Friday, 31 December 2010

Top 10 Strangest Places In Which Life Exists

Lists the most improbable, inhospitable and absurd habitats on Earth.

10. Yellowstone's Hot Springs

Geysers, mud pots, steam vents and hot springs in the region now known as Yellowstone National Park awed American Indians and early European explorers. Scientists home in on the hot springs, exploring their ecology and plumbing their scalding waters in search of highly adapted, heretofore-undiscovered microorganisms.

 Yellowstone's Hot Springs 02

Bryant, who has studied bacterial photosynthesis in an academic career spanning more than three decades, characterizes finding this new chlorophyll-producing microbe as “the discovery of a lifetime.”

The springs are near the boiling point of water and acidic enough to dissolve nails. But some  microbes thrive there, and the pigments they produce give the springs vivid, otherworldly colors.

The heat-loving bacteria Thermus aquaticus is the most famous Yellowstone microbe; it makes an enzyme that researchers use in genetics labs to make copies of DNA. Other Yellowstone microbes eat hydrogen, and a few years ago scientists there discovered an entirely new phylum of photosynthesizing bacteria.

Because there are so many hot springs and mud pots and geysers in Yellowstone, with a variety of temperatures and chemical compositions, the park hosts the greatest known diversity of archaea. Simple, single-celled organisms without nuclei, archaea are a branch of life that has been known only since the 1970s.

Many archaea thrive at hot temperatures (they are also found in volcanoes). And inside some Yellowstone archaea—just to complete the microbial ecosystem—are heat-loving viruses.

9. In Bodies Below the Freezing Point of Water

In Bodies Below the Freezing Point of Water

Some animals survive not only in environments below freezing, but in bodies below freezing. Spiders and insects produce antifreeze that prevent them from freezing solid. The larvae of certain Arctic flies can survive being chilled to about -76 Fahrenheit.

Many species of frogs, newts and turtles do freeze—more than 50 percent of the water in their bodies may be ice. The trick is that they carefully control where the ice forms. As the animal cools, its cells and organs squeeze out water and shrink. Only water outside of the animal’s cells freezes; the crystals may grow in between muscle fibers or around organs.

The coldest sustained body temperature in a mammal is about 27 degrees Fahrenheit, measured in Arctic ground squirrels. Their strategy is called “supercooling”—even though the fluid in their bodies is below the freezing point, the animals eliminate any material on which ice crystals could form.

8. Entirely Alone

Candidatus Desulforudis audaxviator 01

Most ecosystems are complicated. A member of any given species has to find other species to eat and avoid those species that want to eat it. If it’s a parasite, it needs a host; if it’s a plant, it may need bacteria to help it process nitrogen or bees to pollinate its flowers.

Not so at the bottom of an almost two-mile-deep South African gold mine. There, Candidatus Desulforudis audaxviator is all there is. This species of bacteria, one of the deepest ever found, lives at about 140 degrees Fahrenheit, fixes its own nitrogen, and eats sulfate—all in complete isolation.

7. The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands

Sure, they’re famous for inspiring Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. But the reason it’s easy (well, in retrospect) to observe evolution on these islands is that they’re almost entirely inhospitable to life. They emerged in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as the tops of still-active volcanoes. They were heat-sterilized and 600 miles from land.

Everything that lives there now flew in on the wind (most plants there have airborne seeds), rode a freak current (including Galapagos penguins, the only species of its kind to live at the equator), or floated on a raft of vegetation (like the giant tortoises). (That is, aside from the species humans have introduced more recently.) Colonization happened rarely and most species stayed where they landed, so relatively simple ecosystems grew up, with enough differences among islands to make them a showcase of evolutionary principles.

6. Acidic Mine Drainage (and Runners-Up)

Acidic Mine Drainage (and Runners-Up)

California’s Iron Mountain was mined starting in the 1800s for gold, silver, copper and other minerals. The minerals originated in the roots of a volcano and were deposited with a lot of sulfide—a compound that turns to sulfuric acid in the presence of water. Mining exposed the sulfides and eventually made the tailings as acidic as battery acid and full of heavy metals such as arsenic.

But plenty of microbes live in the mine. They float on a lake of acid in a pink slick called a biofilm that is made by certain bacteria in the microbial community. Some of the archaea in the mine eat iron and make the already acidic conditions even more acidic by actively converting sulfide into sulfuric acid. The acid eats away pyrite (fool’s gold) and other minerals in the cave, adding more metals into the toxic soup.

