“The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?”
– Edgar Allen Poe
The world is incredibly strange. So strange, in fact, that many of us do our best not to think about all the things that go bump in the night… We try to focus on the happy, the cheerful, the bright and the bouncy. And maybe, just maybe, we subconsciously do our best to pretend that the really twisted aspects of life on Earth just don’t exist.
At the same time, though, there is a magnetic pull to the macabre. Much like the aftermath of a car-crash, or the allure of a horror movie, for some reason even those of us who prefer to imagine a perfectly happy world, are drawn by morbid curiosity to understand the dark side of life. It seems to be human nature.
So, in service of that strange fascination, we’ve collected this compendium of life’s darkest facets. But please remember: we do so only to help you understand the world around you. What you do with this information is entirely up to you…
43. Strange Disappearances
Over 1,600 people have vanished in US National Parks, never to be seen or heard from ever again. After 9/11, the US government put in place an analysis and reporting system so that missing people could be found more easily. Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped people from disappearing in National Parks… and since tracking these people is often virtually impossible, many of them tend to stay missing.
42. Poo Poo Power
Britain has a bus that relies on human feces to run. Yes, seriously! It’s known as the Biobus and seats 40 people. It runs on biomethane gas, which is created through the treatment of sewage. The waste produced every year by five people can give one bus a full tank of gas, and it can travel up to 299 kilometers (186 miles) before needing to refuel.
41. The Heart Attack Gun
A 1975 Congressional testimony revealed the CIA had a created a gun that could give you a heart attack. It shot darts that left a tiny red dot. The poison worked quickly, but most people didn’t feel a thing until it was too late. The poison darts could even penetrate clothing. It was also impossible to detect during an autopsy because the poison would dissolve fairly quickly.
40. I Call It Mouth-Butt
Anemone, sea sponges, and jellyfish use their mouth as an anus. They only have one hole that acts as a gut opener, so they have to use it to both eat and poop. Talk about a potty mouth! Get it?!
In the immortal words of Marlin the Clownfish (that’s Nemo’s dad, to you non-Pixar fans): “With friends like these, who needs Anemones??”
39. Steven Spielberg’s…Cow’s?
Despite the persistent fear people have of being killed and eaten by a shark, that should really be among the least of your worries. It turns out, if you crunch the numbers, that your odds of getting trampled and killed by a cow are far, far higher: Cows kill about 5 times more people than sharks every year in the U.S.
Don’t tell Hollywood though. The last thing we need is a big summer blockbuster featuring Bessie the Beast, a radioactive cow with a taste for man-flesh, terrorizing some small, quiet rural town.
38. Men Expire Early
Overall, the life expectancy among Russian men is fairly low at 64 years old, but a study found that one out of four will pass away before they hit 55. However, unsurprisingly, the risk of dying before that increases even more in those who drink three or more half-liter bottles of vodka per week. Because where else would that be a factor?
37. Killers Everywhere
After some intense calculations, an industrious Reddit user has determined that you will likely walk past around 16 murderers at one point or another in your lifetime. Bet you can’t guess who!
One hint: if you pass anyone walking around town with a mask like the one below, maybe don’t spend too much time with them.
36. Keep Your Chin Up
China trains their paramilitary police with a gruelling technique that’s a pain in the neck, literally. To get them to stand up straight they are made to wear crosses on their backs, but they are also forced to stick pins facing straight upward through their collars, so that if their posture slips, they’ll be jabbed in the throat.
Now that’s one heck of an incentive not to slouch. Maybe all those articles and warnings we’ve heard about how texting is going to ruin teen’s posture are overlooking the obvious solution. Just get H&M to start selling t-shirts with those babies sewed in, and we’ll have a generation of kids standing straighter than army sergeants.
35. If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It
Humans have been burying their dead for eons—the earliest grave sites are believed to have been located in Pontnewydd Cave, Wales and Atapuerca, Spain. It seems to be an activity which simply comes naturally to us. Instinctive—like laughter, or speech.
In fact, Neanderthals—who lived among early Homo sapiens—also most likely buried their dead. The oldest confirmed human burial site is in Israel’s Tabun Cave, where remains have been found that are 100,000 years old.
