Stories tagged the horror

You can't make this stuff up. As reported in a recent Scientific American article:

"PepsiCo, [Mountain Dew]'s parent company, defended itself against a man who claimed he found a dead mouse in a can of the citrus soda. Experts called in by PepsiCo's lawyers offered a stomach-churning explanation for why it couldn't be true: the Mountain Dew would have dissolved the mouse, turning it into a 'jelly-like substance,' had it been in the can of fluid from the time of its bottling until the day the plaintiff opened it, 15 months later.

Forget legal disputes over canned vermin. The new question has become: Is Mountain Dew really so corrosive that it can dissolve a mouse carcass? And if so, what does it do to your teeth and intestines?"

May
28
2010

This could be you: (Again, only if you were a snail.)
This could be you: (Again, only if you were a snail.)Courtesy Thomas Hahmann
I'm not going to get into the full parasite extravaganza here, because Wired Magazine already laid it out pretty well, but here's the general idea:

What if some worm eggs snuck into your body through something you ate (something gross)? What if one of them lodged itself in your liver, and, after a little while, started producing embryos of its own? What if it packed those embryos into giant, pulsating egg sacks that flopped out of your eye sockets and hung from your head? And what if those pulsating egg sacks looked so delicious to birds that they would flap down and eat them (and your eyes)?

It can all happen. I mean, you'd have to be a snail for it to happen to you, but still... Leucochloridium paradoxum is out there.

Feb
17
2010

What is it?: It's... ah... you know, whatever.
What is it?: It's... ah... you know, whatever.Courtesy Reytan
Roll up your sleeves and prepare a glass of filtered water, Buzzketeers, because it’s time to learn about the Guinea worm. It’s time to learn about the Guinea worm… hard!

In case the title of this post didn’t spoil it for you already, or if your mother printed out the page but cut off the title, or in case your eyes just don’t read letters that big, the Guinea worm grows to be up to three feet long. Inside you. And even though everything that enters my body must first pass through flame, it still freaks me out.

The parasitic guinea worm, or dracunculiasis (which means “afflicted with little dragons”—you’ll see why in a second), was once found in 20 countries across Asia and Africa, but improved sanitary conditions have reduced its range to just 4 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Which is cool, because the Guinea worm is super gross and bad, but not good enough, because the Guinea worm is super gross and bad.

The worm works like this: little worm larvae swim around in puddles and ponds until they get eaten by teeny, tiny crustaceans called copepods (sort of like little shrimp). They live and grow inside the copepods until the copepods get swallowed by people drinking unfiltered water. (Just to be clear, this isn’t just any unfiltered water. If you’ve got electricity to power a computer to read this, there’s pretty much zero chance that there are any worm-carrying copepods in your water. If it came from a tap and not a puddle, you’re probably cool. And even if it came from a puddle, you’re probably still cool.) The copepods get dissolved in the drinkers’ stomach acid, but not the baby worms, which then move from the stomach to the abdominal cavity. There, the worms mate. The male worms die and get absorbed, but the female worms wriggle their way deeper into the body, and grow. And grow and grow. Until they’re about three feet long. They live inside their human host for a year, and then they form a blister somewhere on the surface of the person’s body. When the blister bursts, the female worm emerges just a little bit. The worm releases chemicals that cause the blister to have a very painful burning sensation, and when the host puts the affected area in water to cool it, the worm releases hundreds of thousands of worm larvae into the water, where the cycle can begin again.

As if that whole experience weren’t uncomfortable enough, the treatment isn’t a whole lot better. Because there’s no medicine for Guinea worm infection, the adult worm itself must be removed. The way to do that is to grab the exposed bit of the worm and wrap it around a twig or a piece of cloth, and then twisting the twig. But it has to be done slooooowly so as to not break the worm while it’s still inside your muscles—the process, which is said to be extremely painful, can take up to a month before the worm is fully removed. It’s thought that the ancient symbol for medicine, a snake wrapped around a rod may have been inspired by this procedure.

So, you know… ouch, blech, ouch.

Becoming infected once confers no protection from getting infected again, so people can get Guinea worms over and over again, and in addition to being painful, the blister the worm creates can make the sufferer vulnerable to more dangerous infections.

The good news is that preventing infection is relatively simple; infected people shouldn’t wash in water that will be used for drinking, and simple filters can keep people from ingesting the copepods that carry the worm larvae.

