Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Top Ten Reasons The World Won’t End on December 21, 2012

September 29, 2010

No doubt about it, 2012 and doomsday prophecies are big nowadays. According to the Mayan calendar, the world as we know it will end sometime around December 21st, 2012. Of course, if it doesn’t, that won’t mean we’ll be out of the woods. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ may return at any moment to destroy the armies of the Antichrist and reestablish his throne in Jerusalem, thereby ushering in a thousand years of peace. And if that doesn’t occur, there’s always the chance that the Mahdi will arise to institute a kingdom of justice and, alongside the returned Isa Al-Maseeh (Jesus), will fight against the Dajjal, the Antichrist of Islam. Then, of course, there’s always the chance that—at least according to the Hopi Indians—a blue star will suddenly appear in the sky to signal the start of a great atomic war which will destroy the white man and other ancient races.

Sounds like there’s quite a few ways we might catch it, but what are the chances that any of these things might actually happen? Of course, there is no way to prove that something won’t happen, but below are the top ten reasons why one would be ill-advised to believe the end is coming in 2012 or any other time soon.

10. Because a reversal of the magnetic poles would not be catastrophic.

magneticpoles

It seems that every few hundred thousand years or so, the Earth’s magnetic field dwindles to practically nothing and then gradually reappears with the north and south poles flipped. Now this flipping of the magnetic poles—which appears to have last happened about 780,000 years ago—isn’t particularly dangerous, but this brief period—about a century or so in duration—of decreased magnetic fields could threaten life on the planet, for without magnetic protection, particle storms and cosmic rays from the sun, as well as even more energetic subatomic particles from deep space, would strike Earth’s atmosphere, eroding the already beleaguered ozone layer and causing all sorts of problems to both man and beast (especially among those creatures that navigate by magnetic reckoning). Further, scientists estimate that we are overdue for such an event and have also noticed that the strength of our magnetic field has decreased about 5 percent in the past century, possibly signaling that such an event may be in our immediate future—within a few centuries if not sooner. However, in being so gradual, should scientists in the future discover that such a shift is in the works, there should be plenty of time to take the necessary precautions to avoid the most destructive effects by moving underground or off planet, or perhaps strengthening the planet’s atmospheric defenses through the use of exotic, futuristic technologies. In any case, it isn’t something we need to worry about in the short term—though it could be a concern for those living a few hundred or even thousands of years from now.

9. An increase in sunspot activity in 2012 will not have any particularly detrimental effect on the planet.

sunspots

As every schoolchild knows, our sun is constantly shooting gaseous plumes of white hot plasma thousands of miles into space which our atmosphere generously shields us from. Sometimes these plumes are much larger than normal, however, and are what we refer to as solar flares (more properly known as coronal mass ejections). Fortunately, these enormous magnetic outbursts that bombard Earth with a torrent of high-speed subatomic particles are also largely negated by the planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field, so we seldom feel the effects of these plasmic bursts, beyond creating havoc for ham-radio users and increasing the luminosity of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. They are of concern mainly to space explorers, who really would have a problem if they are caught in orbit without suitable shelter when one of these things go off. The sun goes through a natural twenty-two year cycle when such storms increase significantly for a time before decreasing again. Such a period is scheduled to occur in 2012, which has some folks all atwitter. For those who are expecting the worst, it might be beneficial to realize that the sun reached similar period of solar activity in 1990, 1968, 1946, and it will again in 2034, 2056 and 2078. While these periods can produce large solar flares that can effect satellite communications and, in a worst-case scenario, adversely affect the flow of electrical energy through the power grids, it is unlikely to do more than produce some especially spectacular light shows in the northern skies and make people onboard the International Space Station a little nervous.

8. Because the poles cannot shift or the planet’s orbit be otherwise altered.

earthorbit 285x400

Some well-meaning but scientifically challenged individuals maintain that the planet’s physical poles are on the verge of reversing (that is, the planet is flipping over onto its top) or that gravitational forces from the other planets or from the galaxy itself could affect Earth’s orbit and, hence, dramatically alter its climate and environment. Fortunately, however, the gravitational forces that effect our planet and its place in the solar system are mandated by Newton’s laws of planetary mechanics and cannot be changed without some extremely rare (think one chance in ten billion over the next three billion years) and dramatic event taking place—such as a collision with a small moon or a massive black hole making its way through the solar system, both of which would be noted well in advance or whose effect would be so gradual as to take centuries to have any great impact. As far as we know, there are no such cosmic events known to be on the horizon—at least for the foreseeable future (and well beyond 2012).

7. Because Earth climate change is a gradual process and one easily adapted to.

climatechange 427x400

Some take a more hand-on approach to the end, claiming that humanity will perish as a result of human-caused weather changes, which, it is claimed, will melt the polar ice caps, raise the ocean sea levels, and change weather patterns over large portions of the planet. Even if the science holds together, however—which many claim it does not—such a process would be felt over a period of years or even decades, giving human beings time to adapt to the changes (relocate, create shoreline reclamation technologies, etc.) It is even possible that a warmer planet might ultimately be beneficial by, for example, increasing arable land in Siberia and North America as the permafrost layer retreats northward. In any case, the year 2012 has no particular significance in regards to any Earth changes that may occur over the next few decades.

