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The Big Squeeze: Scientist Catches Bear-Eating Snake in the Act

Burmese Python image via Shutterstock

Earlier this week a team of scientists from several universities and the US Geological Survey released a study documenting the dramatically declining numbers of small and medium-size mammals in Florida - including raccoons, opossums, white-tailed deer, bobcats, rabbits and foxes. These population drops all occur in the same areas where pythons and other large, non-native snakes have taken up residence after escaping from one stop or another in the wildlife trade supply chain.

Anyone who’s even heard only the most basic facts about constrictor snakes knows that they’re formidable predators and take down prey by grasping it in their powerful jaws, coiling their bodies around it, and squeezing until it suffocates. Devouring bunnies and possums isn't even the half of it, though. These big snakes aren’t shy about going after much larger, more dangerous game, too. Like men. And bears.

Skin of a 22.6-foot reticulated python, shot by Kekek Aduanan (in hat) on June 9, 1970. Photo by Thomas N. Headland

In the 1970s, anthropologist Thomas N. Headland lived with and studied the Agta Negritos, the indigenous people of the Philippines’ largest island. When Headland interviewed the Agta about their run-ins with the pythons that shared the rainforest with them, 15 of 58 men and 1 of 62 women said they’d been attacked by a python at least once. Two of the men had been attacked twice, and the interviewees could collectively remember six people who were killed by pythons, including a man whose son found the snake, cut it open and retrieved his father's body for a funeral (that snake is pictured above).

It Poked the Bear

In July 1999, conservation biologist Gabriella Fredriksson was monitoring a female Sun bear and her cub on the island of Borneo via radio collar. One morning, the collar’s signal indicated that the bear hadn’t moved for more than four hours, a sign that either the bear had died or the collar had come off. Fredriksson investigated and tracked the signal to the stomach of a 23 ft python curled up in the brush. The bulge of the adult bear could be clearly seen in the middle of the snake, and as the snake fled into a nearby stream when Fredriksson got too close, she could hear the sounds of the bear’s bones snapping. No sign of the cub was ever found.

The radio collar remained functioning, so Fredriksson tracked the snake over several weeks as it digested the bear. The snake was eventually captured, escaped, captured again and, when it hadn’t passed the radio collar out by October, the equipment was surgically removed. The snake was released into the wild soon after.

Granted, Sun bears are the smallest bear species and a little less fearsome than their cousins, feasting mainly on insects and fruit. It’s not nearly as impressive as a python eating a polar bear (ignore the improbability of that for a second and imagine how awesome that cage match would be). That said, they’re still not an animal that one attacks, kills and devours with ease. They’re sizable, have long, sharp curved claws, strong jaws and sharp teeth. Anecdotal evidence from Borneon residents suggests that tigers will take the occasional Sun bear, but this snake attack is one of only a few recorded instances of any bear species being preyed on by animals other than humans or other bears.

For more on Florida’s python problem, see the study and the coverage at Not Exactly Rocket Science, which has a great discussion in the comments about how unlikely it is that the pythons were so successful in establishing themselves in their new home.

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Food
Hate Red M&M's? You Need a Candy Color-Sorting Machine
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iStock

You don’t have to be a demanding rock star to live a life without brown M&M's or purple Skittles—all you need is some engineering know-how and a little bit of free time.

Mechanical engineering student Willem Pennings created a machine that can take small pieces of candy—like M&M's, Skittles, Reese’s Pieces, etc.—and sort them by color into individual piles. All Pennings needs to do is pour the candy into the top funnel; from there, the machine separates the candy—around two pieces per second—and dispenses all of it into smaller bowls at the bottom designated for each variety.

The color identification is performed with an RGB sensor that takes “optical measurements” of candy pieces of equal dimensions. There are limitations, though, as Pennings revealed in a Reddit Q&A: “I wouldn't be able to use this machine for peanut M&M's, since the sizes vary so much.”

The entire building process lasted from May through December 2016, and included the actual conceptualization, 3D printing (which was outsourced), and construction. The entire project was detailed on Pennings’s website and Reddit's DIY page.

With all of the motors, circuitry, and hardware that went into it, Pennings’s machine is likely too ambitious of a task for the average candy aficionado. So until a machine like this hits the open market, you're probably stuck buying bags of single-colored M&M’s in bulk online or sorting all of the candy out yourself the old fashioned way.

