June Bugs

This beetle is one of many scarab species known by the common name junebug. A june bug typically has a long life as a grub—say, three years—followed by a brief, clumsy adulthood. Children in the South like to put them on leashes and let them whip around like tether balls.

Readers of The Red Hourglass may recall june bugs as the hapless victims of black widows. And tarantulas.  And carabid beetles. And so on.

Photos by D'Arcy Allison-Teasley

Rites of Spring: Fox Attacks

It's that time of year when a naturalist's thought turn to rabid foxes. Like most canids, foxes develop a manic form of the disease that makes them fearless and aggressive toward any other animals they happen to encounter, including humans. Normally, they avoid large, dangerous animals like us.

Death Stories: Slice, Part 8

Go to the beginning of this story

I felt my scope gliding along the bone.  I was seeing structures I’d previously known only vaguely from news stories about football players’ knee injuries.  The white pad of cartilage was the meniscus.  The twist of meaty-looking fibrous tissue was the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL.  My scope slid off the bone and I was floating free in the fluid at the joint.  I aimed the scope through the white architecture of bones to explore the ACL.  Suddenly, without feeling any resistance, I had plunged through the ligament, doubtless crippling my patient for life.

“You can go through the ACL on this,” Spitzer said.  “We still need to work that out.”

We had moved around a corner after the video display.  What I’d just performed, badly, was a primitive kind of virtual surgery.  The patient wasn’t real; it was the digital ghost of Jernigan again, this time adapted for a machine that operates on the same idea as a flight simulator.  The resistance I felt as I pressed against tissue, the palpable hardness of the bones, were supplied by a robot arm pushing against me as the computer directed.  I watched my progress on a monitor, just as a surgeon does when he uses a scope.  I could look down and see the knee where my hand felt it--an illusion accomplished by projecting the monitor’s image to a screen beneath me.

Soon Spitzer took me to the basement.  We passed through two sets of double metal doors to see the equipment.  First, a dolly that had held the frozen corpses when they were sawed into four pieces.  The tool with which Spitzer and his colleagues accomplished this task looked like nothing but an oversized hacksaw.

Then, into the cooler, which is an improvement: during Jernigan’s sectioning, the work went on in an old facility without air-conditioning, and the temperature often reached 100.  In this new set-up, the corpse and the cameras and the circular grinding head suspended from the ceiling are all in a refrigerated chamber.  A technician sits in a booth outside, controlling the cameras and watching through the windows.  We went into the chamber.  It had the oily smell of a woodworking shop, minus the sawdust.  The digital camera set-up looked curiously primitive, with black cloth draped in the manner of 19th century photography.  There was a remote-controlled nozzle for spritzing the flesh with alcohol between shots and a remote-controlled airhose for brushing away the shavings.  That, too, is an improvement; when Jernigan was sectioned, photographers had to be in the room hosing the flesh off by hand.

As all this continuing work implies, the University of Colorado group is far from finished with the digitizing of cadavers.  Having satisfied the contract with the NLM, Spitzer’s team went on to work with corporate sponsors.  One result was the knee-surgery simulator.  Another appears at first glance to be a human torso wedged into a box.  It’s actually a simulator that trains physicians to make injections into the celiac plexus, a tangle of nerves near the aorta.  Such injections are used to relieve severe pain in, for example, terminally ill people.  The trouble is that reaching the celiac plexus with a needle is a tricky procedure with considerable risks for the patient and few training opportunities for interns. The simulator lets the trainee feel a subtle aortic throb when she gets the needle to the right place.

Another simulator I encountered elsewhere allowed me to run a scope down the GI tract of a mannequin.  It made realistic retching noises as I blundered about.  The screen showed me a bleeding ulcer.  I rammed the scope around, trying to get in position to cauterize the spurting wound.  The patient moaned, retched, and lay silent.  I had killed him.

Spitzer isn’t content to simply develop applications for the two cadavers already made virtual.  He spoke of taking 15,000 slices on the next cadaver, improving the detail of the Visible Human Female by a factor of three.  He described the need for cadavers of every ethnicity and every body type, for women before and after menopause, for people of every age.

Shoving a gigantic floppy disk into a computer set-up, he revealed another accomplishment: a virtual fetus.  Like Jernigan, the fetus moved toward the viewer, revealing itself in progressively deeper cuts.

You must have three additional drawings to show the anatomy of women, for the womb and fetus make much mysterious.

Leonardo da Vinci

The National Library of Medicine isn’t finished with the idea either.  Michael Ackerman, the biomedical engineer who put the project together, said work is continuing on sorting out the “artifacts” in the Visible Human data--for example, the slight distortions freezing produces in soft tissue.  There are also problems with resolution; the tiny bones of the inner ear are too small to be seen in detail on the existing Visible Humans.  Despite such problems, the virtual cadavers have already been used to design prosthetic limbs and as crash-dummies in simulations.  Lawyers have used them to illustrate injuries in court cases.  They've replaced real cadavers in some anatomy classes. The army is working toward using the data to simulate battle wounds, a need currently met by shooting up livestock.

Another idea in development is to combine MRI or CT images from a specific patient with the virtual bodies.  The result would allow doctors to look at, and even practice on, simulations of their particular patients.  (“Your doctor could practice on a virtual you,” Spitzer told me, pointing emphatically to the vicinity of my sternum.)  Since such images are transmissible, doctors could get long-distance help from specialists.  Surgeons could operate on battlefield soldiers by remote.

Artists have incorporated Visible Human images in exhibited work.  Ackerman told me about seeing the images displayed as holograms at the Maryland Science Center.  He watched people watching the display.  “I now know why a composer goes to a concert to hear his own music,” he said.

