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George Washington’s Favorite Parasite

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If you shuck and eat a lot of oysters, you might eventually come across a tiny crab hanging out inside one. It could be a pea crab. It could be an oyster crab. Either way, it’s a parasite that lives off of little bits of food that its oyster host filters into its shell. I’ve found a few of these little critters myself and tossed them aside, not realizing what they were. Thanks to science writer Carl Zimmer, I now know that I’ve been throwing away a delicacy with a long history in American cuisine. 

Finding a sizable parasite in your meal—or in your mouth after slurping back an oyster on the half-shelf—might turn you off to seafood, but oyster crabs have long been a highly prized treat for some eaters. In 1913, the New York Times called them “as dainty a morsel as the gourmet can have at any price.” The Times also mentions that one diner found out the hard way that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. When he discovered one of these crabs in his oyster stew at a restaurant, he sent it back to the kitchen to be replaced by steak and onions. He was laughed at by his waiter and called a “hayseed” for not realizing the treat he had found. 

I guess that makes me a hayseed, too, but I’m going to try and change my ways and cook up the next oyster crab that comes my way. I don’t know that I’ll go as far as to build an entire dish around them, though, as 300 Ways to Cook and Serve Shellfish suggested in 1901. Among the cookbook’s recipes are an omelette loaded with 25 to 40 of the little crabs, and something called Canopy a la Lorenzo, which calls for 50 oyster crabs, a quarter of a truffle, chicken and crab meat and a cream sauce to be cooked, cooled, molded into a bell shape and then cooked again on top of a large crouton. 

That dish sounds like it would have been right up George Washington’s alley. The first president was a well known fan of the oyster crab, and Wonders and Food Luxuries of the Sea mentions that an “extraordinary effort was made to procure a half pint of these for his repast, to his great surprise and delight” by a female admirer who hosted him for dinner. Author Alan Davidson, in North Atlantic Seafood, also says that the president so enjoyed them in his oyster stews that they were sometimes known as “Washington crabs.”

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8 Bizarre Creatures That Have Washed Ashore
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With an estimated 95 percent of the world’s oceans yet to be explored, science may never have a complete catalog of the various life forms that navigate their depths. Sometimes, these odd creatures come to us instead. Inclement weather, outside forces, or just plain bad luck have led to some strange sea dwellers washing ashore to confuse—and sometimes terrify—onlookers until they can be identified.

Most recently the fangtooth snake eel, or Aplatophis chauliodus, appeared in Texas to cause a stir following Hurricane Harvey. Here are a few more examples of puzzling creatures that have recently landed in the sand.

1. THE MONTAUK MONSTER // 2008

A screen shot of the Montauk Monster
Nat Geo Wild, YouTube

In July 2008, a photo of what looked like the demon that possessed Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters made the internet rounds. “The Montauk Monster,” so named because it was discovered on a beach in Montauk, New York, was a curious-looking carcass that was not immediately identifiable. The animal wasn’t available for autopsy—it was carted away by person or persons unknown—but zoologists asked by media to examine the photo were fairly certain it was a decomposing raccoon that had lost enough hair and skin to reduce its charms considerably. Later, a trio of men from nearby Shelter Island admitted to finding a dead raccoon and giving it a "Viking funeral" by setting it ablaze on the water. Whether that’s true or not, the “monster” was almost certainly the same as the one partial to rooting through your trash.

2. THE INDONESIAN KRAKEN // 2017

Death and decomposition can radically alter the appearance of a species that might otherwise be easily identifiable. Such was the case with the 49-foot-long creature that popped up above the water at Seram Island in Indonesia in May 2017.  The spongy, floating mass was initially mistaken for a giant squid before ocean conservationists pointed out a visible skull, jaw, and spine in some photos, making it far more likely that it was a baleen whale. Although they usually sink to the bottom after expiring, this one might have had bacterial gases keeping it afloat.

3. THE DEMON DOLPHIN OF SAKHALIN // 2015

The corpse that washed up on Sakhalin Island
Mystery Universe, YouTube

Ravaged either by the sea or by some kind of enemy—or both—the rotting corpse of a mystery creature washed up on Sakhalin, an island in Russia, in 2015. Its elongated beak led to early suspicions it was a dolphin, but observers were quick to point out that dolphins don’t have fur. That could’ve been some kind of skin deterioration, but eyewitnesses also claimed to have seen what looked like paws on the specimen. The best bet was that it was a bottlenose whale calf. Before a definitive conclusion was reached, the body washed back out to sea.

