Photography by ThatBiologist – Giverny, France – Claude Monet’s Garden – 24/10/2017

On a family holiday to Normandy we stopped in on Monet’s house. I instantly fell in love with the beautiful garden and could have spent hours taking pictures of all the beautiful plants. However, here are 12 of my favourite images:

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The Wicked Witch of The West: Death By Water!

Hello and welcome to the last episode of fairyology! I’ve absolutely loved writing these blogs but I have to make way for new series in the new year.

 

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I thought I’d finish with one of my favourite stories of all time which is the Wonderful Wizard of Oz! It’s the classic tale of a girl named Dorothy alongside her dog Toto who explore the land of Oz. They go along a yellow brick road meeting various characters along the way and defeat the wicked witch of the west by throwing a bucket of water on her! They then get to go home back to Kansas! If you haven’t seen the film or read the book it is quite trippy but none the less a classic!

However we’re here to decode how someone might die from having a bucket of water thrown on them. Well lets first make the assumption that she did not choke on some inhaled water as she does notoriously scream out “I’m melting”. Image result for wicked witch of the westThis has led me to find one very rare disorder which could explain things and it’s called Aquagenic urticaria. This causes the skin to break out in itchy and painful white or red hives a few minutes after direct contact with water of any temperature. According to a study published in the journal Annals of Dermatology, fewer than 100 cases of aquagenic urticaria have been recorded in the scientific literature since the condition was first described in 1964. Because the condition is so rare there is little known about what causes it and why the reaction happens.

This condition could have made the witch feel as though she was melting when in fact if the water was removed the rash should fade within thirty to sixty minutes, nevertheless by this point Dorothy had clicked her heels and was home in Kansas!

And that brings fairyology to a close! Thank you for reading all my very weird and silly science!

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The Science of Firework Colours

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, The Gunpowder Treason and plot”

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On this last day of ThatBiologist does Halloween we’re going to explore the science of fireworks! A long time a go I did a 6 facts in 60 seconds post on fireworks here. However today we’re going into more detail on firework colours!

Explosions have been around for a very long time and fireworks have often been used as a sign of celebration. Chinese people are believed to have made explosive rockets in the 6th century CE during the Sung dynasty (960–1279CE). The word “firework” comes from the Greek word pyrotechnics, which means “fire art” or “fire skill”. Fireworks are in essence a controlled explosion inside a missile.

The beautiful colours and styles of fireworks come from a chemical reaction. How it works is that there will be a particular metal compound and an explosion. The metal reacts with the explosion to produce a colour. Sodium compounds give yellow and orange, for example, copper and barium salts give green or blue, and calcium or strontium make red.

Here’s a very cool infographic from Compound Chem explaining that in a bit more detail:

Image result for firework chemical reaction

Make sure you stay safe this guy fawkes night as fireworks are very dangerous. This brings this years ThatBiologist Does Halloween to a close. I hope you’ve enjoyed this week of posts. Feel free to let me know your favourites with a quick tweet or in the comments below!

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Are Ghosts Real?

I’ve written a few posts like this in past years when ThatBiologist has done Halloween! I asked whether Vampires were real, Werewolves were real and finally whether zombies were real! But today I’m asking could ghosts be real?!

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Ghosts, thanks to popular culture, come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. From orbs to see through figures, ghosts come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes. Ghosts are popularly theorized to be spirits of people that have passed away. There are thousands of famous ghost stories including people seeing the ghost of Anne Boleyn. Another ghostly case was that of Freddie Jackson who was a mechanic and died in World War I. The story goes that he did not want to be left out of a photo of his squadron even after death and makes an appearance in this photo:

Freddy Jackson

However are ghosts actually real? Many claim that ghosts are the mind playing tricks on you. After all many ghost stories are set in creepy, dark and quiet places. With the right story the mind might simply see what it wants to see and hear what it wants to hear.

Ghosts became very popular in the Victorian era particularly in fiction. In this time things were changing with the industrial revolution. Lighting was often provided by gas lights, these lights emitted carbon monoxide causing more people to have hallucinations. Photography allowed for photos to become “proof” of these phenomenons when in reality these photos were faked with quite literally smoke and mirrors.

In conclusion, are ghosts real? Well who am I to give a definitive answer. Although many cases of ghosts are probably a trick of the eye or spending a little too much time by a gas light, maybe just maybe one or two stories could be true.

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Where would we be without decay?

Decay is one of the most essential things that happens on this earth. Not that you really notice it happening in your day to day life but I can assure you would notice it really quickly if it stopped happening.

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What is decay?

According to the dictionary decay is: “the state or process of rotting or decomposition”. Or in other words when it is the process that breaks down a once living thing.