Death Stories: Slice, Part 7

One of the sculptures is a man skinned and split longitudinally, his separate muscular halves standing a foot or so apart.  Between the halves, his brain and spinal column are propped in mid-air.  Attached to this central section in the appropriate places are his eyeballs and lungs.  The rest of the viscera have been removed from their usual positions for clear viewing; the hands are holding them.

The “sculpture” is not a representation, but an actual human body infused with plastic, one of twenty in the exhibition.  Another is a man posed as if running.  He is naked to his muscles, and the muscles themselves peel open to show underlying structures--like bouquets of flowers, as their creator says.  Besides more-or-less whole bodies, the exhibition contains two hundred other pieces, mostly sections or single organs.  Some of these are healthy specimens--an inside view of the brain and nasal structures, for example.  Others show pathologies--from brain hemorrhage to cirrhosis to constipation.

The man responsible is Gunther von Hagens, an East German refugee who was associated with the University of Heidelberg until 1998?, when he resigned to start his own company.  In the late 1970s, Von Hagens found he could preserve human tissue through a high-tech process of infusion.  His process replaced the water and fat cells in human flesh with polymers, leaving the tissues almost unchanged in appearance except for an added sheen--as if they had been laminated.  Flesh so treated does not rot. Von Hagens estimates it will last 100,000 years.

Plastinated organs and body sections soon turned up in medical schools, mortuary schools, chiropractic training centers.  Pathologists could keep plastinated organs--normal or diseased--on hand for comparison.  Skeletons had always been available for study, and organs had been pickled and kept in museums and teaching hospitals, but von Hagens made it possible for any medical facility to have the necessary study specimens on hand--not models, but the real thing, and not pickled, but suitable for handling.  They could be flexible or firm, depending on the recipe used.  The only maintenance these plastinated pieces required was to be wiped clean after a few handlings.  And unlike the plastic-encased “round steak” Vic Spitzer had showed me, von Hagens’s specimens retained the color and shape of living organs.

Nobody objected to von Hagens’s anatomical specimens as long as they stayed in strictly scientific settings.  The trouble started when the good doctor discovered what he calls “gestalt plastination,” a method of infusing a reasonably whole body.  To complicate the issue, von Hagens stood the bodies up and posed them.  They looked like sculpture.  Von Hagens arranged for exhibitions in Europe, the US, and Japan, which combined to draw millions.

In Germany, Catholic and Protestant leaders pressured politicians to stop the shows.  “He who styles human corpses as a so-called work of art no longer respects the importance of death,” proclaimed Catholic theologian Johannes Reiter.  The churches prefer to keep their “monopoly on burial,” von Hagens explained.  “I’m described as a Frankenstein.”  In Japan, people had no problem with the all-Caucasian exhibits until von Hagens mentioned his shocking ambition of plastinating a Japanese.  Other objections came from fellow anatomists, who said the exhibits were too complex for the lay public.  Most of his critics, von Hagens noted, had not actually seen his exhibitions.  As a public event, von Hagens’s installations had more in common with the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe than with anatomy texts.

I phoned von Hagens in Switzerland, where he was supervising a show, to ask him about these objections.  His defense of his work took on political overtones.  “It’s democratic,” he said.  “The layman is given back what he lost 200 years ago.”  He referred to his own past in Communist East Germany; his current work, he said, is a form of “body liberation.”  The objections to his work are, in his view, not unlike the prudery that often attends sexual and excretory matters.

But seeing his exhibits is liberating in a deeper sense.  Van Hagens describes rowdy teens who “come to see something ghostly, ugly," but instead fall silent with something like awe. "They find themselves anew,” he adds. Viewers decide on the spot to donate their bodies, and von Hagens’s people are happy to sign them up.  One young woman even decided against suicide after seeing the exhibit.

All this sounds rather spiritual, but von Hagens doesn’t deny that some see the exhibits and find them repellent.  The showings average about one fainting per day.  And there are some exhibits that a number of visitors choose to skip--mostly malformed fetuses, which von Hagens obtained as slowly degrading pickled specimens from medical schools and made permanent.  Among the plastinated adults is a skinned woman with her womb opened to show the five-month-old fetus she was carrying.

Is this art, or just death imitating art?  Von Hagens is careful about his answers.  “I call it anatomy art--but the definition of art needs interpretation.  It’s an aesthetic, instructive presentation of the body’s interior.  It’s enlightening science; it’s between science and art.  It produces feelings like art; many say it is art.”  People have compared his work to that of various artists, including the “exploded” anatomies of Dali, a resemblance von Hagens explains as similar challenges yielding similar solutions.

All right, then.  Does he consider himself an artist?  “I see myself as an inventor primarily.”  He says his methods are like those of an artist, and he’s not afraid to use the word beautiful.  “I always dissect in my mind,” he said.  The twenty full-size pieces in this exhibit represent only a third of his designs; the rest are not yet built.  One unrealized project is two people spiral-cut and combined into one.  Another, finished since our talk, was a skinless horse and rider. Horse and human look surprisingly similar beneath the hide.

His trepidation about the word "art" seems to stem from the objections others have raised, in which art is a disparaging term.  Von Hagens wants his work seen as educational.  He does not, he points out, try for “aesthetic shock” of the sort that would occur if he transformed a penis into a vulva or a face into a Halloween mask.  His work is not transformation, but revelation.

Von Hagens maintains a taboo on individual identity.  Although the plastinated organs and sections he sells to medical schools sometimes come from the homeless and others whose bodies fall into government hands, he performs sheet plastination only on those who specifically donate their bodies for that purpose.  He changes their faces so they can’t be recognized--one of the few alterations he allows himself (another is glass eyes: real ones don’t preserve well).

