Maybe the appendix does have a function after all

We have to follow where the evidence leads us, and we finally find an important function for the adult appendix: as a reserve ammunition pouch.

Though it may look vaguely like a hand grenade, the solid white structure in the X-ray is actually someone’s appendix, visible only because it is full of shotgun pellets — so full, in fact, that it is stretched to about three times its normal size.

The patient, a 73-year-old Inuit woman at Norton Sound Regional Hospital in Nome, had probably been swallowing the pellets inadvertently for decades, in the meat of ducks and geese shot by local hunters.

So if you’re ever stranded in the Great White North, short of ammo for your shotgun, find an Inuit with bad teeth and do an emergency appendectomy. I expect to see this turn up as a plot point in a Michael Crichton novel any day now.


  1. Dennis says

    In before someone lambasts PZ for alleging that all Inuit have bad teeth, completely ignoring any possible causal connection between eating birdshot and poor dental health.

  2. Dennis says

    Well, it was once explained to me by my surgeon that the appendix is a cul-de-sac off the intestine… so, presumably various things we ingest can get stuck there. So, when it ruptures, it’s basically the vilest oldest crap imaginable right in your abdominal cavity.

  3. windy says

    Or are we in the process of evolving gizzards? All the more reason to switch to non-toxic shot.

  4. says

    … short of ammo…

    What about propellant? While we’re digging in someone’s abdominal cavity, should we be storing and pressurizing the various combustible gasses one is likely to encounter?

  5. says

    AgnosticOracle, biologically-speaking, the appendix is indirectly connected to the stomach via the small intestine, so after passing through the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum, it is plausible that the pellets would have gotten stuck in the appendix while crossing the ileocecal valve, which is the anatomic transition from small intestine to large intestine, especially if they were heavy enough to counteract their intended movement upward through the colon.

    As an aside, this is great news! I’m now convinced:
    1. If the appendix has a function, then it is not dispensable.
    2. It appears to function in ignorant people as a store for bullets.
    3. If the appendix is not dispensable, then God exists.
    4. Therefore, God exists.


  6. Jim says

    Shot pellets in the appendix do not seem to be that uncommon. A Google with “appendix shot pellets” returns over 100,000 hits.

  7. Timcol says

    If you really want some powerful insights into all things vesitigial, then it appears that the authority on the matter is none other than our ID pal, Bill Demsbki. Over at UD, Dembski pontificates postulates that our vestigial organs are really like the running boards of early/mid 20-th century American cars. Through a series of illuminating photos he shows us how car designers whimisically continued to incorporate stylized running boards into later models, even though functionally cars no longer needed them. He touts this as an example of how a designer might continue to incorporate vestigial elements into design – apparently just for the fun of it. That cheeky little Designer! And what a sense of aesthetic style and wit He/She/IT displays!

    So, next time your appendix is playing up and you’re writhing about in agony waiting for the morphine to kick in, and hoping the surgeon gets to remove it before you meet the Great Designer in the sky, try and remember that those vestigial organs are just the Designer’s little whimiscal way of injecting style and verve into Creation!!!

  8. says

    So if you’re ever stranded in the Great White North, short of ammo for your shotgun, find an Inuit with bad teeth and do an emergency appendectomy. I expect to see this turn up as a plot point in a Michael Crichton novel any day now.

    Yeah, maybe it can be a story about a Crichtonesque conservationist who plans to go quad-running across formerly solid permafrost, looking for the last polar bear so he can kill it and study the real reason it went extinct, since of course we all know it’s not global warming that’s at fault.

    The hero will collect the shot from the Inuit woman, then, Captain Kirk style, mix his own gunpowder just in time to kill the bear.

    It can be called Shield. It’ll make Crichton a meager sum but will be acclaimed by uncritical dunderheads all over the US.

  9. Tatarize says

    I’m sorry but, when we are completely out of ammo and need to kill somebody/something. Why don’t we use what we are using to cut this stuff out of people. Frankly a lot of ammo without propellant is going to be worse than throwing dirt at them.

  10. says

    I swear you must be following me around. I’ve had a conversation going for the past two days about the purpose of the appendix.

    I thought I’d heard LONG ago that it was used for crushing bones eaten by primitive man…but since we don’t do that kind of thing any more, evolution is making it useless within the body (speculating that 10k years down the road, it won’t even exist at all within the body)….

    Interesting to read that it’s not completely cut off from the rest of the body, but also curious, what would it do with something that went into it, would it simply sit there and fester until it popped?

  11. says

    heath: would the act of removing them make it take longer for our species to evolve them out, since some animals that may otherwise have died will be okay, still carrying the genetic material that predisposes them toward appendix-having? that’s a serious question, i’m as ignorant of evolution as dembski. i just don’t pretend an invisible jokester in the sky is fucking around with our running boards.

  12. says

    Its been known for some time that the appendix gathers up shot like this. I have been looking for years for examples of little chips of stone form the stone tools people used in the appendix region (in reported burials, etc.) but no luck so far. The homolog of the human appendix is part of the bone chip digestion system in various carnivores as well.

  13. SEF says

    It’s not just ducks and geese. I found some shot in supermarket strawberries. They must be have been very wild strawberries indeed to require harvesting measures as extreme as that.

    NB If shot can end up stuck in the appendix, then pips sometimes should do too. So cue the stories about trees growing out of people as well.

  14. says

    Aww man, and I had an apendectomy ten years ago! Where the HELL am I supposed to hold my ammo next time I go hunting?

    Somebody just shoot me in the face! Cheney where are you?

  15. hipparchia says

    As a kid, it was a common scare to be told that if you eat sunflower seeds without peeling them, the peels willl end up in your appendix.
    Since sunflower seeds are a de-stressing staple for me, I wonder how true that is- do sunflower seed peels get digested?

  16. Umilik says

    Hipparchia, I would think that sunflower hulls are made mostly of cellulose which we humans cannot digest. But that would be easy to determine:
    a) eat sunflower seeds
    b) two days later, catch what comes out
    c) dissolve in plenty of water
    d) run through a strainer
    My personal (entirely anectodal) evidence is that it passes right through.

  17. says

    Poor, poor Aaron! I mean, I’m sorry for you because of your operation and not because you have nowhere to keep your ammo when you go hunting. (I disapprove of blood sports anyway.)
    In fact, how about making friends? I find your blog quite interesting, which doesn’t mean I agree with you :-). Besides, I’m just a few days older than you and, even though (or maybe because) we seem to be polar opposites, I suppose it might be an inspiring (not to say heated :-) ) friendship.
    By the way, I really wonder what you look like. In your blog you only show a photo of your car and not of yourself. Does it mean your car looks better than you? :-)