6. Because the people who suggest the end is coming don’t know what they’re talking about.

fortuneteller 400x400

Unfortunately, human beings have a tendency to invest great authority in people who can convince them they are prophecy “experts” or have some sort of hidden knowledge others do not possess that allows them to read the future. Many of these people are sincere individuals who simply misinterpret ancient bible texts, while others are deluded crazies who only want to include others in their fantasy world. A few are even unscrupulous charlatans out to make a quick buck. The bottom line is, however, that nobody really knows what the future holds regardless of who they are or what methodology they use. There simply is no evidence that anyone has ever successfully prophesied some future event (beyond some short-term political or military events easily surmised by gauging current international trends) with anything approaching clarity or accuracy.

5. Because the Bible Code is a parlor trick.

biblecode 549x400

Using a complex type of cryptographic code called Equidistant Letter Sequencing (ELS), journalist Michael Drosnin, author of The Bible Code, contends that one can find meaningful and related patterns of words and dates in close proximity to each other within the words of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament and the heart of the Jewish Torah) which would seem to go beyond mere chance. One of these, he says, suggests the planet will be struck by a comet in 2012, with all the unfortunate consequences that would entail. However, critics dismiss Drosnin’s methodology as little more than a parlor trick, demonstrating that meaningful words and phrases can be produced using his method on any similar sized manuscript. For example, Australian mathematician Brendan McKay, an ardent critic of Drosnin’s process, demonstrated that a computer search of Herman Melville’s nineteenth century classic Moby Dick found a number of meaningful phrases in close proximity to each other (specifically having to do with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995), suggesting that just as the eyes can be tricked into seeing familiar faces in random patterns of light and shadow, so too can the mind be tricked into finding meaningful phrases in random collections of letters where none exists. And if that’s not enough, Drosnin has been proven wrong about other “significant events” he claims were contained in the Bible, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

4. Because the Earth isn’t that easy to destroy.

Sure, there are things that could do the planet in, but Earth is a lot hardier a place than many give it credit for. After all, it’s been here for four billion years now, had its clock repeated cleaned by asteroids and comets, endured climactic changes of biblical proportions, and even survived a collision with another planet that created our own moon, and yet it keeps on ticking. And you think a few melting ice caps and puny nuclear weapons are going to do it in? Please…

3. Because doomsday prophecies have consistently been proven wrong.

doomsdayprophecy

Literally hundreds of dates have been picked by various religious leaders and self-proclaimed prophets over the last two thousand years as being the end of the world and not a one of them has ever even come close to being accurate. So why do we believe these same people today when they tell us the end is coming in 2012 (or whenever they imagine it to be coming)? Listen, you wouldn’t believe your doctor if it has been repeatedly demonstrated that he has never once correctly diagnosed a patient, so why give these guys the benefit of a doubt?

2. Because Nostradamus never picked 2012 as the end date.

nostradamus

It has been popularly believed that Nostradamus, the famous sixteenth century French mystic, suggested the end would come in 2012, perfectly coinciding with the Mayan date, which, if true, would be very spooky indeed. However, in reading through Nostradamus’ many quatrains, nowhere does he specifically mention the year 2012 or even suggest that the end would come around that time. In fact, his predictions extend all the way to the year 3797, making it seem we have some time yet before the end is neigh. Additionally, his writings are so obscure as to make any interpretation little better than a guess. Most of them are likely referring to events that took place in his lifetime, with the rest being so vague that they can be made to fit any time frame the reader so desires.

1. Because the Mayans never claimed it would.

mayancalendar 399x400

The Mayans had many calendars they used, one of which was known as the “long count” calendar, which measures very long periods of time.  According to this calendar (which has been known to archeologists for decades, by the way) the Earth’s “fifth sun” would end at the Winter solstice, December 21, 2012, at which point a new, sixth 5,125-year cycle would begin. What significance this had to the Mayans is a source of some debate, but it is the general consensus that they did not attribute to it any catastrophic events. Most likely, they simply considered it a time for spiritual renewal or introspection, which doesn’t sound all that dangerous to me. The teaching that the Mayan’s believed it was the end of time, then, appears to be a largely westernized misreading (or deliberate misrepresentation) of the significance of the Mayan calendar and Mayan beliefs associated with it.

Advertisements

Top Ten Bizarre Plants

September 24, 2010

There are about 375,000 species of plants in the world today, with more being discovered on a daily basis. Plants come in all different sizes, shapes, colors, and even scents. We’ve all seen the common household plants: ferns, orchids, violets… but most of the plants on this list you’ve probably never seen in real life.

Even though classifying something as bizarre is pretty relative and will differ from person to person, these plants are most definitely strange in more than just one way. If you’re looking to surprise your girlfriend, these are not the types of plants to put into a pot; save them for the mother-in-law. Below are 10 odd plants that will probably make you think twice.

10. Dionaea Muscipula

Better known as the Venus flytrap, the Dionaea muscipula is one of about 670 carnivorous plants that researchers have discovered.  The plant is able to attract insects and spiders, and once the bug is inside of the plant it will make contact with the tiny hairs inside, which then spark a reaction for the plant to close its lobes. If the prey does escape, the trap usually reopens in about 12 hours. If the bug is unable to get away, the further movement it makes in attempt to escape only forces the plant to tighten even more, which leads to digestion.

You’ve probably seen these plants in the stores or even at someone’s home, placing it low on the list despite its strange diet (and, let’s face it, a meat-eating plant is pretty bizarre). The stems often get no larger than 4 inches, and can be a bit smaller than 1 inch.  In the spring, the plant produces delicate white flowers, but only if it is healthy. As a result of wildfires, they are considered to be a vulnerable species, which means that they are highly likely to become endangered. While the plant has been transplanted to many locations, the only place where it grows natively is in North Carolina bogs. Despite what you may think, the Venus flytrap is not a tropical plant; in fact, it thrives in the winter.

9. Wolffia Angusta

Wolffia Angusta smallest flower

Sometimes referred to as watermeal, Wolffia angusta belongs to a genus that is made up of some of the smallest plants on earth. There are 38 Wolffia plants total, 9 of them being the smallest plants ever discovered. The Wolffia angusta is so small that a dozen single plants can easily fit onto the head of a pin. If you were to find 2 plants that were in full bloom, you could fit them inside a very small handwritten “o.” You’ll find this plant growing on the water’s surface, which explains its name because, at first glance, you could easily mistake it for cornmeal floating in the water. These plants have no roots and grow in depressions in the water’s surface. They often group together and even combine with other similar plants that also make the water home.

Watermeal is native to Asia, where it is part of many people’s diets. It is said to have just as much protein as soybean, which is about 40% of its nutritional value. However, eating plants the size of 1/25 of an inch can’t be filling!

8. Lithops Julii

Lithops Julii 492x400

Lithops julii is a weird plant that you’ll find growing in southern Africa. The plant thrives in very hot and dry environments, and if you know a little Greek, you may know why. The plants name, Lithops, comes from the word ‘lithos’ which means stone and ‘ops,’ meaning like or similar to. Other names for Lithops julii are pebble plants as well as living stones. Truly, every aspect of the plant is very much like a rock. For instance, most plants are green or have some hint of yellow to them. But, the Lithops are cream, grey, brown in color (some with red designs). These colors are useful because they allow the plant to blend in and almost camouflage itself. Overall, just like rocks, the Lithops plant is pretty dull.

Though the plant doesn’t sound pretty, it does actually produce flowers. The flowers look very similar to a daisy; white with long petals and a pale yellow center. These flowers usually bloom in the fall. Now, if you’re into weird plants that don’t add very much color to a room, you can choose to buy a Lithops and grow it in your home. With enough light and ventilation along with minimal water, these plants do great.

7. Welwitschia Mirabilis

Welwitschia Mirabilis 533x400

When it comes to most living things, water and food are a necessity. However, for the Welwitschia mirabilis, 3 inches of water during an entire year work just fine. An inch of this usually comes from rain while the other 2 inches are provided by the ocean fog. However, the lack for water may explain this plant’s appearance- it’s dry, rugged, flimsy look most definitely fits the mold. The plant only grows 2 leaves during its entire lifespan, which is about 1,000-2,000 years, but they often split after growing to be up to 13 feet, which makes the plant seem like it has more. With such a lifespan, the plant has earned the name as the “living fossil.”

The plant was first discovered in 1859 by Friedrich Welwitsch, which explains the plant’s name. These plants usually grow well in Angola and Namibia; however, they are not widely found in Namibia due to locals who dig them up and collect them. The minefields in Angola keep them plenty safe. The biggest Welwitschia plant is 4.6 feet tall and 13 feet wide.

6. Victoria Amazonica

victoria amazonica lily pad giant 476x400

From experience, you probably know that lily pads and water lilies aren’t huge plants. They are maybe the size of a human hand, if not a smidge bigger. In contrast, the Victoria amazonica plant can hold a human hand, as well as the rest of a 300lb human body. That’s right; they’re like stepping stones in the water. The plant is the largest water lily ever discovered, and everything about it is big. The root itself is more than 26 feet long and the leaves and flowers can grow to be about 10 feet in diameter. This plant is not only large, but it changes colors. When its flowers bloom the first night, they are a pure white color. The next day they are pink. Despite its beauty, the plant is covered in piercing spines, except the flower, roots, and the pad itself.

Native to the Amazon River basin, the plant was first introduced to Europe in 1837 by John Lindley, and during this time people were nothing less than fascinated. It earned the name of the “giant water platter” but its scientific name was given in honor of Queen Victoria. The plant was so popular that there were competitions to see who could properly harvest the plant first. In 1849 the Duke of Devonshire proved to be the winner.

5. Hydnora Africana

Hydnora Africana

Native to southern Africa, the Hydnora africana, a parasitic plant, is one that might permanently change your mind about sniffing flowers. It is probably most known for its disgusting scent, which is often compared to the smell of feces. The scent is disgusting but necessary for the plant’s survival, so that it can attract dung beetles, carrion beetles, and other pollinators. The plant traps these bugs and they are eventually released once it reopens. Not only does the plant smell bad, it also has no aesthetic properties to it either. It’s a dull brown/grey plant that has no leaves and truly looks like it has no life to it. The plant grows underground but the only part one can see is the fleshy flower that grows above ground.