4. THE MADBALL OF CAPE TOWN // 2014

The off-putting fish that was found in Cape Town, South Africa
Chaoonnews, YouTube

Looking much like a Cenobite keychain, this fierce little creature was allegedly plucked from the sands of a Cape Town, South Africa resort area by a tourist. Appearing to have a body comprised mostly of a mouth, the fanged horror was photographed and sent along to the University of Cape Town’s biological sciences department. Their best guess? It’s Chorisochismus dentex, or a klipsuier, a nibbler that feeds on mussels. The corpse had dried out, disfiguring its already troubling features.

5. THE NEW ZEALAND SEA MONSTER // 2013

A creature that was a subject of controversy in New Zealand
Djinteressantevideos, YouTube

Roughly 30 feet long, with pointed teeth and a gaping maw, this creature found on New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty looked quite a bit like the logo from Jurassic Park. It was so battered that speculation ran from an alligator to a moray eel. Marine biologist Anton van Helden went on record saying it was likely a killer whale due to its distinctive tail: Orcas can be found in New Zealand.

6. A GIANT EYEBALL // 2012

Very little news that emerges out of Florida could be considered boring. And when things wash ashore there, it’s almost certainly going to capture national attention. In 2012, a perfectly-intact, softball-sized eyeball was found on Pompano Beach, just about 10 miles north of Fort Lauderdale. The eerie, disembodied ocular discovery was forwarded to fish and wildlife researchers, who declared it once belonged to a swordfish. It can be rare to find individual body parts ashore—so why an eye? Because it was appeared to be removed with a knife, experts believe a fisherman cut it out and tossed it in the water.

7. THE MARINE MONSTER // 2012

A South Carolina sturgeon that confused observers
nibiruexists, YouTube

Folly Beach in South Carolina was the site of an alarming discovery in 2012, when a bony-plated fish exceeding 10 feet in length was spotted on shore. The South Carolina Aquarium put speculation to rest by declaring it a sturgeon, a large bony fish with relatives dating back 350 million years—and which has been known to grow to be 500 pounds or more. Their eggs are often used for caviar, though presumably no one raided this one for a gourmet snack.

8. THE ROCH NESS MONSTER // 2015

A fanged sea creature found in England
InformOverload, YouTube

Hollingworth Lake near Littleborough, England sounds like the perfect setting for wonderful childhood memories of boating, fishing, and making lifetime bonds. Unfortunately, it was also briefly a contributor of nightmares, when a 5-foot-long, fanged creature washed up there in 2015. Likely a pike, residents said they had no idea anything so large lived in the water. One called it “something prehistoric.”

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Lonely Guests at This Belgian Hotel Can Rent a Goldfish for the Night
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International travel can be lonely, which is why one Belgian airport hotel provides guests with an optional companion: a pet goldfish, rented on a nightly basis for around $4 U.S., according to The Independent.

Located near the Brussels South Charleroi Airport, the Hotel Charleroi Airport in Gosselies has offered fish rentals for several years now. “The idea was to surprise our guests, as we always try to do,” hotel manager David Dillen told The Independent. “It’s brilliant to see how people react to it. They smile, they take pictures to put on social media. We rent a few fish per week.”

Word of the unconventional service spread after New Zealand radio producer Michelle Cooke tweeted a picture of one of the inn’s scaly sidekicks swimming in a glass bowl. “My friend is staying in a hotel in Belgium,” Cooke wrote in her post. “They've offered her the option of renting a fish for the night, in case she's lonely.”

The tweet went viral, with some social media users arguing that the service is unethical towards animals, or that the hotel’s fishbowls are too tiny. Dillen addressed these criticisms, saying the goldfish are healthy and well cared for, with a “big fish tank in the housekeeping department, with a shelter, oxygen, and plants,” as he told The Independent. “When we think it’s necessary, we put them there for a few days.”

That said, if you don't have a good track record with fish, we recommend sticking with regular hotel amenities like free breakfasts and fully stocked minibars.

[h/t The Independent]

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