The Little Mermaid: Are mermaids real?

“A mermaid has not an immortal soul, nor can she obtain one unless she wins the love of a human being”

Fairyology Episode 8

Image result for the little mermaid

Hello and welcome to another fairyology episode, this time I pose the question is it better down where its wetter? Todays fairy tale is of course the little mermaid. Now for a quick run down of the story. So the disneys version is a little bit different from the original fairytale but today we’re going to look at the original version.

Theres a mermaid that lives with her widowed father in an underwater kingdom. When she turns 15 she can swim to the surface. She then becomes obsessed with the world on land and falls in love with a Prince she rescues. She asks her grandmother about the humans and she then tells the young mermaid (Ariel) and she tells her that humans live for a shorter time than the mermaids 300 years but when they die their soul lives forever. Where as when a mermaid dies they turn into sea foam and disappear (have a think about that when you’re next paddling in sea foam!). Ariel decides she wants to live on the land so visits a sea witch. The sea witch gives her a potion that will cause her to become human but she will never be able to return to the mermaid world and the only way she will obtain a soul is if the prince marries her.

Ariel then takes the potion and becomes human. She becomes good friends with the prince but he doesnt recognise her as the mermaid who recognises him. He instead marries a princess who he sees as the one who rescued him. Ariel is now heartbroken. Her sister comes to the rescue with a knife for her to kill the prince. Ariel goes to do the awful deed but cannot bring herself to kill him. She chucks the knife into the water and her body turns to foam. BUT! She instead turns into an earth spirit??? and uses her 300 years doing good deeds. Yes well I now understand why disney simplified this tale!

So the science in this one has to be could mermaids be real?! There are a few theories on this one so lets get to it!

Theory 1. Manatees

The main theory behind mermaid sightings is that they were actually manatees. Now manatees hardly look like Ariel but often these sightings came from seamen. In the past often boats would carry limited supplies meaning these sailors were often highly dehydrated and suffered with scurvy. All this together meant they often started to see things and the manatees appeared to them as attractive women. So next time you see a mermaid just have a check that it isn’t a manatee and maybe have an apple with some water!

Theory 2. Hoaxes

Mermaids that have been “found” in the past were often pretty horrific. They were very popular in freak shows of the victorian era and were “obviously” hoaxes. If you’re brave enough feel free to go and have a look at the photos online but often these were a combination of monkeys with fish. Yeah, its gross…. moving on!

Theory 3. “Of course they’re real they just haven’t been found yet.”

Mermaids are so fantastical and genetically having half human half fish is just not going to happen. However my mermaid lovers out there should always remain hopeful! The ocean is such a mystery to scientists even now so I’m just waiting for the documentary where Ariel makes her first appearance!

Hope you have enjoyed this silly foray into fairyology! See you all next time!

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Jack and The Beanstalk – What is the species of that beanstalk?

“Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman”

Fairyology Episode 7

Jack.png

Hello and welcome to the first of four fairy fridays! Today we’re taking on the fairytale of Jack and the Beanstalk. Lets first take a little run through this little tale! Once upon a time there was a woman and her son Jack. They lived on a small farm but were struggling with money. So the woman told her son to go and sell the cow they had. Instead he returns with three magic beans. Jacks mother was not best pleased about the sale. Jack planted a bean and went to sleep. The next day there was a giant beanstalk. Jack then climbed up the beanstalk to find a giants castle filled with gold, but it also had a white hen (that laid golden eggs) and a harp. Jack took the white hen and harp home as well as all the gold he could carry. His mother was ecstatic but then the giant came calling. Jack quickly chopped down the beanstalk and the giant fell and died! Then Jack his mother, the hen and the harp lived happily ever after (1).

So the beanstalk appeared overnight and it grew right into the heavens. Although I know of no plant to grow overnight there are some very speedy plants. So what could the beanstalk be? Well I have a couple of theories!

Theory 1: Bamboo

I’ve written before about the wonders of bamboo which you can check out here. One of its features is that bamboo is incredibly fast growing! It can grown up to 5 foot a year. Its also an incredibly strong plant  that would allow the perfect climbing frame for Jack to climb up (2).

Theory 2: Mile a minute Vine

As the name suggests this plant grows really fast. Otherwise known as Polygonum baldshuanicum can grow up to 13 feet in a year! The only issue is that it can be a little flimsy but this does make it believable for Jack to be able to cut it down quickly!

Theory 3: Royal Empress Tree

I had to include one tree and this one grows incredibly fast. It can grow up to 80 ft tall and has massive leaves which would be perfect stepping stones for Jack.(4)

Let me know what you think the beanstalk was on my twitter and I’ll see you all tomorrow!

