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Beth Jackson Klosterboer
Beth Jackson Klosterboer

9 Gross and Gruesome Goodies for Your Halloween Party

Beth Jackson Klosterboer
Beth Jackson Klosterboer

The treats in this list are all totally edible, despite their appearance. They were designed mostly for Halloween parties, but if you are planning a get-together for the premiere of the new season of The Walking Dead this weekend, these offerings will fit the theme perfectly. The foods are arranged in order of least to most gross, so you can stop whenever you start to become queasy.

1. Sweet Cookies and Cream Cheese Ball Rat

This sculpture of a rat is made from cream cheese and cookies, for a sweet spread at your party. Roll the body in crushed cookies to give him fur, and trim with pink cream cheese frosting for the details. You find complete instructions at Hungry Happenings.

2. Anatomically Correct Chocolates

Visual Anatomy Limited offers medical illustrations and chocolate. While those two businesses don't appear to really mesh, the chocolates come in the shapes of bodily organs. You can get chocolate brains, hearts, livers, colons, ears, eyes, skulls, pancreases, kidneys, or other organs, in small or large sizes, or in assorted gift boxes. Some are even available on a stick!

3. Demonic Deviled Eggs

Let's take a little detour on the subject of deviled eggs. The term "deviled" means "spiced" eggs, which in modern times is achieved with mustard, pickles, and paprika -or other spices if you prefer. But they still have a devilish name, and they somewhat resemble eyeballs, so they fit in well with Halloween feasts. You can make them seasonal but innocuous by dressing them up as little pumpkins. Or you can go all out to make your eggs resemble the evil Eye of Sauron, like the egg pictured here. The look is dependent on food coloring and black olives.

Or you can try to hit a sweet spot in between innocent and frightening, with deviled eggs covered in spiders made from black olives.

4. Pizza Pie-eye

Beth Jackson Klosterboer at Hungry Happenings had a party once in which every treat resembled an eyeball! The main dish was an eyeball pizza, made with black and green olives arranged on a background of cheese. There were also three kinds of dip and meatballs that all resembled eyes.

5. Brains in a Jar Cupcakes

This dessert looks creepy, but it's actually delicious cake with brain-shaped frosting and a bit of raspberry jelly for blood, all stuffed on a jar. The instructions for making your own are at Living Locurto. The website has kindly included printable labels for your jars!

6. Sweet or Savory Specimen Jars

Photograph by Flickr user Windell Oskay.

These specimens in jars look pretty nasty, and the labels make them seem even worse. But believe it or not, they are all not only edible, but tasty! They contain unfamiliar fruits (lychees, jackfruit, tapioca), or other foods like sausages cut into odd shapes. The sweet treats are packed in syrup, and the savory items can be displayed in chicken broth. Your Halloween guests will be delighted, if they can get over the willies and try them out. Get the instructions at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories.

7. Zombie Brains Jello Shots

When you bite open these little brains, you'll find they are filled with delicious but frighteningly red raspberry sauce! If you serve a full platter of them, be sure to cut one open to show your guests what they are in for. The presentation makes all the difference! The gelatin is flavored with hazelnut and raspberry liqueur in addition to vodka, which both lend a bit of authentic coloring to the condensed milk-colored gelatin. The raspberry filling can be homemade, as the recipe is included, or you can take the shortcut of using raspberry pie filling.

A little raspberry syrup drizzled over the top completes the look. Just pretend you are a zombie, for which brain-eating comes naturally. These will work for your premiere party for The Walking Dead next weekend, or for any Halloween party. The complete instructions are at WikiHow.

8. The Noshing Dead: Bloody Banana Guts

These overripe bananas look thoroughly disgusting covered in brown sugar and food coloring, but they're tasty when spread on a graham cracker or cookie! This recipe was inspired by The Walking Dead visuals, but you don't need to think about that while you're eating. The recipe at Kitchen Overlord comes with a cute zombie story, too.

9. The Grossest Cupcake Ever

The cupcake you see here will be sold at the Eat Your Heart Out 2013 pop-up cake shop in London, England, open October 25-27. Food artists will be offering the world's most gruesome and delicious treats. These cupcakes are made by Twisted Fondant, a macabre, x-rated division of Fantasy Fondant. What makes them so gruesome?

They are called Mango Fly Larva Cupcakes. They are served with a glove and a pair of tweezers so you can do the deed, as shown in this photo series, which may be disturbing. Just keep reminding yourself that no matter what it looks like, this is all delicious cake and edible icing.