“Anonymity is important to distinguish a mummy from a corpse,” he says.  More fine distinctions.  A corpse is a known person, whose death is an occasion for mourning.  A mummy is an educational exhibit, as well as a legacy.  Von Hagens says his mummies will outlast the Egyptian ones, and adds: “To the future belong human remains.”

I wish to work miracles. Maybe I'll have less than men with more peaceful lives, less than those who want to get rich in a day. I may live for a long time in great poverty, as always happens to alchemists, the would-be creators of gold and silver, and to engineers who would have dead water stir itself into life and perpetual motion, and to those supreme fools, the necromancer and the enchanter.
Leonardo da Vinci

Raccoons in the City

Interesting article on raccoons interacting with humans in an urban environment.

“They are wild animals. They may look cute and cuddly, but a big raccoon is about as fearsome an animal as you’ll ever run into,” he said.

Like most wild animals, raccoons won’t attack first unless they feel threatened or cornered, but they are more prone to it if they have kits. Larger males can be irritable but will usually direct their anger towards other animals, such as dogs or cats if they perceive them as the culprit of their dissatisfaction.

“Usually it’s going to be the other animal. They may bluff charge sometimes and they’ll definitely be vocal. They are a very vocal critter. But they are used to living with us,” Lang said.

Python Eats Dog

Photo credit: One Dead President/Creative Commons

In the US, we occasionally hear of pets snatched by cougars or coyotes. In Australia . . . well, you'll see.

This snake is a scrub python, also called the amethystine python. Members of this species have occasionally attacked children, as discussed in Deadly Kingdom, but they are probably too slender to actually eat a human.

Related Post: Rock Python in a Fence

Predators among the Sardines

 "All around you it is chaos," Fallows continues. "Dolphin squadrons, shark battalions and kamikaze gannets all attack, creating an almost dizzying underwater ballet of piscine gluttony."

Interesting article about sardine runs off South Africa.

Zoo Lion Interested in Baby

Cute or terrifying? You decide:

And while we're at it, here's an annoyingly manipulated but otherwise fascinating video along the same line:

(Thanks to Greyson for the tip.)

Death Stories: Slice, Part 6

Go to the beginning of this story

The interior of the corpse became an object of public curiosity.  In 1632 the surgeons’ guild responsible for the public dissection of a petty criminal commissioned Rembrandt to paint the event.  The result was his group portrait Doctor Nicolaes Tulp Demonstrating the Anatomy of the Arm.  It was roughly the equivalent of putting an Elk’s Club fund-raiser in the newspaper today.  This was not Rembrandt’s only painting of a dissection, nor was he the only artist to incorporate graphic autopsies in his work.  The dissection became, in fact, a minor subgenre spanning periods and styles, attempted by a range of artists familiar (Eakins, Hogarth) and otherwise.


About two hundred years ago, dissection went underground--or, at least, into the academy and the hospital, rarely to be seen by the layman. This circumstance was part of a general cultural trend toward hiding life’s unpleasantries; it presaged the rise of the funeral industry, which obviated the necessity for most people to handle the dead. The secrecy varnished dissection with a fresh coat of the sinister, as evidenced by such fictional horrors as Frankenstein.  This novel, published in 1818, resurrects the Faust myth in anatomical terms. 

It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

 His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

 Mary Shelley

Another indicator of public unease on anatomical matters was the case of Burke and Hare.  These resourceful men made money by supplying corpses, often stolen from graves, to medical students.  Burke and Hare weren’t the only “resurrection men” of their day. What set them apart was their eminently logical shortcut of murdering people instead of digging them up.  This method was not only more efficient than scouting out and disenterring the recently dead, but it also, in an unforeseen benefit for their possibly unwitting buyers, produced fresher specimens.  Burke even developed the habit of killing by suffocation so as to leave the corpses undamaged.  Robert Louis Stevenson fictionalized their case in “The Body Snatchers.”

The Resurrection Man--to use a by-name of the period--was not to be deterred by any of the sanctities of customary piety. It was part of his trade to despise and desecrate the scrolls and trumpets of old tombs, the paths worn by the feet of worshippers and mourners, and the offerings and the inscriptions of bereaved affection. To rustic neighbourhoods, where love is more than commonly tenacious, and where some bonds of blood or fellowship unite the entire society of a parish, the body-snatcher, far from being repelled by natural respect, was attracted by the ease and safety of the task. To bodies that had been laid in earth, in joyful expectation of a far different awakening, there came that hasty, lamp-lit, terror-haunted resurrection of the spade and mattock. The coffin was forced, the cerements torn, and the melancholy relics, clad in sackcloth, after being rattled for hours on moonless byways, were at length exposed to uttermost indignities before a class of gaping boys.

 Somewhat as two vultures may swoop upon a dying lamb, Fettes and Macfarlane were to be let loose upon a grave in that green and quiet resting-place. The wife of a farmer, a woman who had lived for sixty years, and been known for nothing but good butter and a godly conversation, was to be rooted from her grave at midnight and carried, dead and naked to that far-away city that she had always honoured with her Sunday's best; the place beside her family was to be empty till the crack of doom; her innocent and almost venerable members to be exposed to that last curiosity of the anatomist.

 Robert Louis Stevenson

The scandal that resulted from the Burke and Hare case stirred up that near-supernatural dread of the medical profession which seems to be always potential in our culture.  It’s also a revealing indicator of our attitudes toward the bodies of the dead.  Even though being buried in the ground is a sure way to destroy a body through rot (even if it’s embalmed), we find it uniquely objectionable if someone steals a corpse or its parts, destroying the body in some other way. On the whole, though, the Western world was silent about dissection until the end of the 20th century, when new technologies suddenly made anatomy more available to the average person than it ever had been. Now surgeries could be viewed on cable TV or on the internet.