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Sources

(1) = http://www.dltk-teach.com/rhymes/beanstalk/story.htm

(2) =http://www.bamboogarden.com/FAQ%20general.htm

(3) = http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/plants/plant_finder/plant_pages/313.shtml

(4) = https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/details?plantid=1388

Rapunzel: How strong is your hair?

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb thy golden stair.

Fairyology Episode 6

rapunzel_tower.jpg

Its been a while since I last dissected a fairytale to its bare scientific bones so here we are again. This time we’re discussing the wonder that is Rapunzel.  So as per usual lets do a quick recap of the story and see what we’re working with. A pregnant wife had severe cravings for green veggies. So her husband goes to the garden of a witch and steals her the veggies she wants. The witch then comes to their house and tells them the price of the veggies is her child. When the baby is born the witch steals her and puts her in a 70ft tower with no doors and just one window. The baby is called rapunzel and her hair grows and grows so much that the witch uses it to get in and out of the tower. One day Rapunzel is singing her tower which attracts the attention of a prince. They fall in love and he continues to visit her in secret. One day the witch catches them and she blinds the prince and casts Rapunzel out into the wilderness. They search for each other and eventually find each other and Rapunzel’s tears brings back the princes sight (1).

So I have a couple of questions, firstly how long would it take for her hair to be long enough for the witch and the prince to climb up the tower?

Well an interesting fact about hair growth is that your ethnicity can influence your hair type and in turn how fast it grows. A 2005 study stated that Asian hair grows the fastest and African hair grows the slowest. In all the various renditions of Rapunzel she has always been Caucasian. This study stated that female Caucasian hair grows at a rate of 5ft per year. Therefore it would take 14 years to grow 70ft worth of hair! Although my very simple maths does not account for a gradual slowing of hair growth as it got longer. This study also stated that diet influenced rate of hair growth and eating lots of fruits and vegetables can increase hair growth. So maybe thats Rapunzels magic secret!  As to how the witch got up the tower in those 14 years whilst her hair was growing well I wouldn’t like to say but she is a witch so maybe a broomstick or some secret stairs?!

My second question is what must her hair must have been made from to carry the weight of a fully grown human being?

A project completed by the natural history museum in London all about hair showed that a single strand of hair could support 100g of weight. The whole head of hair could support 12 tonnes of weight! Although I’d like to see someone try pick up that much weight with just their hair. Weight for weight its not as strong as steel but more like aluminum. Which is pretty awesome.

All in all hair is pretty cool, so go you Rapunzel and your wondrous locks! Hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of fairyology!

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Source

(1) – http://web.archive.org/web/20120122211814/http://german.berkeley.edu/poetry/rapunzel.php

 

Beauty and The Beast: Becoming a Beast

“I want adventure in the great wide somewhere! I want it more than I can tell!”

Fairyology Episode 5

beauty-and-the-beast.jpg

Here we go again, another fairy tale with some weird stuff going on inside. Luckily we have science to explain. Let’s get the silly thinking caps on because it’s about to get beasty.

In this episode we turn to the tale as old as time, it is of course Beauty and the beast. As always let me lay down the plot real quick for you.

A prince and his staff were put under a curse from an enchantress because he was arrogant. It turned him into a beast and the only  way he could break the spell was to learn to love another in his beast state. He must do this before the last petal fell from an enchanted rose. Ten years later an inventor trespassed on the beasts land and the beast imprisons him. His daughter Belle offers to take her fathers place and promises to stay there forever. Over time they fall in love and when they kiss the beast turns back into a prince (1).

Wait let’s scroll back one second, a man who turned into a beast! Lets break that one down. Could this happen in real life? Well in typical fairyology style I have a few theories!

Theory 1: Hypertrichosis

I’ve written about this condition a while a go when talking about werewolves! As the beast is similar to a werewolf this condition is quite a good theory. Hypertrichosis is a genetic condition where humans grow an abnormal amount of hair. The obvious area being all over the face (2). Many people in the past who have this condition have been a part of freak shows, but if a man who had it also had a lot of money and a big house he might lock himself away just like the beast.

Theory 2: Clinical lycanthropy

This is another condition but instead is one of the psyche. This is a very rare form of delusion where the patient believes they can turn into a werewolf (3).  Perhaps the beast was a man all along and when he fell in love with Belle she magically cured his psychosis!

