Saturday, August 10, 2013

All Creatures Biting and Slimy, Scaly and Small ... and (UPDATE! Testicle-Munching Fish! Updated Update: Now turns out the warning was a fake!)

We know you've been watching the calendar.

We know you've been urgently asking yourself "is it Saturday yet?"

Well, gentle reader, it's here and your patience is now rewarded with another satisfying installment of our sometime-series:

This Saturday in Science!

Having spent several science Saturdays in space, we thought this week we would bring things back
down to earth for a bit and spend some time with its inhabitants.

First up is the humble and hated mosquito.

If, like my wife, you are one of those people who can't look out a window without getting a mosquito bite, we have some good news for you.

Your belief that mosquitoes like you more (I've always told The Mrs. that mosquitoes keep away from me because of my inherently high blood-alcohol level), it turns out you are not a sad, paranoid sufferer of insect randomness -- YOU WERE RIGHT!

As this article in The Daily Beast indicates, science know believes there is evidence to suggest mosquitoes just like some people more.

Mosquitoes, some researchers say, are the deadliest creatures in the world, killing over a million people a year through diseases like malaria, dengue, and West Nile.

There are a lot of people trying to learn more about how mosquitoes choose their prey, people funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, or, as Dr. Leslie Vosshall of New York city's Rockefeller University is, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
She says, mosquitoes really do find some people more attractive than others.
A lot of people doubted that this was the case, she says, despite the plethora of anecdotal evidence. Skeptics thought that everyone gets bitten about the same, but people whose immune systems react more strongly to the mosquito’s anticoagulant simply notice bites more. Vosshall designed her pilot study to weed out this variable. Volunteers exposed a patch of their forearm and a machine blew air across it, enticing mosquitoes into a trap. She found that mosquitoes found some people’s body odor four times as appetizing as others.
Speaking of appetizing...

We all know that people in France are different, and they sometimes eat some things we might
consider unusual occupants for the dinner plate -- like snails.

But it seems the French may now have found an entirely new use for snails -- skin treatments and facials.

According to this article in Reuters, which also provided the hilarious photo that accompanies this entry,
Louis-Marie Guedon says the mucus secreted by snails are full of collagen, glycolic acid, antibiotics and other compounds that regenerate skin cells and heal cuts.

Guedon, from Champagnolles in the west-central region of Charente-Maritime, believes it could presage a cosmetic revolution and has developed a secret technique to harvest the slime.

He is busy turning the innovation into France's first industrial-scale snail mucus extraction operation with a target to harvest 15 tons of it next year.

Not to be outdone, the Japanese are cutting out the middle man and simply putting snails on people's faces to let the benefits (and the slime) accrue naturally.

The process, which entails live snails crawling across a person's face, distributing their mucus along the way, is said to remove dead skin, soothe any inflammation and help the skin retain moisture.

"Snail slime can help recovery of skin cells on the face, so we expect the snail facial to help heal damaged skin," Yoko Minami, a manager at the salon chain's flagship store, told Japan Daily Press.

The $243 treatment, called "Celebrity Escargot Course," also features a massage, a mask and electrical pulse machines.

Snail mucus contains hyaluronic acid and proteoglycans, both of which are popular ingredients in cosmetics. The former, for example, is known to give tissue flexibility and promote healing. As a result, brands such as Missha, Dr. Jart+ and Labcconte have taken to developing creams such as "Snail Gel" containing extracts of the animal's secretions.

But, according to this article in Nature World News, dermatologists remain unconvinced:
"This clearly is not very scientifically done," dermatologist Stephen Mandy of Miami Beach, Fla. told ABC News, pointing out that, given the variety of facets to the treatment, it would be impossible to tell which one is helping.
Furthermore, it's not clear how well snails' version of hyaluronic acid would affect human skin, Mandy said, explaining that even if it does work as a filler, it wouldn't make it through the outer layer of the skin without some kind of injection.
For this reason, Williams Stebbins, a dermatology professor at Vanderbilt University, expressed similar doubt.
"I'd be surprised if this has any lasting effect on skin health," he told ABC.
On another topic from the animal kingdom -- FRANKENFISH!

Don't you love that nickname? I do.

Science can't seem to make up its mind about every headline writers favorite invasive species, the northern snakehead (also a cool name if you ask me.)

According to this April 30 article in The New York Times, the discovery of a northern snakehead in a portion of a favorite pond in Central Park was cause for near panic.
The snakehead is a relentless and efficient predator that devours just about everything in its path — fish, frogs, crayfish, beetles and aquatic insects. And it does not meet death easily; it is able to survive under ice or live on land for days in damp conditions. It has been called Fishzilla.
“I would describe them as the freshwater fish equivalent of a tank,” said Ron P. Swegman, a fly-fishing expert and author whose writings about fishing in Central Park include an essay, “Bright Fish, Big City.”
“They are heavily armed,” he said, “strong, and can cover almost any territory, aquatic and — at least for short periods — on land.”
New York City anglers, and those elsewhere, had been warned to kill the fish immediately and not return it to the water.

