Getty Images
Getty Images

5 Disturbing Historical Practices You Should Never, Ever Try

Getty Images
Getty Images

Before you read these "how to" guides for foot binding and hara-kiri, take a moment to feel grateful that you live in the 21st century.

1. Dueling

A proper duel was meant to be a controlled exercise girded with structure and regulations. It was intended to prevent feuds, brawls, and other unnecessary bloodshed. Different cultures and eras had different rules, the most widespread being 1777's Irish Code Duello. Irish men were to keep a copy of it with their pistols, so that "ignorance might never be pleaded."

A duel starts with an insult. (Double points if you insult a lady under the care of the man you will duel with). If no apology is forthcoming, satisfaction is demanded and the duel is on. The Code Duello encourages apologies and reconciliation at almost all stages of the dueling process. Unless you hit someone. You can't apologize for that, you can only give him your cane and allow him to beat you if you want to avoid a duel.

The challenged may choose the weapon, unless the challenger swears he doesn't know how to use that weapon (usually a sword). The seconds, friends accompanying the duelers (primaries), are there to make sure rules are observed and to step in if necessary. They choose the time for the duel, prepare the weapons in sight of each other, and set the exact terms. The challenged chooses where the duel will be; the challenger chooses how far apart they will stand. Duels are not to be conducted at night, indicating a good sleep will help prevent hot headedness. If one man's nerves are unsteady, so that his hand shakes, everyone goes home and tries again tomorrow. After both men have shot an acceptable number of times (it varies depending on the offense) the seconds try to get them to reconcile. Death is not necessarily the objective. A lot depends on the kind of man you are dueling. President Andrew Jackson famously waited for the man who insulted his wife to fire a wild quick shot, which hit Jackson in the chest. Then, instead of deloping (firing into the ground, which although gentlemanly for a person of Jackson's status is forbidden in Code Duello), he took careful aim and shot the helpless man dead. If they can't reconcile, they stand their ground and fire at will.

2. Keelhauling

Bournville Village Trust, Birmingham, England

In the 1850s, a British ship and a French ship were anchored off the coast of the Mediterranean, refilling their water supply from a freshwater stream. A fight started between the two filling teams, as the British claimed the French were washing their clothes upstream, making the water undrinkable for the British. A French sailor struck a British officer, and for this he was keelhauled by his own crew. One of the British sailors recorded a first-hand account of the punishment. The offender was tied to a heavy grate, which itself was tied to two ropes, one on either side of the ship. The man was dropped into the ocean, allowed to sink, and then drug across the hull under the ship. This is what is known as a "keelhaul." The British crew insisted the French stop punishing the man, but the author records that the man "never recovered."

There are two options in a keelhaul. A short rope, which ensures you're shredded by the barnacles under the ship (seriously enough to tear limbs or decapitate), but makes the whole ordeal quicker. Or a long rope, which might spare you the deadly impact of the hull, but increased your chances of drowning.

3. Hara-kiri

Wikimedia Commons

At first, only honored Samurai warriors had the right to engage in the Japanese ritualistic suicide by disembowelment and decapitation called hara-kiri. The first recorded act of ceremonial hara-kiri (or seppuku) came in 1180. It was an honorable form of suicide used to avoid capture, or a more dignified method of execution allowed for warriors who had committed crimes. Hara-kiri fell out of fashion as the years wore on, but was still used plentifully by high-ranking officials after Japan's defeat in World War II. It was, at its height, a respectable and involved ritual. He who was to perform it was fed a lavish dinner, wrote out his death poem, and prepared himself while wearing a special white kimono, all with the attendance of spectators.

Disembowelment is a horrible way to die. Luckily, it wasn't the actual cause of death in traditional seppuku. A man preparing for this ritual had a second, a trusted man who was an excellent swordsman. Or, in cases of capture, a respected warrior would receive the services of an equally respected warrior from the opposing side to act as his second. As soon as the warrior had driven the blade of the tanto, (a short sword with cloth tied around the blade to keep the man who held it from cutting his hand) into his own stomach, and made the traditional left to right cut, his second would decapitate him with the blow of a sword. Eventually some forms of the ritual bypassed the tanto altogether, allowing the second to strike his blow as soon as the doomed man reached for his ceremonial knife.

