter the scientists) think it works.  Flies don’t think about the meaning of the things they see, only the basics.  I can eat it, it could kill me, it’s sexy.  Maneuver accordingly.  Whereas we humans gotta make it all complicated and take up valuable milliseconds in the brain breaking down the meaning of things we see; is it art?  how does this affect others?  how might i use it for future reference?  If we tried to fly as fast as a Fly does, there would be splattered us’s all over everywhere.  We just see too slow.

Scientists (there they are again…) have actually created flight simulators for flies, hooking them up to a mini harness that records their movements and electrodes that monitor brain reactions.  can we take a moment to picture some labcoat trying to get  a tiny harness on a fly.  moment.  Anyway, robot builders are stoked because they want to make a robot that can react automatically to their surroundings with the sensory data systems similar to a fly’s brain, which is simpler and more efficient than ours.

p.s. cats can see 50-60 FPS, so they can watch TV, but they tend to get bored quickly.  Probably cuz slo-motion is boring, or you have deplorable tv taste.   I find the mouse cursor gets better cat-batting results.

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