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10 Offbeat Stories You Might Have Missed This Week (12/1/18)

by Radu Alexander
fact checked by Jamie Frater

It’s Saturday, which means it is time, yet again, to look back at some of the quirkier news items of the week. You can click here to see what Morris had to say about all the serious stuff that went on in the world.

This week’s list is animal-heavy as we talk about the Siberian unicorn, the largest steer in Australia, and an ant that likes to decapitate other ants and decorate its nest with skulls. In non-animal-related news, scientists eat LEGO pieces for science, a monk is arrested for hosting drug-fueled sex parties, and a football club fakes a player’s death.

Featured image credit: WLNY-TV/YouTube

10 Science Gets Messy

Photo credit: The Guardian

Science has a rich and weird history of researchers who were willing to use their own bodies for experiments. You can add a team of six pediatricians from the UK and Australia to that list. They swallowed LEGO heads on purpose to show that the pieces would pass through their system with no ill effects.

The Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health will soon come out, and as is tradition, the Christmas special will focus on quirky studies. This edition will look at a feature where pediatricians aim to ease the concerns of parents who regularly have to deal with their children swallowing toy parts. To that end, each doctor swallowed a LEGO part and timed how long it took to pass through their system.

The team developed two metrics for their study: the Stool Hardness and Transit (Shat) score and the Found and Retrieved Time (Fart) score.[1] Most test subjects passed their LEGO piece after one to three stools, or a Fart score of 1.7 days. One unlucky researcher couldn’t find his toy part, so he had to go through all of his stools for two weeks. The Shat score showed that the consistency of the stools did not change, nor did a looser stool lead to a quicker LEGO head retrieval.

None of the researchers experienced any pain due to the experiment. However, participant Grace Leo stressed that they only used small, smooth, plastic objects. Anything else would still require a medical consultation.

9 Chinese AI Mistakes Bus For Woman

Chinese businesswoman Dong Mingzhu was falsely accused of jaywalking by facial recognition software in the city of Ningbo after a camera spotted her face on the side of a bus.

The usage of such software has grown considerably in China in recent times, with an estimated 200 million surveillance cameras installed in the country. Some of them are used to spot jaywalkers, who are then named and shamed on large public screens.

There are still some bugs to work out, it seems. Last week, Dong Mingzhu was among the people accused of this heinous crime. She is the Chairwoman of Gree Electric, the largest air conditioning manufacturer in China. She is not, however, a jaywalker, at least not in this particular case. What the camera actually saw was an advertisement on the side of a bus that had Mingzhu’s face on it.[2] Ningbo traffic police admitted the mistake and have deleted the infraction from their system.

8 Bear On Patrol

Bear Walks Into California Police Station

A bear walks into a California Highway Patrol (CHP) office. That’s not the start of a joke; it’s what actually happened at the Donner Pass Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Facility in Truckee, California.

While the incident took place on the night of November 17, the CHP only released footage of their unexpected guest last Saturday. The bear stood up on its hind legs and opened the door by turning the handle. It then dropped back down on all fours and sauntered inside the office.[3]

A vending machine briefly caught the bear’s eye (or, more likely, its nose), but the reflection from the entrance door’s window showed that the animal walked further inside the building. After a few seconds, it made a hasty retreat through the same door after being chased off by a few likely startled police officers.

7 Australia’s Deadliest Animals

A recent chart created by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed which animals have caused the most fatalities in the country over the last decade. Surprisingly, it is none of the ones that give Australia its deadly reputation, but rather horses and cows.

Twenty of the 25 most venomous snakes in the world are found in Australia. There are also the sharks and the crocodiles, but none of them even cracked the top three. While they all certainly have the tools necessary to cause a lot of harm, actual fatal encounters with any of them are rare.

With 77 fatalities recorded between 2008 and 2017, horses and cows are considered the deadliest group of creatures in Australia, humans notwithstanding.[4] In second place were other mammals, with 60 fatalities, and a distant third were wasps, bees, and hornets, with 27.

The aforementioned sharks, snakes, and crocs are grouped closely together and are responsible for 66 deaths combined, still fewer than horses and cows.

6 A Different Path To Enlightenment

Photo credit: YouTube/Mirror Media

Ain’t no party like a Buddhist monk party, ’cause a Buddhist monk party got sex and drugs. A Taiwanese monk has been arrested after videos surfaced showing him smoking meth and hosting gay sex parties in a Buddhist temple.

Twenty-nine-year-old Hsieh Jen-hao, better known as Master Kai Hung, was secretary general of the Chinese Young Buddhist Association until a few weeks ago, when police raided his room at the Chongfo Temple. Inside, they found drugs, smoking pipes, condoms, erectile medication, anal relaxants, and a bottle of “holy water” which was actually filled with lube.[5] Authorities also found USB drives containing over 200 gigabytes of porn videos, some of which featured Kai Hung.

After the scandal broke, Taiwanese media reported that a source claimed Kai had previously been expelled from the Tongshan Temple for hosting sex parties before relocating to Chongfo alongside dozens of his followers. The monk admitted to taking drugs and filming pornography but denied giving drugs to anyone else. He was released on bail.

5 Biggest Knickers In The World

Photo credit: AP

Knickers the bovine has earned a reprieve from the slaughterhouse by becoming the largest steer in Australia.

