10 Other Illegal Animals on a Plane


Animal smugglers have some serious baggage.

1. A pet turtle

It's tough leaving your pets behind when you go on a trip. On July 29, a man in Guangzhou, China tried to sneak his beloved turtle on a flight to Beijing by hiding the reptile between two hamburger buns and stowing it in a fast food container. When X-ray screening revealed that the meal had tiny legs, the man played it cool and told security, "There's no turtle in there, just a hamburger."

2. Endangered tortoises

In March, animal traffickers in Thailand nearly pulled off something even more shell-shocking—the smuggling of more than 10 percent of an entire endangered species of tortoise. A man was arrested when he tried to pick up a suitcase containing 54 of the approximately 400 ploughshare tortoises left in Madagascar. The luggage also include 21 endangered radiated tortoises.

3. Dried caterpillars

Snacks on a plane! A British man was forced to hand over 206 pounds of dried caterpillars that he brought back from Africa as a tasty souvenir. His intention wasn't suspect—the same emperor moth larvae are already sold and consumed in the U.K. The Border Force was simply following import restrictions. So much for caterpillars and chips...

4. Otters

Security at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport discovered 11 baby otters in an abandoned bag in January. The marine mammals were likely destined for the illegal pet trade. Rescued baby otters can't be returned to the wild, so they'll spend the rest of their days in zoos.

5. A charm of hummingbirds

Is that a dozen hummingbirds in your pants, or are you just happy to see me? Customs officials at Rochambeau Airport in French Guiana detained a fidgety Dutch tourist in September 2011. When he was searched, they found not one, not two, but a dozen live hummingbirds swaddled in individual pouches sewn into his pants. A group of hummingbirds is called a charm, but being smuggled out of the country in some tourist's crotch? Not so charming.

6. A crocodile

Ideally, animal smugglers get caught before they get on a plane. But in October 2010, a domestic flight in the Democratic Republic of Congo turned to chaos when a crocodile escaped the duffel bag it was stowed in. Passengers and crew panicked and ran through the cabin. The plane eventually crashed, killing everyone except for a single passenger and the crocodile. Survival of the fittest? Not so much. The crocodile was later killed.

7. A tiger cub

A woman in Thailand failed to earn her stripes when she tried to smuggle a three-month-old tiger cub from Bangkok to Iran. Her strategy: Putting the drugged cub in a suitcase full of stuffed animals. X-ray screening revealed that one of the cuddly cats had a full skeleton. It was also snoring. Oops.

8. Tropical fish

In June 2005, one traveler made a splash when she flew from Singapore to Melbourne, Australia with a veritable aquarium under her skirt. (Some of us can barely manage a carry-on and one personal item!) Customs officials first suspected something fishy when they heard mysterious sloshing noises. A security pat-down revealed an apron with 15 plastic bags containing 51 tropical catfish. The fish were valued at $30,000, while the woman faced a fine of $83,617. Watching the Little Mermaid get busted: priceless.

9. A chameleon

Sometimes the best place to hide your contraband creature is out in the open. In July 2002, a 17-year-old girl managed to fly from Dubai to Manchester, England with her pet chameleon on her headscarf. The color-changing lizard didn't blend in entirely. Airline employees and passengers just assumed it was a plastic hair clip ... until it flicked out its tongue.

10. Birds and rare orchids and slow lorises, oh my!

In 2002, a California man was flying under the radar on his return trip from Thailand ... until a bird of paradise flew out of his suitcase. Customs found three more birds and 50 rare orchids in the luggage. The man then confessed that he had a pair of endangered slow lorises in his underwear. (Uh, that's what she said?) The man claimed he was an environmentalist trying to transport the animals to a wildlife sanctuary. The four birds ultimately died, and the slow lorises were sent to the Los Angeles Zoo.

How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library

Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Honey Bees Can Understand the Concept of Zero

The concept of zero—less than one, nothing, nada—is deceptively complex. The first placeholder zero dates back to around 300 BCE, and the notion didn’t make its way to Western Europe until the 12th century. It takes children until preschool to wrap their brains around the concept. But scientists in Australia recently discovered a new animal capable of understanding zero: the honey bee. According to Vox, a new study finds that the insects can be taught the concept of nothing.

A few other animals can understand zero, according to current research. Dolphins, parrots, and monkeys can all understand the difference between something and nothing, but honey bees are the first insects proven to be able to do it.

The new study, published in the journal Science, finds that honey bees can rank quantities based on “greater than” and “less than,” and can understand that nothing is less than one.

Left: A photo of a bee choosing between images with black dots on them. Right: an illustration of a bee choosing the image with fewer dots
© Scarlett Howard & Aurore Avarguès-Weber

The researchers trained bees to identify images in the lab that showed the fewest number of elements (in this case, dots). If they chose the image with the fewest circles from a set, they received sweetened water, whereas if they chose another image, they received bitter quinine.

Once the insects got that concept down, the researchers introduced another challenge: The bees had to choose between a blank image and one with dots on it. More than 60 percent of the time, the insects were successfully able to extrapolate that if they needed to choose the fewest dots between an image with a few dots and an image with no dots at all, no dots was the correct answer. They could grasp the concept that nothing can still be a numerical quantity.

It’s not entirely surprising that bees are capable of such feats of intelligence. We already know that they can count, teach each other skills, communicate via the “waggle dance,” and think abstractly. This is just more evidence that bees are strikingly intelligent creatures, despite the fact that their insect brains look nothing like our own.

Considering how far apart bees and primates are on the evolutionary tree, and how different their brains are from ours—they have fewer than 1 million neurons, while we have about 86 billion—this finding raises a lot of new questions about the neural basis of understanding numbers, and will no doubt lead to further research on how the brain processes concepts like zero.

[h/t Vox]


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