The paradoxical power of the internet to both democratize and depersonalize has never been clearer than in the case of the Visible Humans.  Jernigan and his anonymous female counterpart are the most intensely known human bodies in the world.  But, because they have been converted to data, their bodies don’t seem to invoke the taboo against dealing with corpses; they’ve been dehumanized.  When they first announced the Visible Human Project to the public, the scientists involved prepared carefully for the press conference; they feared the whole idea would come across as macabre.  They needn’t have worried; many of the reporters who had come to the press conference left before it even began to cover a breaking story, the jail-house murder of amateur anatomist Jeffrey Dahmer.  Those who remained handled it with equanimity.

Jernigan willed his body to medical science.  He never knew he would become an object of public scrutiny.  In the eyes of some observers, he has been violated on the largest scale imaginable.  But if the promise of the Visible Human Project is realized, his violation will soon obviate the need for other human corpses to be cut open after death.

Human corpses, no matter how well preserved, will always lose the battle with decomposition, fungi, scavengers, and insects, even if it takes thousands of years.  Even mummies that survive for millenia undergo drastic chemical and physical changes.  But because Paul Jernigan and the virtual people to follow him have passed from the physical to the virtual, they may survive as long as human technology does.

Which brings us to another innovation in anatomy. But let’s save that for the next installment.

Death Stories: Slice, Part 5

If you wanted to be resurrected in the end time, Church dogma used to say, you need a complete body. Whatever might be found inside was "God's province." Doctors concentrated instead on herbal medicine and other strategies that didn't require much knowledge of anatomy. Barbers handled the lancing of boils and the bleeding with leeches. Medical schools taught anatomy as a theoretical subject, if at all.

Then, in the 13th century, legal systems in Europe began to sanction autopsies to determine causes of death. Some universities began to include anatomical demonstrations using the corpses of criminals. Typically, the authorities preferred to give over foreign criminals, since their families would not be around to protest.  Jews and other marginalized people were also likely candidates.  Complex regulations surrounded these demonstrations; sometimes even the number of masses to be said for the deceased was mandated by law. In a room stocked with rosewater and incense, a professor might read from a text while a junior academic pointed to the relevant body parts with a wand. Neither handled or cut the cadaver; that was still the job of a barber—a grotesque rendition of "Those who can’t do, teach." At some universities, only medical students and doctors were allowed in; elsewhere, dissections were open to anyone who could pay the admission fee. Spectators might bring spices to cover the smell; or they might buy oranges from the vendors.

In the Renaissance, the Church, which had previously leaned toward the position that dissection ruined one’s chances of being bodily resurrected on judgment day, shifted toward the idea that dissection could only enhance human appreciation of God’s handiwork. This new idea infected the arts.  Painters flayed cadavers to study their muscles and thereby depict the exterior of the body with greater verisimilitude. Leonardo da Vinci began his studies of anatomy by observing such flayings, but eventually he delved deeper, exploring beyond painterly questions.  He boasted that he had whittled away “more than ten” cadavers just to diagram the circulatory system--no single body lasted long enough.  He claimed that his drawings, which included such innovations as the cross-section, were more useful for learning the body than watching a dissection oneself, because a dissection destroys some structures in probing for others.  Having investigated the digestive system, he concluded that “men and animals are only a track, a conduit for food, a burial for other birds, an inn for the dead.”

Great confusion results from the combination of tissues, with veins, arteries, nerves, sinews, muscles, bones, and blood which, of itself, tinges every part the same colour. And the veins, which discharge this blood, are not discerned by reason of their smallness. Moreover integrity of the tissues, in the process of the investigating the parts within them, is inevitably destroyed, and their transparent substance being tinged with blood does not allow you to recognise the parts covered by them, from the similarity of their blood-stained hue; and you cannot know everything of the one without confusing and destroying the other.
-- Leonardo da Vinci

For the anatomical knowledge of his rival Michaelangelo, Leonardo had only scorn. He claimed Michaelangelo’s figures were muscled like “bags of nuts.” Nonetheless, Michaelangelo himself performed dissections, and a leading anatomist of the day recruited him to illustrate a text. That assignment didn’t work out; nor did his ambition to illustrate a treatise on proportion by Durer. But he did help to found a school for artists where anatomy was a required subject.

Michaelangelo: Bags of Nuts

The most influential anatomist of the Renaissance was Andreas Vesalius. His extraordinary texts are filled with innovative cross-references and illustrations—some possibly provided by Titian—but his real accomplishment was to expose the weaknesses in works by Galen and others by testing the received lore against actual bodies.

I am thinking of a great fellow, who was about as old as I am three hundred years ago, and had already begun a new era in anatomy. His name was Vesalius. And the only way he could get to know anatomy as he did, was by going to snatch bodies at night, from graveyards and places of execution. He could only get a complete skeleton by snatching the whitened bones of a criminal from the gallows, and burying them, and fetching them away by bits secretly, in the dead of night. Some of the greatest doctors living were fierce upon Vesalius because they had believed in Galen, and he showed that Galen was wrong. They called him a liar and a poisonous monster. But the facts of the human frame were on his side; and so he got the better of them. He had a good deal of fighting to the last. And they did exasperate him enough at one time to make him burn a good deal of his work. Then he got shipwrecked just as he was coming from Jerusalem to take a great chair at Padua. He died rather miserably.
-- George Eliot

Woman bitten by rabid bat

'I hope my teeth don't get sharp': Woman bitten by rabid bat in terrifying attack | Mail Online:

"She managed to rip the bat out of her neck, but it was badly injured from the fly swat so she put it into a glass jar and tried to get back to sleep.