The theories behind this behaviour number in the hundreds, and range from the rational and probable, to the unbelievable and bizarre. For example, some scientists have speculated that burial is an evolved behavior, which serves as a technique for avoiding the spread of disease from rotting corpses. Meanwhile, though, there are those who think there may be more superstitious origins of the habit: like for example, that we may have begun burying our dead in order to prevent the possibility of their rising again…
P.S. One more interesting tidbit: while a few other species have been observed hosting something akin to funerals (elephants, for example, sometimes stand watch over the body of a fallen friend for days), humans are the only animals on Earth who bury their dead. Monkeys, meanwhile, despite being our biological cousins, have actually been seen to eat their departed.
That’s right: cannibal chimps.
Butterflies occasionally exhibit a strange behaviour known as “mud puddling.” They look for moist substances such as mud, rotting plant matter, or even dung and blood, and they suck up the fluid to gain nutrients from it that aren’t in their usual diet. Species like the Halpe butterflies are particularly attracted to the sweat on human skin as well as tears and blood.
33. Hairy Protection
China has created stockings full of leg hair that young women can wear. The purpose of this hairy invention is to allow women to wear shorts and skirts without the fear of attracting men’s attention, as most men typically don’t really want to see bushy-haired legs on a woman. Honestly? Genius idea.
32. The Mysteries of Age
The reason behind why exactly we die of old age continues to elude us. One theory is that since throughout history most creatures die before they get the chance to reach old age, there was never any chance for natural selection to screen out the genes that ultimately damage and kill us when we get old.
31. Running Around Like A… You Know…
In 1945, a farmer in Colorado cut the head off of a chicken, but left an ear, most of its brain and its jugular vein in place. The chicken lived for another 18 months and was fed milk and water through its esophagus using an eyedropper. The farmer named it “Mike the Headless Chicken” and charged guests 25 cents to meet the animal. Yeah, gross.
30. Finally, a Practical Use for 3D Printing
Vincent van Gogh is one of the most famous painters of all time. Unfortunately, he also suffered from mental illness his entire life, and he cut off his own ear while in a completely erratic mental state. Over a century later, a German artist named Diemut Strebe, who lives in Boston, used the genetic material from one of Van Gogh’s descendants to 3D print a replica of his ear out of living cells. It’s kept alive using a nourishing liquid.
29. You See Dead People? I AM Dead People
Cotard’s Syndrome is a rare mental condition that convinces patients that they aren’t actually alive. In some cases, the patient thinks they’ve lost blood, body parts, organs, or their soul, which leads them to believe that they are dead. Most of these cases are the result of psychosis, a medical condition, or mood disorders, and Cotard’s is usually treated with electroconvulsive techniques (ECT) rather than with pills.
28. Bat Bombs
In 1942, a dentist from Pennsylvania named Lytle S. Adams sent a proposal to the White House suggesting they strap small bombs to bats that would be sent to destroy Japanese cities. The bats would fly into the attics of buildings, then all the bombs could be detonated at once, causing widespread chaos and destruction. Adams came up with this idea after the attack on Pearl Harbor. President Roosevelt and the military allegedly liked the plan, but they opted for the nuclear bomb instead.
27. Germs Everywhere!
Just about everything you touch throughout the day contains more bacteria than the toilet bowl that you literally defecate in. Your desk, grocery cart, cell phone, restaurant menu, ATM, and even your kitchen sink are littered with bacteria that will have you wearing Kleenex boxes on your feet and designing airplanes in no time!
26. Green River Ran Red
Gary Ridgway was known as The Green River Killer and may very well have been one of the most prolific serial killers in American history. 49 victims were proven to be his handy work, but he has confessed to killing over 71 women, and investigators believed the number ranges closer to 90. Ridgway allegedly strangled and dumped his victims’ bodies in remote areas between 1981 and 2001. He was caught and is in prison for life. Phew!
25. Louse Got Your Tongue?
There’s a parasite known as Cymothoa Exigua, or the Tongue-Eating Louse, that does basically what it sounds like. It enters a fish’s mouth through the gills and latches on at the base of the tongue, cutting off blood flow. Eventually, the tongue falls off completely, but amazingly, other than the initial destruction of the tongue, the parasite is basically harmless. It lives symbiotically with its host and functions the same as the original tongue did. Still, a little clingy, if you ask me!