The plant was first discovered and transplanted to California in 1973 by Sherwin Carlquist. Crazy as the idea seems, this plant is actually edible. The fleshy pulp-like flower can be eaten, which is often where all of the plant’s seeds are located. But who really goes close enough to this plant to take a bite out of it, let alone get past its smell?

4. Nepenthes

The Nepenthes plant is found in Indochina, Australia, and throughout the Malay Archipelago. It thrives in high humidity locations with average rainfall and a lot of light. With a name like monkey cup, how couldn’t it be a bit bizarre? The name is quite fitting as numerous people have observed monkeys drinking out of the plant. The plant was first described in 1658 as being about 3 feet high with 7 inch long leaves that hold a hollow flower. The hollow flower that is described is often full of a liquid that the plant produces on its own. The liquid is sometimes drunk by mammals, but its real purpose is to drown its prey. There is also a “lid” so to speak that covers the top of the flower that covers the liquid. There are high flowers, which hang from the vines, and low flowers which are closer to the ground.

Now, if you thought the Venus flytrap was bad for eating insects, you’ve heard nothing about the Nepenthes plant. This plant eats spiders, insects, scorpions, and centipedes; it has also been known to capture lizards, frogs, and even snails. Though not very common, it has occurred. If you’re interested in owning a Nepenthes plant you can purchase seeds and grow it in a greenhouse, but keep in mind, you’ll be responsible for manually feeding it insects (mostly crickets). Who doesn’t want a pet plant?

3. Dracunculus Vulgaris

Dracunculus Vulgaris

Sometimes called the Stink Lily or the Dragonwort, the Dracunculus vulgaris gets its name from its shape. The plant has a long spadex that is often a black or very deep purple color that is surrounded by the spathe. The spadex is often referred to as the dragon that is hiding in the spathe. The plant is most often found in the Balkans, including Crete, Greece, and the Aegean Islands. However, researchers have been able to take it from these locations and harvest it within the U.S. in states such as Tennessee, Oregon, and California. They have also been taken to Puerto Rico.

The plant gets one of its nicknames from the smell that it gives off, which has been compared to the smell of rotting flesh. The smell attracts pollinators so that the plant can continue to grow. The good thing is that the smell is only temporary and does eventually go away. The Stink Lily is a very hardy plant that grows more each year. Plants can have more than 40 blooms at one time.

2. Rafflesia Arnoldii

http://www.youtube.com/v/LWD95QxDFjk&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&version=3

The Rafflesia arnoldii is another plant on the list that isn’t known for its beauty or elegance, but for its order and size. It is extremely rare and it isn’t a plant you can just grow anywhere, placing it higher on this list. Like the Dracunculus vulgaris, it’s smell is very similar to rotting meat and this scent is needed to attract certain insects that will eventually pollinate the plant for further growth. The plant was named after Sir Stamford Raffles, a man who founded the colony of Singapore. You’ll find this plant in the Borneo and Sumatra rainforests as well as in the Indonesian Archipelago. Adding to it’s uniqueness, the Rafflesia arnoldii is considered to be the plant with the largest flower, which can weigh up to 24lbs and be as wide as 3 feet.

You won’t be able to walk through the rainforest and find many of these. The growing process for the plants take months and the flower itself only stays in bloom for a few days. At the same time many consider this plant to be on its way to extinction. Though the flower itself is highly interesting, the smell is sure to keep anyone away. The plant always grows 5 very thick petals that are generally a burnt-orange/red color.

1. Amorphophallus Titanum

http://www.youtube.com/v/Lk8kEMaRN3g&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&version=3

If you know some Latin or you’re just knowledgeable in the English language, you probably know exactly what the word phallus means; but let’s put it altogether. Amorphos means misshapen, phallus means penis, and titan means big. Yes; this plants name is big misshapen penis. How couldn’t this top the list? If the scientific name doesn’t persuade you, its nickname surely will: corpse flower. The name comes from the fact that the plant lets off an odor that is said to smell exactly like rotting and dead flesh. The Amorphophallus titanum is a plant that is only indigenous in the Sumatra rainforests, though it has been transplanted, harvested, and grown around the world. The plant reaches a towering 10 feet and closely resembles a calla lily but with a spadex growing through the middle of it. Though the smell isn’t pleasant to human noses, it serves its purpose: attracting carrion beetles, dung beetles, and flesh flies.

Top Ten Google Maps Satellite Photos

September 15, 2010

If you haven’t used Google Maps before I suggest you take about 15 minutes and start playing. Enter your home address, work address, a place you would like to visit. You will be amazed at the technology and probably a little paranoid too. The detail that can be achieved is truly astounding and from the screen shots below you can see how creative the citizens of planet earth can be when they know Google is watching.

