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Climate change is life and death

Temperatures rise. Scientists warn and study. Conspiracy theorists cry foul. Politicians scoff and wheedle and suppress, while their bureaucrats calmly plan ahead. In the meantime, life and death go on—just not in quite the same way we're used to. Posted by Rob Beschizza.Read the rest

A rather horrible accounting of what happens if an astronaut floats off into space

The good news: There's a contingency plan for this sort of thing, involving the use an emergency jetpack that can (hopefully) stabilize you and help you maneuver back to the ISS. The bad news: If the jetpack fails, you're pretty much screwed. And you've got 7.5 hours of breathable air to consume while you think about that fact.

Astronaut Luca Parmitano's first-person account of almost drowning in space

Who needs coffee when you have this little horror story to wake you up in the morning? Money quote: "I think the liquid is too cold to be sweat, and more importantly, I can feel it increasing."

Snark Week - a compendium of cute things that can (and will) kill you

Last week was Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. All this week, the awesome science blog Last Word on Nothing has been running a Snark Week series — highlighting cute animals doing horrific things. Go back and check out the full series, which includes features on bunnies, pudgy little crustaceans called gribbles, and fluffy-but-destructive parrots from New Zealand.

Terrifying Uzbeki clown wants you to wash your hands

This is an actual poster that UNICEF used to promote Global Handwashing Day in Uzbekistan schools in 2012. I like to think of it as a brilliant example of why images can speak louder than statistics. After all, I can tell you that 58% of communicable diseases could be prevented with regular handwashing. But, really, would that change your behavior as much as a menacing clown threatening to fist you (I think) if you don't wash up properly? I suspect not.

Via the HIAControversies blog

Scientifically accurate "Duck Tales"

If you've paid any attention to the Internet over the last few years you're probably aware that real life ducks are not exactly as friendly and personable as the ones in cartoons.

What if children's television reflected the fact that real duck life has more in common with, say, Oz, than Duck Tales? It would probably look a lot like this.

May be NSFW.

Video Link

Cochliomyia hominivorax thinks you look delicious

Meet Cochliomyia hominivorax — a delightful insect that manages to me more horrifying that even Mark's favorite Central American friend, the botfly. How much more horrific? Check out the name. Roughly translated from Latin, "homnivorax" means "eater of man".

The worst 48 hours in Minneapolis/St. Paul

Reuters has a travel guide to how to spend a weekend in Minneapolis and St. Paul. It's supposed to be an enjoyable weekend, I think, but that's not entirely clear. Beginning with a stop in the airport restrooms (no mention of Larry Craig) the travel guide recommends eating at generic chain restaurants, spending a Saturday in the Mall of America, and taking in a baseball "match" (which, readers are warned, can last as long as 3.5 hours, not counting the possibility of overtime). The guide is correct, though, on one thing. A view of the setting sun and skyscrapers from Target Field would be impressive — especially considering the fact that the skyscrapers are decidedly to the South and East of the stadium, and not much of the seating faces West, anyway.

Climate change is increasing the habitat of brain-eating amoebas

Brain-eating amoebas? In my local waterways? It's more likely than you think.

Scientific retraction leads millions of testicles to retract into ribcages

From Retraction Watch: The Indian Journal of Surgery has retracted a 2011 paper entitled "Penile Strangulation by Metallic Rings". The reason: The authors apparently self-plagiarized the report from an earlier 2005 paper. Please insert your own jokes here.

Wednesday is Dead Duck Day

Dead Duck Day — the annual memorial celebration honoring the first recorded case of male homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck — happens this Wednesday in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. The holiday will be celebrated with a speech in front of the window where one of the ducks in question met his fate, followed by a duck dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. The victim duck has been taxidermied and will be on hand for the festivities.

Blog full of fantastic (and often NSFW) medieval illustrations

Here's a 15th century illustration of an English surgical procedure. Fun!

See the full blog — Discarded Image | Discarding Images.

Don't hide in commercial trash containers

"A French teenager who had hidden inside a garbage container was crushed to death inside a trash truck in Luxembourg on Saturday, police said." [Reuters]

Resolution for 2013: Don't catch the clap

Over the weekend, during a conversation with "scary disease girl" (and amazing science journalist) Maryn McKenna, I was reminded of a public health issue that we've talked about here before, but which is still not getting enough attention. Gonorrhea (aka "the clap") has long been the STD you worried least about, thanks to easy treatment with antibiotics. But that time is over. Antibiotic resistance is turning gonorrhea into a superbug. As of August, we're down to one antibiotic that can reliably treat it. Your best defense is now, most definitely, offense. Get yourself tested. Make sure your sexual partners are tested (oral sex, too!). And use barrier protection (oral sex, too!)

