This Week In Zoology: What Causes Irukandji Syndrome?

For decades, a mysterious illness cropped up in the Australian summer months. People would fall prey to Nature’s Cruciatus Curse, an indescribable pain, a feeling like you are burning from the inside out and, at times, a conviction that you’re going to die that is so strong that you beg those around you to just kill you. This syndrome would last anywhere between 12 hours and 3 days, and then it would pass. While Irukandji syndrome was very rarely fatal, it was still scary enough that no one much wanted to have to go through it.

This mystery persisted until the 1960s, when physician and toxinocologist Jack Barnes told the world that this devastating syndrome was caused by the sting of a tiny, barely noticeable jellyfish.



As you can imagine, this was a tough sell. How do you convince the country and the world that this incredibly painful day from Hell could come from a little creature that you barely even notice when it stings you? So, how do you prove this far-fetched theory?

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This Week In Zoology: Weirdo Caterpillars

When it comes to extremely odd looking creatures, marine life is usually our best source of inspiration, especially those found in the deep sea. This is partially because the support that water gives allows for more extravagant body plans than land does, and partially because we don’t see marine creatures every day, and so they have not had as much chance to become “normal” to our eyes.

When it comes to terrestrial creatures, however, I think that caterpillars are strong contenders for the “weirdest looking critters” award. This video gives some examples, and many of you might be asking yourselves, WTF are those, and WHY THOR WHYYY do they look like that?



Well, here goes. I’ll identify for you those caterpillars that I recognize from this video, and give you a short explanation as to why evolution allowed them to become the fuzzy little weirdos you see in this video today. Sorry Creationists, the answer is not “God predicted the existence of viral videos and wanted to have a laugh”.

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This Week In Zoology Meets Sunday Cooking With Crys

It’s winter, and for those of us who do not live smack in the middle of a giant metropolis, it is always nice to help the birds who did not migrate to warmer climates make it through the season. You can buy those funny smelling balls of birdfeed and hang them in your garden to give them a boost, but for those of you who live in countries in which they are not so widely sold, did you know that you can also make your own?

Well I didn’t know until today, but I came across a great recipe for what I am now calling birdfeed balls on a conservation and animal rights website.

The recipe is in Italian, however, so I have translated it for you here. I happen to have all of these ingredients in my house already save one, so I think I might be cooking for the birds this Christmas too, because why not.

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That Includes You, Milo

Yet another article that has made me define 2016 as April Fool’s Year. True, I do not usually hate myself enough to put myself through regularly reading things written by Milo Yiannopoulos, nor much of anything that is posted on Breitbart, and I am sure that there are many things there that I would find ridiculous enough to double check the date on my calendar. But when I saw a shared article entitled Animals That Are Not Delicious or Useful Deserve to Be Extinct, I simply couldn’t help myself.

Step 1: Source check. It is not the Onion, nor the Daily Mash, but rather Breitbart. O.K.

Step 2: Date check. It was originally posted in August. Oh well… here goes.

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April Fool’s Year

I can say with quite a bit of certainty that 2016 has turned out to be the most bizarre year of my lifetime, thus far. Whether politically in the wake of Brexit and the Trump Presidency, or personally in the face of a string of mindboggling incidents in the lab that defy logic and the laws of probability. I have found myself numerous times, and throughout the entire year, pausing and checking that it is not April Fool’s Day, from January to November.

One such day was when I read an IFLS title: 10,000 Endangered Scrotum Frogs Have Died Near Lake Titicaca. Which, of course, in my mind read as “Loads of Ballsack Frogs Died Near Lake BoobyShit”.

I check my calendar. It’s late October. OK IFLS, you got me, I’m clicking on the link. Why, pray tell, have the ballsack frogs perished so?

There’s something strange going on near Lake Titicaca with its scrotum frogs (and it didn’t happen on April 1).

Oh good, so it’s not just me who thought that was a title worthy of an April Fool’s prank. Please, do go on.

At least 10,000 of these fat, wrinkly, and very rare frogs have mysteriously died in Peru. Thousands of the frogs were discovered floating in the river Coata by members of the Committee Against the Pollution of the Coata River. The river flows into Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, which straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia.

Speaking to IFLScience, Arturo Muñoz of the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative explained what was behind previous mass-deaths in Bolivia between May and April 2015. 

“We found sulfide levels were very high in the lake,” Muñoz told IFLScience. He added that heavy rains and strong winds could have released sulfides from the bottom of the lakes and rivers, which subsequently might have killed the frogs.

The frogs maybe far uglier than the ballsacks they’re named after, but that is still very sad. More than anything else, they seem to be an indicator for some major pollution concerns in the area.

According to the locals, they have been concerned about the unchecked pollution for a while, and have been largely ignored, until they brought the dead frogs to their protests as evidence of what is happening in their communities.

Quite apart from chuckling at their funny names, the fact that this is a fun story to write about could actually bring a little international attention to a very real and hereto largely ignored problem in Peru. Who knows, if enough people follow the story in the hopes of learning more about the scrotum frog, authorities in the area might feel pressured to investigate and respond a bit more than they have so far. Already, in the light of these mass frog deaths, they seem to be giving at least a token response to the outcry.

This is one of those posts that embodies the Italian phrase da ridere per non piangere, which literally means, to laugh so as not to cry. You have a choice, cry over the ever worsening state of our environment and pollution levels, or laugh because you just learned that there is such a thing as a scrotum frog, which lives in lake Titicaca.

This Week In Zoology: Check Your Bonfires

In Ireland as in many countries, there is one day a year which is known as “bonfire night”, when people light big piles of leaves, wood, and often other random trash. The ecological impact of such celebrations notwithstanding, there is a critter out there which needs your help in taking a bit more care when lighting your bonfires.

The Irish Wildlife Trust shared this plea this year in the form of this cartoon.


For those of you unfamiliar with hedgehog biology, this has to do with the difference between torpor and true hibernation.

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My Favorite Bee Story So Far

My posting history has made it clear that I’m a fan of bees. It’s not that I enjoy having them buzz around my head, but rather I acknowledge their vital importance to our ecosystem and agriculture, and I am deeply saddened by their declining populations. I’ve posted before about how rash, idiotic policies can wreak havoc on our environment, and about fun new inventions which could potentially lead to more people keeping less stressed bees.

This latest story, however, is just pure fun.


That is very clever. I’m sure this guy is going to make a lot of money, and I kind of want to try cannahoney.

In all seriousness, I’m not sure how much this goes beyond a simply funny gimmick. The way I understand it, eating cannabis doesn’t really do anything to you unless you fry it or bake it with fat first. So, will you actually feel anything if you eat cannahoney? Or will it just be honey with a weird pot aftertaste? Or will it taste completely differently? Is the point to use it in baking? But then, wouldn’t it be more cost effective to just use normal honey and add pot to whatever it is you’re baking?

OK my scientist brain is picking this apart a little too much. I’d still be extremely curious to try it, regardless of the effects, just to see what it tastes like.

For Happy Bees

Yet another invention that makes me happy. This one involves a new kind of bee hive, which makes extracting honey easier and, at the same time, greatly reduces stress to bees during the extraction process.


It is no secret that bees are very delicate creatures, while at the same time they are vital to our agriculture and food supply. This invention not only helps to protect them from stress, but it also potentially encourages more people to keep bee hives, as it makes the process of harvesting honey much easier. More bee hives means more bees, meaning more crucial pollinators buzzing around, and that’s just a win-win for everyone.

Love this. I kind of want one.