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7 Surprising Ways Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You

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ThinkStock

It's no secret that a lot of things in nature want to kill you. You're surely familiar with some of Mother Nature's more aggressive weapons: the cobra, the black widow, the volcano, the bright red toadstools. But what about the more subtle, rarer methods of execution? Death disguised in pretty rocks, beans, and beautiful sea creatures? Here are seven lesser-known natural assassins that may be lurking in your life.

1. On your patio: the castor bean plant

These plants are popular patio decorations in warmer regions of America. It's a beautiful plant during all stages of its bloom, at the end of which the bean (actually a seed) becomes a vibrant prickly flower. The real name of the castor bean plant is Ricinus communis. And its seeds are where the deadly poison ricin comes from. A lethal dose for humans is four to six seeds, which, unless treated, brings on a very slow and painful death (burning sensation in mouth and throat, abdominal pain, purging, and bloody diarrhea).

2. In your rock collection: Hutchinsonite

If hell were made up of one particular rock, it would probably be Hutchinsonite. Discovered by Arthur Hutchinson in 1904, Hutchinsonite is a mixture of sulphur, thallium, lead, and arsenic. Three of those four minerals are lethal to humans, and the fourth one, sulphur, isn't terribly pleasant either. Mindat, the largest mineral database on the internet, warns emphatically, "Avoid inhaling dust when handling or breaking. Never lick or ingest."

3. While on a tropical vacation: blue-ringed octopus

The blue-ringed octopus is just the sort of hallucinogenic beauty a scuba diver would hope to discover while exploring coral reefs off the coast of Australia. The tiny octopus (5 to 8 inches) actually looks quite plain until it is agitated, at which point it will become bright yellow with brilliant blue rings. It then begins to bite, producing a neurotoxic venom for which there is no anti-venom. Each octopus carries enough venom to kill 26 humans. The bites are tiny, and sometimes a diver might not even know he was bitten... until his heart stops and his lungs are paralyzed.

4. In your organic foods: hemlock

The poison hemlock family of plants includes some clever little killers. Hemlock has mastered the art of disguise. It is one of many wild "carrot" plants, most of which are harmless and often edible. It looks a lot like the harmless Queen Anne's lace, but hemlock will paralyze your respiratory muscles and kill you from lack of oxygen. Would you bet your life on which is which?

5. In the dirt: Coccidioides

In certain parts of southwestern America, even the dirt is trying to kill you. Well, not actually the dirt, but a fungus, called Coccidioides immitus, that lives in the dirt. This fungus is easily kicked up and made airborne, from construction, farming, wind, and earthquakes. When inhaled, the fungus produces an illness called cocci, or "valley fever." The good news is only about 5 percent of people infected with cocci actually develop the disease. But it can get ugly when they do. Without treatment, cocci can spread throughout the body, devouring everything it touches. It can cause skin ulcers, abscesses, bone lesions, severely swollen joints, heart inflammation, urinary tract problems, and meningitis, which can lead to death.

6. In your fish tank: palytoxin

Zoanthids are tiny little marine animals that like to live on coral and rocks. They live comfortably in some home aquariums and occasionally accumulate in seafood as well. And they are absolutely teeming with palytoxin, one of the more deadly poisons known to man. Should a person eat seafood that has ingested too many zoanthids, scrape an open wound across a zoanthid, or, as in one peculiar case, inhale palytoxin while trying to clean their aquarium, horrible things can happen. He will experience rhabdomyolysis. This means his skeletal muscles break down and the content of his cells will leak into the blood. The body begins, quite quickly, to suffer nearly every imaginable effect of poisoning, from kidney failure to prickling, burning skin. The cause behind most palytoxin death is heart failure.

7. On your hot springs vacation: hydrogen sulfide

Some people call it sewer gas; some just call it stink damp. When organic material decomposes (in sewers, swamps, or natural fertilizers) under the right conditions, it can produce a lethal gas called hydrogen sulfide. It is also produced when some sulfide minerals (like those lining the walls of natural wells and springs) are mixed with water. When this gas is released into the air, it can kill a person before he draws in his second breath of it. Even the natural warning, the rotten egg smell of sulphur, can't be counted on as hydrogen sulfide deadens the sense of smell. Not to mention it is also corrosive, flammable, and highly explosive. The good news is low exposure does little harm. The bad news is high exposure can come with little warning.

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How a Hairdresser Found a Way to Fight Oil Spills With Hair Clippings
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker made global news in 1989 when it dumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Alaska's coast. As experts were figuring out the best ways to handle the ecological disaster, a hairdresser from Alabama named Phil McCroy was tinkering with ideas of his own. His solution, a stocking stuffed with hair clippings, was an early version of a clean-up method that's used at real oil spill sites today, according to Vox.

Hair booms are sock-like tubes stuffed with recycled hair, fur, and wool clippings. Hair naturally soaks up oil; most of the time it's sebum, an oil secreted from our sebaceous glands, but it will attract crude oil as well. When hair booms are dragged through waters slicked with oil, they sop up all of that pollution in a way that's gentle on the environment.

The same properties that make hair a great clean-up tool at spills are also what make animals vulnerable. Marine life that depends on clean fur to stay warm can die if their coats are stained with oil that's hard to wash off. Footage of an otter covered in oil was actually what inspired Phil McCroy to come up with his hair-based invention.

Check out the full story from Vox in the video below.

[h/t Vox]

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This Self-Cloning Tick is Terrorizing More States
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iStock

Few arachnids are as demonized in the summer months as ticks, the parasitic little nuisances that can spread disease in humans and pets. That's not likely to change now that there's a exotic new species that can not only self-replicate, but is also poised to attack animals like a colony of swarming fire ants.

This super-tick is Haemaphysalis longicornis, or the longhorned tick, native to East Asia and imported to the U.S. by unknown means. The first North American sighting took place in August 2017 in New Jersey when a farmer walked into a county health office covered in nearly 1000 ticks after shearing a pet sheep that had been infested. The insect was then spotted in Virginia, West Virginia, and Arkansas, with caution advised in Maryland. As of this week, it’s now a confirmed resident of North Carolina, The Charlotte Observer reports.

H. longicornis invites more dread than a conventional tick for several reasons. It can “clone” itself, with females laying up to 2000 genetically identical eggs without any assistance from a male, a process called parthenogenesis. Reproduction is faster, with offspring appearing in just six months compared to two years for common deer ticks. It’s also an aggressive biter, nibbling on any animal flesh it can latch on to, and is able to transfer a host of diseases in the process—some of them fatal. In addition to Lyme, longhorned ticks can transmit the flu-like ehrlichiosis bacteria and the rare Powassan virus, which can cause brain inflammation.

The news isn’t much better for livestock. Given enough opportunity, the ticks can siphon enough blood from an animal to kill it, a process known as exsanguination. The attack can become so concentrated that pets have been spotted with ticks hanging from them like bunches of grapes.

New Jersey officials have confirmed the tick has survived the winter by burrowing underground, a somewhat ominous sign that the invasive species might be durable enough to become a widespread problem. Experts recommend taking all the regular precautions, including wearing long pants when outdoors, using repellent, and examining yourself and your pets for ticks. While the longhorned tick hadn’t yet displayed a taste for human flesh, it’s better to be safe than sorry. As for the sheep: following a chemical treatment, she made a full recovery.

[h/t Charlotte Observer]

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