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6 Times Creepy Crawlies Ended Up in People's Ears

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Earlier this week, I poked my ear canal with a Q-tip. (It says on the package you’re not supposed to use them to clean your ears; turns out, you should listen to that!) Inspired by my idiocy, I started to research the ear canal and the ear drum. Which led me to discovering some creepy crawlies that have actually taken up residence in people’s ears. This kind of horror is best borne with friends, so—after purchasing some ear plugs to wear to bed—I decided to write about it. I apologize in advance.

1. A Bed bug

According to a 2012 case report, “A 23-year-old man presented with the chief complaint of an odd sensation within his right ear. On one account, he gave the impression that his right ear was possibly blocked. In addition, however, he was convinced that there was something moving in his ear.” When the doctors examined his ear with an otoscope, they saw “a small black foreign body adherent to the central aspect of the tympanic membrane.” Repeated flushing dislodged the foreign body, which “grossly resembled an engorged tiny insect [and] proved to be a Cimex lectularius in its nymphal stage.” Yes: The guy had a bed bug nymph feeding off his ear drum (that's it above!). Aside from some irritation of his ear canal, the patient was OK; doctors noted that after the bed bug was removed, “the patient's symptoms were immediately resolved and no further ear complaints followed.”

2. A Cockroach

One night in January 2014, Darwin, Australia resident Hendrik Helmer was awakened at 2:30am by a sharp, overwhelming pain in his right ear. He suspected an insect had crawled in there while he was sleeping. After attempting to remove it himself—first by flushing his ear with water, and then using a vacuum cleaner—he went to the hospital. Doctors poured in olive oil, waited 10 minutes for the creature to die … and pulled a nearly 1-inch-long cockroach out of Helmer’s ear. "She said, 'you know how I said a little cockroach? That may have been an underestimate,'" Helmer said. “They said they had never pulled an insect this large out of someone's ear."

If you’re a fan of things that will most definitely give you nightmares, you can watch a video of a doctor removing a live cockroach from a patient’s ear on YouTube.

3. A Spider

The good news: You probably don’t swallow a ton of spiders in your sleep. The bad news: They might be crawling into your ears instead. In 2012, a Chinese woman went to the hospital complaining of an itchy ear, which she’d had for several days. When doctors examined her ear canal, they found a spider just hanging out in there. Concerned that the spider would dig in deeper if they went in with forceps, doctors chose to flush it out saline solution. Aside from being extremely traumatized, the patient was just fine.

4. A Tick

In December 2011, an Irish equine vet went to the doctor complaining of a scratching sound and irritation in his left ear, which he said he’d experienced for several weeks. "I think I have a tick in my ear," the 41-year-old vet told Christchurch Hospital head and neck surgeon Jeremy Hornibrook, who did, indeed, find a horse tick in the man’s ear. “Microscopy of the left ear showed a tick wedged in the anterior recess with its legs contacting the tympanic membrane,” aka the ear drum, “which had extensive bruising,” Hornibrook wrote in the New Zealand Medical Journal. “It was tightly attached and could not be ‘drowned’ with framycetin drops, so the ear canal was anaesthetised by injection and the tick removed with a small hook.”

Hornibrook also noted that “Ears are prime real estate for this tick, although the groin and armpits are the most common sites for infestation in most hosts.”

5. A Moth

As Parker, Colorado resident Wade Schlote was trying to get to sleep one night in June 2011, he experienced something truly terrible: A miller moth crawled into the 12-year-old’s ear, and it hurt. A lot. "I had a moment of panicking,” he said. “I was in pain. It was hurting so much I was screaming and crying.”

His mother rushed him to the hospital, where doctors were skeptical but eventually came around when they saw the moth crawling around in Schlote’s ear. And unfortunately for Schlote, it didn't want to come out. "The doctors tried numbing my ear, thinking it would help with the pain and kill the moth. That didn't work,” Schlote said. “Then they tried drowning it. That didn't work. Then they tried irrigating it. That didn't work. Finally, the doctor pulled it out with tweezers and when they did it was still alive and started flying around. … I am so happy it’s over.” Doctors caught the moth and put it in a plastic container for Schlote to take home.

6. Screwworm Fly Larvae

When Rochelle Harris returned to Britain from vacation in Peru in 2013, she began to hear scratching noises in her ear. Then came the splitting headaches and the unexplained discharge. At first, doctors thought it was just an ear infection … but then they found larvae of the New World screwworm fly (Cochliomyia hominivorax), which had chewed a tiny hole in her ear canal. Surgeons removed what they called a "writhing mass of maggots,” and thankfully, Harris didn’t suffer any serious injuries.