This habitat barely edged out other harsh conditions for microbes: extreme heat or cold, intense pressure, and even radiation from a nuclear reactor. Three Mile Island was no Chernobyl, but a 1979 accident there caused the partial meltdown of a reactor and released radioactive gas into the atmosphere. It took many years to clean up the mess, mostly with robots and remotely operated cranes overseen through video cameras. Much to the clean-up crew’s surprise, the coolant water near the core was cloudy: microorganisms were thriving in it despite high levels of radioactivity.

As for pressure, the greatest that any bacteria have ever withstood is 16,000 times greater than the atmospheric pressure we experience at sea level. In experiments at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., Robert Hazen and his colleagues “subjected a strain of the familiar intestinal bacterium Escherichia coli to the ridiculous pressure of 16,000 atmospheres — a value obtained accidentally by overzealous tightening of a diamond anvil pressure cell.” Oops! But when they examined the bacteria later, a few had survived this pressure—which is greater than any pressure at any potentially life-sustaining depth (that is, any depth that is not hotter than the theoretical heat limit for life of 302 degrees Fahrenheit) on the planet.

5. Beneath a Crack in D**th Valley National Park

Devil’s Hole pupfish

D**th Valley is the lowest, hottest and driest place in the United States—not a great place to be a fish. But seven species of pupfish are hanging on, the last survivors of lakes that dried up 10,000 years ago. Now the fish are stuck in springs, salty marshes and in Devil’s Hole, an underground aquifer reachable only by a narrow fissure in the rock.

The Devil’s Hole pupfish, one of the first species protected under the Endangered Species Act, is one of the rarest animals in the world. Fewer than a hundred were counted this year, and in 2006 its population was 38.

4. Deep Sea Vents

Deep Sea Vents 02

Deep sea vents are the prototypical strange place for life. Complex ecosystems, first discovered in 1977, are thriving in utter darkness, under intense pressure, fueled by sulfur. The vents are found at the intersections of two oceanic plates. Unlike most earthquake and volcano zones, where two plates are coming together, vents are places where two plates are spreading apart. Water seeps into the cracked crust, picks up minerals and heat, and spews out of the vents.

At the bottom of the food chain are microbes that get their energy from chemicals in the vents, usually hydrogen sulfide. Hundreds of other species have been discovered that live only in these vents, including various tube worms, barnacles, mussels and shrimp.

3. At Very, Very Old Ages

Bacteria under stress often form spores, little shelled nuggets that contain the bacterial DNA and some cellular machinery but are dormant. The spores can survive all kinds of trauma—heat, cold, gamma radiation, ultraviolet radiation, high pressure, low pressure—for a very long time. How long? Well, there have been some spectacular claims, some of which scientists are still debating.

In 1995, scientists reported that they had isolated spores from the gut of a bee in 25-million to 40-million-year-old amber. They said they had revived the spores and grown bacteria from them.

A few years later, another team reported reviving much older spores—250 million years old—from salt crystals.

There's been a lot of debate about the claims, especially the latter one, because it's so easy to get bacterial contamination even deep in the ground.

More recently, scientists have resuscitated bacteria that have been on ice for millions of years. The bacteria were in suspended animation in the oldest ice on Earth, in a valley in Antarctica. Those a million or so years old revived relatively easily, and some of the oldest ones, which were covered in ice 8 million years ago, also showed signs of life.

2. The Coldest Places on Earth

The Coldest Places on Earth

Technically there are colder places on Earth than the Arctic and Antarctic, but you'd have to go to a physics lab to find them.

Outside of the lab, nothing is quite so miserable for a warm-blooded creature as a polar winter. In the Antarctic, emperor penguins spend months at temperatures as cold as -40 Fahrenheit, in the dark, without eating, while incubating eggs. How do they manage? They are the definition of misery loving company: they huddle together, sharing warmth and minimizing the surface area of their bodies that is exposed to the cold. They also drop their metabolic rate by about 25 percent and their core temperature by a few degrees.

At the other end of the Earth, a rare duck called a spectacled eider requires open water to feed—which is inconvenient given that most of the Arctic freezes over. Until a few years ago, scientists had no idea where these eiders spent their winters. It turns out they huddle together in cracks between plates of sea ice, diving for clams and sharing their warmth, and possibly churning up their small patch of open water enough to keep it from freezing.

1. In the Stratosphere

Yes, the stratosphere—the layer of Earth's atmosphere that starts at about six miles above the ground. Massive dust storms from the Sahara and other deserts move millions of tons of soil each year, and a shocking number and variety of microbes go along for the ride. Dale Griffin, of the U.S. Geological Survey, has collected microbes in dust at altitudes of up to 60,000 feet (more than 11 miles high).

