South African Tigerfish Predation of Birds


The last thing a barn swallow probably expects as it’s flying low over a lake is to be met with a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth emerging from the water. And if the bird happens to be flying over a certain lake in South Africa, that may well be the last thing it sees.

For the most part, when fish feed on birds, it’s a meal of opportunity. [D]uring a 15 day survey in February 2010, Smit and colleagues saw African tigerfish—which populate a storage lake for the Schroda Dam in South Africa—snatching barn swallows out of the air.

They speculate that the scarcity of other food in the Schroda Dam lake, like other species of fish, have driven these tigerfish to attempt loftier prey.


Via National Geographic.

The Biological Distinction of Sensory Sensitivity


A highly sensitive person (HSP) is a person having the innate trait of high sensory processing sensitivity.

According to Elaine N. Aron and colleagues as well as other researchers, highly sensitive people, who compose of about a fifth of the population (equal numbers in men and women), may process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly due to a biological difference in their nervous systems.

As opposed to shyness, which is best thought of a learned fear of social judgment, but often confused with an innate trait that would have no evolutionary advantage if it were nothing but fearfulness, the trait of high sensitivity is considered a basic, evolutionarily conserved trait with survival advantages in itself.

It’s an interesting theory, and something argued as distinct from introversion, though this last seems a stretch.

The traits they describe seem overwhelmingly correlated with common definitions of introversion:

  • Are you easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input?
  • Do you tend to be more sensitive to pain?
  • Do you tend to work best when conditions are quiet and calm?

Essentially, the argument against this being another facet or description of introversion is that introversion is a purely social description. Elaine Aron argues that 30% of HSPs are social extroverts; I can’t help but wonder what her definition of extrovert is.

Image via PsychologyOneBlogs.
Via Wikipedia.

Decoding the Decades Old Cancer Code

A woman sought help recently from the Internet to help her decode a decades-old family mystery…and did the Internet deliver.

My grandmother passed away in 1996 of a fast-spreading cancer. She was non-communicative her last two weeks, but in that time, she left at least 20 index cards with scribbled letters on them.

My cousins and I were between 8-10 years old at the time, and believed she was leaving us a code. We puzzled over them for a few months trying substitution ciphers, and didn’t get anywhere.

Metafilter user harperpitt cracked the basic code within fifteen minutes of the code being posted: the code was Christian prayers using the first letters of words.

As in, “AAA” = “Amen, Amen, Amen”. “TYAGF” = “Thank you Almighty God for…” “OFWAIHHBTN” = “OFWAIHHBTN”.

Oh, Internet. Sometimes you are truly awesome. Next you will be discovering the secret lair of the Mokele-mbembe

From a thread on Metafilter via Slate for the full story.

Mass Faintings: The Revenge of Cambodia’s Neak Ta Spirits


Just over two years ago, at the Anful Garments Factory in Kompong Speu Province, a young worker named Chanthul and 250 of her colleagues collapsed in a collective spell of fainting. They had to be hospitalized; the production line shut down. Two days later, the factory was back up, and the mass faintings struck again.

Peace, and production, resumed only after factory owners staged an elaborate ceremony, offering up copious amounts of food, cigarettes and Coca-Cola to the spirit.

In the past few years, Cambodia has experienced a slew of mass faintings among garment workers: One after the other, hundreds of women have fallen to the floor of their factories in a dizzy spell called duol sonlap in the Khmer language. [T]wo-thirds of these episodes are associated with accounts of possession by local guardian spirits, known as neak ta.

These days, when neak ta appear on the factory floor — inducing mass faintings among workers and shouting commands at managers — they are helping the cause of Cambodia’s largely young, female and rural factory workforce by registering a kind of bodily objection to the harsh daily regimen of industrial capitalism.

Where brutal conditions are coupled with few, if any, rights for labor to organize, the mass faintings have become an effective tool that invites no reprisal. After all, it is not the workers demanding better conditions, but the neak ta.

Much as the “blue flu” of various United States police departments throughout the years, the mass faintings have come to be a fascinating leverage as existing cultures collide with modern industrial practices.

Via New York Times for the full article and fascinating story.

The Ten Year Winter of 536-546 A.D.

Tapisserie de Bayeux - Scène 32 : des hommes observent la comète de Halley

“And it came about during this year that a most dread portent took place. For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during this whole year, and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear nor such as it is accustomed to shed”.
Procopius (Wars, 4.14.5)


Roughly 1500 years ago, our world was turned upsidown by a winter that witnesses say “never ended.”

Scholars writing in Europe and Asia at the time reported that the year 536 and the years following were bitterly cold. They described conditions that reminded them of an eclipse, and claim that the sun remained “small,” with ice frosting up crops even in summer. That year and the decade following were also times of great famine, plague and war.


[G]eologist Dallas Abbott has a new theory.

Perhaps Halley’s comet broke up on its trip past the sun, and ejected some large pieces onto Earth. Those events, combined with a thicker-than-usual tail of debris, could have caused the weather disruptions.

Photo of Halley’s Comet via netplaces.
Based on an article by Colin Barras in New Scientist via io9.

The Scrap Lion of 4,000 Pieces


Istanbul-based Turkish sculptor Selçuk Yılmaz has constructed a 6-foot-tall, 10-foot-long majestic lion out of nearly 4,000 pieces of scrap metal that is aptly dubbed Aslan (Lion).

Yılmaz’s 550-pound figure presents a labor-intensive assemblage of countless materials that simulate everything from the sharp tooth of a lion to its full mane.


Fascinating. I had no idea Turkish is where C.S. Lewis got the name for Aslan.

Sculptor Selçuk Yılmaz via My Modern Met for more photos.