All of the images below are real and nothing has been altered or “photoshopped” to create the satellite photos you see. For the non-believers a link to the Google Maps page showing the image has been included so you can zoom in and zoom out to see the surrounding mapped area. If you know of any other satellite photos that should have been added please make a comment. If you wish to submit a list, please visit our submission page we are always looking for more ideas.

10. Colonel Sanders

10 colonel

A clever advertising ploy on a planetary scale. Do you wonder if aliens see this and think this is what we all look like? View the Colonel’s Google Map.

9. A doe, a deer, a female deer

9 deer

A deer runs gracefully…upside down…through a meadow.

8. Native American Head in Alberta Canada

8 indian head

The rough terrain in Alberta, Canada forms the head of a Native American when viewed from Google’s eye in the sky. And is that an ear bud and cord dangling from his ear?

7. The Pale Rider in Sutton Poyntz, UK

7 whitehorse

The Osmington White Horse, outside Sutton Poyntz, UK, is carved into the white chalk on the hillside. These horse-carved shapes are called “Leucippotomy”. Take a ride at Google Maps

6. See the Forest for the Trees

6 luecke

“LUECKE” is written in trees, literally. This was done by clearing trees while leaving strategic trees in the shape of the letters. This is actually viewable from space, so go for a closer look (see the size of the trees in relation) at Google Maps.

5. Follow the White Pink Rabbit

5 bunny

That is one helluva big Easter Bunny! You can find this bunny in Artesina, Italy. Supposedly this rabbit was knitted, not that you can see the yarn at this distance. Is he dead or sleeping, you be the judge. You can also see the rabbit at the artist’s site.

4. Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

4 davinci

Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man is just as impressive when created in a field. Not sure how long this one will last so see it fast at Google Maps, it will grow on you.

3. Coca Cola in Chile

3 coke

This Coca-Cola logo was supposedly created out of coke bottles just outside of Arica in Chile. I wonder if that is considered littering? See the bottles at Google Maps.

2. The Belly Flop that Shook the World

2 man lake

That was one titan-sized belly flop that created that lake.

1. The Real World Browser – Firefox in Portland

1 firefox logo

Crop circle art made in the shape of the Firefox Logo near Portland, Oregon. Firefox is my personal browser of choice and it appears the choice of our alien crop circle artists

Top Ten Zombie Parasites

September 13, 2010

From films like “Night of the Creeps” and “Slither” to video games such as “Resident Evil 4″ and “Halo,” sci-fi horror is crawling with parasitic lifeforms who hijack their host bodies, creating zombie slaves to spread themselves even farther. Little do many people realize, this phenomenon is a scientific reality, and happening all around us in some of the most unexpected places.

10.  Strepsipterans

StrepsipteraFem

Possibly the world’s weirdest insects, male strepsipterans are gnat-sized flying critters with huge eyes, fine senses and lifespans of only a few hours. They exist solely to find the female and mate, which can be quite tricky, because the female Strepsipteran is a limbless, eyeless, bag-like parasite living inside the body of another insect, such as a fly, bee or even a preying mantis, with only her head sticking out of the host’s body to breathe. To find herself a male, the parasite will release her mating pheromones on the wind and force her insect host to wait patiently in an obvious and convenient location, such as the tip of a long leaf or twig. Try to imagine having to stand around for hours while the face on your back flirts with strange, tiny men. Days later, she’ll upchuck a bunch of live larvae on the next flower you visit, the perfect place to infect even more insects.

9.  Fish Flukes

Life cycle of Schistocephalus solidus

For most fish, evading predatory birds is as simple as swimming just beyond the reach of a beak…so just how do so many fish end up in the gullets of pelicans and cranes? A huge portion of the average seabird’s diet consists not of normal, healthy fish, but fish under the influence of parasitic worms. Sticklebacks, for example, suffer from the tapeworm Schistocephalus solidus, which grows so large that the host becomes swollen and sluggish. It also changes the host’s coloration to be easier to spot, and finally, alters the host’s behavior to swim near the surface. The worms feed the fish to the birds, and the birds spread the worms to new lakes and rivers in their droppings.

8.  Gordian Worm

Gordian Worm
Once known as “horse hair” worms because they would appear mysteriously in horse troughs, Gordian worms spend their parasitic larval stage within the bodies of insects, especially crickets, but spend their non-parasitic adult stage in water. Crickets aren’t known for their swimming ability, but try telling that to a parasitic nematode (really, try it. They don’t even comprehend English, it’s ridiculous.) When it’s time for adulthood, the worm compels its cricket to seek out the nearest body of water and dive right in. The confused cricket usually drowns, while the worm wriggles free to find itself a mate.

7.  Cordyceps

Cordeceps
Cordyceps are an entire genus of fungi which develop in the bodies of various insects. Every species has a different host, and will eventually kill the victim to sprout into a tiny mushroom and release its spores. To better propogate themselves, many species take control of their victims shortly before mushroom-time, forcing them to climb up high where the spores can spread farther. They even initiate this at the ideal time of day to infect their preferred hosts; Cordyceps of houseflies, for instance, kill their victim around dawn, when the air is nice and moist for germination and new flies are just hatching from their pupae.

