Strange Science Stories of 2013

Weird! Strangest Science Stories of 2013

By Tia Ghose, Staff Writer   |   December 27, 2013
Neanderthal statue with modern human
 A girl goes nose-to-nose with a Neanderthal statue in Germany. Ancient DNA research is increasingly revealing the genetic links between modern humans and our extinct ancestors, including Neanderthals and the mysterious Denisovans.
Credit: Neanderthal Museum (Mettmann, Germany)

2013 was a year with major scientific breakthroughs — the Higgs boson was finally caught, and scientists managed to coax human DNA from 400,000-year-old fossil bones in Spain.

Along the way, however, scientists also found that the world is even stranger than we thought. From penis-snatching fears to the mystery daddies in humans’ genetic past, here are 10 of the most bizarre science stories of 2013.

1. Mystery ancestor

Ancient humans not only got busy with Neanderthals and Denisovans, they apparently had sex with mystery relatives as well. A new DNA analysis found that humans interbred with multiple close relatives as recently as 30,000 years ago. One scientist even described our ancient past as a “‘Lord of the Rings’-type world,” with many different human species living together. Let’s just hope we’re not part Orc.

2. Penis panic

Talk about penis anxiety. In March, anthropologists reported that penis panic was spreading through parts of West Africa. The fear, called koro, is that the genitals of the victims (mostly men, but sometimes women) are somehow shrinking into the body, or have been stolen. In an effort to stop the process, many people clamp or tie their genitals until they can seek help from shamans. The idea is that an accidental brush with a stranger caused the theft of the penis (or breast or vagina), and accusations of theft have occasionally resulted in lynchings of those accused. Koro is just one example of a mass hysteria that can spread to otherwise healthy people.

3. Quantum wormholes

Quantum mechanics, the strange laws that govern the very small, is baffling enough, but now researchers have recently raised the possibility of an even stranger phenomenon: that wormholes — shortcuts predicted by general relativity that could theoretically connect distant places in time and space — could help explain quantum entanglement, where the behavior of particles is linked across any distance. The new theory suggests that wormholes are just entangled black holes.

4. New boredom

As if the existing boredom isn’t enough, scientists have discovered a new type of boredom. Researchers previously knew there were different forms of boredom, from the slightly tired and lazy form that is slightly pleasant to the more negative feeling of being stuck in a boring lecture without the ability to escape. But it turns out that many youngsters now feel apathetic boredom — a kind of disengagement akin to depression that makes them flat and incapable of emotion. This type of boredom came with a host of negative emotions, but without the antsy-ness or irritability that comes with being trapped in a boring activity.

5. Yeti uncovered?

It’s the stuff of ancient lore — a mysterious shaggy beast known as the Yeti or the abominable snowman that walks upright throughout the snow-covered regions of the world. But in October, researchers claimed they had found genetic evidence to solve the mystery of the yeti. A DNA sample taken from a strange beast shot 40 years ago linked it to an ancient polar bear from Norway, raising the possibility that the Himalayas may have been home to an ancient form of polar bear that people mistook for a bipedal monster.

6. Pee power

If some scientists have their way, the future could be powered by pee. Researchers have developed a new fuel cell that pumps pee to generate electricity. The idea is to power robotic devices that could monitor everything from bridge safety to air pollution using the new devices.

A woman touches her feet
 A woman’s feet
Credit: Foot photo via Shutterstock

7. Foot orgasm

Many things — from a gym class to simple thoughts — can trigger orgasms in women, but a recent case report may take things to a new level. The case described a woman who experienced orgasmic sensations in her foot. Unfortunately, the orgasms were sudden and not spurred by lusty thoughts, making them an unwanted annoyance. Doctors suspect the “footgasms” happened after nerve damage caused by a bacterial infection led to crossed wires, with sensations from her vagina being interpreted as coming from her foot. To stop them, doctors injected an anesthetic into the foot, which seemed to do the trick.

8. New body part

After centuries of dissecting humans, you would think scientists would know all there is to know about the human anatomy. Not so. A new type of tissue was found in the eye, and was dubbed Dua’s layer after its discoverer, Harminder Singh Dua, a professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Nottingham. The structure sits at the back of the cornea, the structure in the eye that helps focus light.

9. Weird bats

2013 was the year when scientists made a stunning conclusion: Bats are just weird. Costa Rican bats use leaves as hearing aids, with the leaves amplifying sound like an ear horn. But bats also engage in lots of other weird behavior: Both male and female bats perform oral sex. In the male’s case, the procedure is meant to make sex last longer. And when they’re not busy using hearing aids or engaging in courtship rituals, bats use tongue erections to sop up nectar.