Of course these theories are entirely silly but nevertheless the beauty and the beast is a fantastic story! Hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of fairyology. If you have any tales you’d like me to deconstruct put it in the comments or drop me a tweet over @thatbiologist!

Sources

(1) – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101414/plotsummary

(2) – Wendelin, D.; Pope, D.; Mallory, S. (2003). “Hypertrichosis”. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 48 (2): 161–179

(3) – Garlipp P, Gödecke-Koch T, Dietrich DE, Haltenhof H (January 2004). “Lycanthropy–psychopathological and psychodynamical aspects”. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 109 (1): 19–22.

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Thumbelina: A True Story!

“Let me be your wings!”

Fairyology: Episode 4

Image result for thumbelinaHello! It’s been far too long since last I posted a fairyology. It’s one of my favourite series to write. So for this episode I thought I would continue on my theme from last weeks BAM and this one is also about little things. I thought I would tell you the true story of the fairy tale Thumbelina!

Now for those who might not know the tale this is the story of Thumbelina. There once was  a lonely old woman. Who was given a seed, and when the plant grew it flowered and out comes Thumbelina. A very small girl the size of a thumb who slept in a walnut shell. She became lonely because she was the only person her size. She then gets stolen by a mother toad to become one of her sons wife. She’s rescued by a fairy prince who just so happens to be the same size as her and then they fall madly in love. When they get married she sprouts wings and then they live happily ever after (1). This one is an ultra cute story. I used to watch the movie a lot when I was a kid.

So as for Thumbelina, unfortunately there aren’t any cases of little people growing wings and becoming fairy’s. Believe me I checked! However there are many cases of very little people. So for this round of fairyology I thought I could tell you about three little people.

Person 1 = Caroline Crachami – The Sicilian Fairy

Caroline is on record as being one of the smallest humans ever. She only lived to the age of 9 and died in 1824. She was recorded as being around 50cm at death but when she was born she was only 20 cm tall. It is presumed she had primordial dwarfism. Unfortunatly during her life she was a source of entertainment and spent most of her life in different exhibits being shown off by a man who pretended to be her father. When she died her real father tried to stop her autopsy and to bring her back to be burried at home but by the time he arrived her body had already been moved (2). Now her skeleton is in the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons in London (3).

Person 2 – Chandra Bahadur Dangi

Another primordial dwarf, Dangi grew to 54.6cm. He was considered the shortest man in recorded history and earned his place in the Guiness World Records in 2012. He unlike Caroline lived to the ripe old age of 75 and died just last year. Prior to 2012 he had never left his home village in Nepal but his world record led him to travel all over the world which was a dream of his (4).

Person 3 – Pauline Musters – Princess Pauline

Musters is the smallest adult woman ever recorded. She was recorded as 58 cm tall and lived to the age of 19. She died in 1895 from pneumonia in New York. Although during those 19 years she packed in a lot constantly on tours and exhibitions, she earned the title of Princess Pauline. She stole the hearts of the people she saw and was known for wearing extravagant gowns (5).

Although these three aren’t quite as small as thumbelina, they all certainly made their mark on the world. Hope you’ve enjoyed this little blog! If you have any future suggestions for more fairyology feel free to drop me a comment or tell me on my social medias, I’m all over the internet!

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Sources

(1) – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0111419/synopsis?ref_=ttpl_pl_syn

(2) – http://www.thehumanmarvels.com/caroline-crachami-the-sicilian-fairy/

(3) – http://thelondondead.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/caroline-crachami-sicilian-fairy.html

(4) – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/11228351/Worlds-tallest-man-comes-eye-to-eye-with-worlds-smallest-man-for-Guinness-World-Records-Day.html

(5) – http://www.thehumanmarvels.com/pauline-musters-the-little-princess/

Snow White: Could An Apple Kill?

“How I wish that I had a daughter that had skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony.”

Fairyology Episode 3

599936-snow_white1_large.jpgToday we turn our attention to the well-wishing, house-cleaning, magic-mirroring princess. It’s Snow White! Now if for some strange reason you’ve been living under a rock for the post 2000 years and don’t know this particular princess let me give you a little run down of the story.

