Horrifying 8-foot-vortex opens up in Texas lake

Said to be large enough to “swallow a boat,” the Lake Texoma vortex seen below is actually the result of intentional draining due to high water levels following Texas’s record rainfall this summer. You wouldn’t need to tell me twice to keep my distance from this monster:

You can read more here. Of course, even this impressive whirlpool has got nothin’ on the famous disappearing Lake Peigneur, a catastrophic vortex which devoured  a “drilling platform, eleven barges, many trees and 65 acres (260,000 m2) of the surrounding terrain.”

Mysterious lake appears in the middle of the desert, without explanation

We bring you the latest in our ongoing series of stories about lake-related mysteries: apparently, a large, deep lake has unexpectedly (who ever expects this sort of thing?) materialized in the middle of the Tunisian desert.

Our North African correspondents write:
The lake is just over a hectare in size and 10-18m deep. It is presumed that a small earthquake fractured a natural dam holding an artificial reservoir allowing the water to reach the surface. However, the aquifer has not been found – the theory relies more on the absence of other credible explanations than anything else.
More troubling than the lake’s unexplained formation, perhaps, is that people are flocking to swim in it — despite potentially grave dangers. The lake, it seems, may harbor potentially toxic algae — and, due to the presence of nearby phosphate mines, the waters may be radioactive.
You can see a swell photo of the lake here.

Mysterious, deadly disease emerges in Uganda

People in the small, landlocked African nation of Uganda have been dying mysteriously, and scientists and health professionals don’t yet know what’s been killing them:

Ugandan health officials say they are working
“around the clock” with international health experts to identify a
mysterious disease that has killed at least 38 people in the north of
the country.

All of the fatalities have been adult men, and a total of 91 people had contracted the disease as of Dec. 8.

Symptoms include headache, fever and vomiting blood, but Ebola and bubonic plague have so far been ruled out as the cause.

Let’s hope that whatever this is, it doesn’t spread. Read more here.

The Top 10 Zombie Parasites

It seems like this always happens – as soon as I post an entry (or while I do), some other blog posts something similar. Neatorama, for example, posted about the very same zombie ants I mentioned not 4 hours after I did. This same sort of thing has happened several times before. Conspiracy? Doubtful – unquestionably a coincidence, as this is a pretty small blog. Maybe it’s the collective unconscious. Or maybe a few people read or hear about the same thing, and it makes them think of this other thing. Who knows.

Anyway, more to the point, an intrepid soul has compiled a list of the top ten zombie parasites. You can find the list here. Many of these are disturbing, but I find number eight particularly unnerving:

Once known as “horse hair” worms because they would appear mysteriously
in horse troughs, Gordian worms spend their parasitic larval stage
within the bodies of insects, especially crickets, but spend their
non-parasitic adult stage in water. Crickets aren’t known for their
swimming ability, but try telling that to a parasitic nematode (really,
try it. They don’t even comprehend English, it’s ridiculous.) When it’s
time for adulthood, the worm compels its cricket to seek out the nearest
body of water and dive right in. The confused cricket usually drowns, while the worm wriggles free to find itself a mate.

I think it’s the Gordian worm’s appearance that really does it for me. Check out this uncomfortably-creepy video of a worm emerging from a cricket:

“Zombie” ants possessed by parasitic fungus

double fungus ant

Image by myriorama via Flickr

If you’ve ever seen the movie Alien, you know what a parasitoid is. Parasitoids are quite similar to parasites, except instead of coexisting with their hosts, they ultimately kill them (like the chest-bursting creature of the aforementioned film).

Parasitoids aren’t merely figments of science fiction, though. They exist in nature all around us. One example is the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, an organism that infects carpenter ants and alters their behavior. According to Wikipedia,

The fungus’s spores enter the body of the insect through its respiratory spiracles, where they begin to consume the non-vital soft tissues. When the fungus is ready to spore, its mycelia enter the ant’s brain and change how it perceives pheromones, causing the insect to climb up the stem of a plant and use its mandibles to secure itself to the plant. Infected ants bite the leaf veins with abnormal force, leaving telltale dumbbell-shaped marks.

This creeps me out, to be honest. According to Harvard scientist David Hughes, “This can happen en masse. You can find whole graveyards with 20 or 30 ants in a square metre.
Each time, they are on leaves that are a particular height off the
ground and they have bitten into the main vein before dying.”

It turns out, interestingly, that this fungus has been extant for nearly 50 million years, if not longer. Researchers recently discovered fossilized evidence of the fungus’s influence:

The gruesome hallmark of the fungus’s handiwork was found on the
leaves of plants that grew in Messel, near Darmstadt in Germany, 48m
years ago.

The finding shows that parasitic fungi evolved the
ability to control the creatures they infect in the distant past, even
before the rise of the Himalayas.

You can read more here.

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Robot to explore mysterious tunnels inside the Great Pyramid

Coupe et distribution interne de la grande pyr...