How does decay work?

Decay works because of organisms known as decomposers which are things like bacteria and fungi. These are organisms that literally live off of dead things and break them down. Some decomposers live in leaves or hang out in the guts of dead animals. These fungi and bacteria act like built-in destructors. Then eventually as things are decomposed into the soil more single celled organisms will join in on the decay party.

What would happen if decay stopped happening?

Life is a cycle. Without things dying we would not have life! Specifically things would stop living because of carbon. The process of decay releases carbon into the environment which allows for new life. This is effectively how the carbon cycle works!

So in short things would get grizzly pretty fast! However, if organisms such as insects stopped decaying then we would run out of room really quickly as well!

Can you stop decay?

Well as I just said you probably wouldn’t want to however, there are processes that stop or at least slow down rates of decay.  This can include in extreme environmental conditions such as the extreme cold and in bogs.

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5 Things You Didn’t Know About Pumpkins!

Pumpkins are synonymous with the spooky time of year! Here are five things you didn’t know about them:

Number 1: The largest pumpkin ever grown was just under 922 kilograms and was the size of a small car!

Number 2: The first jack o lanterns were not carved in pumpkins. They were carved in turnips as they were more readily available for the Celtic holiday of Samhain (where the practice comes from). It wasn’t until 1867 when jack o lanterns were carved in pumpkins!

Number 3: Pumpkins are actually a fruit!

Number 4: Every part of the pumpkin plant is edible. There are recipes for all bits of the pumpkin including the flowers and leaves. My personal favourite part of a pumpkin to eat is the seeds!

Number 5: There are about 42 different types of pumpkin that come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes!

Have you carved a pumpkin this year? Send me a picture over on my twitter!!

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Hansel and Gretel: Don’t Wander Off!

Happy Halloween!

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“he left a trail of crumbs behind him to mark the way”

Fairyology Episode 9

It has been a while since we delved into the land of silly science and spoke about fairy tales. For those who are new here, fairyology is all about dissecting fairy tales to find the science and as it is Halloween today our fairy tale is a little bit dark!

Image result for hansel and gretel storyThe story of Hansel and Gretel is already quite dark, I’m sure you know this particular story but nevertheless here’s a quick recap. A wood cutter lives in the woods with his two children and their evil step mother. Not having enough food to eat the step mother orders the wood cutter to take the children named Hansel and Gretel into the woods and to leave them there. The children over hear the story and Hansel collects some white pebbles. When they leave Hansel drops the pebbles to mark their way home and the plan works! The next day the wood cutter is forced to try again but Hansel only had some old bread. He tries to leaves crumbs behind him but they are eaten by birds. Hansel and Gretel then find a house made of sweets, chocolate and biscuits. As the children were so hungry they start to eat the house. The witch who lives there kidnaps them and makes Gretel do the housework. She fattens the kids up so she can eat them one day. Then as the witch is heating the oven to cook them, Gretel pushes her in and locks the door. She rescues her brother and find the witches money. They find their home and are told by the wood cutter that their step mother has died and they all live happily ever after.

It really is a grizzly fairy tale with the worst part being that the witch wanted to cook them… Why! Well here is one particular theory about the truth of this story.

Hansel and Gretel was written somewhere around the 17th century. However, in the 12th century, England and most of Europe was afflicted by a great famine. Not long after it was followed by the Black Death, which is now known to be a mass outbreak of bubonic plague, it wasn’t a great time to be alive. In this time many parents abandoned children or children became orphans. Leaving many little Hansel and Gretels running around forests by themselves.

Then on to the topic of witches. In this time, if you were a woman, pretty much if you did anything out of the ordinary you could be accused of being a witch.  This included if you were pretty, had a lot of money or if you lived alone like the witch in the story. So that solves the truth behind this one, this poor lady could have been completely innocent… apart from the cannibalism part. Now unfortunately due to the famine and general death of the area, cannibalism was more common in the 12th century than you would like to think. Therefore the possibility of someone wanting to eat a child could have been an entirely true story. Or of course it could be a great tale to stop children from roaming to far away!

Not a lot of science in this fairy tale today but it certainly is a spooky tale!

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7 Weird Things That Can Kill You!

Welcome to the first post of ThatBiologist Does Halloween! An entire week dedicated to the goulish things in the world of biology. Today I’m going to jump in the deep end with 10 weird deaths.

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7 – Anthrax

Anthrax is an infection caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. It can affect the lungs, skin and cause gastrointestinal infections too. It can be extremely deadly without treatment and extremely uncomfortable. Anthrax spores have been used as biological warfare in the past. However, one weird death caused by Anthrax was of US congressman Michael F. Farley in 1921 when his shaving brush was infected with Anthrax.