A queen wished for a daughter that had everything in the quote above. Luckily for this queen her wish was granted and they called the baby Snow White however she died shortly after giving birth. So her king had to look after Snow White. Then the king gets remarried, now you must know that this isn’t going to be good. Snows step mother has this mirror and it’s magic. Her step mum talks to the mirror everyday and asks it who is the fairest of them all. Now all while snow is growing up it always says the she is the fairest. Until (dun, dun duuuuuhhh) it says that Snow is now the fairest! So the evil step mum orders Snow killed. The man charged with this actually just squirrels her away into the woods where she lives with seven dwarfs. The evil queen finds out and then goes hunting for her. After several failed plots she succeeds with a poison apple which puts Snow into a deep sleep. Lucky for Snow her boyf comes to her rescue and wakes her with true loves kiss. Happy ending woohoo! (1)

But let’s rewind one hot second, a poisoned apple! Thats a biology goldmine! What could’ve poisoned it! Well as per usual I’ve come up with some theories, let’s get stuck in!

Theory 1 = Poison Hemlock

1Now way back when I did a post on poison hemlock, it sparked my series the poisons
collection. So I won’t go into the intricacy’s of this wonderful poisonous plant instead I’ll skip to how this plant could be linked to the poisoned apple. This plants poisons are slow working but they are also extremely potent. When consumed the poisons cause paralysis which works well with the story of Snow going into a deep sleep. All parts of the plant contains the poisons so you wouldn’t need much to lace the apple for it to take effect. (2) From history this plant has been used to kill lots of people most famously Socrates! (3) This could have easily been the perfect plan for the evil queen, so how did she survive with this theory? Well clearly the Prince gave snow the antidote with his kiss. Whatever lip balm he uses I want it!

Theory 2 = Deadly Nightshade

300px-Atropa_belladonna_003
Another plant that has been featured on the poisons collection in this post. Deadly Nightshade grows across Europe (where Snow White is set). It has some really edible looking berries, filled with poison that again causes paralysis. It’s said that the effects work quite quickly. Although the most potent part of the plant is considered to be the root; a handful of berry juice inserted into the apple would be enough! (4).

Theory 3 = The Apple Itself? 

Did you know that apple seeds contain cyanide! Yeah however due to the hard coating outside the seed the body rarely even sees the cyanide even if you do swallow a seed. So how would this work for cyanide to be the poison in the apple? Firstly the evil queen would have to produce a really really seedy apple. The amount of cyanide in each seed is so minimal you would need alot of seeds to do any harm. Secondly she would have to make the coating on the seeds weaker in some way or made sure snow chewed it very thoroughly. Then and only then would the cyanide be able to do some damage. Yeah that’s probably not that likely!

In conclusion I really hope you’ve enjoyed this episode, it was inspired by a poster I did way back in my third year of my bachelors degree. Til’ next time check out my links below and come say hi on your social media of choice!

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Sources

(1) = http://gb.imdb.com/title/tt0029583/plotsummary

(2) = http://www.thepoisongarden.co.uk/atoz/conium_maculatum.htm

(3) = http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/socrates.htm

(4) = http://www.thepoisongarden.co.uk/atoz/atropa_belladonna.htm

(5) = https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/oct/11/cyanide-in-fruit-seeds-how-dangerous-is-an-apple

 

Peter Pan: The Cure To Ageing?

“All children, except one, grow up.”

Fairyology Episode 2

800px-Peter_Pan_statue_in_Kensington_Gardens_in_the_City_of_Westminster_in_London,_spring_2013_(12).JPGAre you ready for some more silly science! I know I am! Today we turn our attention to the story of Peter Pan. Don’t know who that is? Well firstly where have you been! Nevertheless I will give a quick run down. Peter is a magical boy who lives in Never Land. An island you can only get to be flying towards the second star on the right and straight on til morning. As well as being able to fly Peter also never ages. Traditionally he is dressed in green and fights pirates (most famously captain hook), faces mermaids and has a group of friends called the Lost Boys (1).

Although my question today is what could stop Peter Pan from never growing up? Is there something in the world of science to explain what on Never Land could stop this from happening.

I think to fully understand this we must first look at why ageing happens in the first place. There are two theories behind this, first is genetics. This theory suggests that we have a gene or a collection of genes that tells us how long we are supposed to live. The other theory says that we can effectively keep going until our body and/or our DNA becomes to heavily damaged to keep going (2). As to which one is correct well it’s probably a combination of the two.

So how did Peter Pan avoid ageing altogether; well I’ve come up with three theories as to how Peter could have stopped growing up. *I will repeat, this is not meant to be taken seriously just a bit of silly science and some creative juices!*

Theory 1: Genetic Engineering

As previously discussed, there is a potential link between our genes and how long we’re meant to live. So what if there was a way to turn that gene off or manipulate it in some way, potentially stopping the process of ageing. This process is actually called genetic regulation and is a normal part of development (3) but we’re talking about a more extreme version. If Peters DNA was manipulated that could potentially stop his ageing.