10. Honeybee buzz

Honeybees aren’t the only workers who need a mid-afternoon boost. The insects are more likely to remember plants, such as coffee and citrus flowers, that contain caffeine. The researchers believe the bees are drawn to caffeine-laced flowers by stronger memories. That’s a win-win for the plants and the bees, making the insects more effective at their jobs, while also making them more faithful pollinators for the plants.


Another Reason to Visit Texas


Want to Shoot Bigfoot? It’s Legal in Texas

Life’s Little Mysteries Staff
Date: 11 May 2012 Time: 01:42 PM ET
An artist's interpretation of Bigfoot.
An artist’s interpretation of Bigfoot.
CREDIT: Karl Tate, LiveScience Infographic Artist

Anyone seeking ultimate proof of the existence of Bigfoot should head south. In Texas, it is legal to shoot and kill this legendary giant ape, known in other parts of the world as Sasquatch or Yeti, which has never been discovered.

According to an official with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, Bigfoot isn’t listed as an endangered species, so you’re free to kill as many as you want.

“If the Commission does not specifically list an indigenous, nongame species, then the species is considered nonprotected nongame wildlife,” David Sinclair, direction of the law enforcement division at Texas Parks and Wildlife, wrote in an email response to a curious Bigfoot believer. “A nonprotected nongame animal may be hunted on private property with landowner consent by any means, at any time and there is no bag limit or possession limit.”

John Lloyd Sharf of Salem, Ore., contacted Texas Parks and Wildlife to inquire whether Bigfoot was protected in Texas. As one of the 29 percent of Americans who believe Bigfoot inhabits the country’s remote woodland areas and is just really difficult to find, Sharf was apparently motivated by the concern that the as-yet-undiscovered creature could face extermination in the state.

“So, it is the case all individuals of an unknown species … could be exterminated without criminal or civil repercussions — essentially causing extinction?” Sharf said he replied to Sinclair. At Cryptomundo, a popular “cryptozoology” discussion forum and blog, Bigfoot believers are forming a plan of action to deal with what they see as the potentially disastrous outcome of this loophole in the Texas hunting laws, which would allow Bigfoot to be hunted to extinction before a living specimen could be studied. [Hunter Captures UFO in Nevada]

“I would advocate a small group of trained hunters, under close supervision and observing all necessary safety precautions shooting a SINGLE individual to provide a type specimen,” wrote a user who goes by the name AreWeThereYeti. “Then, once the existence of Sasquatch was proven, immediate steps could be taken to attach an endangered/protected status to both the species and its habitat.”

What do you think? Would you shoot Bigfoot? [Vote here]


Church of the SubGenius

Ok, so I do listen to NPR, but only in the car.  Anyhow, they had this great interview on To The Best of Our Knowledge yesterday with Rev. Ivan Stang of the Church of the SubGenius.  Short, curious, and fun.

For example:   Here is a quote from their mentor/god/whatever which seems to kind of sum things up:  “THE STUPIDER IT LOOKS, THE MORE IMPORTANT IT PROBABLY IS.”    — J.R. “Bob” Dobbs.

here is the link:


Oh, and I checked out the website for the Church of the SubGenius — obviously designed by a SubGenius, but some fun and even interesting stuff.

Here is that link:

2011’s Weirdest Stories

The Weirdest Stories of 2011

Life’s Little Mysteries Staff
Date: 30 December 2011 Time: 04:55 PM ET

cloud face
A video shot by a Canadian man appears to show clouds taking the shape of a man’s face.
CREDIT: denisfarmer

Every year, dozens of weird new stories and surprising scientific findings grab headlines across the world. From clouds that looked like Abraham Lincoln to doomsday predictions to research on the psychological roots of alien abductions, 2011 didn’t disappoint. Here, a sampling of the weirdest stories of the year:

Eagle-eyed users of Google Maps spotted several giant, mysterious structures laid out throughout China. Mystery solved: They’re calibration targets for spy satellites.

A YouTube enthusiast spotted a planet-size UFO near Mercury; that one turned out to be an imaging artifact.

Yeti researchers claimed they found “indisputable proof” of the mysterious beast in Russia. Months later, a supposed yeti finger was subjected to DNA analysis and found to be of human origin.

