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New Year's Bang

The Very Weird Story of Exploding Animals

This crazy, strange, chaotic world of ours has no shortage of oddities to grab our attention.  One needn’t look very far to find something weird enough to elicit a head-shaking sigh, or even a profound ‘WTF?’  There are books and websites chock-full of high-strangeness, the likes of which you wouldn’t have dreamed possible.

We don’t even need to go so far as ghosts or ghouls or goblins; there is no need to invoke the supernatural.  All we have to do is take a closer look at nature, and if that’s not enough for you, add in the things we, ourselves, do with nature and you’ve got hijinks of epic proportions.

An alleged petrified frog found inside a solid stone tomb.

An alleged petrified frog found inside a solid stone tomb.

Strange things falling from the sky in weird rain events, animals entombed alive inside solid rock, unbelievable natural stone formations, and some not-so-natural formations.  People disappearing into thin air or people appearing in two places at once.  Or how about people who stay awake for decades, and little girls who sleep for just as long?

Yep…the world is a weird place.  Did you know that animals can spontaneously explode?  Well some animals can, others need a little help.  There are three categories of exploding animals, if you can believe that.

Those that explode post-mortem, like whales that have beached themselves and expired.  Once they start to decompose, the gases produced by all those billions of bacteria (mostly methane) build up in the animal’s internal cavities, eventually causing more pressure than its flesh can withstand.  At that point, obviously, you have a giant rotting whale-bomb.  Lovely, isn’t it?  It can happen to almost any animal, provided its outer flesh stays intact long enough for the gases to build sufficient pressure.

There’s also the animals we, um…detonate ourselves.  This is usually the result of what many would call misguided military initiatives to weaponise various animals, which is far more common than any of us wants to admit.  Rodents, cats, dogs, horses and mules, even dolphins for crying out loud.  Sometimes it’s actually unintentional though, like the time an Australian dairy-cow just happened to dig up and eat an active detonator.  Surprisingly, it didn’t go off right away.  Some hours later, while the cow was being milked by her unsuspecting farmer, she regurgitated her cud, as you do, and bit down on the device, blowing her head clean off and knocking the poor farmer unconscious.

The last category includes animals that actually blow themselves up on purpose.  You probably didn’t know that was a thing, did you?

Insects are the most common example.  A species of ant, known as Camponotus saundersi – which is indigenous to South East Asia – has a class of soldier in their ranks that use a process called autothysis – which is Greek for self-sacrifice – to rupture its carapace during battle, spraying a natural toxin onto its adversary.  Not unlike a movie character pulling the pin on a grenade in a last-ditch act of heroic self-sacrifice.  Apparently it’s quite effective too, as there are numerous species with similar adaptations.  Talk about commitment to cause.

A low-tech version of the weaponised goat

A low-tech version of the weaponised goat

There was also a strange case of exploding toads in Hamburg, Germany, back in 2005.  Some 1,000 common toads were found exploded, with their innards spread up to a full meter from their carcass, at a lake that was eventually dubbed Tümpel des Todes (Pool of Death) in the Altona district.  No one really knows why they exploded; after all, this isn’t a thing toads are known for.  Theories included some kind of illness or disease (which is a pretty terrifying thought), or a rare fungal infection.

It turns out though, that the likely culprit was crows.  Well, crows and the toad’s natural defense mechanism that allows them to puff their body up to twice their normal size.  A veterinary pathologist who studied the case believes that the crows attacked the toads, creating a small puncture in their abdomen, whereby they skillfully removed the amphibian’s liver.  The attack would trigger the defense mechanism, but removing the liver would (obviously) kill the toad, causing the puffing to continue unabated until…blam!

Makes one wonder if the crows were doing it on purpose: dinner and a show, as it were.

The only thing more amusingly cruel than cud-chewing bovine blowing their own heads off and crows popping toads for amusement might be the time the CIA spent $20 million developing the Acoustic Kitty program.  Acoustic Kitty was a high-tech spy deal wherein they surgically outfitted a cat with super-secret listening devices, intending to send it into foreign operations to eavesdrop on conversations.  They worked on this program for years, training cats and tweaking the technology, until their first field test, during which the cat was almost immediately run-over and killed by a cab when crossing the road.

The disclosed reason for shutting down that program is almost as tragically funny as its operational success: “the environmental and security factors in using this technique in a real foreign situation force us to conclude that for our (intelligence) purposes, it would not be practical.”

Apparently the geniuses at the CIA have never owned a cat.

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