But the bat kept crying, she said, and she felt so guilty for electrocuting it she got up and put some air holes in the jar."

Coyote hybrid attacks toddler on trampoline

WILD COYOTE ATTACK: Coyote hybrid attacks 3-year-old toddler on trampoline in Randolph County, North Carolina. - WGHP:

"The 100-lb attacker, which animal control officials dubbed a 'coyote hybrid,' grabbed Maggie by her shirt and began dragging her away."

This report mentions rabies, but the behavior sounds predatory to me--small human targeted, persistent attack. Apparently this animal is a hybrid of dog and coyote. The size mentioned here, if accurate, would be surprisingly large for a coyote, but not for a dog. Wolf-dog hybrids have a history of hurting people. As dogs, they tend to be more comfortable approaching people than a wild wolf would be.  

Hyena attacks boy

South African Tourism

Hyena rips tent, attacks boy - Times LIVE:

"Hudson was bitten in the face and head while he was in the tent with other pupils. The animal ripped the tent before attacking."

The photo included with this news story shows a spotted hyena. If that's really the species involved, there should be no mystery about the motive for the attack. Spotted hyenas eat people.

But perhaps the culprit is the brown hyena (pictured here) common in South Africa. This species is mostly a scavenger; it rarely kills animals as large as a twelve-year-old. It's a formidable animal which lives largely by intimidating leopards and other large carnivores, then stealing their kills.

Camel bites baby at zoo

One dangerous animal that got short shrift in Deadly Kingdom is the camel. As a domestic animal, it has the same opportunities as cattle and horses to stomp, bite, throw, and otherwise harm people. However, I hadn't come across any memorable cases by press time. Now, thanks to reader Natan Slifkin, I can recitfy my omission. This first item finds the danger not on the job, but in the zoo:

Camel bites baby at zoo - Israel News, Ynetnews

And here's an older case that shows a camel in the role of road hazard. The same trouble occurs with whitetailed deer in North America, kangaroos in Australia, and a slew of species in Africa, from giraffes to elephants. An acquaintance recently returned from South Africa tells me she was warned about hippos on the road. Anyway, the Israeli camels:


Rabbi Slifkin's fascinating website is http://www.zootorah.com/. On arrival there, you'll see him riding an elephant, jumping a crocodile, and standing next to a bear. If you dig a little deeper, you'll find some fascinating scholarship.  

Rabid Beavers of Philadelphia

'Bizarre' Rabid Beaver Attacks Philadelphia Park Patrons | Wildlife, Rabies & Animal Attacks | LiveScience:

"A rabies-ridden beaver that wreaked havoc in a Philadelphia park, biting three residents over the last week, likely contracted the virus after a scuffle with a rabid raccoon."

A slideshow of some decidedly non-rabid raccoons:

Death Stories: Slice, Part 4

Earlier, we were sitting in Spitzer’s office on the same floor.  It seemed like a typical professor’s lair--metal shelves neatly packed with books and journals, a desk stacked with papers.  As we talked, Spitzer’s beeper went off several times.  He noted area codes he recognized so he could return the calls later.  The unfamiliar numbers he ignored.  He spoke with enthusiasm, but also with the ready examples and metaphors of a man who had explained his business many times.  He used rhetorical questions as segues.  “What do I mean by that?” he would say, and launch into the explication.  The window behind him showed a glimmering ribbon of traffic bisecting the green swath of Denver, and behind that a mountain like a jagged molar.

It was during this conversation that Spitzer first mentioned the uniform tanness of cadavers.  He was telling what parts of his work disturbed him on a visceral level.  Although his first dissection ten years before was “traumatic,” cadavers generally did not fit his category of disturbing things, and he posited that the reason was their dissimilarity from him.  The typical anatomy-class cadaver represents the remains of a person seventy-odd years of age in some sort of poor health (otherwise they wouldn’t be cadavers).  Much of the muscle tissue has wasted.  Embalming has leached the color and turned things the consistency of soggy leather.  But when the cadaver happened to be closer to his own age, Spitzer started to feel unsettled.   He told about the difficulty of “harvesting a leg” from an atypically fresh corpse.  As for Jernigan, it wasn’t disturbing at all to dismantle his corpse.  Most of the time Spitzer and his colleagues were looking at no more than a frozen cross-sectional surface like the round steak.

Spitzer’s vita shows diverse degrees--in chemistry, nuclear engineering, radiology, anatomy.  “I didn’t care what science I was in,” he said.  In his youth he dismissed biology because he thought it lacked definite answers.  Medicine was worse: messy both epistemologically and otherwise.  He preferred the mathematical accuracy of, say, chemistry.  But the exciting work in chemistry was happening in the East.  “I’m a Westerner,” he said, and then added, “the West is more real.”  Radiology convinced him medicine could be studied with the sort of precision he liked.  This discipline is, he pointed out, simply “slicing up bodies electronically”--while they’re still alive.


Ancient Egyptian embalming techniques required that a corpse’s belly be sliced open and the viscera removed.  The priest who performed this particular task was chased out of the room afterwards and cursed, a ceremonial acknowledgement of transgression.  This ritual encapsulates an attitude that has prevailed in the West for millennia: the interior of the body is taboo, but may be observed in certain highly controlled, ceremonial contexts.  Such opportunities for observation arose in (to mention two historically diverse examples) the Medieval practice of searching the corpses of suspected saints for divine wonders (jewels or an unusual absence of rot) or in the Elizabethan practice of drawing and quartering supposed traitors.