A coroner in Ireland declared a man died of spontaneous human combustion. Meanwhile, a crematorium in England unveiled its plans to convert heat from burning corpses into electricity. Perhaps alarmed by this, a 50-year-old “dead” man woke up after 24 hours in a morgue.

For unknown reasons, 2011 saw a rash of reports of Serbian children who were, supposedly, magnetic.

Lots of funny stuff was spotted in the skies. A swarm of insects in Iowa formed what’s known as a “bugnado,” and clouds in Canada closely resembled Abraham Lincoln’s profile.

A scientist in California conducted several studies that suggest alien abductions and visions of angels are, in fact, very vivid dreams.

Howard Camping, a radio evangelist, predicted, twice, that the world would come to an end in 2011. A spokesperson for Camping says he plans to make no doomsday predictions for 2012.

Dozens of bizarre Guinness World Records standards were set in 2011, but this one got the most double takes: The world’s largest bra was unveiled in London. It was size 1222B. Oh, and the world’s hairiest girl was crowned.

Scientists reported that, if you’ve lost your TV remote, there’s a 49 percent chance it’s wedged in between your couch cushions.

Fans celebrating a touchdown by Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch created a mini-earthquake.

Early in the year, art historians suggested that the woman portrayed in da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” might actually have been a dude. Mysteries abound about the most famous painting in the world, including the new claim that there are secret codes painted in her eyes.

Plenty of weird happenings also took place in the ocean.  A surfer was spotted riding a great white shark, a sea monster washed up along New York City’s East River, and oceanographers discovered a “flying saucer” that crashed in the ocean.

And finally – disgustingly – racehorse owners in New Zealand were given permission to sell stallion semen as an energy drink. Drinking it will give you “as much zizz as a stallion for a week afterwards,” one vendor claimed.


Monsters, Doomsday, & UFO’s for 2012

Monsters and UFOs to Watch For in 2012

Benjamin Radford, Life’s Little Mysteries Contributor
Date: 28 December 2011 Time: 07:56 PM

The Flying Saucer movie poster
Promotional poster for the 1950 film ‘The Flying Saucer.’
CREDIT: Colonial Productions

2011 was a year of weird news, and sitting on the cusp of 2012, it’s time to look back on the odd year that was — as well as look ahead to a year that promises a new level of strangeness.

Monster sightings in 2011: Researchers looking in Siberia for the yeti — the Asian version of North America’s Bigfoot — claimed in October to have found “indisputable proof” of the long-sought mystery beast. The Russian team, which included several American scientists, located some odd footprints, as well as some gray hairs in a cave. About a month later, a member of the expedition, biologist John Bindernagel, claimed his group found even more evidence, including nests and shelters made of tree branches twisted together. However, another member of the same group reported finding evidence of hoaxing and branded the whole expedition a publicity stunt.

2011 was also the year that the mystery of the chupacabra, the Hispanic vampire beast, was solved, after some 15 years of mystery. DNA testing on dead “chupacabras” found in Texas and elsewhere revealed them to be mostly dogs and coyotes afflicted with mange, and the legendary creature’s origin was traced back to a 1995 monster movie instead of any real-life encounter.

Monsters to look for in 2012: Will the yeti footprints and hair samples finally reveal the truth? If the claims made by the Russian expedition are not hype or hoax, then perhaps the world will finally get definitive proof of the long-rumored creature. Surely after so many decades of ambiguous sightings and searches, hard evidence of Bigfoot or the yeti is long overdue. As for the chupacabra, people in North America and elsewhere will continue to find mangy dogs and coyotes and assume the unfortunate beasties are chupacabras.

Doomsday predictions made in 2011: The year began on an ominous note when fundamentalist Harold Camping, leader of the ministry Family Radio Worldwide, concluded after careful study of the Bible that the world would end May 21. The announcement made national news, and concerned many believers. Camping and his followers were embarrassed when May 21 came and went without a hitch, and he eventually admitted there must have been a miscalculation somewhere. Camping moved the date back a few months, concluding that October was the real month Armageddon would begin. That doomsday date came and went, as well, and the only thing destroyed was Camping’s credibility.

Doomsdays to prepare for in 2012: The upcoming year is certain to bring more concerns about doomsdays and apocalypse — not necessarily from Bible-thumping evangelicals but (supposedly) from the ancient Mayans, whose calendar “ends” next year. Some New Agers think the world will end along with the end of the Mayan calendar cycle; others believe a new age of global peace and harmony will emerge. For other groups, the concern isn’t so much the calendar date but a collision between Earth and the mysterious (and nonexistent) planet Niburu. Of course, people have been predicting doomsdays for millennia, and while nary one has come to pass, one day, sooner or later, the prognosticators will be right.