Obedience and fear: What makes people hurt other people?

Stanley Milgram's "Obedience to Authority" experiments are infamous classics of psychology and social behavior. Back in the 1960s, Milgram set up a series of tests that showed seemingly normal people would be totally willing to torture another human being if prodded into it by an authority figure.

The basic set-up is probably familiar to you. Milgram told his test subjects that they were part of a study on learning. They were tasked with asking questions to another person, who was rigged up to an electric shock generator. When the other person got the questions wrong, the subject was supposed to zap them and then turn up the voltage. The catch was that the person getting "zapped" was actually an actor. So was the authority figure, whose job it was to tell the test subject that they must continue the experiment, no matter how much the other person pleaded for them to stop. In Milgram's original study, 65% of the subjects continued to the end of the session, eventually "administering" 450-volt shocks.

But they weren't doing it calmly. If you read Milgram's paper, you find that these people were trembling, and digging nails into their own flesh. Some of them even had seizure-like fits. Which is interesting to know when you sit down to read about Michael Shermer's recent attempt to replicate the Milgram experiments for a Dateline segment. Told they were trying out for a new reality show, the six subjects were set up to "shock" an actor, just like in Milgram's experiments. One walked out before the test even started. The others participated, but had some interesting rationales for why they did it — and a simple ingrained sense of obedience wasn't always what was going on.

Our third subject, Lateefah, became visibly upset at 120 volts and squirmed uncomfortably to 180 volts. When Tyler screamed, “Ah! Ah! Get me out of here! I refuse to go on! Let me out!” Lateefah made this moral plea to Jeremy: “I know I'm not the one feeling the pain, but I hear him screaming and asking to get out, and it's almost like my instinct and gut is like, ‘Stop,’ because you're hurting somebody and you don't even know why you're hurting them outside of the fact that it's for a TV show.” Jeremy icily commanded her to “please continue.” As she moved into the 300-volt range, Lateefah was noticeably shaken, so Hansen stepped in to stop the experiment, asking, “What was it about Jeremy that convinced you that you should keep going here?” Lateefah gave us this glance into the psychology of obedience: “I didn't know what was going to happen to me if I stopped. He just—he had no emotion. I was afraid of him.”

Read the rest in Michael Shermer's column at Scientific American

Positive pregnancy test diagnoses man's cancer

The science behind the story of how Reddit saved yet another life. Read the rest

Baby echidnas are called puggles and they are ADORABLE

Watch it eat. ERMAHGERD. It's almost enough to make you forget about the horrors of the echidna penis. Almost. Until you notice that the puggle has five legs. So, there's that.

Thanks, Lo!

Strangely adorable video of sea slugs eating a blue button jelly alive

Yesterday, I posted a photo of Glaucus atlanticus — a strange little creature, related to mollusks, which floats through the ocean and eats (among other things) the jellyfish-like Portuguese Man-Of-War.

In response, marine biologist Christopher Mah sent over this video, in which two specimens of Glaucilla marginata — a smaller relative of Glaucus atlanticus — nibble on the still-living flesh of a colonial organism called a blue button. This proves to be cuter than it sounds.

Part of what makes the video so mesmerizing is watching the Glaucilla marginata move around. These creatures travel in a very laid-back way. Inflating a gas bubble in their stomachs, they float around on their backs, wherever the waves will take them. That bubble seems to lead to some endearing, baby-sloth-like flips and turns as they try to position themselves to take bites out of the blue button. OM NOM NOM.

Tapeworms on the brain

Here's a fun fact: Did you know that you can get tapeworms in your brain? You know that you can get a tapeworm from eating infected meat. But when people have tapeworms in their guts, they secrete tens of thousands of eggs a day. And those eggs can end up on food, or other things that people put into their mouths. For some reason—nobody is really sure why—tapeworm eggs that are ingested by humans never mature into adults. Instead, they remain in a larval stage and hang out in a host's bloodstream. Sometimes, they make it to the brain. And, apparently, this happens often enough that it has an actual medical name: Neurocysticercosis.

The good news is that these things are mostly harmless. They don't seem to hurt your brain at all while they're alive. The bad news: As soon as the larvae die, your body's immune system seems to suddenly realize they exist and it goes into overdrive—triggering seizures, loss of feeling in the body, and sometimes leading to death.