Theory 2: Hormone Replacements

There are hormones for quite literally everything. They regulate alot of the body’s normal processes. Human Growth hormone (hGH) is important for normal growth and development, as well as for maintaining tissues and organs. It is made by the pituitary gland, a pea-sized structure located at the base of the brain. Although there is no conclusive evidence that hGH can prevent aging or halt age-related physical decline, some clinics market hGH for that purpose, and some people spend a great deal of money on such supplements (4). What if in some magical pool in never land, there is just a heck of alot of hGH, perhaps Peter Pan could prevent his ageing that way.

Theory 3: Magic!

Obviously, it could just be the magic of Never land!

Who knows maybe one of those theories is true. One thing I know definitely to be true is that all you need is faith, trust and a little bit of pixie dust! I hope you’ve really enjoyed this episode, please do let me know which theory you enjoyed the most in the comments, and give this blog a share if you did enjoy it!

Sources

(1) = http://www.literatureproject.com/peter-pan/peter-pan_1.htm

(2) = http://genetics.thetech.org/original_news/news10

(3) = https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/howgeneswork/geneonoff

(4) = https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/can-we-prevent-aging

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Sleeping Beauty – The Pin Prick Coma

Fairyology Episode 1

hqdefaultThe story of sleeping beauty (if you didn’t already know) is about the princess aurora. A jealous fairy named Maleficent casts a sleeping curse on her if she is to ever prick her finger on the pin of a spinning wheel. Although every effort is taken to stop this from happening, she pricks her fingers and falls in to a deep sleep (1). Or a long those lines from my research fairy tales change dependant on which person you talk to.

 

So where’s the science behind this story. Science is everywhere so surely it’s here! I’ve come up with three scientific theories as to why a pin prick could cause you to fall in to a coma! Enjoy

DISCLAIMER: Be prepared for some silliness!

Theory 1: Poison

I’ve written a lot about poisons here on ThatBiologist before, specifically in The Poisons Collection. Nevertheless poison could be the reason for her coma. If the pin on the spinning wheel was laced with poison, Aurora pricking her finger on the pin could be enough with the right concentrations to cause a coma. Potential poisons could be developed from the plants: Oleander, Hemlock, Rhododendron and lily of the valley! Although something more direct could be cyanide poisoning. Poison could work by stopping the cells ability to use oxygen. The lack of oxygen particularly in the brain could cause the coma (2).

Theory 2: Trauma

The second theory goes like this, Aurora goes into the room with the spinning wheel, pricks her finger on the spinning wheel and through the shock falls and hits her head. Her brain from the trauma starts to swell and this causes a coma (3). Simple right! How the princes kiss wakes her well we will just ignore that bit for now.

Theory 3: Perhaps she needed a Snickers?

6216213764_707090e430_bIf the beloved princess aurora suffered with diabetes her coma could have been a diabetic one. Diabetic comas can be caused by hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is when there is a low blood sugar level which can in extreme cases cause a loss of conciousness. It can either be caused by not having enough food, an excess of insulin, vigorous exercise or excessive drinking of alcohol (4).

But how does that relate to the pin prick I hear you ask. Well if the pin on the spinning wheel had been laced with an excessive amount of insulin this could have caused her coma. Yes I know this is a really weak theory but that’s not the point!

BONUS Theory 4: Magic

Who says magic isn’t science anyway!

To conclude there may be no scientific reasoning behind this story, it is a fairy tale after all but it was fun trying! Hope you’ve enjoyed this first episode of fairyology! Got plenty more to come!

Sources

1 = http://shortstoriesshort.com/story/sleeping-beauty/

2 = http://www.nap.edu/read/4795/chapter/24

3 = http://www.webmd.com/brain/coma-types-causes-treatments-prognosis

4 = http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetic-coma/basics/causes/con-20025691

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The Study of Fairytales: Fairyology?

Hello! Happy Saturday to you!

Over my time in my undergrad I created a few assignments that deserved a wider audience than just my tutors and peers, so I bring them to you! The first was my farmers daughter series, the second was my harry potter post and now I present the third, I created a poster in a group about poison plants and we centred it around whether an apple could kill Snow White as it does in the humble fairytale. Now I’ve created a series that will start up in 2016 looking at all of the fairytales!

Here are some of the posts you can look forward to in 2016:

Snow White: Could An Apple Kill?

Sleeping Beauty: Pin Pricks = Coma?

Aladdin: A master class in sleight of hand

Cinderella: The Power of a Pumpkin

Peter Pan: Why do we have to grow up?

I hope you’re excited because I am!

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