6.  Sacculina

Sacculina 500x400
Sacculina is technically a type of barnacle, a crustacean just like its crab hosts, but it was at one time mistaken for a fungus. The female begins her life in a microscopic, shrimplike swimming stage, but will discard more than 90% of her body when she locates a crab, reducing down to a blob of raw cells which grow “roots” throughout the host and eventually create a small opening for the male sacculina to enter and mate with her. If the host crab is a female, it gets tricked by the parasite into carrying, nurturing and spreading larval Sacculina as if they were its own little crablings…and even if the host crab is male, Sacculina transforms its body and mind to function just like a female anyway.

5.  Leucochloridium

Leucochloridium 456x400
Related to tapeworms, Leucochloridium inhabits the body of a snail but must complete its life cycle in the body of a songbird. Birds don’t find snails to be particularly appetizing and wouldn’t normally notice them lurking in the shadows, but the parasite is able to reverse the snail’s behavior so that it seeks the open sun, and more disturbingly, it warps the snail’s appearance to resemble something tastier. Leucochloridium’s colorful, pulsating “brood sacs” grow within the snail’s eyestalks, transforming them into what resemble fat, striped caterpillars or maggots. Birds spot the lure from the air, rip the snail’s face off, and end up spreading the parasites around in their droppings. The snail, meanwhile, will grow back its tentacles to repeat the grim process again and again.

4.  Ribeiroia

Ribeiroia
While this tapeworm relative doesn’t pull any fancy mind control, it does perpetuate itself by transforming its host into a monster; the victims here are tadpoles, and the larval parasites – which look oddly tadpole-like themselves – will tamper with the tadpole’s development into a frog to create horrific deformities. Infected frogs may have any number of deformed arms and legs at awkward, random angles, making it extremely difficult for them to swim or hop. The only purpose of this extreme transformation is to get the frog caught and eaten by – surprise, surprise – a predatory waterbird for a free flight to the next pond.

3.  Lancet Fluke

lancet fluke
Another one that messes with ants, the adult lancet fluke inhabits the body of a cow, releasing its eggs into the host’s feces. Snails, who happen to enjoy a nice hot cow pie, end up eating the eggs and getting infested with worm larvae. The snails react to the larvae by spitting them back out in big balls of slime, and these wormy slimeballs smell incredibly delicious to passing ants. Once eaten by an ant, the worm waits until nightfall – when it’s nice and cool – and forces the ant to climb a blade of grass, bite down on the tip, and raise its butt into the air. This is the perfect position to get swallowed by another cow, and if the ant doesn’t get swallowed? The worm releases control in the morning, allows the ant to live a normal day of anthood, and repeats the whole process night after night. It’s just like a vampire, if vampires awoke every night trying to get eaten by cows, so actually nothing like a vampire. Nevermind.

2.  Pseudacteon

Pseudacteon
Though related to the harmless fruit flies breeding in the world’s neglected fruit bowls, Pseudacteon flies have a far more sinister appetite. The female lays her egg in the body of a living ant, and the tiny maggot will eventually move into the ant’s head to devour its brain. This won’t kill the victim, but will cause the ant’s (technically dead) body to wander aimlessly for days on end, until the ant’s head simply drops off from its body. The maggot will use the severed head as a pupation chamber, transforming into a new fly and finding itself a mate.

1. Glyptapanteles

Glyptapanteles 560x337
There are many, many species of “parasitoid” wasp whose larvae develop in the bodies of other insects, particularly caterpillars, and there are many of these which can alter their host’s behavior, but Glyptapanteles may be one of the most shocking. Like other parasitoid wasps, the larvae will eventually eat their way out of their caterpillar host to spin cocoons and develop into adults, but in this case, the process does not kill the caterpillar. Instead, the partially eaten host will stand guard over the wasp cocoons, cover them in layers of silk and flail viciously at tresspassing insects. When the parasites are finished their metamorphosis and emerge from their cocoons as wasps, the zombie caterpillar finally dies of starvation and exhaustion.

Top 10 Worst Oil Spills

August 29, 2010

Oil spills have occurred ever since we began to harvest it for various uses, as a result of human error, laziness, or pure ignorance. Most recently, the devastating Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been all over the news- oil was pouring out of the blown rig for almost 100 days- so you probably won’t be surprised to find it on this list. More surprising: there have been worse spills in history.

Remember 1989’s Exxon Valdez oil spill? It was heavily referred to during the recent Deep Water Horizon oil spill, yet this oil spill doesn’t even make the list. Sadly, the Exxon Valdez spill seems miniscule compared to the other spills on this list. Below are the 10 worst oil spills ever recorded in history determined by the amount of oil that was leaked during the disaster:

10. The MT Haven, Italy, 1991 – 45 million gallons

MT Haven -worst-oil-spills-in-history

The MT Haven was launched in 1973 after its sister ship sank earlier in the decade. The main purpose of the ship was to carry crude oil from the Middle East gulf regions to various other countries. In 1987 during the Iran-Iraq war, the ship was hit by a missile and was sent to Singapore for repair. There, after it was fixed, the ship was sold to brokers. After being sold, the ship ran from Kharg Island (located off Iran) into the Mediterranean. For years the ship successfully ran its course back and forth through the waters.  Until April 11, 1991. On this day, the ship was, as usual, unloading oil (about 230,000 tons) at a platform a few miles from Genoa, Italy. After unloading about 80,000 tons, everything went wrong during a routine internal operation and there was an explosion.

