This caterpillar will mess you up

Sometimes — heck, often — the cutest looking creatures are the ones that will ruin your existence.

Last week, news stations in Florida posted a warning about a cute little caterpillar that is appearing in trees throughout the state.  Megalopyge opercularis is also known as the “puss caterpillar,” which makes it sound so cute!

(Picture via Wikipedia.)

However, Megalopyge opercularis is also known as a tree asp or asp caterpillar, and with good reason!  That cute fluffy fur contains venomous spines that, to quote Wikipedia,

cause extremely painful reactions in human skin upon contact. The reactions are sometimes localized to the affected area but are often very severe, radiating up a limb and causing burning, swelling, nausea, headache, abdominal distress, rashes, blisters, and sometimes chest pain, numbness, or difficulty breathing.

Yikes!  It isn’t even enough to just avoid touching them if you see them for, as FOX Houston notes,

Doctors say be aware of them while working outdoors because they are known to fall out of trees.

So, remember: “cute” does not equal “safe” in the animal kingdom! See also: blue-ringed octopus, slow loris, poison dart frog.

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Today seems to be a day for people to discuss animals with the nastiest stings and bites in the world.  On the blog Running Ponies, Bec Crew introduces us to a snake many of us never knew existed, the boomslang:

Perhaps the freakiest part of this story is that this snake was not even known to be venomous until the 1950s, when a herpetologist was bitten by one.  Read the whole story over at Running Ponies.

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Well, maybe not the worst pain known to mankind — we’re pretty inventive at finding and dealing out pain — but likely the greatest produced by any insect.  At From the Lab Bench, Paige Brown discusses the so-called bullet ant, given its name because its sting supposedly feels as bad as getting shot.

The whole thing is worth reading, including the description of the ants’ use as an initiation ritual.

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Parasites.  Freaky, right?  Photographed under a microscope, plenty of them look like they could be horrible killer aliens from sci-fi movies, and plenty of sci-fi monsters have been inspired by them.

What could make them creepier?  How about photographing them using old Victorian techniques, making them look genuinely Lovecraftian!  Smithsonian recently posted a nice article about an artist who does just that:

(h/t to my friend Hannah Waters for the link!)

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Stem cell treatments hold much promise in the future as a novel treatment of countless injuries and illnesses.  However, some recent cases have demonstrated that applying stem cells to ailments willy-nilly isn’t the best way to go, and can result in some very creepy side-effects:

I’ve linked to an article giving some professional perspectives on this case; you can also read the original New Scientist article here.

The lesson here, it should be emphasized, isn’t that stem cell treatments are evil, dangerous or wrong, just that the field of research is still very young and unexpected side-effects can happen.  Such creepy surprises will certainly diminish as more clinical trials are done and researchers learn more about how stem cells operate.

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There’s an interesting article on the Washington Post today, about a weather phenomenon that most of us probably don’t even remember being quite so deadly:

Saturday, July 2, 1994, was hot and humid when USAir Flight 1016 took off from Columbia, SC to Charlotte, NC. The plane carried the usual mix of passengers, including a couple embarking on their honeymoon and an entire family that had never before flown.

As the aircraft approached the north end of the runway at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, an intense thunderstorm was in progress. While the captain and first officer discussed the storm as they flew the final approach, evasive action was not taken until they encountered intense wind shear inside a wall of heavy rain. By then, it was too late. The DC-9 cut a grotesque path through a thick stand of trees to the right of the runway, then crashed on the west side of the airport.  Thirty-seven perished.

The cause of the crash was a downburst, a sinking column of air that spreads out in all directions, producing fierce and damaging winds up to 150 mph.  Back in the 1970s and 1980s, these downbursts caused an appalling number of deadly airplane accidents, and almost took out Air Force One with Ronald Reagan aboard.

Fortunately, science came to recognize the threat and advanced warning systems and training have almost eliminated such catastrophes.  The entire article is a fascinating and somewhat chilling read.

I find it interesting that downbursts are, in a historical sense, somewhat of a spiritual cousin to another deadly natural phenomenon: ship-crushing rogue waves.  Both effects are now implicated in significant loss of life (rogue waves in sea travel, downbursts in air travel) but both of them were rare enough that it took a lot of time for science to even recognize their existence, let along understand them.

The world is a complicated place; who knows what other rare dangers might still be out there, not recognized?

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io9 is regularly a source for creepy science-themed posts, and today is no exception:

Go read the whole post to find out why this girl is not, in fact, going to be the source of a zombie pandemic.

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Lest you think I only present cutting edge horrific science, I present to you this project I came across on Instructables today:

It would be a fascinating thing to try out, but not quite sure I’d allow a middle school child — if I had one — to do this as an official project!  Better to stick with potato clocks…

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The banshee, a spirit omen of death in Irish mythology, turns out to have been inspired by a much more elegant, and natural, source, as explained in a post on Wired

Be sure to watch the video at the link to hear what a barn owl sounds like; you’ll understand how it came to be associated with a horrifying wailing spirit!

Thinking of banshees reminds me of an old and often forgotten episode of Ray Bradbury Theater, in which a Peter O’Toole squares off with one of the spirits.  The ending of the episode (part 1, part 2, part 3) is one of my favorites.

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What’s even kinda creepier than murder crime scenes?  Those same crime scenes painstakingly recreated in dollhouse form!

Creepy though they may be, dollhouse crime scenes played a significant role in the birth of modern forensic science, as a post on Salon explains:

It is worth reading the whole thing.

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