What's up there? Bacteria, fungi, viruses—hundreds of different kinds. Disturbingly, many of the identified microbes are known human pathogens: Legionella (which causes Legionnaire's disease), Staphylococcus (which causes staph infections), and many microbes that cause lung diseases if (ahem) inhaled.

"I was surprised at the numbers of viable microorganisms that we could find in very small volumes of air when desert dust was present," says Griffin. "If you look, they are there—even in the most extreme environments."

source

Thursday, 30 December 2010

The World’s Most Dangerous Caterpillars

Caterpillars of the moths of the genus Lonomia are probably the most dangerous caterpillars in the world accounting for more than 350 d**ths between 1989 and 2005.

westerntentcaterpillarsmalacosomacalifornicumedit1_1

Butterflies are beautiful but some of their larvae, called caterpillars are very dangerous and can lead to d**th within minutes of being exposed to the hairs. The most dangerous caterpillars in the world are those of moths belonging to the genus Lonomia which can cause d**th within minutes of exposure to the venom found in their hairs. These caterpillars are said to have led to more than 350 d**ths between 1989 and 2005. Caterpillar hair generally contains venom which can cause dangerous problems to human health including: -

1. Dermatitis – Caterpillar hairs are known to result in erosive skin inflammation or dermatitis which may damage the aesthetic value and texture of the skin.

Dermatitis

2. Urticaria – A type of dermatitis occurring on the skin in which rashes occurring as reddish and raised itchy bumps that are very painful.

Urticaria

3. Osteochondritis – Some caterpillars are known to cause the inflammation of bone and cartilage.

Osteochondritis

4. Coagulopathy – Some caterpillars cause a bleeding disorder in which blood clotting mechanisms fail leading to excessive loss of blood.

Coagulopathy

5. Internal hemorrhage – Some species like those of the genus Lonomia have caterpillars that cause intracranial hemorrhage, leading to d**th within thirty minutes.

Internal hemorrhage

6. Renal failure – The Lonomia genus has several species of moths whose caterpillars are toxic enough so as to cause kidney failure and eventually d**th.

Renal failure

7. Conjunctivitis – The sharp hairs found on caterpillars can enter the skin and membranes such as those in the eyes leading to inflammatory reactions.

Conjunctivitis

Would you rather be stung by caterpillars or be bitten by a cobra? The danger posed by both is nearly equal with caterpillars being associated with 1.7% d**ths from their toxicity while cobras account for 1.8%. The chances of encountering venomous caterpillars is however larger.

source

Sunday, 26 December 2010

The World's Worst Invasive Mammals

Animals as common as goats, deer, rabbits or mice can have a devastating effect on other wildlife.

Red Deer

Red Deer 01

Prized for its “medicinal” properties in parts of Asia and as a trophy species by South American hunters, the red deer (Cervus elaphus) has spread from its native Eurasia to the Americas, New Zealand and Australia. These deer aren’t picky when it comes to choosing a home—they inhabit temperate rain forests, mountain ridges, open grasslands and man-made clearings meant for livestock or agriculture. They do, however, devour specific plants, especially thick, moist grasses. This often leads to severe overgrazing and soil erosion, which disrupts the natural balance of the ecosystem and squeezes out smaller species with a similar diet. In Australia’s Royal National Park just outside Sydney, for example, patches of forest with higher deer densities have 30 to 70 percent fewer plant species than nearby areas with fewer deer.

In northern Chile and Argentina, red deer out-compete the Hippocamelus bisulcus, an endangered deer, and the guanaco, a South American llama. Red deer also spread bovine tuberculosis to co-habiting livestock. Their only natural predator is the puma, so humans are forced to control the deer population through hunting.

Goats

Goats  01

Ever since farmers in the mountains of western Iran domesticated the goat (Capra hircus) more than 10,000 years ago, populations have spread and thrived all over the world. Goats travel mostly in herds that can cover areas up to 12 miles across. Notoriously tough, they can survive in the harshest of environments, from isolated islands to steep mountain faces.

These scruffy herbivores will eat any plant they find; their four-chambered stomachs can digest almost any tough plant matter. Their eating habits can alter the composition of vegetation and quash biodiversity, particularly on isolated islands that have a delicate ecological balance. In recent years, aerial hunting, hunting dogs and GPS technology have been used to effectively control goat populations. But as domestic goats are the most widely consumed meat and milk source in the world, feral goats (which are domestic goats that become established in the wild) aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon.