Scientific American blogs has the story of one woman in California who had this happen to her. To save her life, surgeons had to remove a calcified tapeworm larva from her brain.

Sara Alvarez was afraid.

It was December 20, 2010, in Sunnyvale, Calif., a town that lives up to its name. The West Coast winter, not as long or as harsh as seasons in the East, gave her the opportunity to take her youngest child out for an afternoon stroll.

In the fading light of dusk, Alvarez, too, began to fade. She lost the feeling in her right leg. Her right foot followed suit. She couldn’t lift or move her right hand. She was weak, and her body was numb.

The National Institutes of Health classifies neurocysticercosis as the leading cause of epilepsy worldwide, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that tapeworms infect 50 million people globally. The CDC says an estimated 1,900 people are diagnosed with neurocysticercosis within the United States yearly.

Read the rest of the story at Scientific American blogs. (WARNING: Surgery images!)

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

Giant scale worm

Scale worms are usually small, and there are many different species that fall under the common name. At least one, Arctonoe vittata, famously enjoys a complex relationship with starfish. The worm lives in the starfish's sucker feet. There's a possibility that this commensal arrangement—neither animal really gets any special benefit from having the other around, but they aren't hurt by it either. On the other hand, a 1979 research paper found that A vittata and its starfish host will seek each other out—mutually—through mazes. The starfish will even choose to move toward the worm over its favorite food. And it's still not really clear why that is.

So these are interesting worms. In fact, they can look damn-near cute—almost like little roly-poly pill bugs. But those are the small ones. This guy is different.

Read the rest

More than you maybe needed to know about the echidna

Echidnas are one of those weird Australian animals that seems to have been pieced together from leftover bits of other animals. Mammals that lay eggs, echidnas are covered in pointy hedgehog-like spines, but with a long snout and sticky tongue of an anteater.

Also, the males have a four-headed penis.

Not kidding. One shaft, four heads. Which is odd, because the female echidna reproductive tract only has two branches. Some of the stuff I've read this morning says that the male echidna mates using only two of his four heads at a time. Then, he'll find another lady echidna and let the other two heads have a turn. Another option, presented by National Geographic: He mates twice with each lady echidna, using first two heads, and then the other two.

National Geographic has helpfully provided visual evidence of this four-headed penis.

I'm putting the photo under a cut. Partly for comic effect, and partly because what is seen can never be unseen.

Read the rest

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

That tingling in your mouth could be a squid trying to mate with you

If you eat a male squid that has not been disemboweled first, you might end up with said squid's spermatophores—basically, sperm-filled packets—attempting to burrow into your soft gum tissue the way they burrow through the flesh of a lady squid. This apparently hurts. We know, because it has happened to more than one person and those cases have been documented in peer-reviewed research journals. (Via Hank Campbell)

The chilling history behind a museum's disembodied uterus

To be fair, there are really only a few ways that London's Hunterian Museum would end up with the uterus of a young woman floating in a jar. Given that the museum is home to surgical specimens, many of which were collected in the days before surgery involved anesthesia, it's easy to guess that the story behind the uterus is not a pretty one.

But at The Chiurgeon's Apprentice blog, we learn that the story is even more grisly than you might have suspected. In fact, it belonged to a woman who committed suicide by drinking arsenic in 1792. She was, at the time, a month or so pregnant. Medical historian Lindsey Fitzharris writes about the autopsy:

In his [autopsy] report, Ogle remarked that her stomach contained ‘a greenish fluid, with a curdy substance…an effect produced by the arsenic’. He also noted that there was ‘an uncommon quantity of blood in the vessels of the ovaria and Fallopian tubes’ and that it was ‘evident, from this circumstance, that conception had taken place’.Nevertheless, when told that the date of her last period had only been ‘a little more than a month before her death’, Ogle began to question whether Mary had been pregnant when she died.

Curious to know the truth, Ogle removed the ‘organs of generation’ and gave them over to the famous anatomist, John Hunter, whose interest in pregnant cadavers was well known. Hunter injected the arteries and smaller vessels of the uterus with a wax-like substance so that ‘the whole surface became extremely red’. The uterus was then split open and the ‘inner surface of the cavity…was examined with a magnifying glass’...

Read the rest of the story at The Chirurgeon's Apprentice

Via Deborah Blum

Image: Poison, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from -cavin-'s photostream

Here is a video of a hissing cockroach giving birth

So. That happened.

Interesting tidbit for those of you too horrified to watch: Hissing cockroaches apparently give birth upside down with their lady parts up in the air.