4. Civil War field amputation


Getty Images

First of all, if you have yourself a nice bottle of antiseptic, some clean bandages, and some soap, you can really cut down on your required number of field amputations. Unfortunately, the doctors tending the wounded on Civil War battlegrounds did not know this. They had no concept of sterilization, germs, or the need for cleanliness (not that cleanliness was an option on a bloody battlefield). Bones were shattered by the heavy, slow-moving bullets of the day, tearing and infecting the flesh beyond repair. Wounds, even small ones, would turn septic, then gangrenous, and then the only way to save a soldier's life before the infection took over his body was to cut off the offending part.

First, wounded men would be triaged. Those most seriously wounded—shot through the head, belly, or chest—were set aside to die. There was nothing to be done for them. Soldiers wounded in extremities (which most were) still had a fighting chance. The doctor would clean the wound with a much-used but never-really-washed cloth, trying to remove shrapnel, cloth, and bone fragments.

The patient would be chloroformed. A tourniquet would be applied above the cut to control blood loss. Then incisions would be made around the leg, through the skin and muscle, leaving a flap of extra skin to cover the eventual exposed tissue. When the scalpel hit bone, the surgeon would change over to the bone saw, hack through the limb, and toss it on the pile with the rest. His attendants would stanch the severed arteries, binding the wound with horsehair, silk, or cotton threads. The surgeon would close the wound with the extra flap of skin, leaving a hole for drainage. It could be done in 10 minutes by a good surgeon. The patient was then left to survive any number of infections resulting from his unsterilized, unsanitary, but occasionally lifesaving procedure.

5. Foot binding


Getty Images

There was a time in China when, if you were a good mother, and if you cared about your daughter's future, you would cripple her. Chinese foot binding, the process of folding a girl's foot into a fist shape over the span of her childhood to make an exceptionally tiny foot as an adult, began in the 10th century and was banned in the 20th. Mothers would begin the painful process, folding the toes in toward the bottom of the foot and securing them with bandaging, from the time a little girl was 2 years old. An especially kind mother would begin the process in winter, as cold feet feel less pain. The foot was soaked to soften it, and the nails closely cut to prevent ingrowing. The child's mother would break her toes, (and eventually her arch), and bind them tightly to the sole of the foot. As the girl grew her bandages were removed, the foot cleaned, and then re-bandaged tighter. Bandages were wrapped in a figure "8" that would draw the heel and toes as close together as possible.

The result of this, when the woman reached adulthood, were what looked like tiny little doll feet, on the outside. On the inside, there was (fair warning before you click!) terrible deformation, necrosis, and infection.

Mothers did this because it ensured their daughters a better future. A wife with tiny bound feet was a showpiece. She was elegant and delicate. She could not do labor because of her feet, which separated her from common women.

Communism dealt the final official blow to foot binding, as health and hard work became associated with happiness instead of peasantry.

More from The Week...

How to Avoid "Man-Sitting"

*

7 Internet Memes Who Sued

*

In Defense of Hashtags

nextArticle.image_alt|e
NOAA Photo Library, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
arrow
Animals
7 Impressive Animal Defense Mechanisms
NOAA Photo Library, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
NOAA Photo Library, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The deep-sea squid known as Octopoteuthis deletron has a startling defense mechanism: When threatened, the squid attacks its predator and then pulls away, breaking off the tip of its own arm and leaving it behind as a diversion. As the arm continues to glow and twitch, the squid makes its escape.

But this squid isn't the only creature with a bizarre tactic for keeping itself alive. Here are several other animals with impressive defense mechanisms.