President Jimmy “Billy who?” Carter’s non-profit organization, The Carter Center, has been working for the last 20 years to eradicate the parasite. Despite some pretty significant barriers, it is expected that dracunculialisis will be the second disease, after smallpox, to be completely eradicated through human efforts. (Here’s a recent article on that.)

From what I’ve read (and what the Carter Center says), it looks like humans are the Guinea worm’s only host. So it seems to me that eradicating the infection would cause the extinction of the species. Think about that for a second. Usually sciencey types are pretty much completely against driving other organisms to extinction. But it seems like this one… considering how it pretty much only makes life worse for people who are already dealing with some serious challenges… should maybe… maybe… go extinct? I mean, obviously, right? But try that one on for size; I bet you haven’t often said to yourself that you’re cool with something going extinct. It’s a strange experience.

(If you just can’t deal with it, Here’s a website devoted to saving the Guinea worm. It’s satire, but subtle enough that you could probably play along. But, um, remember that sometimes the Guinea worm emerges from the eyes or genitals of its host. Just saying.)

Nov
23
2009

Sorry, Rom
Sorry, RomCourtesy Shira Golding
Consider the following, Buzzketeers: a man in Belgium spent the last twenty three years in a hospital, being treated like someone in a coma, when, in fact, he was conscious the whole time and unable to communicate because he was (and remains) paralyzed.

Whoooaa! Whooooaaaaaoooooaaa!

That’s some serious Johnny Got His Gun stuff. Ugh.

A coma is a persistent unconscious state. One can become comatose in lots of different ways—severe head trauma, brain injury, or a coma can be intentionally induced as part of the treatment for some conditions—but the underlying cause is always damage to the reticular formation, the part of the brain that regulates the awaking/sleeping cycle. So, basically, a person in a coma is asleep, usually for just a few days, but sometimes for the rest of their lives—“persistent vegetative states” can last for decades, until (if the person doesn’t come out of the coma) a secondary infection like pneumonia causes death. This guy, Rom Houbens, was in a coma for 23 years after a car accident.

Except, again, he wasn’t. After his accident, Rom was diagnosed using the Glasgow Coma Scale. This is a series of tests that evaluate a patient’s eye, verbal, and motor responses. Check it out. With a score of 8, at all points before noon last Saturday I would have been considered to be in a “severe coma.” I could be wrong though—apparently the evaluation is easy to mess up, because that’s what Rom’s doctors did on every part of the test, and he was declared comatose for the next 23 years. It wasn’t until three years ago, when Rom was reevaluated with high tech brain scanning equipment, that the doctors realized that, whoops, heh heh, he was actually paralyzed but totally conscious the whole time. (A paper on the new diagnosis was just published.)

Therapy has since allowed Houbens to “tap” out messages on a computer screen keyboard. I’m assuming this is accomplished through eye tracking technology—I saw a demonstration of some eye tracking equipment recently, and it was pretty impressive, but it still makes me surprised that his eye movement wasn’t caught before. He seems to have taken it pretty well though, saying, “I shall never forget the day when they discovered what was truly wrong with me – it was my second birth. All that time I just literally dreamed of a better life. Frustration is too small a word to describe what I felt.” I suppose he did have 23 YEARS to come to terms with things, although if anyone has a good excuse for becoming a supervillain, it’s probably Rom Houbens.

So, if you’re really grasping at straws for something to be thankful about on Thursday, maybe this could be a pretty solid fallback.

Sep
24
2009

The golden web of an orb-weaver: Little does this spider suspect that it is about to be captured and milked by the clinically insane.
The golden web of an orb-weaver: Little does this spider suspect that it is about to be captured and milked by the clinically insane.Courtesy Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve
After decades of frustration and failure, mankind’s dream of weaving a blanket entirely from the stuff of nightmares has become a reality.

For centuries, the very possibility of creating fabric from nightmares was considered little more than a fever dream, and the criminally insane resigned themselves to nightmare cloth substitutes, like hammered-flat baby rabbits, and prison toilet paper. Inventive though these are, like soymilk, they fooled no one.

Then, at the end of the 19th century, reports began to filter from Africa that a French missionary in Madagascar, exploring the dark peaks of his own madness, was creating fabrics of almost pure nightmare.

