6 Weird Animal Phenomena Investigated by Science

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These animal kingdom oddities may seem like urban legends, but they all actually happened and had real-life scientists scratching their heads.

1. Exploding Toads in Germany

While toads often inflate themselves to appear bigger to predators, they don’t often outright explode. Except, that is, in April 2005 in Hamburg, Germany when thousands of frogs blew apart over a period of a few days, sometimes strewing little toad parts up to a meter around.

Dr. Franz Mutchsmann, a veterinarian from Berlin, came up with a theory for the toads' apparently spontaneous explosions: A flock of crows had recently taken up residence in parts of Hamburg, and they had developed a taste for toad liver. The crows would swoop down, thrust their beaks inside the toads, and steal their livers before the toads even knew what had happened. The toads would instinctively puff themselves up to scare the crows away, but with the holes the crows left in their skin, the pressure would push their insides to the outside, bursting the toad into pieces.

2. Globsters

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All over the world, huge lumps of unidentified flesh, known as "globsters," wash up on shore. Often, they look like animals completely unknown to science. They can weigh up to several tons and have been spotted on beaches everywhere throughout the last century.

So what are they? Often, they’re initially believed to be giant squids and other rare (or non-existent) marine animals, but scientists have found that the explanation isn’t quite that amazing.

So far, every globster discovered has been definitively identified (before it washes back out to sea or is tampered with in some way) as the remains of an ordinary creature, usually a whale. For example, a globster found in Chile in 2003 was discovered to be the skin of a sperm whale. Since dead animals in the ocean simply drift, anything left over from predators and natural decay can get caught in a strong tide and wash up on dry land to gross us all out.

3. Mike the Headless Chicken

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In 1945, farmer Lloyd Olsen took one of his many chickens to the chopping block to prepare dinner for his family. After decapitating the chicken, something strange happened: The chicken didn’t die.

The headless chicken, which the family later named Mike, continued to wander around the farm and steadfastly refused to be turned into the Olsen’s supper. The Olsens discovered that they could still feed and water Mike by way of an eyedropper inserted into his neck hole. After that, they took the chicken on the road, showing him off as Mike the Headless Chicken.

What magic kept Mike alive? Sheer luck, as it happens. Scientists at the University of Utah who examined Mike found that Olsen barely missed Mike’s brain stem, which allowed him to continue walking and moving even after his decapitation. Unfortunately, Mike died when his family lost his eyedropper and were unable to help him when he began to choke on a kernel of corn.

4. Thousands of Eyeless Fish Wash Up on the Same Beach. Twice.

American Down Under

A few years back, the news was rife with stories about mass animal deaths, especially ones involving birds. Almost all had completely normal explanations (like fireworks scaring birds into flying into trees and buildings), but a few ended up going more or less unexplained.

On the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand, thousands of dead snapper washed up overnight in early 2011, many of them with no eyes. Although wildlife authorities looked into the event, no official explanation was ever announced. An early statement indicated that it may have been “deliberate.”

Almost two years later to the day, the same thing happened again, at the same beach. Thousands of snapper popped up with strange wounds on their bodies. This time, officials concluded that it was most likely a broken net being hauled by an illegal fishing boat, though they didn’t say how (or if) it was connected to the previous deaths.

5. The Malawi Terror Beast

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In 2003, villagers in the Dowa district of Malawi fled in fear of a creature dubbed the “Terror Beast,” an unidentified animal that killed three and injured sixteen. The creature badly maimed its victims, tearing off limbs and disemboweling the dead. Since most animals only attack out of self-defense or to feed, this appeared to be extremely unusual behavior.

The villagers described it as some variety of large dog. What’s more, a similar animal killed five and injured 20 a year before. That one was killed by authorities and found to be a rabid hyena, but survivors of that first attack alleged the creature was too large to have really been a hyena and that the animal killed was not the one which attacked them.

Meanwhile, the Terror Beast, which may have also been a rabid hyena, was never found.

6. The Florida “Skunk Ape” Photos

In 2000, Florida residents in Campbell County began seeing a large, ape-like creature and finding dead cats throughout their neighborhoods. Some believed it might be a legendary Bigfoot-esque creature known as the “skunk ape.” Things got especially weird when an anonymous woman sent two pictures of the creature to the police.

Loren Coleman, a cryptozoologist, became interested in the case and began to archive newspaper reports as well as copies of the letter and photographs sent by the anonymous woman. The Skunk Ape eventually disappeared and the photographs were never positively identified.

Coleman has a pretty good explanation sitting in plain view on his site (although he and the cryptozoological community don't buy it). In a comparison image created by a Canadian Wildlife Service biologist named Tony Scheunhamme, the skunk ape is compared with an ordinary orangutan. Not coincidentally, animal control had already been looking into a lost orangutan.

As for how an orangutan got loose in Campbell County, that’s as much of a mystery as anything else.

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February 27, 2014 - 5:00pm
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