Feral Cats

Feral Cats 01

There are an estimated 60 million feral cats (Felis catus) in the United States alone. Together, they k*ll around 480 million birds every year. Cats were domesticated (or perhaps domesticated themselves, according to some scientists) in the Fertile Crescent region of the Mediterranean in the early days of human civilization; the cats eradicated mice and rats before they could get to grain reserves. The cats did their job and proliferated throughout the world, thanks in large part to their popularity as human pets.

When house cats are allowed free range outdoors by their owners, however, or simply don’t have owners, they not only wreak havoc as opportunistic hunters, they can also spread disease. In addition to carrying rabies, 62 to 82 percent of cats in a recent study tested positive for toxoplasmosis, a parasite that has been shown to cause neurological damage to sea otters and other marine mammals that are exposed when heavy rainfall washes infected cat feces into the water. Cats have also hurt populations of birds, reptiles and other creatures. The black stilt of New Zealand (a seabird), the Okinawa woodpecker and the Cayman Island ground iguana are just a few of the dozens of endangered species at risk due to the proliferation of feral cats.

Long-tailed Macaque

Long-tailed Macaque 01

The long-tailed macaque (Macaca irus), a native of Southeast Asia, has been introduced into Mauritius, Palau, Hong Kong and parts of Indonesia. Identifiable by their extended tails—which are often longer than both head and body combined—this primate competes with birds for native fruits and vegetation, which make up 60 to 90 percent of their diet. Macaques have also been known to prey on the eggs and chicks of endangered birds. They give birth only to one offspring every couple of years, but that’s quite enough for scientists, who are currently investigating a vaccine to render females infertile in order to aid in population control.

Short-tailed Weasel

Short-tailed Weasel 01

They may look like furry friends, but short-tailed weasels (Mustela erminea, also known as stoats or ermine) can decimate mammal and bird populations. These intelligent, versatile predators can swim up to a mile in the ocean and can roam 40 miles at a time. They fearlessly attack larger animals and k*ll more than they can eat in one sitting, bringing in as much food as they can get their paws on.

In select cases like that of New Zealand, the weasel, a native of Eurasia and North America, has been introduced to exterminate smaller invasive mammals like rabbits. “They haven’t really k*ll*d the rabbits, but what they have done is become a major predator of native wildlife, particularly birds,” says Mick Clout, a conservation ecologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

The weasels feast on baby kiwis, New Zealand’s iconic bird, and they have contributed to the extinction of several other bird species. In response, Operation Nest Egg has set up kiwi nurseries that protect the chicks until they get big enough to protect themselves.

Rabbit

Rabbit 01

Popular pets and a source of meat, rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are native to the Iberian Peninsula. Phoenician traders introduced them to the wider Mediterranean, and rabbit populations have since become established in Africa, Australia and the Americas, where their persistent burrowing and overgrazing erodes soils and threatens native species. Rabbits are especially a problem on the 800 islands where they were introduced as food sources or tourist attractions, such as New Zealand’s South Island. If populations aren’t controlled on these islands, the rabbits have the power to wipe out every last bit of vegetation.

Rats

Rats 01

Rattus rattus originated in India and has spread like wildfire throughout the world, leaving no continent untouched. The rodents are scavengers and eat anything that is, was or ever will be edible and have contributed to the extinction of many birds, small mammals, reptiles, invertebrates and plant species. The bird decline has been the worst—it is now accepted that rats, not disease, were responsible for the disappearance of many native bird species in the 19th century, such as the Tahitian sandpiper. Rats are mostly nocturnal, which is why they can be seen scuttling around in the shadows; they carry pathogens, including bubonic plague, typhus, toxoplasmosis and trichinosis; and they breed frequently, giving birth to litters of three to ten with as few as 27 days in between.

Grey Squirrel

Grey Squirrel 01

Grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensus) are native to the eastern United States and have spread to the western part of the country as well as to the Britain, Ireland, Italy and South Africa. Though not as widespread as rats, the grey squirrel has had marked impacts on its wooded habitat. When their usual diet of nuts, seeds, fruits and fungi is hard to come by, grey squirrels strip the bark off beech and sycamore trees. In areas where their counterpart, the red squirrel, is present, they outcompete them, causing red squirrel populations to dwindle. Grey squirrels can also carry the parapoxvirus, which causes a debilitating and d**dly disease in the native red squirrel.

Brushtail Possum

Brushtail Possum 01

The brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) lives only in its native Australia and nearby New Zealand, where it was introduced in 1837 to establish a fur trade. The nocturnal marsupial is about the size of a cat and lives mostly in trees. In Australia, dingoes and bush fires keep the population in check. But in New Zealand, an environment that evolved almost completely devoid of land mammals for 65 million years, until the arrival of the Maori around 1250 A.D., the possum invasion is a very different story.