1. THE LIZARD THAT SHOOTS BLOOD FROM ITS EYES

The Texas Horned Lizard is a scary-looking creature. Brown, plump and perfectly camouflaged in its native sandy environment, its first line of defense is its spiky demeanor. If the sharp spikes and horns don't ward off predators, the lizard steps it up a notch and squirts a well-aimed stream of blood out of its eyes. The stream of blood, which can go as far as 5 feet, is mixed with a foul-tasting chemical that wards off predators. But this odd weapon comes at a cost: The lizard may release one-third of its total blood supply this way, amounting to 2 percent of its body mass. Unfortunately, its population numbers are dropping thanks to a threat that won't retreat after a well-aimed squirt: habitat loss due to rapid urbanization in the Lone Star State. 

2. THE HAIRY FROG THAT BREAKS ITS OWN BONES

Trichobatrachus robustus, aka hairy or horror frog

Emőke Dénes, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

What if every time you felt threatened, your first and only method of defense was to break your own bones and use them for weapons? Meet the hairy frog, a Central African species. When breeding, the male frogs develop thin strands of skin along the sides of their bodies that resemble hair. In theory, these strands also allow the frogs to take in more oxygen while they watch over their eggs. But what's really compelling about this frog is its ability to crack its own toe bones and push them through their skin to form sharp claws, which are great for warding off would-be attackers.

While it's not completely clear what happens to the bones after the threat of attack subsides, researchers believe the bones slide back under the skin when the frog's muscles relax.

3. THE NEWT THAT TURNS ITS RIBS INTO SPIKES

spanish ribbed newt

The hairy frog isn't the only amphibian that uses its bones for weapons. When attacked, the Spanish ribbed newt shifts its ribs forward at an angle and pushes them through its stretched skin. The resulting effect is a row of spikes on either side of its body. Like the hairy frog, the newt has to force the bones through its skin every time it is attacked, but the mechanism seems to cause little or no harm to the creature. Maybe one day it'll get its own robot protector: A team of researchers at the the Swiss university EPFL created a robotic salamander inspired by the newt, which they called the Pleurobot (after its scientific name, Pleurodeles waltl).

4. THE TERMITE THAT BLOWS ITSELF UP

Talk about taking one for the team. When under attack, a species of termites found in the French Guiana rain forests sends older worker bugs on suicide missions to defend the whole colony. These older bugs, no longer as useful to the pack as they once were, come equipped with "explosive backpacks" that, over a lifetime, fill with toxic crystals produced by glands in the abdomen. When mixed with salivary gland secretions, these crystals create a toxic liquid that explodes on enemies, paralyzing them and killing the worker at the same time. These termites aren't alone among insects in using a suicidal defensive tactic: When faced with a threat, an ant found in Borneo expands its abdomen until it ruptures, shooting out a toxic liquid

5. THE FISH THAT SLIMES ITS ENEMIES

Hagfish are eel-shaped marine animals with the incredibly useful ability to slime their enemies. When threatened, the hagfish emit a slime from their pores that, when mixed with water, expands into a gelatinous goo that can either trap predators or suffocate them by clogging their gills. The video above shows a hagfish being attacked 14 separate times by sharks and other big fish, and coming out completely unharmed. Each predator took one bite before immediately spitting the hagfish out and swimming away, gagging. The best time to encounter a hagfish is probably after it's emptied its slime glands withstanding such an onslaught; the glands take three to four weeks to refill.

6. THE SEA CUCUMBER THAT SHOOTS ORGANS OUT OF ITS ANUS

sea cucumber on coral reef
iStock

Sea cucumbers can seem pretty boring. There are some 1250 known species of these sedentary creatures in the world, and many of them do indeed look like cucumbers. But when it comes to survival, things get interesting. Like starfish and sea urchins, sea cucumbers are echinoderms, and they can regenerate lost body parts if necessary. This comes in handy when they're threatened. The sea cucumber will expel its internal organs, which are sticky and sometimes contain a toxic chemical that can kill predators. They don't have much of a defense against pollution though, which is a problem, because they're superstar ocean-floor cleaners.

