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Cat toys shaped like microbes

Behold, a truly fantastic gift for the cat in your life — catnip-filled soft toys shaped like amoebas, cyanobacteria, and (pictured above) giardia.

Giardia are microscopic parasites that can invade the guts of vertebrate animals, including cats and humans. Generally, you get it by ingesting giardia-infested feces. For humans, this mostly means contaminated drinking water, because giardia are harder to kill than you might think. They can survive quite happily outside of a host and are resistant to chlorine.

Blue giardia cat toy

Read more on giardia (and see pictures) at the CDC website

Guts in sofas


A pair of sofas from Cao Hui's "Visual Temperature" series hint at a kind of biological secret life of soft furnishings.

Visual Temperature — Sofa

Visual Temperature — Sofa No.2

(via Richard Kadrey)

Pizza Hut perfume

NewImage

Pizza Hut Canada produced a limited-edition perfume. Apparently, Eau de Pizza Hut has "“top notes of freshly baked, hand-tossed dough." I guess it beats smelling like pepperoni or anchovies. (TODAY, via NextDraft)

How To: Preserve a bat for museum display

Here's a big difference between nature and a natural history museum: In the wild, when you find a skeleton of anything, it's seldom arranged in a neat, orderly, anatomically correct manner. Even if an animal dies in captivity, nature won't just conveniently produce a skeleton suitable for mounting.

So how do museums get the perfect skeletal specimens that you see behind glass?

The answer: Lots and lots and lots of tedious work. Plus the assistance of a few thousand flesh-eating bugs.

This video from the University of Michigan traces the creation of a bat skeleton, from a fleshy dead bat in a jar, to a neat, little set of bones in a display case. It's painstaking (and moderately disgusting) work. Sort of like building model cars, if the Ford Mustang had realistic organ tissue.

Thanks to Neil Shurley!

Pssst, hey kid. Wanna see some sea lice eat a dead pig?

Come on. It's for science.

In fact, it's meant to help people.

Researchers at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, put a dead pig in a shark-proof (and octopus-proof, as you'll see) cage and stuck it in the ocean in order to learn more about how human remains decompose underwater. That knowledge will help forensic scientists interpret crime scenes.

Most of the work is done by maggots known as sea lice, but towards the end, after the maggots have eaten the good bits, you can watch some fat, red shrimp move in to pick apart the cartilage.

Read the full story about this research at New Scientist

Via Deep Sea News

Field biologist describes horrific foot-fungus


Fuzzyatelin, a field biologist, offers graphic and compelling advice on keeping your feet dry during your fieldwork.

1) For frak’s sake, DRY OUT YOUR SOCKS. Put them over the fan over night so that you have 5 precious, precious moments of dryness before stepping out that door into the rain again…

2) Air everything out. For real. I mean everything. If you have electricity, lay in front of a fan in the buff for at least two hours every evening. You think I’m joking… but:

3) When your feet start to bleed - and boy, will they ever - don’t panic. The hole that appears to be eating its way into the space between your 4th and 5th toes on your right foot won’t go any deeper than a full centimeter (you know this because you stuck your finger inside of it and then measured the extent of the bloody seepage on your pinkie finger… the hole is that wide and deep).

4) Ditch the hat. Ditch the hat. Ditch the - oh. Now it’s on your scalp.

It gets worse.

Things I Learned as a Field Biologist #639 (via JWZ)

(Image: Fungi, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from dmclear's photostream)

1 gallon jug of 1992 McDonald's McJordan barbecue sauce sells for $9,995 on eBay


"That 1992 vintage of McDonald's McJordan BBQ sauce, which was on eBay yesterday, has actually been sold to an anonymous buyer in Chicago, Illinois for the "Buy it Now" price of $9,995."

Wax anatomy-model cake

Conjurer’s Kitchen created this anatomical wax-model cake for the mad bakers at Eat Your Heart Out. Delicious and educational!