Possums are now ten times more abundant in New Zealand than they’ve ever been in Australia. With an absence of predators, the possums are free to roam and graze on whatever’s palatable. Their feeding on eucalyptus leaves has created a large imbalance in the island forest vegetation, and the possum’s appetite for birds has depleted some species like the threatened kokako bird and the kereru, a native pigeon.
“The trouble is, they’re actually quite nice animals,” says Mick Clout, a conservation ecologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. “If you see them in their native Australia where they belong, they’re fantastic. But they don’t really belong here [in New Zealand].”

Of utmost economic concern is that possums are the main wild vector of bovine tuberculosis, which can devastate cattle. Though the animals are still trapped for their pelts, this does not completely control the population and wildlife authorities have been forced to use other, sometimes controversial, methods, such as aerial poisoning.

Mongoose

Mongoose 01

Herpestes javanicus is a small, agile creature with a slender body, short legs and a muscular tail. Hailing from Iran, India, Myanmar and the Thai Malay peninsula, the mongoose was introduced to islands including Mauritius, Fiji, the West Indies and Hawaii to control rat infestations on sugar cane plantations. But the mongoose soon found tastier morsels: native mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and birds. Now, both the rat and mongoose continue to degrade these island ecosystems. Fiji’s barred-wing rail and Hispaniola’s racer have both gone extinct because of the mongoose, and the critically endangered petrel of Jamaica may soon follow.

Nutria

Nutria 01

Myocastor coypus, or the nutria, is a semi-aquatic rodent originally from South America. Despite their resemblance to rats, nutria were once cultivated for their soft fur. Large groups escaped from fur farms and bred larger feral populations that now inhabit parts of Europe, North America and Asia.
These rodents are accomplished burrowers; their tunnels run through the reed beds and marshlands where they live, eroding river banks and dykes and damaging irrigation facilities. In large numbers, nutria can eat so much vegetation that what began as marshland can quickly turn into open water. In Japan, nutria threaten the critically endangered dragonfly Libellula angelina and the deep-bodied bitterling fish. In Italy, nutria have destroyed the layer of water lilies that once allowed whiskered terns to breed.

House Mouse

House Mouse 01

Apart from humans, mice (Mus musculus) are thought to be the most widely distributed animal in the world. Humans and mice have carried on a somewhat imbalanced partnership over the past 8,000 years: mice take shelter in man-made structures like houses and pass on diseases such as bubonic plague and salmonella. Mice can devour crops and human food reserves. And perhaps second only to eating, the thing mice do best is breed. Females have five to ten litters per year of around six young each. Their numbers sometimes even reach plague status, with millions of mice yielding extensive economic damage by eating stored food or digging up crops. Mice have also been shown to prey on albatross chicks and cause breeding failures in albatross and petrel populations in places like Gough Island in the South Atlantic.

Wild Pigs

Wild Pigs 01

Known as wild or feral hogs, pigs or boars, wild pigs (Sus scrofa) once roamed European and Asian hillsides. The purebred pigs have now gone extinct in much of their native range, but they have spread to other parts of the world including New Zealand, Australia, Latin America and North America. Pigs root as deep as three feet below the soil’s surface using long, sharp tusks. This tears apart surface vegetation and alters the nitrogen content of the soil. Hunters appreciate pigs’ cunning and aggression, but these same traits cause pigs to outcompete native species. They have even been known to terrorize visitors to national parks. And the pigs can carry foot-and-mouth disease and an array of other unsavory illnesses that can devastate domestic animal populations. The United States has experienced a dramatic increase in wild pigs in the past 30 years, especially in Texas, where damages are estimated to cost $400 million each year.

Red Fox

Red Fox 01

The Vulpus vulpus, or red fox, is native to Eurasia, North Africa, Central America and the Arctic. In its native habitat, the fox is at times considered a vital check on small mammals and rodents. But in areas where the fox has invaded, its presence can be detrimental. Since being introduced to Australia for hunting purposes in the mid-1800s, foxes have contributed to the decline of dozens of native animals, including newborn lambs. The fox roams expansive distances of up to 190 miles, which makes it a dangerous carrier of diseases like rabies. Traditional means of fox control—poison, hunting and fencing—are in place, though hunting has declined in recent years due to decreased demand for furs.

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Friday, 24 December 2010

The Top Seven Foods That Will Kick Your Ass

The Top Seven Foods That Will Kick your

It’s absolutely nuts that people will eat products that are rotting, bug-infested, still kicking and screaming, or just plain poisonous and call it cuisine. Some of these so-called delicacies are dangerous, while some can leave you feeling like you’ve done 10 rounds. But no matter what it does, it'll be a meal you'll never forget.