A fire broke out immediately and flames were as high as 100 meters. More explosions occurred as millions of gallons of oil dispersed into the water. Six people were killed because of the disaster. Officials attempted to tow the ship to the land, but this failed as the keel was broken. A day after the explosion the ship sank, and for 12 years continued to leak oil. In the end the new owners of the ship were blamed due to repair of the ship after it was hit by a missile and put back into operation. (Image: underwater ship wreck of the MT Haven.)

9. ABT Summer, Angola, 1991 – 51 million gallons

ABT Summer oil spill angola

On May 28, 1991, the oil tanker ABT Summer was on its way from Iran to Rotterdam. It was carrying about 260,000 tons of oil. Near the end of its journey, the ABT Summer suddenly burst into flames. The ship was about 900 miles away from Angola. Once the flames began, the oil also started to leak from the tanker. The oil eventually began to form a slick that spread out to be about 80 square miles. The oil itself also burned too. The tanker was on fire for 3 whole days until it sank on June 1. After sinking, officials attempted to recover and locate the wreckage, but their efforts proved to be unsuccessful.

There is no clear evidence of exactly how much oil was burned or how much sank during the disaster. Out of the 32 crew-members on the ship, 5 of them died because of the explosion. While 51 million gallons of oil spilled into the water, there was nothing ever professionally done to fix it. It wasn’t too close to the coastline, so many believed that the high movement of the seas would eventually break up the oil slick and carry it away from the shore, reducing or completely eliminating any type of environmental impact.

8. The Amoco Cadiz, France, 1978 – 69 million gallons

Amo Cadiz French Oil Spill -worst-oil-spills-in-history

In 1978, the Amoco Cadiz, a very large crude carrier, was on its way from the Persian Gulf to Rotterdam with a stop in Great Britain. During this stop the ship experienced very unsettled water due to unstable weather conditions. The morning of the stop, a very heavy wave crashed into the ship’s rudder. The rudder was damaged and efforts to repair it failed. The ship sent out messages stating that it was unable to move, but no one on the ship called for assistance from a tug until hours later. A German tug eventually responded to the call but the high seas made assistance difficult. A tow line was eventually attached, but it broke, and a successful line was not put on until 8:55 that night. In efforts to stop the drifting, the Amoco Cadiz dropped its anchor, but the strong winds and mass of the tanker were too strong. At about 9:00PM, the ship ran aground, which then caused the engines to flood, which then ripped the hull and allowed oil to escape.

The next morning, the ship split in half and 69 million gallons of oil washed into the English Channel. Thankfully, everyone was rescued by French Naval Aviation troops, so no one died during the incident. Eventually the French Navy would sink the ship. None of the oil was able to be pumped out of the tanker due to the horrible weather. The oil eventually reached beaches, 76 in total, and spread 200 miles along the coastline.

7. Castillo de Bellver, South Africa, 1983 – 79 million gallons

Castillo De Bellver -worst-oil-spills-in-history

The Castillo de Bellver was carrying 252,000 tons of crude oil to South Africa on August 6, 1983. Once the ship was about 70 miles off of Cape Town, it suddenly caught fire, which caused the ship to drift and then break into two separate pieces. The stern, which may have been carrying about 100,000 tons of oil, was capsized about 24 miles from the South African coast. Once the flames died down and no more explosions were expected, the ship’s bow was towed away from the coast and then explosive charges were used to sink it. 50,000-60,000 tons of the oil may have sank into the sea or burned during the fire.

Thankfully, the oil never reached the coastline. It was headed towards the coast but a wind shift changed the direction of the oil back away from the coast. There wasn’t much clean up with this oil spill though dispersants were used. The impact wasn’t as serious as it could have been and wildlife seemed to be able to cope.

6. Nowruz Oil Field, Persian Gulf, 1983 – 80 million gallons

Nowruz oil spill

The year of 1983 really proved to be a horrible year at the Nowruz Oil Field. There were several different incidents that resulted in oil being spilled into the Persian Gulf. All of these incidents occurred during the height of the Iran-Iraq War. During the war, an oil tanker collided into an oil platform in the Persian Gulf. The power and force of the collision caused the platform to fall into a 45 degree angle-position. Waves and daily corrosion eventually caused the riser to fall into the wellhead. This of course caused heavy damage and for months, the well leaked 1,500 barrels of oil each day. Even though many planned efforts to stop the leakage were put into place, capping the well was seen as too dangerous because Iraqi planes were constantly attacking the platform.

Before this first incident was resolved, there were more oil spills. For example, in March 1983, Iraqi helicopters attacked a platform in the Nowruz Oil Field. During this incident alone, over 733,000 barrels of oil were spilled. The spill was finally stopped and capped in May 1983, but only after 9 people died in the attempt to cap the well. The first Nowruz incident was not solved until September 1983- 11 men had died during attempts to stop the leak.