To see Pennings’s machine in action, check out the video below:

[h/t Refinery 29]

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Pop Culture
The Strange Hidden Link Between Silent Hill and Kindergarten Cop
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

by Ryan Lambie

At first glance, Kindergarten Cop and Silent Hill don't seem to have much in common—aside from both being products of the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade came Kindergarten Cop, the hit comedy directed by Ivan Reitman and starring larger-than-life action star Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the decade’s end came Silent Hill, Konami’s best-selling survival horror game that sent shivers down PlayStation owners’ spines.

As pop culture artifacts go, they’re as different as oil and water. Yet eagle-eyed players may have noticed a strange hidden link between the video game and the goofy family comedy.

In Silent Hill, you control Harry Mason, a father hunting for his daughter Cheryl in the eerily deserted town of the title. Needless to say, the things Mason uncovers are strange and very, very gruesome. Early on in the game, Harry stumbles on a school—Midwich Elementary School, to be precise—which might spark a hint of déjà vu as soon as you approach its stone steps. The building’s double doors and distinctive archway appear to have been taken directly from Kindergarten Cop’s Astoria Elementary School.

Could it be a coincidence?

Well, further clues can be found as you venture inside. As well as encountering creepy gray children and other horrors, you’ll notice that its walls are decorated with numerous posters. Some of those posters—including a particularly distinctive one with a dog on it—also decorated the halls of the school in Kindergarten Cop.

Do a bit more hunting, and you’ll eventually find a medicine cabinet clearly modeled on one glimpsed in the movie. Most creepily of all, you’ll even encounter a yellow school bus that looks remarkably similar to the one in the film (though this one has clearly seen better days).

Silent Hill's references to the movie are subtle—certainly subtle enough for them to pass the majority of players by—but far too numerous to be a coincidence. When word of the link between game and film began to emerge in 2012, some even joked that Konami’s Silent Hill was a sequel to Kindergarten Cop. So what’s really going on?

When Silent Hill was in early development back in 1996, director Keiichiro Toyama set out to make a game that was infused with influences from some of his favorite American films and TV shows. “What I am a fan of is occult stuff and UFO stories and so on; that and I had watched a lot of David Lynch films," he told Polygon in 2013. "So it was really a matter of me taking what was on my shelves and taking the more horror-oriented aspects of what I found.”

A scene from 'Silent Hill'
Divine Tokyoska, Flickr

In an interview with IGN much further back, in 2001, a member of Silent Hill’s staff also stated, “We draw our influences from all over—fiction, movies, manga, new and old.”

So while Kindergarten Cop is perhaps the most outlandish movie reference in Silent Hill, it’s by no means the only one. Cafe5to2, another prominent location in the game, is taken straight from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

Elsewhere, you might spot a newspaper headline which references The Silence Of The Lambs (“Bill Skins Fifth”). Look carefully, and you'll also find nods to such films as The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and 12 Monkeys.

Similarly, the town’s streets are all named after respected sci-fi and horror novelists, with Robert Bloch, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson among the most obvious. Oh, and Midwich, the name of the school? That’s taken from the classic 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, twice adapted for the screen as The Village Of The Damned in 1960 and 1995.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Kindergarten Cop'
Universal Pictures

The reference to Kindergarten Cop could, therefore, have been a sly joke on the part of Silent Hill’s creators—because what could be stranger than modeling something in a horror game on a family-friendly comedy? But there could be an even more innocent explanation: that Kindergarten Cop spends so long inside an ordinary American school simply gave Toyama and his team plenty of material to reference when building their game.

Whatever the reasons, the Kindergarten Cop reference ranks highly among the most strange and unexpected film connections in the history of the video game medium. Incidentally, the original movie's exteriors used a real school, John Jacob Astor Elementary in Astoria, Oregon. According to a 1991 article in People Magazine, the school's 400 fourth grade students were paid $35 per day to appear in Kindergarten Cop as extras.

It’s worth pointing out that the school is far less scary a place than the video game location it unwittingly inspired, and to the best of our knowledge, doesn't have an undercover cop named John Kimble serving as a teacher there, either.

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