The missionary had supposedly created a spider-milking machine, into which he was placing massive Golden orb-weaver spiders, collected in their hundreds by local young girls. (Having little girls collect the spiders made the nightmare purer, but was not strictly necessary. Leave it to a missionary for such meticulous detail.)

The spiders were restrained in “a sort of stocks,” and then the beginnings of a strand of silk was coaxed from their abdomens and attached to a hand cranked wheel, at which point several hundred yards of the orb-weavers’ characteristically golden silk could be withdrawn from each spider. When the creatures could yield no more silk, they were released, apparently unharmed, back into the wild, where they would regenerate their webbing material after several days. The spooled spider silk could then be woven like any other material… but scarier.

Seemingly too “good” to be true, the missionary’s experiments were never replicated, and generations of madmen made do with sheets of dried bat saliva and mortuary blankets. Until now.

A “textile expert” and a visionary in what liberal arts colleges refer to as “insane studies,” Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley, recreated the missionary’s spider-milking machine, and after four years and one million spiders they have created an indestructible golden blanket, woven of pure nightmares.

The madmen discovered that while a single spider might produce a strand of silk up to 400 meters long, the material is, of course, exceptionally light. It took approximately 14,000 spiders to produce a single once of silk. The final 11 foot by 4 foot piece of fabric weighed about 2.4 pounds (~38 oz). So many, many spiders were involved, and lots of time. To help pass the long months of spider-milking, the artists whispered their secrets into mouse holes, and built razor blade houses.

The final intricately patterned textile has a rich, naturally golden color—the golden orb-weaver is named for the color of its silk, which attracts pollen-seeking insects in sunlight, and blends with background foliage in shadow. The spiders can adjust the exact tone of their webbing based on ambient light levels and color, so this textile has a unique shade based on how a million spiders perceived the room containing the tiny spider stocks.

The fabric is also exceptionally strong. Spider silk can stretch to 140% without breaking, and has tensile strength comparable to or exceeding that of modern fabrics like Kevlar, used for bullet-proof body armor. The complex protein structure that gives spider silk its strength has also makes it very difficult to reproduce artificially (that is, it hasn’t been done). Attempts have been made to insert the gene for spider silk protein production into goats, which then produce the protein in their milk, if not actual fibers. Unlike silk moths, spiders aren’t suited for mass production of silk, as they tend to kill and eat each other. And so it takes a madman, obsessed with drawing the secreted material for trapping prey from a hand-sized, venomous arachnid predator, to obtain enough spider silk to actually make something form it.

Despite civilization’s unwritten, yet long-standing rules against allowing madmen to have golden bulletproof cloaks, there is little to be done in this situation, seeing as how they made it themselves. Out of nightmares.

The textile is now on display at the American Museum of Natural History. (And, again, a photo of it can be seen here.

Aug
13
2009

Tens of thousands of childhood nightmares: wrapped up in one little package.
Tens of thousands of childhood nightmares: wrapped up in one little package.Courtesy bug_girl_mi
Remember stumbling through the world as a stupid little kid? You touched bugs. You dug holes. You explored mud. And then… then you heard about killer bees. Killer bees and flesh-eating diseases. Killer bees, flesh-eating diseases, and tiny eggs that could come off a picnic table, get into your body, and hatch into something that would eat your brain.

It wasn’t the end of your childhood, it just gave you something to think about all the time. No, you’re childhood didn’t end until you were able to convince yourself that these things—killer bees, flesh-eating bacteria, brain eggs—were harmless… if they even exist at all.

Well guess what: they do. They exist, and they are dangerous! Your childhood is long gone, and now so is your adulthood. Welcome to the next stage in your life: The childhood nightmare spotlight!

Today’s feature: raccoon poop brain parasites! They’re real, and they’re all up in your brains!

So, what’s nice about raccoon poop brain parasites as a childhood nightmare—as opposed to childhood nightmares like killer bees, or one of those little fish that will swim up your urethra—is that even we fancy city-folk are vulnerable to it.

See, there is, in this world, a thing called Baylisascaris procyonis. B. procyonis is a species of roundworm. It is a parasitic species of roundworm, in fact, known to infest the guts of raccoons. Should procyonis eggs find their way into a human (and more on ust how they might do that in a minute), there’s no need to worry about them turning into worms and going crazy in the intestines—the parasite really only wants to do that to raccoons. Instead, the eggs hatch into larvae, and enter the blood stream, traveling about the body to wherever suits them. I think that whoever wrote the wikipedia article on them puts what happens next rather well:

A great deal of damage occurs wherever the larva tries to make a home. In response to the attack, the body attempts to destroy it by walling it off or killing it. The larva moves rapidly to escape, seeking out the liver, eyes, spinal cord or brain. Occasionally they can be found in the heart, lungs, and other organs.