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London's Sewer-Blocking 'Fatbergs' Are Going to Be Turned Into Biodiesel
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UK officials can't exactly transform the Whitechapel fatberg—a 143-ton trash mass lurking in London's sewer system—into treasure, but they can turn it into fuel. As The Guardian reports, Scottish biodiesel producer Argent Energy plans to convert parts of the noxious blockage into an environmentally friendly energy source.

For the uninitiated, fatbergs (which get their names from a portmanteau of "fat" and "icebergs") are giant, solid blobs of congealed fat, oil, grease, wet wipes, and sanitary products. They form in sewers when people dump cooking byproducts down drains, or in oceans when ships release waste products like palm oil. These sticky substances combine with floating litter to form what could be described as garbage heaps on steroids.

Fatbergs wash up on beaches, muck up city infrastructures, and are sometimes even removed with cranes from sewer pipes as a last resort. Few—if any—fatbergs, however, appear to be as potentially lethal as the one workers recently discovered under London's Whitechapel neighborhood. In a news release, private utility company Thames Water described the toxic mass as "one of the largest ever found, with the extreme rock-solid mass of wet wipes, nappies, fat and oil weighing the same as 11 double-decker buses."

Ick factor aside, the Whitechapel fatberg currently blocks a stretch of Victorian sewer more than twice the length of two fields from London's Wembley Stadium. Engineers with jet hoses are working seven days a week to break up the fatberg before sucking it out with tankers. But even with high-pressure streams, the job is still akin to "trying to break up concrete," says Matt Rimmer, Thames Water's head of waste networks.

The project is slated to end in October. But instead of simply disposing of the Whitechapel fatberg, officials want to make use of it. Argent Energy—which has in the past relied on sources like rancid mayonnaise and old soup stock—plans to process fatberg sludge into more than 2600 gallons of biodiesel, creating "enough environmentally friendly energy to power 350 double-decker Routemaster buses for a day," according to Thames Water.

"Even though they are our worst enemy, and we want them dead completely, bringing fatbergs back to life when we do find them in the form of biodiesel is a far better solution for everyone," said company official Alex Saunders.

In addition to powering buses, the Whitechapel fatberg may also become an unlikely cultural touchstone: The Museum of London is working with Thames Water to acquire a chunk of the fatberg, according to BBC News. The waste exhibit will represent just one of the many challenges facing cities, and remind visitors that they are ultimately responsible for the fatberg phenomenon.

"When it comes to preventing fatbergs, everyone has a role to play," Rimmer says. "Yes, a lot of the fat comes from food outlets, but the wipes and sanitary items are far more likely to be from domestic properties. The sewers are not an abyss for household rubbish."

[h/t The Guardian]

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10 Fascinating Facts About Corpse Flowers

Big, smelly, rare, phallic—these adjectives all describe Amorphophallus titanum, commonly known as the corpse flower. While native to western Indonesia, the plant is currently taking Washington, D.C. by smelly storm: The last of three—count 'em, three—corpse flowers to bloom this summer began its stinky blossoming this week at the United States Botanic Garden. In honor of the occasion, here's some trivia to celebrate one of nature's stinkiest plants.

1. THE CORPSE FLOWER'S LATIN NAME IS NSFW (OR BRITISH TV).

No, it's not just you: Amorphophallus titanum really does look like a large, lumpy penis. In fact, the plant gets its scientific name from three roots: amorphos (without form), phallos (penis), and titanum (giant).

Can't say the plant's Latin name in polite company without blushing? Thanks to David Attenborough, the English naturalist and TV personality, you can also opt to use its common name, Titan arum. While narrating BBC nature documentary series "The Private Life of Plants," Attenborough thought the corpse flower's proper name was too improper to say on TV, so he coined a less-scandalous moniker. Or, you could simply go with its Indonesian name, bunga bangkai.

2. A 19TH-CENTURY ITALIAN BOTANIST 'DISCOVERED' THE CORPSE FLOWER.

Western scientists first learned of Amorphophallus titanum in 1878, when Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari came across the enormous plant growing in the rainforests of Sumatra, a large island in western Indonesia. The specimen he recorded had a circumference of around 5 feet, and its height was around 10 feet.

Beccari tried to ship the flowering shrub's corms, or giant underground tubers, back to Europe, but French customs ended up holding them under an order designed to prevent the spread of the grapevine pest Phylloxera. Still, a few seeds survived against the odds, and a single seedling was sent to the Kew Botanic Gardens in England, where Beccari had once studied. There, it flowered in 1889. In 1926, when the same corpse flower bloomed again, the crowds were so large that police were brought in to control them.