7. Durian

Durian

The durian fruit has been labeled the worst-smelling fruit in the world. It has been described as smelling like sewage, stale vomit, skunk spray, and used surgical swabs – and that’s being kind. Food writer Richard Sterling says “its odor is best described as pig-s***, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock,” while Anthony Bourdain likens eating the fruit to “French kissing your dead grandmother.” You’d think this would be reason enough to steer clear of this strange looking fruit. But no. For some reason this fruit, which originates from Southeast Asia, is revered and known there as “the king of fruits.” I suppose if you’re able to stomach it, you become a king of sorts.

The pungent smell of the fruit is so bad and strong that the fruit is banned in many hotels, subways, airports, and public transportation systems across the region. If you ride the subway in Singapore you’ll clearly see signs strictly forbidding consumption of the fruit. Don’t even think about trying to sneak a bite of this ghastly fruit, as the smell will undoubtedly give you away.

The fruit’s odor is so pungent that it can be detected half a mile away by animals, luring deer, elephants, and even tigers. You’d think the smell would turn the animals off, but it’s quite the opposite. They are attracted to it and will seek it out. So if you’re in Southeast Asia and crack open a durian, don’t be surprised if a tiger turns up, you get arrested, or your neighbor tries to set you on fire to get rid of the smell.

6. Miracle Fruit

Miracle Fruit 01

The miracle fruit will play with your mind and lull you into a full sense of security. The miracle of the fruit is that it makes sour foods magically taste sweeter. On the surface, the berry from West Africa seems very normal, even bland. It’s the color of a cranberry, the size of an almond, and has a flavorless gummy taste. But it’s the pulp of the berry that produces its taste-altering powers. The berry works its magic by coating the tongue with a glycoprotein molecule called miraculin, causing sour or acidic foods to taste delightfully sweet. The effects of the berry last from 15 minutes up to an hour. The berry makes tart lemons taste sweet, gives hot sauce a honey-like flavor, and makes vinegar taste like sweet wine.

The berry was first introduced to the western world in 1725 by French explorer Chevalier des Marchais. There was a push in the 1970s to commercially mass produce the berry as a sugar substitute, but the sugar industry bitterly lobbied the FDA not to approve it as a sweetener, fearing it would severely damage their industry.

The berry has had somewhat of a renaissance in the last two years as people organize tasting parties to test out the strange fruit. The fruit costs about $2 a berry or can be bought in pill form for about $30 a packet. The parties may be fun, but after consuming endless amounts of hot sauce, vinegar, and other acidic foods your stomach can turn into an acid factory, leaving you very sick and uncomfortable. It may be a miracle, but this fruit will leave you cursing God’s name.

5. Hákarl

Hákarl

Hákarl is a ghastly-tasting and smelling Icelandic dish made from rotting shark -- a gourmet delicacy that dates back to Viking times. It’s made from the Greenland or Basking shark. In its natural state the shark contains high levels of uric acid and trimethylamine oxide, toxic chemicals that need to be removed from the shark to make the meat suitable for human consumption.

The removal process is simple: the shark meat is left out in the open to rot for about two months. As the meat decomposes, toxic ammonia oozes out. The meat is then hung and dried for a further four months, when it is "ready" for humans to munch on. If the shark meat was not treated in this manner it would cause serious illness or even death.

The smell of the food is so bad that first-timers are told to pinch their nose when trying it. Anthony Bourdain, who has travelled the world and tasted plenty of strange dishes, calls hákarl “the single worst, most disgusting, and terrible tasting thing" he has ever eaten. It is an acquired taste that has been described as similar to eating human urine. Bon Appetite!

4. Bhut Jolokia

Bhut Jolokia

It is said that eating an entire Bhut Jolokia chili is “akin to swigging a cocktail of battery acid and glass shards.” In 2007 the little known chili pepper from the backwaters of India knocked the Red Savina habaneros chili from the top spot, entering the Guinness Book of Records as the hottest chili pepper in the world.

According to researchers from New Mexico State University, the institute who discovered the pepper in an academic sense, the Bhut Jolokia literally burns its nearest competitor when it comes to hotness. On the Scoville scale, which measures the heat or piquancy of a chili pepper by measuring the amount of capsaicin it contains, the Bhut Jolokia pepper scored an impressive 1,001,304 Scoville Heat units (SHUs). This is almost double the SHUs of Red Savina, which measures a mere 577,000. That makes the pepper nearly twice as hot as the Red Savina habanero and more that 200 times hotter than the jalapeno.

Bhut Jolokia is not for the faint-hearted. It literally translates to "ghost pepper" and is said to have gotten this name because it’s so hot that “you give up the ghost when you eat it." It’s also known as the “King Cobra Chile” because its fierce "bite" is similar to the venom of a king cobra.

The pepper is so strong and intense that workers who farm it must wear goggles, face masks, head cover, and protective clothing. Earlier this year India's Defense Research and Development Organization announced its plans to include the chili in hand grenades as a way to control rioters. Yikes!

3. Sannakji

Sannakji

It’s rare to eat a dish that is literally still kicking and screaming when served. Sannakji (or "wriggling octopus") is a Korean raw dish that consists of a live Nakji octopus whose tentacles have been sliced, diced, and immediately served. The octopus arrives literally trying to wriggle and jump off the plate. If you did know any better you’d think you were about to dig into a plate of live, squirming worms.

The grossout factor of the dish is enough to turn most people off. However there is another, more deadly, side to the dish. The danger arises from the still functioning, moving tentacles. If not properly chewed the active suction cups on the tentacles can stick to your throat and cause choking. Every year six people in South Korea reportedly die from eating the dish. People are advised to full masticate each tentacle and drink plenty of fluids. Once each tentacle has made its way past the throat, it’s safe to attack the next slurpy little sucker.

2. Casu Marzu

Casu Marzu

Most people would run screaming if they discovered live maggots crawling in their food. Connoisseurs of Casu Marzu, a.k.a. Maggot Cheese, would not. For them the maggot is the crucial ingredient.

The specialty Italian cheese is made in Sardinia from sheep’s milk and is literally a rotten form of Pecorino cheese. The cheese is purposely exposed to Piophila casei flies, also known as the cheese fly. The flies lay their eggs in the cheese, which hatch into white larvae that wriggle around the cheese digesting it. This process helps break down the fat in the cheese, advancing the fermentation process.

By the time the cheese is ready for consumption it will contain thousands of living maggots. If the maggots are not alive, then the cheese is said to be toxic and unfit for human consumption. Critics of the cheese say it is unfit for consumption in any state. The cheese has been banned in Brussels for over 30 years and was also banned, for a short period of time, in the European Union.

You don’t have to eat the live larvae and many don’t, but be careful if you do. The larvae are resistant to stomach acid and have been known to take up residency in the stomach. In extreme cases the maggots can tear holes in the intestine, causing vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding. The larvae can also mount aerial assaults. If disturbed, the larvae is known to jump up to six inches in the air and leap into people’s eyes.

1. Blowfish

Blowfish

It apparently tastes like normal fish, but if not prepared properly it will k*ll you. Blowfish, or fugu, is a dangerous but highly sought after delicacy in Japan. The fish is deadly because its organs contain tetrodotoxin, a lethal poison. The poison is most concentrated in the liver and ovaries and if consumed, paralyzes the body’s muscles. If you eat a bad piece of fugu, you’ll remain fully conscious and unable to move until you die of asphyxiation. Death usually comes a-knockin' in six to 24 hours after consumption. Currently there is no antidote to the poison and the only chance of survival is to keep the respiratory and a circulatory system functioning until the poison wears off.

There are approximately 40 different kinds of fugu and the fish must be prepared by a specially licensed chef. Chefs must complete a three-year apprenticeship before taking a rigorous test of which only 35% of applicants pass. Chefs must then continue their training before being able to tackle more poisonous types of fugu.

It is generally safe to consume fugu prepared in a restaurant or supermarket. Most fatalities caused by the fish are the result of unqualified people preparing the fish at home. Approximately 20–44 incidents of fugu poisoning per year were recorded between 1996 and 2006 in all of Japan, with five or six people dying each year from fugu-related poisoning.

New breeds of non-toxic fugu are being created, which means one day the danger and novelty of eating a food that could k*ll you could be a thing of the past. Now where’s the fun in that?

Thursday, 23 December 2010

5 Must-See American Dinosaur Exhibits

1. Museum of the Rockies T-Rex

Museum of the Rockies T-Rex

Located in Bozeman, Montana, the Museum of the Rockies hosts an impressive dinosaur fossil collection, found in the mountains of Montana from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Jack Horner, a paleontologist and curator who served as the science advisor for the Jurassic Park films, leads the area dinosaur digs and restoration process at the museum. The exhibit has on display a T-Rex, Triceratops, and Deinonychus, among others.

2. Natural Museum of Los Angeles County Saber-Toothed Tiger

Natural Museum of Los Angeles County Saber-Toothed Tiger

Currently, the Natural Museum of Los Angeles County hosts a well-regarded dinosaur collection, but it will soon expand its exhibit when its Dinosaur Hall opens this coming summer. According to a Business Wire article, the new Hall will make the Los Angeles museum a world leader in dinosaur exhibits, featuring over 300 fossils and 20 full-body specimens. The museum endeavors to make the public more aware of the process of excavation and preparation, as well as to shed light on how dinosaurs lived, by way of interactive media. Especially notable is its T-Rex adult, Thomas, one of the most complete specimens on the planet.

3. Cincinnati Museum Center A View From The Front

Cincinnati Museum Center A View From The Front

Although only on display until January, Cincinnati Museum Center debuted an awe-inspiring collection of dinosaur fossils found in the north-central region of China by Chinese paleontologists in 2006. The most exciting part of the exhibit is a rare nest of fossilized dinosaur eggs.

4. Utah Museum of Natural History Dinosaur Exhibit

Utah Museum of Natural History Dinosaur Exhibit

UMNH has a wonderfully diverse range of dinosaur specimens, mostly from the Late Jurassic period. Many of its fossils were found in the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in Emery County, Utah, which possesses the densest concentration of Jurassic fossils in the world. The latest additions to its stunning collection are two new species of iguanadonts—a Hippodraco and an Iguanacolossus. Iguanadonts are large, beaked, herbivorous dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period. The skull of the Hippodraco will be on display at UMNH early next year.

5. Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History

The Smithsonian is the veritable granddaddy of American dinosaur exhibits. It dinosaur collection was begun way back in the 1850s. Some of the museum's more interesting and complete dinosaur fossils are its Triceratops, which was for a long time one of the most complete fossils of its kind in the world, its tyrannosaur Gorgosaurus, and a saurapod, Diplodocus.

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Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Fly Geyser – Not Quite of this World

They look as if they were taken on another planet, or at least on the set of a new and very expensive science fiction movie. Yet these pictures are of the Fly Geyser which is very much of planet earth (Nevada, US to be exact). However – and herein lies the surprise – it is effectively man made.

fly geyser 1

The geyser can be found in Hualapai Valley near Gerlach. It is a little seen phenomenon as the land upon which it sits is private. It can be seen from State Road 34 but unless you have permission the view from a distance is all you should attempt.

fly geyser 2

fly geyser 3

Back in 1916 the owners of the place were looking for water in the hope of creating rich farmland in this desert area of the state. They came across water, yes, and the well worked for decades. However, the drill that was driven down a shaft hit a geothermal pocket of water and the result was a geyser, if not quite made by man then certainly made possible by him.

fly geyser 4

fly geyser 5

Yet it is not the geyser you see in the pictures here. In the 1960s the water found another weak spot and a new, natural geyser was created. The older one no longer spouts at all. It is thought that the new geyser somehow diverted its water. Or perhaps it simply waits for another time to come when it can spring in to life again.

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Since the 60s the geyser has substantially developed – it now has the appearance of a huge multi-colored sculpture. It sits upon a pulpit of sludge and dirt. Around it ponds of warm water where plant life thrives give it an even eerier off-world look.

fly geyser 6

fly geyser 7

The ponds are forming an ecosystem of their own. Small fish (introduced by some unknown human hand) breed in the ponds and they attract a number of birds such as swans, mergansers and mallards.

fly geyser 8

fly geyser 9

The odd yet magnificent appearance of the geyser is due to dissolved minerals slowly intensifying and then piling up. This created the embankment upon which the geyser sits and it is what gives the whole structure its size. If you count the mound it is almost four meters in height: without it, Fly Geyser would be less than two.

fly geyser 10

fly geyser 11

The water from the geyser is thrust skywards on a continual basis. The spouts of water squirt out two meters in the air, spraying the surrounding thirty or more pools with a fresh source of water. The different mix of minerals (which includes sulphur) reacting with the oxygen in the air help to give the geyser its glorious colors.

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The multiple spouts mean that a single cone of enormous size has not been able to develop. Yet the alien looking mound is something quite extraordinary, especially with its myriad of colors. The other factor in the strange coloration of the mound is the fact that it is covered with thermophilic algae which as a heat tolerant microorganism thrives in this sort of hot environment.

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Although several organisations have attempted to purchase the land to open it up to the public the owners have resolutely refused. The land remains resolutely private and bordered by a fence. If you are ever in the vicinity then please do not attempt to get past the locked road gate – in Nevada that could have repercussions!

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