But one month earlier, Deborah Zabarenko, environmental correspondent for Reuters, was reporting that perhaps "Fishzilla" (another great nickname) was getting a bad rap.

"The threat of the snakehead, which is believed to spawn repeatedly during the year unlike other species that spawn just once, is that it is such a hardy newcomer that it could squeeze out longer-established and more desired fish," Zabarenko wrote.

Virginia fisheries biologist John Odenkirk said so far, the fish have not wreaked havoc with the Potomac River ecosystem.

Odenkirk dismissed the notion that they have no natural predators. Snakehead young, if left unguarded, are easy prey for ospreys and eagles, he said.

Maryland manages the snakehead differently than Virginia, which prohibits commercial sales to avoid creating a market for the fish. Maryland encourages sales, maintaining that eating snakehead gives other fish a chance.

John Rorapaugh, director of sustainability at ProFish, a Washington seafood wholesaler, said his company pays $4 to $5 a pound for snakeheads, compared to $.50 to $1 for catfish.

The snakehead population has risen since 2004. But so has the population of large-mouth bass, a prized regional sport fish that brings in $622 million a year to Virginia and accounts for more than 5,500 jobs in the state, according to the American Sportfishing Association.

But perhaps the snakehead's competition will come from its own ferocious nature as a sport fish.
Photo by The Free Lance-Star via Associated Press
Caleb Newton, who lives in Spotsylvania County, Va., holds the 17 pound, 6 ounce northern snakehead he caught Saturday in Aquia Creek in Virginia

According to this Aug. 8 report in Nature World News, a Virginia man has caught a huge, record-breaking snakehead.

Jack Vitek, world-record coordinator for the Florida-based IGFA, told the The Free Lance Star of Virginia Monday that the organization confirmed the 17 pound, 6 ounce northern snakehead as the largest ever caught with hook and line in the world.

Caleb Newton, a plumber and weekend fishing enthusiast, caught the snakehead, sometimes known as "Frankenfish," on June 1 during a fishing tournament.

Northern snakeheads are voracious predators and would not think twice about biting down on an errant hand or limb, so Newton had to exercise caution when handling the fish.

"They're creepy critters, but the danger is all in how close you put your hands to it," he told the Washington Times.

And, if you think the Frankenfish is scary, we present, in honor of Shark Week, what was found inside the stomach of the largest Mako shark ever caught.

Having dealt with "Frankenfish" and a monstrously large Mako shark's stomach, we stumbled across this item in the U.K. Guardian this morning that deserves your immediate attention if you have any plans to travel to Sweden and go swimming.
The alert came after a fisherman in the Oresund Sound last week retrieved a 21 centimetre pacu - a relative of the piranha that is most commonly found in the Amazon region.
You DO NOT want to meet this fish in Sweden without a pair of 

sturdy swim trunks to protect the family jewels!
"Keep your swimwear on if you're bathing in the Sound these days - maybe there are more out there!" cautioned the National History Museum in neighbouring Denmark.
The freshwater fish, which can grow up to 90 centimetres and weigh up to 25 kilogrammes, has been nicknamed the "ball cutter" for its attacks on the male genitalia.
In areas where pacus proliferate, fishermen have reportedly bled to death after losing their testicles to the fish's crushing jaws.
Found in most rivers in the Amazon and Orinoco basins in South America, they have also been spotted in Papua New Guinea, where it is believed they have been introduced to boost fish stocks. Discoveries have also been reported in several US states; in 2006, officials at one Texas lake reportedly put a $100 bounty on the pacu caught there.
So next time you think "invasive species, what's the big deal?" consider those poor Swedish swimmers...

(Put's a whole new spin on that candy "Swedish Fish" does it not?)

OOPS (New as of Aug. 16):
So now it turns out the above warning was actually not meant to be serious.

According to this CNN report:
A warning over the weekend for male swimmers off the coast of Denmark and Sweden to protect their private parts because of a testicle-munching fish appears to have been a joke that got out of hand.
Turns out this warning was a real fish story!
After a Danish fisherman caught a South American pacu among his eels and perch this month, a professor at the Copenhagen Museum of Natural History told men to be careful because the fish sometimes mistake male reproductive organs for tree nuts, one of their favorite foods.
"Anyone choosing to bathe in the Oresund these days had best keep their swimsuits well tied," Professor Peter Rask Moller said in a Saturday news release about the fish discovery in the strait separating Denmark and Sweden.
Wednesday, however, Moller said he was just joking and never meant for his warning to get so much publicity.
"We did say that we recommend men to keep their swimsuits tied up until we know if there are more pacus out there in our waters," Moller told CNN by e-mail. "Of course, this is half a joke since it is very unlikely that you would actually meet one here and that it would bite you. It's up to people themselves how careful they want to be. I'll keep my shorts on, though."


  1. Looks loke the testicle munching fish was a hoax.

    1. Thanks for the tip, the story has been updated.