This can lead to a whole range of symptoms from skin irritation to blindness to brain damage (and what doctors call “craziness”) to death.

So how do they get in you? You have to eat poorly cooked raccoon, or uncooked raccoon feces.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Phew! It’s been years since I’ve had undercooked raccoon, and I almost never put raccoon feces in my mouth anymore. Not since college! I don’t even know where to get raccoon feces these days!”

Shows what you know. Raccoons are everywhere, even in your precious, safe cities. And when they pick a spot to relieve themselves, they really go for it. Raccoons, as it happens, us communal “latrines.” That means that multiple raccoons will pick a spot in, say, your back yard, to all go to the bathroom on. Each gram of raccoon feces can contain up to 20,000 worm eggs, so when you’ve got a latrine full of raccoon mess, you’ve got plenty of potential brain parasites. Especially if you’re in the habit of putting everything in your mouth, or of cleaning your yard with a leaf-blower. (The leaf blower would fill the air—and possibly your mouth—with tiny particles of raccoon feces and brain parasite eggs.)

Not many people get the disease (only 14 in the last 30 years, says this article, or possibly 25 in the last 6 years, like this article says) but getting it is bad enough that you might want to give it a little thought. Or lots of though, late at night. Don’t believe me? Read this article again.

The best way to avoid it is to keep that raccoon feces out of your mouth. And to follow the simple tips on cleaning up raccoon latrines offered in this article (which you already looked at). My favorite anti-raccoon latrine tip? “Flame” the latrine with a propane torch! It’s like Aliens!

At any rate, you’re probably safe. Possibly safe. Safe-ish.

You really could have raccoon poop brain parasites, you know. There were probably some on your deck, and you didn’t even think about it when you were eating that watermelon.

You probably have a headache right now.

Mar
20
2009

Another giant worm: This is as friendly as they get.
Another giant worm: This is as friendly as they get.Courtesy Santheo
OMG! Friday already? Where did the week go? You know how it is: it’s Sunday, and you’re testing items in your refrigerator for freshness… and the next thing you know, it’s Friday, and you’re lying on the floor in front of the fridge! It makes one wonder if he should seriously reevaluate his life.

What’s worse (worst!) is that I almost missed a Friday Extravaganza. Think about the repercussions—I could be rereading my own posts some time in the future, and I would wonder why I skipped an extravaganza. Did I just get bored with them? Was something wrong at the time? A personal crisis? I wouldn’t know what happened! I don’t want that. So an extravaganza…

It works out pretty well actually, because the first think I thought when I lifted my head off the floor and looked into the open refrigerator was, “worms.” And this week just happened to be a slightly wormy week in the news. A slightly giant-wormy week.

Check it out, y’all: Giant sand worms!

Apparently, back in olden times (the Permian period, before the dinosaurs), there used to be 3-foot-long, six-inch wide worms! The reason we don’t have cool giant worm skeletons in our museums, of course, is that worms don’t have skeletons. And all that soft, wormy tissue doesn’t fossilize very well at all. (That’s why it’s such a big deal when we find ”mummified” dinosaurs too—soft tissue almost always rots before it can fossilize.) Short of the rare cases where soft tissue does fossilize, there are other ways to find evidence of soft, extinct animals. In this case, paleontologists found the worm’s fossilized burrow. How about that?

The articles I found didn’t provide a lot of details about the worm, except that it was big, lived underground (and underground worm?!? What?!) in part of what is now England, and it’s a completely new species. Giant arthropods (like huge millipedes) had been known to live millions of years ago, but nothing like this huge worm.

Three-foot worms… yuckers. Good thing we don’t have anything like that around today, am I right?

Wrong!! Wrong wrong wrong! This is an EXTRAVAGANZA, y’all, and would never stop with just one worm during an extravaganza! So put this in your brain and shake it: There are giant worms alive today, and they’re way, way worse than you think!

Look.