24. Dance Yourself to Death
In July 1518, a dancing plague swept through Strasbourg, in the Alsace region of France, and caused about 400 people to dance like crazy for days without stopping. Many of those who were affected eventually collapsed from exhaustion or died from a stroke or heart attack. One theory suggests it was caused by a psychoactive compound, similar to LSD, found in ergot fungi, which can commonly grow in wheat.
It turns out that 20% of coffee mugs found around the office break room contain fecal matter. A University of Arizona study conducted by Doctor Charles Gerba in 1997 revealed this horrific fact. The cause behind this was the result of communal kitchen sponges rarely being properly cleaned or replaced, which led to the passive spread of bacteria. Rinse your sponges people!
22. Heads Up
If you lose your head, you die, there’s no way around that. However, there’s a theory that suggests that the blood in your brain remains oxygenated for about 12 seconds after being severed. In theory, this could keep your brain functioning for a few more seconds. In fact, during the French Revolution, some witnesses claimed they saw severed heads looking around shortly after getting chopped off.
21. Death’s Drunk Again
Police in the town of Morecambe in the UK were surprised one morning to find the Grim Reaper himself waiting for them at the station. It turned out to be a 31-year-old man named Christopher Kelly, who wasn’t from town and got far too drunk the night before. Wandering around the town lost, he broke into the Morecambe Town Hall and preceded to soil himself. He took off his clothes, but found a Grim Reaper outfit to put on and keep warm. He wandered around some more, looking for his friends, but eventually gave up and went to the station for help.
20. Your Life is in Your Car’s Hands
Companies like Apple and Ford have dodged the question of whether a self-driving car would kill passengers, while Mercedes-Benz stated that their self-driving cars would protect the lives of their passengers at all cost. On the other hand, Google claimed their self-driving cars would avoid hitting a pedestrian, and if necessary, drive the car into a bollard, which could lead to the passenger’s death. So you might want to stick to driving your good, old and boring “human driven” car.
19. Mind Control
A parasite found in cat feces can take control of a rat’s mind if they ingest it. The parasite is known as Toxoplasma gondii, and it can only reproduce inside of a cat. When a rat ingests it, it is able to alters the rat’s brain functions so that they’re drawn to the smell of feline urine. This makes them an easier target for a cat to find and eat the rat, starting the cycle all over again.
18. They Took Our Jerbs!
The world’s largest consulting and auditing firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, suggests that robots will take over even more of our jobs in the near future. They suggest that in Japan, 21% of the jobs will be handled by robots, in the United Kingdom, 30% and in the US, 38 % of jobs will be done by machines by the year 2030.
17. Possessed Set
The Exorcist wasn’t just scary on the big screen, there were twisted and unexplained mishaps behind-the-scenes as well. Jack MacGowran, the actor who played Burke, got influenza and died, many other actors were injured, and the set burned down. They even had to get a priest brought in to bless the set on more than one occasion, but I guess it never took.
16. It’s Naht a Toomah!
There are some tumors that are able to grow hair, teeth, and their own organs—it’s like having another person growing inside of you. In 2008, doctors in Colorado Springs in the US took out a tumor from a baby that contained a partially formed foot, a hand, and a thigh. In 2007, doctors removed a lump from a Japanese woman’s right ovary that had an eye and internal organs. You may be a huge sci-fi fan, but reality is always stranger than fiction, baby!
15. I’ll Take the Toothache
Ancient Egyptians used to put dead mouse paste in their mouths. They believed that the mashed mouse mush would ease a toothache when applied with other ingredients, because why not? Yet another reason to be thankful for Novocaine.
Ancient Egyptian women used crocodile dung as an early contraceptive. A pessary made of the dung, plus honey and sodium carbonate was inserted inside the vagina. However, since crocodile dung is slightly alkaline, like modern-day spermicides, it’s possible it actually could have blocked or killed sperm. Still though…
13. Kissy Kissy
Parasitic worms and bacteria can be transmitted through saliva when we kiss. Triatoma insects, also known as “kissing bugs,” can be transferred this way and, after burrowing into a person’s heart, can cause something called Chagas disease, which can be potentially deadly. How about a hug instead… through a plastic bubble?