Such events, however, contributed little to a systematic knowledge of the interior landscape.  Even the limited forms of surgery performed in Ancient Greece occurred in a state of relative anatomical ignorance. The dissection of bodies for scientific or educational purposes began with Aristotle, who worked only on monkeys and other animals.  The Greeks of his era found human dissection literally inconceivable—think of Antigone, a drama built entirely on the anguish of a sister for the mutilation of her brother’s corpse.  But Aristotle claimed that human anatomy could be largely deduced by analogy with that of other animals.  He also advocated the observation of emaciated people, whose veins and bones stood out well enough to be mapped.

But colonial exploits brought opportunity. Human dissection was first practiced in the third century BCE in Alexandria, where the invading Greeks had fewer scruples about using the bodies of indigenous people. Physicians like Erisistratus and Herophilus cut into the corpses of criminals and non-Greeks. (Executed criminals have been a source for anatomical study ever since.) According to some accounts, they also performed vivisection on the living, on the theory dead bodies might differ too much from living ones to produce useful results.

The most important figure in early anatomy is Galen, a Greek physician of the the second century AD, who studied human dissection in Alexandria. After leaving Egypt, he worked on the carcasses of bears, lions, oxen, goats, and pigs. Even better were monkeys like the barbary macaque, whose parts he found to have "an exact similarity" to those of humans. He also studied the gaping wounds of gladiators, though he acknowledged that this method was not practical for most students. After Galen, the study of anatomy stagnated for a millenium.

Death Stories: Slice, Part 3

(Go to the beginning of this story)

Victor Spitzer tossed something heavy and solid onto the table in front of me.  “You can see it just looks like round steak,” he said.  It was a cross-section of a human thorax embedded in plastic.  His description seemed right at first glance, but then he himself pointed out its limits.  “This is what I was telling you about cadavers,” he said.  “Look at the color.  Just uniformly tan.”  An effect of the formaldehyde, he added.  He pointed out the lungs, which looked like shriveled bits of shiitake.  They didn’t fill their space.  There were gaps.

I sat in a fifth-floor room at the Center for Human Simulation at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.  The room felt geometric and grad-schoolish: white cinderblock walls, long wooden tables, a film screen, venetian blinds segmenting the tall windows.  Now that Spitzer had brought them to my attention, I noticed a number of those transparent rectangles encasing human round-steaks strewn about the tables.  He returned to the video he’d been running for me.  It explained the Visible Human Project.

Spitzer -- 6 foot 4, age fifty, his blonde hair going gray -- wore sandals and khakis and a long-sleeved button-down.  His manner was frank and friendly.  He told me he had been in radiology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center thirteen years before the anatomy department approached him with an idea about digitizing images of dead tissue.  In the project that eventually developed, Spitzer, together with his partner David Whitlock and their team, sliced a human knee (and later a pelvis) thin and photographed the slices.  These images, manipulated with computer technology developed for the Star Wars films and some Disney projects, became a new kind of anatomical information--more detailed, more realistic, than traditional anatomy texts and models.  More true, because they hadn’t descended from abstract ideas of human form.  They were the thing itself captured in a camera.  Spitzer liked photography for that reason: if the purpose of anatomy is to show what the body looks like inside, photography is a purveyor of exact truth.

Similar work was going on at medical schools across the country in the late 1980s.  Scientists were sectioning hearts, skulls, and other popular body parts and digitizing their data in various ways.  In 1989, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) got involved.

The NLM, which bills itself as the equivalent of the Library of Congress for medicine, launched the Visible Human Project.  The plan was to develop the most complete set of anatomical data possible for two entire human bodies--one male, one female.  The bodies of two volunteers would be turned into virtual cadavers, their bodies mapped into computers with a level of precision unprecedented.  These computer models would then be available to anyone for almost any purpose.  For example, the NLM anticipated that medical students would one day learn anatomy from the infinitely renewable electronic cadavers.

Spitzer and Whitlock competed for and won the NLM’s contract.  They began looking for a suitable male body.  It had to be complete and relatively normal, a standard that eliminated most victims of accident and disease.  It also had to be fresh.  State anatomical boards in Maryland, Colorado, and Texas made bodies available for the project.  Most of these donations were too old or too damaged to be useful.  But one day the Texas board told Spitzer and his colleagues that a man on death row was nearly finished with his body and wanted it to go to science.  Because he was to be executed by lethal injection, his organs couldn’t be used for transplant.  And because executions run on a schedule, the scientists could act within hours of his death, securing an unusually fresh body.  Like several other promising corpses that turned up at about the same time, Jernigan’s was air-freighted to Denver, where Spitzer’s group put it through MRI and CT scans as if it were a live patient.  In Jernigan's case, the body had to be "lightly embalmed" before its trip--infused with formaldehyde to counter the corrosive effects of the cocktail that killed him. Doctors at the NLM examined the images of three promising candidates. A suitable corpse needed to be “average,” a term the NLM defined as aged twenty to sixty, under six feet tall, not obese, and free of serious injury or disease. (The problem, of course, was that people of that description are rarely dead.)  In the end, Jernigan was judged most suitable, despite his missing appendix, tooth, and testicle.

Spitzer’s group froze Jernigan’s corpse in a block of blue gelatine and sawed it into four manageable chunks.  The freezing was necessary because it makes even the most delicate tissues firm enough for sawing.  Otherwise, some of them would become too messy to handle.  “For example, the brain is not as tough as a tomato,” Spitzer said.  The quartering was necessary simply to fit the body into the equipment.

Next, using a rotary head suspended from the ceiling, they milled Jernigan’s body, taking a thin slice from the bottom of his feet, then another a millimeter deeper, and so on.  They cut him 1877 times.  The body was photographed in cross-section after every cut.  It had to be re-frozen at least every eight hours to maintain its solidity, so the process took months.