See, I would have gone on living without knowing about the giant worms among us, if I hadn’t seen this little article about how a creature wreaking havoc on a British aquarium. (It’s a Friday Giant British Worm Extravaganza, I guess.) Something was chewing apart the coral in the aquarium, and devouring its fish. The aquarium staffers tried to trap the culprit, and to fish it out with bait. The traps, however, were torn apart overnight, and the baited fishing line was bitten through. In the end, they resorted to dismantling the artificial reef. Underneath all the rocks, they found a four-foot-long reef worm!

Whoa! Four feet? That beats the prehistoric worm even!

But, come on now… we humans are prone to exaggeration. The worm couldn’t be that impressive right?

No. Wrong.

I couldn’t find anything about “giant sea worms,” but searching for “reef worm” brought up the term “bristle worm.” And “bristle worm” makes sense, because the article described the worm as having bizarre-looking jaws, and thousands of bristles, each of which are able to inflict a sting that results in “permanent numbness.”

Then I found this page, which informed me that bristle worms are complex creatures, with “two to four pairs of eyes, sensory organs, a mouth, and a brain.” (I’ll let you know right now—I don’t approve of worms having brains.) And, yes, they have bristles, which can inflict extremely painful stings. The article doesn’t say anything about the bristles being poisonous, but posits that the painful sting could be caused by calcium carbonate or silica from the bristles. This page confirmed that the worms can hitch rides on rocks into aquariums, where they grown quickly, and can become a nuisance (to say the least, I guess).

Wikipedia was the next step, of course. Wikipedia teaches us that the worms will wait buried in sand or gravel until prey swims along. The worm will then attack with such speed that the prey is sometimes sliced in half by its claws/jaws. And while an average size for the worm is about 3 feet, they have been known to grow up to nine-feet-long!

What? What kind of world is this?

Also… this particular type of bristle worm is referred to as a “Bobbit worm.” What’s that all about? I’ll tell you: according to this site, at least, Bobbit worms are so nicknamed for the fact that, after mating, female worms will often “attacks the male’s penis and feeds it to her young.” That’s right, you remember now: Bobbit.

(It occurs to me that the timing in this anecdote is a little off—exactly how would you feed the penis to your young immediately after mating? But whatever.)

Oh, man. Worm extravaganza.

See? See the Bobbit worm?

Sure, it’s fish now. Next time it could be (will be) you. Happy weekend.

Feb
24
2009

Don't like the face?: Wait until you see the rectal pouch.
Don't like the face?: Wait until you see the rectal pouch.Courtesy Brauer, A.
Welcome to another edition of “Add it to the list!” Buzzketeers. Or… is this the first edition? It feels like “Add it to the list!” has been a regular feature on Buzz for a couple years now, but, then again, I’ve been suffering from frequent and vivid waking dreams lately. So I might not be the best judge of what “actually exists” (to quote my therapists) right now.

Whatever.

As you possibly know, here on “Add it to the list!” we feature an animal, theory, vegetable, etc. that disgusts me or blows my mind. Such objects and constructs must be added to the list. That way I can keep mental tabs on them. And when the revolution comes, I’ll be able to sort all listed items into the “first against the wall” and “promotions all around” categories with confidence.

Previous items on the list (which may or may not have been featured on Buzz, and may or may not be featured in the future) include electric eels (tagged “Not actually an eel”), hagfish (tagged “Keep your lips off that thing!”), Schrödinger’s Cat (tagged “Please don’t say ‘quantum’ when I’m in the room”), and anglerfish (tagged “nobody wins the battle of the sexes”).

You get the idea, I’m sure.

So what do we learn today? Well, The Telegraph has alerted me to the existence of the barreleye fish. It seems that this singular creature has tubular shaped eyes to gather all available light in its native deep-sea habitat. Do you know what other light-gathering adaptation it has? A freaking see-through head!

OMG! These deep-sea fish! Somebody add that thing to the list!

Check it out:

It was thought that barreleye fish could only stare straight up, so that they might catch the silhouettes of prey swimming above them. Researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, however, have recently observed the fish looking forward. Seeing a fish looking forward is hardly big news, I suppose, but… it’s sort of looking through it’s own head, you know? Yuckers.

Also, some species of barreleye have bioluminescent internal organs (their guts glow). And one species has a glowing rectal pouch.

I’m not sure if this fish is first against the wall, or deserving of a promotion, but, either way it must be recognized and dealt with. So, for glob’s sake, add it to the list!