Another thing I learned: Animals giving birth is apparently a fairly popular YouTube genre. Check out the sidebar for cats, snakes, and more cockroaches.

Video Link

A hearty thanks to Amos Zeeberg, without whom I would never have seen this horrible thing.

PREVIOUSLY:

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Butterflies eating a piranha

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit" is a series of posts aimed at giving BoingBoing readers a chance to show off their favorite exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. I'll be featuring posts in this series all week. Want to see them all? Check out the archive post. I'll update the full list there every morning.

You've seen a lot of good taxidermy this week, but nothing quite like this. Renee Mertz sent me this photo of a diorama at Vienna's Naturhistorisches Museum, which depicts a group of butterflies greedily feeding off the carcass of a dead piranha.

This is not a spot of whimsy, people. This kind of thing really does happen. In fact, you can watch a real-life example (with a less-threatening fish substituted in for the piranha) in a video taken in Alabama's Bankhead National Forest.

The good news: The butterflies are not really carnivorous, per se. The bad news: What they're actually doing is still pretty damn creepy.

It's called "puddling" or "mud-puddling". The basic idea works like this: Butterflies get most of their diet in the form of nectar. They're pollinators. But nectar doesn't have all the nutrients and minerals butterflies need to survive, so they have to dip their probosces into some other food sources, as well. Depending on the species of butterfly, those other sources can include: Mineral-rich water in a shallow mud puddle, animal poop, and (yes) carrion.

When butterflies puddle over a dead fish, though, they aren't biting off chunks. Instead, they're essentially licking the dead fish—going after salt and minerals that seep out of the dead animal as it decomposes. Bonus: Some butterflies also like to lick the sweat off of humans. And a few species of moth have been documented sucking blood and tears for living animals, including humans.

A scientific conference presentation no one will ever forget

"He stepped around the podium, and pulled his loose pants tight up around his genitalia in an attempt to demonstrate his erection." — You really, really, really must read the story of Professor G.S. Brindley, the 1983 Urodynamics Society meeting, and the first public demonstration of the first effective medical therapy for erectile dysfunction. NSFW. (Thank you, Miriam Goldstein. I think.)

Instant holiday diet plan

Reduce your consumption of turkey this Thanksgiving by simply reading Maryn McKenna's report on drug-resistant staph bacteria infecting the U.S. meat supply.

How To: Remove a bladder stone in the days before anesthesia

The Chirurgeon's Apprentice is an entire blog dedicated to eye-witness accounts of surgery in the days before anesthesia. Oh, Internet. Thou art wonderful and horrible.

Collected by University of London medical historian Lindsey Fitzharris, the stories come from well-documented sources, from the 17th century onward. Part of the goal here is to follow the path of surgery as it really started to become its own profession ... separate from that of barber. Yes, this is going to be every bit as gory as you imagine. I'll start looking for a unicorn now.

If you visit the Gordon Museum at Guy’s Hospital in London, you will see a small bladder stone—no bigger than 3 centimetres across. Besides the fact that it has been sliced open to reveal concentric circles within, it is entirely unremarkable in appearance. Yet, this tiny stone was the source of enormous pain for 53-year-old Stephen Pollard, who agreed to undergo surgery to remove it in 1828.

Although the operation itself lasted only a matter of minutes, lithotomic procedures were painful, dangerous and humiliating. The patient—naked from the waist down—was bound in such a way as to ensure an unobstructed view of his genitals and anus [see illustration]. Afterwards, the surgeon passed a curved, metal tube up the patient’s penis and into the bladder. He then slid a finger into the man’s rectum, feeling for the stone. Once he had located it, his assistant removed the metal tube and replaced it with a wooden staff. This staff acted as a guide so that the surgeon did not fatally rupture the patient’s rectum or intestines as he began cutting deeper into the bladder. Once the staff was in place, the surgeon cut diagonally through the fibrous muscle of the scrotum until he reached the wooden staff. Next, he used a probe to widen the hole, ripping open the prostrate gland in the process. At this point, the wooden staff was removed and the surgeon used forceps to extract the stone from the bladder.

Unfortunately for Stephen Pollard, what should have lasted 5 minutes ended up lasting 55 minutes under the gaze of 200 spectators.

Via Ed Yong

Image: Ouch, again., a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from rberteig's photostream

Image shows a kidney stone. Kidney stones and bladder stones are basically the same thing, though. Their names signify where the stone formed. Either way, they're made of the same stuff. And more people post images of their kidney stones to Flickr.