When it was over, the flesh-and-blood body of Jernigan had been reduced to ice shavings and ooze.  Spitzer and Whitlock constructed a virtual body by collating the photographic images with the CT scans made earlier.  Even though the actual body was photographed only in cross-section, the collated data can be “stacked” to show slices of the body in three dimensions.  Almost any bodily structure can be examined on the virtual cadaver, provided you know where to look.  Work now underway will label the parts, eliminating even that limitation.

Within three years, a refined version of this process had produced a virtual woman based on an anonymous 59-year-old donor who died of a heart attack.  Both Visible Humans are available via the internet, though the enormous quantity of data (around 15 gigabytes) is too much for most home computers.  But stills, snippets, animations, and simulations using the data are available at dozens of websites.  The NLM and the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center both provide startling Web displays.

The video Spitzer showed me contained images like the ones I’d seen in my local university library, but larger and better: vivid, blood-glistening sections of flesh.  Jernigan’s entire body seemed to approach and pass through the plane of the screen, so I could see him progressively sectioned front to back.  He was like a ghost vanishing through a wall.  When I chose another angle, I could move from head to foot, the image kaleidoscoping—a blossoming of brain, a constriction of neck, a widening into the trunk packed with organs, a sudden bifurcation at the pelvis, and on down to the surprisingly dainty toes.  Spitzer had made his point: the digital flesh came closer to life than actual embalmed flesh did.  I ran my hand over the round steak in front of me, but felt only the smooth plastic casing.

Mysterious mountain lion killed in Connecticut

Mysterious mountain lion killed in Connecticut - Yahoo! News:

"A mountain lion was killed just 70 miles from New York City early on Saturday morning and officials were trying to determine if it was the same big cat spotted a week ago roaming the posh suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut.

The 140-pound mountain lion was hit by a small SUV on a highway in Milton, Connecticut early Saturday morning, and died from its injuries."

Related Post: Cougar Found in Backyard

Coyote Attacks Colorado Springs Woman In Her Backyard

ONLY ON 11 NEWS: Coyote Attacks Springs Woman In Her Backyard:

"'We looked at each other and I looked at his body and then he just pounced,' Kerwin said.

The coyote bit her twice before she could fight it off with a bag of potting soil, giving her just enough time to get to the stairs. Several reports say this animal has been spotted a number of times near the Fontmore area.

'He was very thin and had wiry hair, the eyes, and he didn't look well,' said Kerwin."

Chimpanzee attack victim gets full face transplant

Chimpanzee attack victim gets full face transplant [PHOTOS]:

"Over the next few months, she will grow more control over facial muscles and feel more, allowing her to breathe through her nose and smell things. Nash still has an optic nerve, even though the chimp attack destroyed her eyes. However, she still remains blind."

Animal attacks have figured prominently in the development of facial transplant. Earlier recipients include victims of dog and moon bear attacks.

Related Posts:

Travis the Chimpanzee Attacks

Necropsy Results on Travis

A Chimpanzee Hunt (why they dismember enemies)

My Story in Chizine

My short story "Motive, Means, Eventuality" appears in the current issue of the online magazine Chiaroscuro. (It has nothing to do with wildlife.)

Red Wolf Killed in Apple Valley

Escaped Minnesota Zoo wolf killed; posed threat to visitors - TwinCities.com:

"'He had to be killed because of his proximity to people,' Lessard said. 'We don't know with any animal if they will run and hide or if they will attack.'"

The red wolf is closely related to the smaller coyote and the larger gray wolf. Scientists have been debating for years whether it should count as a separate species.

Elephant Kills One, Injures Four in Mysore

The Hindu : Front Page : Young tusker goes on the rampage in Elephant City:

"MYSORE: A young wild elephant rampaged through the heart of Mysore early on Wednesday, trampling a man to death and injuring four others. Two head of cattle also died in the elephantine fury.

Straying from its herd, the male elephant, aged between 8 and 10, entered the city along with a 12-year-old tusk-less male (a makhna). But it was the tusker which terrorised people as well as cattle in its six-hour rampage."

Further on, the article says the fatality resulted from goring rather than trampling. This footage shows one attack, which may or may not be the fatal one. This is extremely graphic footage. Please think carefully before you click play.

Death Stories: Slice, Part 2

Go to the beginning of this story

There’s a mythology about Jernigan’s body.  Some say he was fat from twelve years of prison indolence; doubtless this myth derives from the slightly swollen image of his corpse later seen by millions.  The contradictory story is that he was buff, a jail-house weight-lifter.  Actually, he looked pretty average at the end of his life--that was part of his appeal for the scientists who converted him.  Another set of myths distorts his motives.  Some say he donated his body to the Visible Human Project so he’d gain electronic immortality.  Others say he meant for the donation to lead to a more mundane kind of immortality: a true-crime book.  Still others say his family didn’t want to pay funeral expenses.  In fact, when he donated his body to science, Jernigan couldn’t have known what would happen to it.

His lawyer and friend Mark Ticer said he offered his body to science to atone, in the only way left to him, for the murder that haunted him.  Ticer thinks his friend would have approved of the use his body was put to, if not the macabre fame that went with it.

Raw rib-eye steaks.  Or, better yet, butterfly pork chops, because they’re symmetrical.  I was looking at cross-sections of Paul Jernigan’s body on the Web, and they looked like butterfly pork chops.  They even had the sleek look of cellophane wrapping, as if they were fresh from the grocer.

In a moment of morbid curiosity, I decided to have a look at the private parts.  The cross-section of Jernigan’s thighs and testicle (he'd lost one long ago in an operation) looked like an image produced by a lava lamp -- bubbles in a viscous liquid.  Though the image was still and would stay as long as I liked, it seemed evanescent; it was ready to transform into something else.  Of course, I could change it into a different body part with two clicks of the mouse.