If you've made it this far, you may also want to check out our previous recipe roundups:
Gruesome Halloween Party Food
Creepy Halloween Party Food
Ten Terrific or Terrifying Treats for Halloween
9 Spooky Halloween Party Treats

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Dodo: © Oxford University, Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Background: iStock
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science
Head Case: What the Only Soft Tissue Dodo Head in Existence Is Teaching Scientists About These Extinct Birds
Dodo: © Oxford University, Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Background: iStock
Dodo: © Oxford University, Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Background: iStock

Of all the recently extinct animals, none seems to excite the imagination quite like the dodo—a fact Mark Carnall has experienced firsthand. As one of two Life Collections Managers at the UK's Oxford University Museum of Natural History, he’s responsible for nearly 150,000 specimens, “basically all the dead animals excluding insects and fossils,” he tells Mental Floss via email. And that includes the only known soft tissue dodo head in existence.

“In the two and a bit years that I’ve been here, there’s been a steady flow of queries about the dodo from researchers, artists, the public, and the media,” he says. “This is the third interview about the dodo this week! It’s definitely one of the most popular specimens I look after.”

The dodo, or Raphus cucullatus, lived only on the island of Mauritius (and surrounding islets) in the Indian Ocean. First described by Vice Admiral Wybrand van Warwijck in 1598, it was extinct less than 100 years later (sailors' tales of the bird, coupled with its rapid extinction, made many doubt that the dodo was a real creature). Historians still debate the extent that humans ate them, but the flightless birds were easy prey for the predators, including rats and pigs, that sailors introduced to the isolated island of Mauritius. Because the dodo went extinct in the 1600s (the actual date is still widely debated), museum specimens are very, very rare. In fact, with the exception of subfossils—the dark skeletons on display at many museums—there are only three other known specimens, according to Carnall, “and one of those is missing.” (The fully feathered dodos you might have seen in museums? They're models, not actual zoological specimens.)

A man standing with a Dodo skeleton and a reconstructed model of the extinct bird
A subfossil (bone that has not been fully fossilized) Dodo skeleton and a reconstructed model of the extinct bird in a museum in Wales circa 1938.
Becker, Fox Photos/Getty Images

Since its extinction was confirmed in the 1800s, Raphus cucullatus has been an object of fascination: It’s been painted and drawn, written about and scientifically studied, and unfairly become synonymous with stupidity. Even now, more than 300 years since the last dodo walked the Earth, there’s still so much we don’t know about the bird—and Oxford’s specimen might be our greatest opportunity to unlock the mysteries surrounding how it behaved, how it lived, how it evolved, and how it died.

 
 

To put into context how old the dodo head is, consider this: From the rule of Oliver Cromwell to the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, it has been around—and it’s likely even older than that. Initially an entire bird (how exactly it was preserved is unclear), the specimen belonged to Elias Ashmole, who used his collections to found Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum in 1677. Before that, it belonged to John Tradescant the Elder and his son; a description of the collection from 1656 notes the specimen as “Dodar, from the Island Mauritius; it is not able to flie being so big.”

And that’s where the dodo’s provenance ends—beyond that, no one knows where or when the specimen came from. “Where the Tradescants got the dodo from has been the subject of some speculation,” Carnall says. “A number of live animals were brought back from Mauritius, but it’s not clear if this is one of [those animals].”

Initially, the specimen was just another one of many in the museum’s collections, and in 1755, most of the body was disposed of because of rot. But in the 19th century, when the extinction of the dodo was confirmed, there was suddenly renewed interest in what remained. Carnall writes on the museum’s blog that John Duncan, then the Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, had a number of casts of the head made, which were sent to scientists and institutions like the British Museum and Royal College of Surgeons. Today, those casts—and casts of those casts—can be found around the world. (Carnall is actively trying to track them all down.)

The Oxford University Dodo head with scoleric bone and the skin on one side removed.
The Oxford University Dodo head with skin and sclerotic ring.
© Oxford University, Oxford University Museum of Natural History // Used with permission

In the 1840s, Sir Henry Acland, a doctor and teacher, dissected one side of the head to expose its skeleton, leaving the skin attached on the other side, for a book about the bird by Alexander Gordon Melville and H.E. Strickland called The dodo and its kindred; or, The history, affinities, and osteology of the dodo, solitaire, and other extinct birds of the islands Mauritius, Rodriguez and Bourbon. Published in 1848, “[It] brought together all the known accounts and depictions of the dodo,” Carnall says. The Dodo and its kindred further raised the dodo’s profile, and may have been what spurred schoolteacher George Clark to take a team to Mauritius, where they found the subfossil dodo remains that can be seen in many museums today.

