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6 People Who Can Cheat (Certain Kinds of) Death

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The grim specter of death hangs over us all. But for certain people, some forces guaranteed to kill wind up being reduced to mere nuisances. Take a look at six examples of people who can fend off the Reaper—providing he’s playing by their rules.

1. The Peruvians Immune to Rabies

The World Health Organization has declared rabies fatal “nearly always” if the bite victim hasn’t gotten vaccinated following exposure. It’s a lousy way to go, too: infected patients develop hydrophobia (a fear of water) or muscle paralysis leading to coma. But in 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced they had found six people living in the Peruvian Amazon with rabies antibodies who were in good health. Since antibodies are only created after vaccination or after exposure—and only one had been vaccinated—scientists concluded they had survived some degree of viral infection, possibly owing to the high concentration of vampire bats in the area.

2. Wim Hof

Dutchman Wim Hof once felt an overwhelming urge to jump into icy water. Feeling no worse for the wear, he graduated to Arctic marathons and North Pole swimming. Hof has been studied by experts in hypothermia and displays no adverse effects to freezing temperatures under controlled conditions. In ice water, his body temperature has plunged as low as 93.6 degrees without shivering. (Ninety degrees can prove fatal.) Hof told The Guardian he can withstand the cold through meditation and appears to have the confidence to back it up: He once tried climbing Mount Everest in nothing but shorts and ascended roughly 24,000 feet.  

3. Timo Kaukonen

Timo Kaukonen has made a name for himself on the Russian sauna competition circuit: the Finland native once withstood a 230 degree Fahrenheit room for 16 minutes in 2003. (Water boils at 212 degrees.) Under such conditions, burns and hyperthermia become serious considerations. Kaukonen’s onetime competitor, Vladimir Ladyzhensky, collapsed and died shortly after one such event in 2010.

4. Tom Sietas

If Tom Sietas should ever find himself trapped underwater, he’ll have at least 15 minutes to figure things out. A German free diver, Sietas holds the world’s record for holding his breath underwater at over 22 minutes. Since those attempts are frequently after inhaling oxygen, though, it wouldn’t do Sietas much good if he went overboard spontaneously. Good thing he can hold his breath unassisted for over 10 minutes. Typically, brain damage occurs after three to four minutes without respiration. Sietas’s lungs are believed to hold 20 percent more oxygen than a normal person’s.

5. Bill Haast

Who can say what compels a man to essentially “milk” the venom from millions of poisonous snakes? Bill Haast spent decades handling vipers, cobras, diamondbacks, and other reptiles under the banner of his Serpentarium Laboratories, which supplied the key ingredient—poison—in anti-venom formulas for bite victims. In order to handle his high volume of ornery suppliers, Haast injected himself with venom every day for 60 years. Despite being bitten over 170 times, he was never fatally struck. When he passed away, it was of natural causes—at the age of 100.  

6. Dickinson Oppong

Guzzling too much water in too short a period of time can easily induce hyponatremia, a condition where the body becomes so overloaded with fluid the kidneys are unable to keep up and your bloodstream becomes diluted. (In 2009, a woman died from a marathon water drinking contest arranged by a radio station.) But Ghana’s Dickinson Oppong is somehow able to down liters of water in minutes without absorbing it. His stomach contains the liquid before Oppong spits it back out, avoiding everyone’s least favorite conclusions to a party trick: brain edema, coma, and death.

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How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
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Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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The Surprising Role Bats Play in Making Your Margarita
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The next time you have a margarita, raise your glass to the humble bat. Long-nosed bats are the main pollinators of agave, the plant used to make both tequila and mezcal. (Tequila is specifically made from blue agave, or Agave tequilana, while mezcal can be made from any species of the plant.) These agave plants open their flowers at night, attracting bats with their sugary nectar, and in turn, the bats help spread their pollen.

One of those bats, the lesser long-nosed bat, just got off the endangered species list in April 2018, as The Washington Post reported. It's the first bat species ever to recover its population enough to be taken off the Endangered Species List. Its revival is due, in part, to tequila producers along the bat's migration route between Mexico and the southwestern U.S. making their growing methods a little more bat-friendly.

While the relationship between bats and agave might be mutualistic, the one between bats and booze isn't necessarily so. Typical agave production for tequila and mezcal involves harvesting the plant right before it reaches sexual maturity—the flowering stage—because that's when its sugar content peaks, and because after the plant flowers, it dies. Instead of letting the plants reproduce naturally through pollination, farmers plant the clones that grow at the agave plant's base, known as hijuelos. That means fields of agave get razed before bats get the chance to feed off those plants. This method is bad for bats, but it's not great for agave, either; over time, it leads to inbred plants that have lower genetic diversity than their cross-pollinated cousins, ones that require more and more pesticides to keep them healthy.

Rodrigo Medellín, an ecologist who has been nicknamed the "Bat Man of Mexico," has been leading the crusade for bat-friendly tequila for decades, trying to convince tequila producers to let some of just 5 percent of their plants flower. The Tequila Interchange Project—a nonprofit organization made up of tequila producers, scientists, and tequila enthusiasts—led to the release of three bat-friendly agave liquors in the U.S. in 2016: two tequilas, Siembra Valles Ancestral and Tequila Ocho, and a mezcal, Don Mateo de la Sierra.

In 2017, when Medellín and his team visited the agave fields of Don Mateo de la Sierra to gather data, they discovered that the project was even more bat-friendly than they thought. The Mexican long-nosed bat, another endangered species, was also taking its meals at the field's flowering plants.

This weekend, raise a glass of tequila to all the bats out there—just make sure it's a bat-friendly brand.

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