12. Rat King
What’s worse than a rat? Try a whole group of rats who have fused together, their tails intertwined with hair and other substances such as gum or sap. In ancient times, the rat king was deemed an omen of misfortune, but today they’re so rare some people even question whether the phenomenon even exists. However, museums like the Mauritianum in Altenburg, Thuringia claim to have a mummified rat king on display.
11. How Could a Giant Hornet Get Worse? Acid Venom.
Grab some bug spray the next time you visit Japan. The Japanese giant hornet’s venom is so strong that it can even dissolve the flesh of a human. It’s also said that one hornet alone has the power to wipe out 40 European honeybees per minute. An Entomologist from Tamagawa University in Japan described her encounter with one of this hornets as a “hot nail through my leg.”
10. Spiders Pouring From the Walls
Susan and Brian Trost from Missouri bought a home for $450,000, but little did they know that it was swimming with Brown Recluse spiders. Sadly, they didn’t know about the spiders until they started coming out of the walls. Pest control experts claimed that there were close to 5,000 of these spiders in the house. Just one bite can lead to pain, nausea, swelling, itching, and potentially organ failure. Naturally, the couple sued the original homeowners.
9. Bugs for Lunch
Get a hold of this: FDA regulations allow for a certain amount of insects to be present in the food you eat. In fact, 10 insects and 35 fruit fly eggs per 8 ounces of raisins is perfectly acceptable. The FDA is also cool with 5 rodent hairs and 150 bug fragments to remain present in one pound of peanut butter. This totally killed my craving for some Raisin Bran with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Ugh, who am I kidding? Pass the peanut butter, please…
8. Underwater Prison
A Nigerian man named Harrison Okene was onboard a tug boat named Jascon-4 when the boat sank and landed upside down on the bottom of the sea. Fortunately, Harrison was in an air pocket, which allowed him to survive. He sent 60 hours in his little underwater prison.
7. Killer’s Crib
Catrina McGhaw signed a lease on her North County ranch house in 2014. Not long after that, the St. Louis woman was contacted by a family member who told her to check out a documentary on serial killers on A&E. That’s when McGhaw discovered that the house she was in had belonged to Maury Travis, a killer who used the property as a torture chamber. Some of the victims had been tied to a pole in the basement. So much for a home sweet home!
6. The Buzzer
UVB-76 is a shortwave radio station that is also known as “The Buzzer.” The station has been broadcasting a low, monotonous buzzing sound since 1982. Freakishly enough, you can sometimes hear Russian voices in the transmission too. The thing is, no one really knows where the transmission is coming from, but of course many people believe it is of Russian origin, only adding to the mystery.
5. Straight as a Penis
Straight men might not be into other guys, but they love looking at penises. A book called A Billion Wicked Thoughts, by Sai Gaddam and Ogi Ogas, claims that straight guys frequently search close-ups of male genitals, usually large ones. One theory suggests that men’s fascination with the penis comes from our primate roots. For many other male primates the penis is an important tool for many social activities, not just sex.
4. Aging Where You Really Don’t Want To
Researchers have found a link between cycling and impotence. One study showed a 28-year-old cyclist whose blood flowed to his penis had the sexual peformance equivalent to that of a 60-year-old man. Essentially, this is caused by the pressure from sitting on the long, narrow tip of a bicycle seat too much, which can lead to permanent damage.
3. Coffin Birth
On rare occasions, dead women can give birth to dead fetuses. This phenomenon is known as coffin birth, and it occurs when a deceased pregnant woman expels gas while in a state of decomposition. This flushes the dead fetus out. The condition usually occurs anywhere between 48 and 72 hours after the mother has passed away. Now that’s an interesting fact that you probably never wanted to know about and now can never forget.
2. Bugs! On Your Face!
Tiny bugs live on your face and thrive by eating your dead skin cells. Yummy, right? These bugs are called demodex mites, and they’re spread through skin-to-skin contact. Another fun fact is that you get more of these mites the older you get, so the next time your grandmother leans in for a kiss, maybe opt for a nice, firm handshake instead.
1. Drinking and Doctoring
During the Civil War, patients drank alcohol to numb the pain of surgery—but oftentimes the surgeon would take a nip for himself to calm his nerves. Or two. Or more… A Confederate hospital matron by the name of Phoebe Yates Pember claims that one doctor was so drunk that, when setting a patient’s broken ankle, he set the healthy ankle. Afterwards, a fever set in and the patient died from his injuries.
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