Anatomical Wax Model Cake

Viruses to the rescue

Technology Review's list of 35 Innovators Under 35 includes Timothy Lu, an MIT researcher who is engineering viruses designed to seek out and destroy biofilms — bacterial colonies that stick together on a surface, like bits of pear suspended in the world's most disgusting jell-o salad. Biofilms have been implicated in human disease, especially chronic infections like those that can happen in the urinary tract and inner ear. But the first place Lu's biofilm-eating viruses will likely be put to work is cleaning out ducts in industrial HVAC systems. (Via Carl Zimmer) Maggie

Human flesh pop-up butcher shop in Smithfield to promote new Resident Evil installment

Capcom is running a "pop up human butchery and morgue" at Smithfields meat market in London to promote the new Resident Evil installment. It'll be open for two days: Sept 28 and 29.

WARNING: Gross imagery within. Click through at your peril.

Once open, Resident Evil fans and unsuspecting members of the public will be treated to a glimpse into the gory world of Wesker & Son, the fictional butcher with a penchant for human flesh.

Once at the butchery, members of the public will be invited to sample and purchase a dizzying array of edible human limbs including hands, feet and a human head, which will be available to buy directly from the shop. As well as these specially created products, gamers will be able to buy 'Peppered Human & Lemon Sausages' and 'J’avo Caught Human Thigh Steaks' along with some specially made pots of Red Herb and Green Herb. All proceeds from the sale of the meat will be donated to the Limbless Association, which provides information and support to the limb-loss community.

In addition to the pop-up human butchery and morgue, Resident Evil fans will be invited to attend two days of lectures at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Pathology Museum, which have been designed to explore some of the themes in the game and their links to real life. Dr. Morgaine Gaye, a Food Futurologist who will discuss future trends in human food consumption as well as explore cannibalism through history, will conduct the first of these lectures on Friday, 28th September, while Prof. John Oxford, one of the world’s leading virologists will discuss viruses and examine whether the game’s infamous C-Virus could ever become a reality. Gamers and members of the public wishing to attend either of these lectures need to register: cannibalism/viruses.

Read the rest

Meet your face mites!

"Everything you never wanted to know about the mites that eat, crawl, and have sex on your face". How can you say, "No", to that headline?

Ed Yong has a great post up today at Not Exactly Rocket Science about Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis, two species of mites which spend their entire lives on human skin. Humans aren't born with these mites. But by the time you are 40 years old, it's almost guaranteed that you are playing host to a few of them.

The bad news: They are having sex on your face.

Their favourite hook-up spots are the rims of your hair follicles. After sex, the female buries into the follicle (if it’s D.folliculorum), or into a nearby sebaceous gland (if it’s D.brevis). Half a day later, she lays her eggs. Two and a half days later, they hatch. The young mites take six days to reach adulthood, and they live for around five more. Their entire lives play out over the course of two weeks.

The good news: They don't poop—in fact, they don't even have an anus.

The bad news again: All that waste just builds up in their bodies. Demodex are, by nature, chronically constipated. Only after they die, and their bodies disintegrate, do they finally get to let it all go. All over your face.

Read the rest of Ed Yong's piece

Scenes from a heart surgery

This is absolutely wonderful, and absolutely not for the squeamish.

Defective Heart Girl Problems is a blog where physicist Summer Ash has blogged her experience with finding out that she has a defective heart valve and getting treatment to deal with that defect. The image above shows her scar from her recent surgery.

Ash went through surgery to repair her heart on July 18th. Here's how she explains the problem:

I recently discovered that I was born with a congenital heart defect known as bicuspid aortic valve disease (BAVD). It’s not a disease, per se, so much as a defect. Most people (roughly 99% of them) are born with a tricuspid aortic valve. I am the lucky 1% born with a bicuspid valve. (I am the 1%!)

As a bonus, being born with this genetic mutation also means the lower part of my aorta, the part that connects to the aortic valve and helps channel the flow of oxygenated blood into the arteries, has less fibrillin-1 – a protein that helps to maintain the structural integrity of the aortic wall. This means that my aorta is prone to “stretching out” and even the normal stress of blood flow coming out of the heart and being channelled to the rest of the body is enough to cause it to start ballooning outward.

The nominal course of BAVD usually entails the aortic valve calcifying and stiffening later in life (60s – 70s), ending in valve replacement surgery. Some people will also need the root of their aortas replaced at this time, some may not. My problem is that my aorta is jumping the gun; it’s already stretched out to the point where it’s considered an aortic aneurysm. I like to imagine it as a hipster, dilating before it’s cool to do so.