7. THE OPOSSUM THAT PLAYS DEAD

possum playing dead in the grass
Tony Alter, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

You can't do a roundup like this without at least mentioning the opossum. We typically refer to this creature's infamous defense mechanism as "playing dead," but there's actually nothing playful about it; the act is completely involuntary. Under intense fear, opossums fall into a comatose-like state that can last for hours, long enough to convince any predator that the opossum is already dead. Also unappetizing: Fear causes these animals to emit a corpse-like smell that only adds to their act. Thank the opossum for providing some defense for us too: They eat venomous snakes and ticks, gobbling up to 4000 insects a week.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hans Hillewaert, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.03
arrow
science
10 Body-Snatching Parasites
Hans Hillewaert, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.03
Hans Hillewaert, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.03

There are a lot of parasites out there. Some estimates suggest that as many as half of all the species on earth live inside—and feed off—other species. One new study published online (which hasn't been peer reviewed yet) argues that the parasitoid wasps might be the largest single group of animals—a title generally thought to be held by beetles.

Practically every species has its own set of parasites, and even parasites have parasites. In many cases, a parasite's host is little more than a habitat where it can eat and breed. But some parasites have gone a step further, evolving ways to manipulate their hosts in ways that give the parasite a better shot at growing up and spreading its young far and wide. Their methods can be as deliciously gross as the worst imaginings of horror movie screenwriters. Here are 10 examples to inspire new terrors of the silver screen.

1. JEWEL WASP // AUSTRALIA, PACIFIC ISLANDS


The jewel wasp Ampulex compressa is iridescently beautiful, but it's a nightmare for the American cockroach. When a pregnant female wasp gets hold of a roach, she temporarily paralyzes its muscles with a sting, then threads her stinger up into the roach's brain, injecting a cocktail of chemicals that turn the roach into a zombie. The roach could move when the paralysis wears off, but now it doesn't want to. Instead, it allows the wasp to gently lead it by one antenna to her burrow, where she walls it in with one of her eggs. That egg will soon become a larvae that spends its first week on earth eating the living roach bit by bit before pupating and emerging as a wasp to continue the cycle.

2. NEMATOMORPH HAIRWORM // EUROPE

Everything seems normal for weeks after a long-horned grasshopper has drunk water containing the microscopic larvae of the hairworm Spinochordodes tellinii, but that changes as soon as the worm grows big enough to start yearning for a mate. That's when it secretes chemicals that change its host's brain chemistry, making deep water seem enticing to the insect. The grasshopper suddenly has a suicidal urge to take a long hop off a short pier, and as it drowns, the worm—now as much as three times as long as the insect it lived in—squeezes out of its host and swims off to find a mate. Other hairworm species prefer praying mantises or spiders as hosts, but it's the same endgame for them all.

3. PARASITIC BARNACLE // MARINE COASTS

Sacculina carcini
John Aplessed, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A female Sacculina carcini starts its life like any other barnacle—as a tiny planktonic baby floating free in the ocean. But unlike your average barnacle, when she drifts onto a crab she doesn't just settle down and become a warty bump riding on its shell. Instead, she burrows into the crab and grows until she infiltrates every crevice of the crab's body. This can take years, but eventually she's big enough to inflate her bulbous reproductive structures through the crab's abdomen so microscopic males of her species can fertilize her eggs. Once that happens, her crabby host stops molting and growing; all it does is eat and take care of its parasite. Her babies are incubated inside the crab's abdomen, and since part of her is inside the crab's brain by now, she also hijacks its egg-caring behaviors—even male crabs nurture them—to aerate and disperse thousands of her own future mind-controlling brood.

4. ICHNEUMOID WASP // NORTH AMERICA

ichneumoid wasp
MirandaKate, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

A female ichneumoid wasp Campoletis sonorensis sneaking up on a grazing caterpillar isn't looking for a meal for herself—she's shopping for a nose-to-tail larder for her young. The wasp injects one or two fertilized eggs under the caterpillar's skin, and just for good measure, squirts in a virus that will keep the caterpillar's immune system from attacking the invaders. When she flies away, the caterpillar goes right back to eating, but it's a dead grub walking: In a few days, the wormlike wasp larvae hatch inside the caterpillar. They'll spend a couple of weeks munching away at its guts until they grow large enough to burst through its body wall. Then, they spin cocoons—often beside or on the dead body of their host—and pupate into another generation of chest-busting parasitoids (which, unlike most parasites, always kill their hosts).