Image via Wikipedia

Egypt has always fascinated me, and I can’t really say why. Corollary to that fascination, though, is a sort of Lovecraftian nameless fear – there’s something chilling, I think, about the still-standing ruins, the stones erected thousands of years before the birth of Christ, the bizarre forms of the desert gods, the imperious pharaohs. So naturally, the headline above sent a shiver down my spine.

It’s strange enough that the Great Pyramid has interior shafts. Two of them, rising from the King’s Chamber, are “believed to be a passageway designed to fire the king’s spirit into the firmament so that he can take his place among the stars.” But there are other tunnels inside the pyramid. Tunnels that don’t lead to the exterior. Tiny, inaccessible tunnels, with creepy and inexplicably lilliputian doors:

In the Queen’s Chamber, there are two further
shafts, discovered in 1872. Unlike those in the King’s Chamber, these do
not lead to the outer face of the pyramid

one knows what the shafts are for. In 1992, a camera sent up the shaft
leading from the south wall of the Queen’s Chamber discovered it was
blocked after 60 metres by a limestone door with two copper handles. In
2002, a further expedition drilled through this door and revealed, 20
centimetres behind it, a second door.

Driven by morbid curiosity (and no doubt more than a little dread), researchers have designed remote-controlled robots to explore the shafts and drill through the doors:

Now technicians at Leeds University are putting the finishing touches to
a robot which, they hope, will follow the shaft to its end. Known as
the Djedi project, after the magician whom Khufu consulted when planning
the pyramid, the robot will be able to drill through the second set of
doors to see what lies beyond.

You can read more here. I shiver to think of what, if anything, may lie on the other side.

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Strange earthquakes in Texas, Ohio, and elsewhere… who’s to blame?

Welp, here we are again – more earthquakes in regions that don’t typically experience them. A “rare” 4.0 earthquake hit South Texas on Saturday, April 24. The area, it seems,

does not experience these types of quakes.

The depth of this quake was around 5.0km, which
suggests it was either geological or induced by oil production, which
does happen. Never-the-less this is an interesting area to have a quake
due to the fact the area has a large crack running north to south in
Texas, discovered several years ago, origin being unknown.

Meanwhile, a smaller quake rattled Northeast Ohio the same weekend.While Ohio has seen a few small earthquakes before, “it’s not clear what causes them.”

Why the quakes in strange places? Some scientists have speculated, as we have reported before, that the Haiti earthquake in January forewarned increased seismic activity in the Americas. An Iranian cleric, though, offers an alternative explanation:

A senior Iranian cleric says women who wear revealing clothing and
behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes.

Iran is one of the world’s most
earthquake-prone countries, and the cleric’s unusual explanation for why
the earth shakes follows a prediction by the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
that a quake is certain to hit Tehran and that many of its 12 million
inhabitants should relocate.

“Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt
their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases
earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian
media. Women in the Islamic Republic are required by law to cover from
head to toe, but many, especially the young, ignore some of the more
strict codes and wear tight coats and scarves pulled back that show much
of the hair. “What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble?”
Sedighi asked during a prayer sermon last week. “There is no other
solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to
Islam’s moral codes.” Seismologists have warned for at least two decades
that it is likely the sprawling capital will be struck by a
catastrophic quake in the near future. Some experts have even suggested
Iran should move its capital to a less seismically active location.
Tehran straddles scores of fault lines, including one more than 50 miles
long, though it has not suffered a major quake since 1830.

There probably are more “immodest” women in Ohio and Texas, to be sure, but I can’t help but feel that this explanation leaves something to be desired.

Strange signs: the unruly night

Weird things have been going on lately. Ask anyone – they’ll tell you that it seems like there have been more inexplicable natural disasters (earthquakes in northern Illinois? ominous rumblings beneath Yellowstone, a dormant supervolcano?) than usual lately. While I haven’t seen any hard data on this subject (maybe it’s just another case of media exaggeration – most people, thanks to the media, perceive an increase in violent crime, while in actuality violent crime has decreased over the past decade), it is certainly possible. And the massive quakes in Haiti and Chile weren’t cooked up by media exaggeration.

At any rate, add two more occurrences to the already long list of strange things going on lately. I hate to admit it, but the past few months have left even me with suspicions and whispering doubts in the back of my mind. I typically scoff at doomsday prophets, Seventh Day Adventists, and survivalists… but what if they’re right? I mean, they’ve been saying the world is ending for thousands of years… but if you keep saying something long enough, eventually you’re bound to be right. Right?

So in the meantime, we have a volcanic eruption in Iceland that has led Europe to ground all flights – the largest peacetime grounding of aircraft ever.

Add, on top of that, this bizarre meteor that recently streaked over Wisconsin:

I’m reminded of a foreboding passage from Macbeth:

The night has been unruly: where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down: and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i’ the air, strange screams of death;
And prophesying, with accents terrible,
Of dire combustion and confus’d events,
New hatch’d to the woeful time: the obscure bird
Clamour’d the live-long night; some say the earth
Was feverous, and did shake.

Let’s hope that the earth’s recent fevers and shakes are not similarly prophetic.