On July 29, she posted the full story of her surgery, including photos of her visible heart and really clear, well-written explanations that describe what her surgeon's did while they were rooting around in her chest cavity. It's graphic. And it's not for everybody. But it's also extremely powerful storytelling about both medical science, and the experience of having something go wrong with your body that you can't control. Highly recommended.

Read Summer Ash's description of her surgery

(Via Jennifer Ouellette)

The perilous world of banana slug sex

Banana slugs are hermaphrodites. Every slug has both a penis (which pops out of a pore on its head, like you do) and a vagina. Or, rather, every slug should have a penis. The truth is that quite a few of them don't and the story behind that discrepancy is rather strange and horrifying. Since there's little I love more than strange and horrifying stories from nature, you get to hear all about it.

At The Last Word On Nothing, Cassandra Willyard tells the story of a nearly 100-year-old effort by scientists to understand why some banana slugs appear to be missing their penises, or have penises that are stunted. We have known since 1916 how those penises came to be missing. Willyard describes the situation, which you can also watch in action in the video above:

Banana slugs begin their mating with a few vicious love nips. Then the animals curl around each other, forming a bright yellow yin-yang symbol. Next, they insert their penises. (Remember, they both have one.) In some cases, one slug provides sperm and the other slug receives it. More often, the slugs swap sperm. Copulation can last many hours. Then, in most cases, the slugs withdraw and part ways.

Heath caught a couple of slugs in the act. He noted the biting and the insertion. And then Heath observed something puzzling. As the slugs were withdrawing their penises, “one of the animals turned its head and commenced to gnaw upon the walls of the organ,” Heath wrote. The biting was “unusually vigorous,” he added, “and within a very few minutes the penis was entirely severed.”

The confusing part is why the hell they do this to each other.

Willyard says the best idea so far is that the penis eating represents a sort of sperm competition—a way of ensuring that the slug you just mated with isn't going to get a shot at mating with anybody else. But that's really just an educated guess.

What I like best about this story (besides the shock and awe) is that it handily illustrates one of the difficulties inherent in scientific research. In many cases, it's quite easy to answer the question, "What happens?" A century ago, scientists could easily observe and document the penis-eating behavior. All it took was somebody with sufficient interest in the question that they were willing to spend time watching many, many examples of slug sex.

But the "Why" is sometimes trickier.

Read the full story at The Last Word On Nothing

Video courtesy University of California Santa Cruz graduate student Brooke Miller. See more of her work on banana slug sex.

Also included: Some fun with Latin vocabulary. Did you know that dolichophallus means "long penis"? You're welcome.

Via Ed Yong

The business end of a sea urchin

How's this for an amusing case of photographic mis-identification? Call it "Dueling Disgustingness". Last week, New Scientist posted this lovely image of a blue-spotted sea urchin, taken by nature photographer David Fleetham.

New Scientist identified the photo as depicting said sea urchin in the process of expelling its own guts out of its mouth. Which, gross, but okay. That's reasonable. A surprising number of underwater animals eat in this manner, using the acids in their guts to dissolve prey before they actually slurp it up as a slurry.

But, at the Echinoblog, Smithsonian invertebrate zoology researcher Christopher Mah makes a compelling case against New Scientist's interpretation. That's not actually the sea urchin's mouth, says Mah. In fact, it's the opposite. That's a (rare) photo of a sea urchin taking a dump.

Mah has a lot of good photos that make his case quite well. You should check them out. Then, join me in contemplating this thought: If Mah is right, doesn't sea urchin poop look a lot like Dippin' Dots?

The New Scientist blog post—featuring lots of cool info about sea urchins

Christopher Mah's analysis of the photo, explaining why he thinks it shows a pooping sea urchin, rather than one that is eating something.

David Fleetham's website—for more (less disgusting) photos of nature

Via Scicurious

Cannibal news: MMA fighter, high on ’shrooms, ate friend’s still-beating heart

A California judge has determined that a 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter accused of killing his friend and sparring partner "by ripping his still-beating heart from his chest after gruesomely beating and torturing" him is mentally fit to stand trial. Prior to the attack, the two had consumed mushroom tea. There have been an awful lot of news stories like this one, this week. (thanks, @mattbors) Xeni