5. Fergana Valley/Mingbulak, Russia, 1992 – 88 million gallons

Fergana Valley Russian oil spills

When you think about an oil spill you probably picture a capsized tanker or drilling platform issue; however, the Fergana Valley oil spill didn’t involve either. This case of the Fergana Valley oil spill is definitely one of ignorant thinking. It stands as one of the largest inland oil spills ever recorded. The Fergana Valley is located between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan which was a densely populated area with highly fertile land for agriculture. Vast oil deposits were discovered under the land- of course with this type of finding, drilling would happen, and it did.

On March 2, 1992, an oil well located in the area experienced a mechanical breakdown which then caused an oil blow out. This well was one of the most active in the location, resulting in the spilling of 88 million gallons of oil. The oil quickly flowed out of the well and into the valley. The oil from the well had been leaking for 8 months, but dikes were used to hold it back. Eventually the dikes failed and oil was sent into the Russian Arctic. The oil somehow stopped flowing on its own. The oil field was abandoned soon after.

4. Atlantic Empress/Aegean Captain, Trinidad and Tobago, 1979 – 90 million gallons

Atlantic Empress

On July 19, 1979, there was a very strong tropical storm in the Caribbean Sea near the Venezuelan coast very close to Tobago. Two ships, the Atlantic Empress and the Aegean Captain, were out on the sea trying to battle through the storm. The storm was extremely severe and weather conditions were horrible and the two ships collided. The Atlantic Empress, a fully loaded supertanker, carrying millions of gallons of oil, exploded into flames. Along with the explosion came the rushing of oil into the water, which wasn’t stopped until August 3, 1979.

A lot of the oil that was leaked burned in the fire; however, by the end of it all, 90 million gallons had seeped into the water near Tobago. The Atlantic Empress eventually sank, which brought an end to this oil disaster. Today it stands as the largest ship oil spill today.

3. Ixtoc I, Mexico, 1979 – 138 million gallons

Ixtoc Oil Spill

The Ixtoc I incident in Mexico is one that did not involve a tanker. Instead, the spill of 138 million gallons of oil was caused by a faulty offshore oil well. Pemex, a Mexican petroleum company, was attempting to drill an oil well when an unexpected blowout occurred on June 3, 1979. In no time the oil ignited, the drilling rig collapsed and oil began to freely flow into the Gulf of Mexico. Officials predicted that 10,000-30,000 barrels of oil a day were going into the Gulf. The horrible part is that it took almost a year to stop the leak. It was successfully capped in 1980, only after millions of gallons of oil had polluted waters.

Thankfully, Mother Nature helped with the Ixtoc I oil spill. Westerly winds and storms were able to keep the oil away and off of beaches near southeastern Texas and eastern Mexico, although some of the oil did reach South Padre Island. Beaches were soiled, but the outcome could have been much worse if the weather did not cooperate.

2. Deepwater Horizon, Gulf of Mexico, 2010 – 172 million gallons

http://www.youtube.com/v/3oWEZ-XdMnk&hl=en_US&fs=1

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill located in the Gulf of Mexico occurred on April 20, 2010 after methane gas was somehow put under extremely high pressure, which then caused it to travel up the drill column and eventually ignite. The ignition then prompted an explosion that killed 11 workers (presumed dead as bodies were never found) and injured 17. The ship burned for about 36 hours, after efforts to calm the fire failed, and sank on April 22, 2010. The well continued to leak for over 100 days after various efforts and plans to stop the leak failed. Oil dispersants were widely spread throughout the waters, which helped some. A final fix came about on August 3, 2010 when mud was pumped into the well to stop the flow of oil.

The disturbing part of this spill is that it could have been avoided. Several workers on the platform spoke of their concerns regarding the well months before, but no action was ever really taken. The effects of this oil spill have been truly horrible. Animals have suffered, including pelicans, turtles, birds, and various others. Also, many people are out of plenty of money, jobs, and- in many cases- hope.

(Note: The amount of oil listed for the Deep Water Horizon oil spill was confirmed on August 2, 2010. Of course, the amount may change.)

1. Gulf War, Kuwait, 1991 – 520 million gallons

Gulf War oil spills

The Gulf War oil spill was not an accident; the oil was spilled purposefully during wartime. During the Gulf War in 1991, Iraqi forces, in hopes of thwarting the arrival of American Marine soldiers as well as lessening American oil supplies, unsealed and opened the valves located at an offshore oil terminal named Sea Island. They also dumped oil from many different tankers into the Persian Gulf. The media first reported that airstrikes from the Americans had blown up two oil tankers. In the end this wasn’t the case, though the Americans did eventually destroy the pipelines to avert more oil spilling into the Gulf.

By the end of it all, about 172 million gallons of oil poured into the Gulf. The oil covered over 4000 square miles and some of it was 5-inches thick. A study conducted after the oil spill found that the spill probably did very little damage in the long-term due to the fact that most of the oil evaporated and millions of barrels were able to be recovered. In the short-term, the impact on wildlife living in Kuwait and Iraq was devastating.

Breathtaking Visions of Earth – National Geographic

August 28, 2010