Although Knickers has been repeatedly called a cow, he is actually a Holstein Friesian steer (neutered male). Even so, his size is gargantuan. He stands 194 centimeters (6’4″) at the shoulder and weighs 1,400 kilograms (3,086 lb).[6] He is still a few centimeters short of the world record held by an Italian steer called Bellino, who is 202 centimeters (6’6″) tall. Even so, it is believed that Knickers is the biggest one in Australia.

This earned him online fame but, more crucially, also ensured that he won’t be making a trip to the abattoir anytime soon. Even if he wanted, his owner Geoff Pearson couldn’t take Knickers because he is too big for the machinery.

Pearson doesn’t know how Knickers got to be this big, calling it a “freaky thing.” He believes that part of the reason has to do with the fact that the seven-year-old steer was allowed to grow to his full potential, whereas most are sold to processing plants before this happens. Even so, Pearson insists that Knickers is a standout who will live out his days on the farm as he becomes “part of the furniture.”

4 The Extinction Of The Siberian Unicorn

Photo credit: W.S. Van der Merwe

A recent study suggests that the “Siberian unicorn” went extinct much later than previously thought and walked the Earth alongside early humans.

Despite its fanciful name, the animal was a giant species of rhino with the scientific name of Elasmotherium sibericum. It was once established that it disappeared between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago. However, recent radiocarbon-dating of 23 specimens suggests that the creature survived in Central Asia and Eastern Europe until at least 39,000 years ago.[7] If true, then there would have been a brief overlap between the rhino and humans in the region.

The animal would have lived in areas corresponding to modern-day Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Northern China. It eventually died out after environmental changes negatively affected the grasses that made up the bulk of the creature’s diet. DNA taken from the samples showed that the Siberian unicorn diverged from the extant group of rhinos about 40 million years ago, meaning that an entire evolutionary line ended along with it.

Rhinos, in general, are slow to adapt to changes in their environment. Scientists are hoping that studying the factors that led to the extinction of other rhinos could help save the five species that still survive.

3 Back From The Dead

Photo credit: BBC Sport

An Irish football club is in hot water after faking a player’s death.

Last Saturday, Ballybrack FC was scheduled to play a match against Arklow Town in the Leinster Senior League. The game was postponed, however, after an official from Ballybrack announced that Spanish footballer Fernando Nuno LaFuente had died in a traffic accident.

LaFuente is perfectly fine. In fact, he doesn’t even play for Ballybrack anymore after moving to Galway. The Spaniard said that someone from his former club contacted him to let him know that he might hear news stories about being involved in an accident. However, he expected to hear reports about breaking a leg or something like that, not about him dying in a car crash.

Of course, once it was established that LaFuente was still alive, everyone speculated as to why the club would pull such a boneheaded move. Most assumed the goal was to delay the match with Arklow Town. LaFuente himself didn’t believe that Ballybrack was afraid to play but that the club had difficulties getting players, since most of them also have regular jobs.

The league has launched an investigation. Ballybrack FC released an official statement, calling the event “a gross error of judgment” and “a grave and unacceptable mistake” made by someone who was experiencing “severe personal difficulties.”[8]

2 Starbucks vs. YouPorn

YouPorn has banned Starbucks after the coffee giant has banned pornography.

Starbucks announced that it will implement an Internet filter starting in 2019 which will prevent customers from accessing adult content using the store’s WiFi. A day later, Charlie Hughes, vice president of YouPorn, one of the largest adult websites in the world, sent out a memo to the company’s employees. He announced that effective January 1, 2019, all Starbucks products will be banned from the YouPorn offices.[9]

It’s hard to tell at the moment if the latter ban is serious or a joke. A YouPorn spokesperson confirmed that the memo is genuine but didn’t comment on any possible repercussions an employee might face if they violated the embargo.

As for Starbucks, the company has been facing mounting pressure for a few years to block porn on its WiFi. It first claimed to be taking steps in that direction in 2016 but didn’t follow through. Now, the coffee juggernaut claims to have the solution which will block “egregious content” without inadvertently denying access to permitted online material.

1 A Formican Three-Way

Photo credit: Adrian Smith

A new study published in Insectes Sociaux explores the complicated relationship between a headhunter, a biter, and a kidnapper.

Formica archboldi is a species of ant known for its tendency to decapitate and collect the heads of trap-jaw ants. It uses the skulls to decorate its nest. We have known about this peculiar behavior for decades, but we didn’t know how or why it did it. It was particularly impressive, seeing as how the trap-jaw ant is a formidable foe—it’s larger, it has a potent stinger, and its characteristic powerful mandibles snap shut like a bear trap.

Adrian Smith, research biologist at North Carolina State University, has shown that F. archboldi employs quick bursts of toxic acid to temporarily neutralize its prey.[10] He then found that the scent produced by the headhunter ant is almost the same as that of the trap-jaw. He believes this to be the reason why F. archboldi strews its nests with the heads of its victims.

The most obvious explanation would suggest that masking its scent gives the headhunter ant some kind of advantage over its target. Smith, however, has a hypothesis on another reason why F. archboldi might want to smell like the trap-jaw ant.

Polyergus is a genus of dulotic, or slave-making, ants. As their name implies, they are parasites that infect other colonies and trick the workforce into working for them. F. archboldi is a common target for them, but the trap-jaw ant isn’t. Therefore, the skull decorations could be used to throw Polyergus off the scent. Smith stresses that this is just a hypothesis for now.


Read more offbeat stories you might have missed from November 24, 2018, and November 17, 2018.

fact checked by Jamie Frater