UFOs and aliens spotted in 2011: The summer of 2011 was an especially busy period for UFO sightings, according to an organization that tracks such reports. The Mutual UFO Network noted that sightings in some states more than doubled their usual numbers. The group could not explain the apparent increase, saying that it could be real, or possibly just a computer error.

As the reports of sightings soared, so did the lights in the skies. In early October more than a dozen strange lights were seen over the northern Utah city of Washington Terrace just after 11:30 p.m. They emitted a strange, fiery glow as they headed north at an estimated speed of about 70 mph, according to one eyewitness. The lights puzzled the public and police and had the UFO community buzzing. Finally, students at the local Bonneville High School admitted they had launched 16 lit Chinese lanterns that night; the lanterns had been reported as UFOs.

Even close-up views of alien spaceships proved to be of something else. That was the case of a “flying saucer” spotted being hauled down a main street in a Kansas town; it turned out to be a (comparatively mundane) military spy plane.

UFOs and aliens to look out for in 2012: There’s some reason to believe UFO sightings will continue at the same rate, or even increase, through 2012. UFO reports historically occur in clusters or “flaps.” And reports could be on the rise because more and more people carry cellphones with built-in cameras, making it easier than ever to report a potential sighting.

A few sightings tend to encourage even more sightings. Will extraterrestrials finally make their presence clearly known, landing on the White House lawn or staying still long enough to get some clear, sharp photos or videos? That’s been the hope and promise of UFO believers for decades now.


Russian Yeti Nests

eti ‘Nests’ Found in Russia?

Benjamin Radford, Life’s Little Mysteries Contributor
Date: 18 November 2011 Time: 02:09 PM ET
Reward Offered for Mysterious Monsters

Bigfoot researcher and biologist John Bindernagel claims his research group has found evidence that the Yeti (a Russian “cousin” of the American Bigfoot) not only exists, but builds nests and shelters by twisting tree branches together.

“We didn’t feel like the trees we saw in Siberia had been done by a man or another mammal…. Twisted trees like this have also been observed in North America and they could fit with the theory that Bigfoot makes nests. The nests we have looked at are built around trees twisted together into an arch shape,” Bindernagel told the British tabloid The Sun.

Tree twisting, also called splintering, has been claimed as Bigfoot evidence for decades throughout the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. In some cases tool markings have been found on trees said to have been twisted by Bigfoot. This suggests that the creatures are even possibly more intelligent than previously suspected and may be able to somehowlocate and use pliers, monkey wrenches, and other common hardware tools.

Unless the marks were made by human hoaxers.

Although many of the “mysteriously” twisted tree limbs are conveniently near ground level, some are found at the top of trees. Bigfoot researchers claim these are stronger evidence of the Yeti’s existence, because whereas any hoaxer could easily twist small, waist-level branches, only a Bigfoot-like animal would be able to climb up that high.

However, that raises the not-insignificant question of how a huge, heavy animal would get to the top of a tree without breaking it, or at least snapping a few branches on the way up. Bigfoot are often said to be between 8-and-12-feet tall and weigh several hundred pounds; surely if such a tall, heavy animal made its way up a tree – most of the trees that have been found twisted are spindly in nature – there would be much more obvious damage than a few woven branches at the very top. And if Bigfoot and Yetis spend time perched at the tops of trees doing arboreal decorating, why aren’t they spotted more often?

There’s even more reason to be skeptical of Bindernagel’s claim. According to Sharon Hill of the Doubtful News blog, another scientist who participated in the same Russian expedition concluded that hoaxing was afoot. At a Bigfoot conference that Hill attended last month, Jeff Meldrum (a professor of anatomy and anthropologist at Idaho State Universitywho endorses the existence of Bigfoot) said that he suspected the twisted tree branches had been faked. Not only was there obvious evidence of tool-made cuts in the supposedly “Yeti-twisted” branches, but the trees were conveniently located just off a well-traveled trail.

Meldrum, who eventually concluded that the whole Russian expedition was more of a publicity stunt than a serious scientific endeavor, refused to sign the group’s statement endorsing “indisputable proof” of the Yeti, and returned to the United States. Others, including Bindernagel, remain convinced that conclusive Yeti and Bigfoot evidence is just around the corner — a belief that the Bigfoot community has clung to for more than half a century.