3. THE CORPSE FLOWER GROSSED OUT THE ENGLISH (IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE).

Not surprisingly, the corpse flower quickly gained notoriety in Europe: An English artist hired to illustrate the plant is said to have become ill from the odor, and governesses forbade young ladies from looking at it, for obvious reasons.

4. A CORPSE FLOWER ISN'T REALLY A SINGLE FLOWER.

Technically, a corpse flower isn't a single flower; it's a flowering plant with clusters of blooms. The plant consists of a thick central spike, known as a spadix, with a base that's encircled by two rings of "male" and "female" flowers. A large, frilly leaf called a spathe envelops these flowers to protect them.

5. CORPSE FLOWERS ARE, AS THEIR LATIN NAME SUGGESTS, ENORMOUS.

Aside from its smell, a corpse flower's most noticeable quality is its sheer size. The plant holds the record for the world's largest unbranched inflorescence (a fancy term for describing a floral structure made of many smaller individual flowers), and it can reach heights of up to 12 feet in the wild. Cultivated corpse flowers are smaller, measuring anywhere from 6 to 8 feet.

6. THEY DON'T HAVE AN ANNUAL BLOOMING CYCLE.

Years, or even decades, can pass before a corpse flower reaches peak bloom. As the big moment finally approaches, the plant's bud grows several inches per day before slowing down its growth. Two protective leaves, called bracts, shrivel and fall off the spathe's base. Then, the spathe unfurls over roughly 24 to 36 hours, giving curious onlookers just a small window to see (and smell) its maroon-colored insides for themselves.

7. THERE'S SCIENCE BEHIND THE CORPSE FLOWER'S TERRIBLE SMELL.

When a corpse flower blooms, the spadix heats up to temperatures of up to 98°F as the plant unleashes a stench akin to rotting flesh. "Those pulses of heat cause the air to rise, like a chimney effect," Ray Mims, a spokesperson for the U.S. Botanic Garden, explained to Washingtonian magazine. "It gets the stench up in the air" to attract pollinating dung beetles and carrion beetles, who are drawn to the scent of rotting flesh.

Experts have identified different molecules responsible for titan arum's stink, including dimethyl trisulfide (like limburger cheese), trimethylamine (rotting fish), and isovaleric acid (sweaty socks).

8. CORPSE FLOWERS GROW FRUIT WHEN THEY'RE POLLINATED.

Once a corpse flower finishes blooming, it doesn't die. The spathe withers and collapses after a few days, and if pollinated, the plant soon produces hundreds of small, golden-colored fruits. These berry-like seeds are eaten and dispersed by animals such as birds and the rhinoceros hornbill, or harvested in captivity by garden conservation scientists. (No word on how they taste, as they're reportedly not suitable for human consumption.)

Once the seeds ripen from gold to dark orange, and then to dark red—a stage that lasts for five or six months—the corpse flower goes dormant. Then, it sprouts as a tree-like leaf during its next few life cycles as it stores away energy from the sun. Each cycle, the leaf grows bigger and bigger, before dying. Once the plant's corm is fully replenished, it finally blooms again.

9. THE CORPSE FLOWER WAS ONCE THE BRONX'S OFFICIAL FLOWER.

In 1937, the New York Botanical Garden became the proud home of America's first recorded corpse flower bloom. Two years later, yet another flower bloomed in the Bronx garden. Borough president James J. Lyons was so tickled, he designated Amorphophallus titanum as the Bronx's official flower. ''Its tremendous size shall be symbolic of the fastest-growing borough in the City of New York,'' Lyons said, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, news crews covering the event are said to have nearly fainted from the smell.

The Bronx used the corpse flower as a symbol until 2000, when then-borough president Fernando Ferrer, aiming to overhaul the municipality's image, changed its official flower to the day lily. "I hate to think of the corpse flower as the Bronx flower, because people would think the Bronx and think, 'The Bronx stinks,'" Michael Ruggiero, then senior curator for horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden, told the Times. "The Bronx is a people place, and the corpse flower is not a people plant. The day lily is, and therefore is a good fit for the Bronx."

10. THE CORPSE FLOWER IS THREATENED BY HABITAT LOSS.

Corpse flowers aren't just rare—they're also vulnerable to habitat loss and destruction, as vast swaths of Sumatra's rainforests are chopped down for timber and to clear ground for oil palm plantations. According to one estimate provided by the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Indonesia has now lost around 72 percent of its original rainforest cover. This contributes to the flower's demise, and also threatens important pollinators like the rhinoceros hornbill.

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