Melville and Strickland described Oxford’s specimen—which they believed to be female—as being “in tolerable preservation ... The eyes still remain dried within the sockets, but the corneous extremity of the beak has perished, so that it scarcely exhibits that strongly hooked termination so conspicuous in all the original portraits. The deep transverse grooves are also visible, though less developed than in the paintings.”

Today, the specimen includes the head as well as the sclerotic ring (a bony feature found in the eyes of birds and lizards), a feather (which is mounted on a microscope slide), tissue samples, the foot skeleton, and scales from the foot. “Considering it’s been on display in collections and museums, pest eaten, dissected, sampled and handled by scientists for over 350 years,” Carnall says, “it’s in surprisingly good condition.”

 
 

There’s still much we don’t know about the dodo, and therefore a lot to learn. As the only soft tissue of a dodo known to exist, the head has been studied for centuries, and not always in ways that we would approve of today. “There was quite some consideration about dissecting the skin off of the head by Sir Henry Acland,” Carnall says. “Sadly there have also been some questionable permissions given, such as when [Melville] soaked the head in water to manipulate the skin and feel the bony structure. Excessive handling over the years has no doubt added to the wear of the specimen.”

Today, scientists who want to examine the head have to follow a standard protocol. “The first step is to get in touch with the museum with details about access requirements ... We deal with enquiries about our collections every single day,” Carnall says. “Depending on the study required, we try to mitigate damage and risk to specimens. For destructive sampling—where a tissue sample or bone sample is needed to be removed from the specimen and then destroyed for analysis—we weigh up the potential importance of the research and how it will be shared with the wider community.”

In other words: Do the potential scientific gains outweigh the risk to the specimen? “This,” Carnall says, “can be a tough decision to make.”

The head, which has been examined by evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro and extinction expert Samuel Turvey as well as dodo experts Julian Hume and Jolyon Parish, has been key in many recent discoveries about the bird. “[It] has been used to understand what the dodo would have looked like, what it may have eaten, where it fits in with the bird evolutionary tree, island biogeography and of course, extinction,” Carnall says. In 2011, scientists took measurements from dodo remains—including the Oxford specimen—and revised the size of the bird from the iconic 50 pounder seen in paintings to an animal “similar to that of a large wild turkey.” DNA taken from specimen’s leg bone has shed light on how the dodo came to Mauritius and how it was related to other dodo-like birds on neighboring islands [PDF]. That DNA also revealed that the dodo’s closest living relative is the Nicobar pigeon [PDF].

A nicobar pigeon perched on a bowl of food.
A nicobar pigeon.
iStock

Even with those questions answered, there are a million more that scientists would like to answer about the dodo. “Were there other species—plants, parasites—that depended on the dodo?” Carnall asks. “What was the soft tissue like? ... How and when did the dodo and the related and also extinct Rodrigues solitaire colonize the Mascarene Islands? What were their brains like?”

 
 

Though it’s a rare specimen, and priceless by scientific standards, the dodo head is, in many ways, just like all the rest of the specimens in the museum’s collections. It’s stored in a standard archival quality box with acid-free tissue paper that’s changed regularly. (The box is getting upgraded to something that Carnall says is “slightly schmancier” because “it gets quite a bit of use, more so than the rest of the collection.”) “As for the specific storage, we store it in vault 249 and obviously turn the lasers off during the day,” Carnall jokes. “The passcode for the vault safe is 1234ABCD …”

According to Carnall, even though there are many scientific and cultural reasons why the dodo head is considered important, to him, it isn’t necessarily more important than any of the other 149,999 specimens he’s responsible for.

“Full disclosure: All museum specimens are equally important to collections managers,” he says. “It is a huge honor and a privilege to be responsible for this one particular specimen, but each and every specimen in the collection also has the power to contribute towards our knowledge of the natural world ... This week I was teaching about a species of Greek woodlouse and the molluscs of Oxfordshire. We know next to nothing about these animals—where they live, what they eat, the threats to them, and the predators that rely on them. The same is true of most living species, sadly. But on the upside, there’s so much work to be done!”

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