 

6 – Carrot Juice

Carrots are delicious and nutritious! Although they do not actually provide any form of night vision, they are a great source of vitamin A as well as having vitamins K and B6. However, Basil Brown used to drink a gallon of carrot juice a day in the belief it would make him healthy. In 1974 he died after warning that this behavior would cause damage to his liver and overdosing on vitamin A.

5 – Robots

Many of our every day items are produced by robots as well as almost everything we do. The first human ever to be killed by a robot goes to Robert Williams who worked in a Ford assembly line. He was hit by a robotic arm and subsequently died.

4 – Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is a viral disease and the infection is common in parts of Africa, South America, Central America and the Caribbean. In some cases the disease can be fatal but a standard infection can cause symptoms such as  mild infection with fever, headache, chills, back pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle pain, nausea, and vomiting. Vomiting up blood and kidney failure are some of the more severe symptoms. It is spread by mosquito bites and the slightly weird death here is in 1900, American physician Jesse William Lazear tried to prove that Yellow Fever was transmitted by mosquitoes by letting infected mosquitoes bite him. He then contracted the disease and died proving himself right!

3 – Laughing

Some say laughter is the best medicine and most of the time it is. However there have been a few cases of death from laughter. One such case was of Alex Mitchell, he laughed at a TV programme for 25 minutes solid. He finally stopped and died from suffocation causing heart failure.

2 – Snakes

Snakes are wonderfully strange creatures and some are highly poisonous. The poisons can have all sorts of affects which can include causing organ failure leading to death. However, many snakes are very peaceful creatures and will run away first and if you see a snake it’s often better to turn and walk away too! Mack Wolford never got that message though. He was a pastor that believed Christians should handle snakes in order to show their faith in god. He however died from a rattlesnake bite in 2012. Stay away from snakes kids!

1 – Explosive powder

Explosions are dangerous I didn’t need to tell you that. We see enough evidence of it on the news. You would think then if ever you had to work with an explosive powder you would be hyper aware of its dangerous properties! Not for Vladimir Likhonos who had a habit of dropping his gum in citric acid powder to increase the sour flavor. He one day mixed up the two powers causing him to chew the explosive powder and consequently blow off his jaw!

 

It has amazed me some of the deaths I read researching this piece! I guess its a little reminder to always be grateful for what you have, anyway happy Halloween! See you tomorrow!

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This Is Halloween

Yes it’s back! Back again!

For it’s third year!

ThatBiologist is Doing Halloween!!!!!

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If you haven’t been following ThatBiologist for over a year you might not know but Halloween is one of my favourite times of year! There are so many creepy bits of Biology and this is the perfect time to talk about it! So for this year we are doing a full 7 days of creepy posts! I hope you enjoy this creepy time of year!

That Biologist Does Halloween 2017!

Monday – Seven Weird Things That Can Kill You

Tuesday – The Darkest Fairytale – Episode 9 of Fairyology is getting spooky!

Wednesday – 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Pumpkins!

Thursday – Where would we be without decay?

Friday – Blog break – everyone dance to the monster mash instead!

Saturday – Ghosts and other apparitions!

Sunday – The Science of Firework Colours – As it is guy fawkes we have to celebrate!

Can’t wait to get spooky with you all!

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The Monthly Species – October

I thought it was high time to include another bird on this years Monthly Species list. Today I wanted to introduce you to a very small owl species and it is very aptly name. This month’s monthly species is the Little Owl!

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Scientific Classification:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae
Genus: Athene
Species: A. noctua

Size: The little owl is usually 22 centimetres (8.7 in) in length with a wingspan of 56 centimetres (22 in) for both sexes, and weighs about 180 grams (6.3 oz).

Diet: They can eat small mammals (like mice), beetles and worms.

Life Expectancy: Sixteen years

Mochuelo Común ( Athene noctua )(1).jpgReproduction: Pairs will breed annually with a clutch of usually 3 to 5 eggs. Males will bring food to female birds who incubate the eggs. The young leave the nest at about seven weeks, and can fly a week or two later. Usually there is a single brood but when food is abundant, there may be two. Pairs can bond for many years and even until one of the pair die. The pairs will often remain together all year round.

Conservation: Breeding Bird Survey data suggest that Little owl numbers are declining, with the UK population estimated to be down by 24 per cent between 1995 and 2008. They are currently listed as a Least Concern species on the IUCN red list.

The Coolest Thing Ever About This Species: The little owl is closely associated with the Greek goddess Athena and the Roman goddess Minerva, and hence represents wisdom and knowledge.

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