A controversy drew my attention.  I was in a university library, and the fellow at the next terminal, a whippet-thin student in a T-shirt and baggy jeans, had been caught printing out nude photos.  The librarian chastised the pornography fan with remarks like “What made you think you could do something like this?” and “Didn’t you realize we can monitor whatever you’re looking at?”  I wondered if some hidden authority was monitoring my examination of a stranger’s testicle.  Would such an authority see his electronic body as an abstraction, or would she recognize it as human meat?  Which would seem worse?

My depiction of the human body will be as clear to you as if you had the natural man before you; for if you wish thoroughly to know the parts of man, anatomically, you--or your eye--must see it from different aspects, considering it from below and from above and from its sides, turning it about and seeking the origin of each member. In this way the natural anatomy is sufficient for your comprehension.
--Leonardo da Vinci


Death Stories: Slice, Part 1

What’s past has been prologue, pretty much. The next Death Story is called Slice, and parts of it first appeared in The New Yorker. That appearance was a turning point in my career, because people sent me emails that said, in effect, “Wow, I didn’t know you were a real writer.” I tried to see those as compliments.

Pleased as I was with getting my name in such a good magazine, I was also dissatisfied. This story was way too big to fit into an article. It needed twice the room.

It’s way too long for a single blog post, too, so I’ll split it up over several. We begin with a murder.


On July 3, 1981, Paul Jernigan returned to Navarro County, Texas, looking for houses to burgle.  It was a county of 38,000 built on cotton, wheat, and cattle, where everybody seemed to know, or at least know about, everybody else.  Jernigan, 27, had grown up poor in Navarro County, though now he lived forty-five minutes away in Waco.  He had already done time twice for theft.  Newspapers would later call him a “former mechanic,” but burglary was more his line these days.

Jernigan and his acquaintance, 17-year-old Roy Lamb--they hardly knew each other well enough to be called friends--settled on a farmhouse near Dawson, on the northern edge of the county.  They had been smoking marijuana and drinking.  At first the robbery was business as usual.  They took a microwave oven, a radio.  As they drove down the dirt road toward freedom, they passed the man whose house they’d just robbed.  Edward Hale, also a mechanic, was 75, and his eyesight was failing.  It’s unlikely he could have identified the burglars or their vehicle, but Jernigan didn’t know that.  He turned back toward the house to eliminate the witness.

Back in the house, he pounded Hale with his fists.  The old man wouldn’t stay down.  Jernigan found a pair of heavy ashtrays and bludgeoned him.  When that tactic failed, he sent Lamb to the kitchen for sharp knives.  He stabbed and wrenched, breaking off the blade of the first knife in Hale’s body.  He kept stabbing and breaking off the blades.  The old man kept getting up.  By this time Lamb had found Hale’s shotgun.  Jernigan grabbed it, loaded, fired.  The old man was getting up again.  Jernigan calmed himself, took his time with the second shot.  He went for the heart.  The old man was persistent.  Jernigan loaded again.  This time he went for a head shot.  That did the job.

Jernigan’s next mistake was to tell his wife what he’d done.  Both husband and wife were alcoholics in full bloom; maybe that had something to do with her telling police the whole story.  In custody, Jernigan soon confessed everything.  Roy Lamb, his accomplice, was sentenced to thirty years, paroled after ten.

District Attorney Pat Batchelor, who prosecuted Jernigan, called him a “middle-of-the road killer”--a rougher character than some he’d dealt with, but not the worst.  “I’ve got two other guys on death row now who’d eat Jernigan up alive,” he told me.

Jernigan went to death row in Huntsville.  He seemed a changed man once he was incarcerated and free of his drug problems.  He started an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter for his fellow condemned men.  He wrote thoughtful letters; he made jewelry and furniture for friends on the outside.  “I have no one but myself to blame,” he said.  As his first execution date approached, he told a reporter, “I’m very scared.  I catch myself counting the days.  It’s hard for me to sleep at night.”  He passed that day alive as the usual appeals went on.  DA Batchelor remembers that Jernigan was always impassive in the courtroom, until his last appeal failed--then he fought his guards and had to be chained.

On August 4, 1993, Jernigan was served his last meal--two cheeseburgers, French fries, salad, iced tea.  He couldn't eat. Just after midnight on August fifth he went to the death chamber.  A needle was threaded into his forearm.  In dripped the lethal cocktail: the sedative sodium thiopental; the muscle relaxant pancuronium bromide, to collapse his lungs; potassium chloride, to stop his heart.  He offered no last words, merely nodding at his brother, who watched through a glass partition.  He was pronounced dead at 31 minutes past midnight.

His life was just beginning.

O Speculator! Concerning this machine of ours, let it not distress you that you impart knowledge of it through another's death, but rejoice that our Creator has ordained the intellect to such excellence of perception.
--Leonardo da Vinci

Great white sharks huge fans of rock band AC/DC

Great white sharks huge fans of rock band AC/DC, tour operator says:

"A cage-diving operator in South Australia has discovered that great white sharks in that region are fans of rock-and-roll music -- specifically that produced by the legendary Australian band AC/DC."

Related Posts:

The Old Man and the Sharks

World's Worst Shark Attacks

Video: Great White Shark forces its way into cage:

Baby narrowly escapes deer attack

Baby narrowly escapes deer attack | Ontario | News | Toronto Sun:

"KENORA, Ont. - When Courtney Van Aertselaer heard her baby daughter, Trinity, shrieking on her deck Wednesday afternoon, she ran out to see what was causing the fuss.

What she didn't expect to see was a deer raising its front hooves to trample the 13-month-old."

Related Post: White-tailed Deer Attack
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...