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Camera Trap Catches Deer Gnawing Human Remains

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Researchers reviewing footage at a Texas forensic research facility were startled to see an unfamiliar face hovering over a decomposing human body. They described their discovery in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

Texas State University's Forensic Anthropology Research Facility (FARF) is what’s known colloquially as a body farm: a large area of indoor and outdoor space where scientists can study the effects of various influences on decaying human remains. The research conducted at FARF and other forensic facilities helps us understand what happens after we die, and it informs law enforcement as they investigate crimes.

The folks at FARF are used to seeing strange and unpleasant things. Camera traps posted near bodies throughout the landscape allow them to watch as scavengers like foxes and birds move in. But until they pulled the footage from January 2015, nobody there—or anywhere else—had ever seen a human-eating deer.

(Warning: the images below are, well, exactly what you think they’re going to be. Proceed gingerly.)


Meckel et al., J Forensic Sci 2017

Ungulates like deer, sheep, and even giraffes have been known to gnaw bones in the wild from time to time; the theory is that they’re after some nutrients that they haven’t been able to get elsewhere. Still, human bones are something different altogether.

This was not just some weird deer having a weird day. The camera traps captured a deer (possibly the same deer, possibly not) on two separate occasions that month holding a human rib bone in its mouth “like a cigar,” as the researchers write. The body had lain in that spot for six months.


Meckel et al., J Forensic Sci 2017

The findings have implications beyond merely creeping us out. If chowing down on human remains is something that deer do, even occasionally, it’s a factor that forensic law enforcement will need to consider in future investigations.

[h/t Popular Science]

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Geological Map Shows the Massive Reservoir Bubbling Beneath Old Faithful
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Yellowstone National Park is home to rivers, waterfalls, and hot springs, but Old Faithful is easily its most iconic landmark. Every 45 to 125 minutes, visitors gather around the geyser to watch it shoot streams of water reaching up to 100 feet in the air. The punctual show is one of nature’s greatest spectacles, but new research from scientists at the University of Utah suggests that what’s going on at the geyser’s surface is just the tip of the iceberg.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, features a map of the geological plumbing system beneath Old Faithful. Geologists have long known that the eruptions are caused by water heated by volcanic rocks beneath the ground reaching the boiling point and bubbling upwards through cracks in the earth. But the place where this water simmers between appearances has remained mysterious to scientists until now.

Using 133 seismometers scattered around Old Faithful and the surrounding area, the researchers were able to record the tiny tremors caused by pressure build-up in the hydrothermal reservoir. Two weeks of gathering data helped them determine just how large the well is. The team found that the web of cracks and fissures beneath Old Faithful is roughly 650 feet in diameter and capable of holding more than 79 million gallons of water. When the geyser erupts, it releases just 8000 gallons. You can get an idea of how the reservoir fits into the surrounding geology from the diagram below.

Geological map of geyser.
Sin-Mei Wu, University of Utah

After making the surprising discovery, the study authors plan to return to the area when park roads close for the winter to conduct further research. Next time, they hope to get even more detailed images of the volatile geology beneath this popular part of Yellowstone.

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Animals
Why Do Female Spotted Hyenas Give Birth Through Their Pseudo-Penises?
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At the zoo, you can sometimes tell the difference between male and female animals by noting their physical size, their behavior, and yes, their nether regions. Hyenas, however, flip the script: Not only are lady spotted hyenas bigger and meaner than their male counterparts, ruling the pack with an iron paw, they also sport what appear to be penises—shaft, scrotum, and all.

"Appear" is the key word here: These 7-inch-long phalluses don't produce sperm, so they're technically really long clitorises in disguise. But why do female hyenas have them? And do they actually have to (gulp) give birth through them? Wouldn't that hurt … a lot?

The short answers to these questions are, respectively, "We don't know," "Yes," and "OW." Longer answers can be found in this MinuteEarth video, which provides the full lowdown on hyena sex. Don't say we didn't warn you.

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