5. GREEN-BANDED BROODSAC FLATWORM // EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA

A land snail's eyestalks are normally a pretty drab affair, but that all changes if the snail licks up bird droppings infected with larvae from the flatworm Leucochloridium paradoxum. The baby worms move into the snail's digestive gland, forming an asexual colony that can eventually make up a quarter of the snail's mass. As the colony matures, it starts packing members into bright green, squirming brood sacs that writhe up into the snail's eyestalks, swelling them into fat approximations of wriggling caterpillars. If that's not enough to grab a hungry bird's attention, those pulsing, writhing brood sacs can also break through the snail's body wall and crawl off to mimic a juicy grub on their own.

6. PHRONIMA AMPHIPOD // DEEP OCEAN WORLDWIDE


Freshwater and Marine Image Bank, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The deep-sea amphipod genus Phronima is a literal body-snatcher. This parasitoid captures gelatinous salps—jet-propelled, filter-feeding planktonic animals that are closely related to vertebrates—and hollows them out with jaws and claws, consuming the salp's brain, gills, stomach, and muscles, and scraping its inner walls smooth. The salp body—technically still living—becomes a barrel-shaped, ocean-going home that the amphipod can maneuver like a miniature submarine. It might eventually be a full house, too—female Phronima keep their young in the barrel and care for them until they've grown.

7. RIBEIROIAN TREMATODE FLATWORM // NORTH AMERICA

deformed pacific chorus frog infected with ribeiroia ondatrae parasite
Brett A. Goodman, Pieter T. J. Johnson, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

The horror starts when larvae of the parasitic flatworm Ribeiroia ondatrae leave the snail they used as a nursery and burrow into the tail of a bullfrog tadpole. When the tadpole metamorphoses into an adult frog—a period of time that varies between species—the flatworms form cysts around its developing legs, disrupting their growth in ways that damage or double them. The crippled, flatworm-infested frog can't jump away from predatory birds like herons, which gobble them up. The flatworm then spreads to new waterways wherever the bird poops.

8. GALL WASP // WORLDWIDE

gall wasp eggs
Justin 0 of 0, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Not even plants are safe from parasitism. Females of Cynipidae, the family of gall wasps, lay their eggs inside leaves or under bark, and their larvae make the plant cells surrounding them grow faster than they would normally, effectively forcing the plant to grow them a house. Weird, nonleafy shapes rise up out of the plant, filled with juicy nutritious tissues that feed the wasp larvae and surrounded by tough woody walls that protect it until it becomes an adult (more than a year in some species) and chews its way out of its safe space.

9. ENTOMOPATHOGENIC FUNGUS // NORTH AMERICA

goldenrod beetle infected by mind-controlling E. lampyridarum fungus
Steinkraus et al. in Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, 2017

Goldenrod soldier beetles depend on the family of flowering plants commonly known as asters, which includes goldenrods and daisies. The beetles eat the plants' pollen and mate in their shade. But if a beetle gets infected with the fungus Eryniopsis lampyridarum, it climbs up an aster's stem, clenches the base of a flower with its mandibles, and dies. Within a day, the fungus forces the dead beetle's wings open to expose its spores, which rain down on the hapless beetles below.

10. OPECOELID TREMATODE FLATWORM // PACIFIC MARINE REEFS

Coral colony infected by trematode Podocotyloides stenometra
Alamy

The tiny polyps that build stony corals are usually an inconspicuous brown. But that changes whenever a polyp inadvertently grabs a young Podocotyloides stenometra flatworm for a meal. Somehow, the trematode worm doesn't get digested—instead, it invades the polyp's tentacles, swelling them and turning them bright pink. The color is a bright billboard advertising deliciousness to butterflyfish on the reef, who eat the flashy polyps and spread the worm to other corals across the reef.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios