1. Southern BlackbirdsSome residents in an Arkansas town must have felt transported to an earlier age of superstition when, over the first weekend of the new year, thousands of red-winged blackbirds fell d**d from the sky. Like a grim omen, the same phenomenon occurred two days later, with some 500 blackbirds dropping d**d in Louisiana. Scientists have puzzled over what killed them, ruling out disease or some form of poisoning. Instead, initial autopsies revealed internal trauma and hemorrhaging, possibly as a result of some violent midair collision among the blackbirds, who tend to fly in very tight formations. They could have also been disoriented by a passing thunderstorm and waterlogged by its rainfall. In any event, EPA officials swiftly arrived on the scene, wearing gas masks and fully covered in hazmat gear while cleaning away the corpses. These blackbirds certainly won’t be baked in a pie.
Large numbers of animals have mysteriously d**d recently, from the thousands of birds found d**d in two southern U.S. states to 100,000 d**d fish in Arkansas.
2. American Honeybees
It started in 2006. Scores of honeybees began dying for seemingly no reason, prompting scientists to come up with the term “colony collapse disorder.” According to the Department of Agriculture, reported bee-colony d**th rates in the U.S. were 29% in 2009, rising to 34% in 2010. And although a handful of plausible explanations have been offered — fungal infection, pesticides, climate change — no one really knows why they’re dying. But it’s not just honeybees: a recent study by the University of Illinois suggests that the four main types of bumblebee populations have plummeted more than 90% in the past 20 years.
3. Bats with White-Nose Syndrome
A mysterious fungal disease has been killing bats across the U.S. since the first cases were reported in New York in 2006. More than 1 million bats have d**d in the 14 states and two Canadian provinces where the so-called white-nose syndrome has been identified in the nocturnal mammals. The fungus itself doesn’t kill the creatures, but rather attacks the hibernating animals on their mouth and nose and prevents them from sleeping. When they are aroused from their slumber, the bats leave their caves for food and burn up body-fat reserves, eventually freezing or starving to d**th. Wildlife commissions across the nation have ordered the closure of hundreds of caves and abandoned mines until a source of the disease and a possible cure or treatment can be identified.
4. Chilean Birds (and Sardines)
Over the course of two months in 2009, millions of sardines, thousands of flamingos, hundreds of penguins and nearly 60 pelicans d**d in seemingly unrelated incidents. First, it was the penguins. About 1,200 were found d**d in late March on a remote beach in southern Chile. Next, in April, millions of sardines washed ashore nearby. Then thousands of the rare Andean flamingo abandoned their nests in the north of Chile, leaving their 2,000 chicks to d** in their shells. Lastly, in late May, nearly 60 pelicans were found d**d on the South American nation’s central coast. What’s worse, no one could say concretely why these animals had d**d. While some pointed to global w*rming, overfishing, pollution or disease, most blamed Chile’s especially dry and hot 2009 summer.
5. Australian Pilot Whales
In late 2008, 60 pilot whales beached themselves along the rocky coast of the southern Australian island state of Tasmania. A week later, 150 long-finned pilot whales did the same. Then, in early January 2009, 45 sperm whales perished when they stranded themselves on a Tasmanian sandbar. And, lastly, in the most egregious in the string of incidents, 194 pilot whales and a handful of bottleneck dolphins beached themselves along the same coastline in March. By the time officials arrived at the scene, 140 were d**d. Using stretchers, small boats and jet skis, more than 100 volunteers managed to save 54. But with four beaching incidents in as many months, scientists found themselves at a loss to explain why the majestic mammals had gone ashore.
6. Uganda’s Hippopotamuses
In 2004, an estimated 300 hippopotamuses in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park d**d after drinking water contaminated with anthrax. The lethal bacteria can frequently be found in the pools of stagnant water that form during Uganda’s dry season. The country has suffered from occasional anthrax outbreaks since the 1950s and because of their semiaquatic nature, hippos are particularly vulnerable to contamination. That’s probably why a massive kill happened again in June 2010, when 82 hippos and nine buffalo d**d after drinking water from Kazinga Channel, which links Lake Edward and Lake George, also in the Queen Elizabeth National Park.
7. The Battle of the Frogs
Legend has it that in 1754 in the hamlet of Windham in the Connecticut colony, the Battle of the Frogs commenced. No, we’re not talking about the French. It was literally a battle pitting frog against frog. At the time, a number of men in the area had departed to fight the French and the Indians. One hot night in June, the remaining men in the town heard screeching and began to fire wildly, believing they were under attack. The next morning they discovered that the sounds had come from frogs that were either battling over the last remnants of water in a drought-stricken pond or just ticked off at each other. They never really knew why the whole episode occurred, but hundreds, some said thousands, of frogs d**d.
8. West Coast Pelicans
They crashed into cars and boats, huddled in yards and were struck by vehicles. Hundreds of pelicans from Oregon to Mexico were found either acting funny or d**d in 2009, and no one was really sure why. Rescuers speculated that the odd behavior was possibly an illness caused by a virus or contaminants washed into the ocean after forest fires in Southern California. Another theory was that unseasonable weather patterns threw off the birds’ eating habits, causing them to act disoriented.
9. Mongolia’s Livestock
In early 2010, a bitterly cold and snowy winter followed a summer drought, preventing many species in Mongolia from grazing adequately. The disaster, which Mongolians called a zud (this one was particularly devastating, but they are an all too common phenomenon), resulted in the d**ths of millions of camels, goats, sheep, cows, yaks and horses. The U.N. even started a program to pay herders to clear the animal carcasses. The d**ths were tragic enough, but in a country where much of the population depends on herding livestock, the disaster also threatened the livelihood of the area’s humans.
10. Sea Turtles in El Salvador
As the bodies of several species of endangered sea turtles washed up on the shores of El Salvador in January 2006, the circumstances of their d**ths appeared mysterious. The Wildlife Conservation Society later said the sea turtles, some 200 of them, were the v*ct**s of red tide, toxic algal blooms that had killed before.