CLOSE
Original image
YouTube

6 Weird Animal Phenomena Investigated by Science 

Original image
YouTube

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

Wikimedia Commons

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

Wikimedia Commons

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

Wikimedia Commons

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.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
Original image
iStock

According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

Original image
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
arrow
Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
Original image
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios