Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mike, The Headless Rooster

In 1945, in the little town of Fruita, Colorado, Mike the rooster had his head chopped off. Mike didn’t seem to notice.

The young rooster was meant to be his owners’ dinner on September 10, 1945. His owner, Lloyd Wilson, chopped Mike’s head off and the rooster began staggering around, but refused to lay down and die. Instead, he continued to walk around and behave like a normal chicken, pecking for food and trying to preen his feathers, which was not easy to do since he had no mouth. When he tried to crow, he made a gurgling sound.

When Olsen found the rooster sleeping the next morning, he decided to try to keep the five and a half-month old chicken alive for as long as possible. He used an eyedropper to feed grain and water to the rooster. A week later, Olsen took Mike to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He, and researchers at the university, all wanted to know how the rooster had managed to survive being beheaded. They discovered that Mike’s brain stem was largely intact and that the axe blade had missed the jugular vein. A clot had prevented the chicken from bleeding to death.

Mike not only survived the experience, but thrived, going from 2-1/2 pounds to a hefty 8 pounds. He became a celebrity and set out on a national tour, visiting New York, Atlantic City, Los Angeles and San Diego. People gladly paid 25 cents each to see the headless chicken. He was featured in Time and Life magazines, and earned a Guinness World Record that is not likely to be broken. He even became the subject of a PBS documentary. He had his own manager and was ensured for $10,000.

In March 1947, 18 months after he was supposed to have become dinner, Mike began choking on a kernel of corn in an Arizona motel room. Olsen could not find his eyedropper to clear Mike’s throat and the chicken choked to death in the middle of the night. He continued to tour, however, until 1949.

The town of Fruita has not forgotten Mike, the Headless Chicken. The town hosts a festival in his honor and he has his own website.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Tragedy of Tasmania

 Tasmania was first discovered by in 1642 Abel Janszoon Tasman, a Dutch explorer, who called it Van Diemen’s Land. At the time, the island supported some 5,000 to 10,000 hunter-gatherers. They used wood, bone and stone along with bark, grass, seaweed and sinew to make tools and containers, but apparently did not possess boomerangs or nets.

Then the British, led by Lt. John Bowen of the British Royal Navy, established the first settlement at Risdon Cove. The white settlers kidnapped native children as laborers, and took women as “consorts.” They simply killed the men. Martial law was declared in 1828 and soldiers shot any Aborigine unlucky enough to be found in a settled area.

Even that brutal “solution” to the Aborigine problem proved inadequate, and in 1830, the last Tasmanians were gathered up and forcibly transported to nearby Flinders Island. Conditions on Flinders Island were so terrible that most of the transported Aborigines could not survive, and very few infants were able to live more than a few months after birth. By 1833, due to war, persecution, intermarriage, and decimation by infectious diseases introduced by the Europeans, the number of purebred Tasmanian aborigines had dwindled to a mere three hundred.

One Aborigine man, William Lanne, managed to survive until 1869. But he was not to find peace even in death. He was duly buried, but his body was repeatedly dug up and mutilated by scientists. His head, feet and hands were removed for “study.” His ears and nose were removed from the decapitated head. A doctor removed Lanne’s skin and made a tobacco pouch out of it.  

With William Lanne’s death, only one purebred Tasmanian survived. Truganini, a woman, died in 1876.  She had been horrified by the Europeans’ treatment of Lanne’s body, and begged to be buried at sea. Her wish was not to be granted, however, although she was properly buried, at least for a short time. But her skeleton was later dug up and put on display in the Tasmanian Museum. It was only in 1976, a hundred years after her death, that Truganini was granted her final wish. Her bones were cremated and she was buried at sea. 

Is it any wonder that native peoples in Hawaii, the Americas, and the islands of Tasmania and Australia, among others, are suspicious of the intentions of anthropologists and archaeologists? 

For more information about the history of Tasmania, visit this site

Monday, July 2, 2012

Namibia’s Mysterious Fairy Circles

The Namib Rand Nature Reserve, located in southwest Namibia, is home to literally thousands of mysterious spots known as fairy circles.

The circles take the form of round clearings in the red, sandy soil surrounded by tall rings of grass. The smallest rings are about 6.5 feet (2 meters) in diameter, and the largest can reach nearly 40 feet (12 meters) across. They seem to spring up at nearly full size, although some appear to grow a little after they emerge. Eventually, however, they all vanish back into the desert landscape as plants move back into the bare ground, leaving slightly indented areas behind.

No one knows how or why they form, but a new study by biologist Walter Tschinkel of Florida State University has shed some light on how long they last. It seems that the small ones last around 24 years while the big ones can remain for as long as 75 years. Tschinkel estimates that most probably exist for around 30 to 60 years.

Tschinkel has ruled out a few theories about why the circles form. He originally thought they might have marked nests of harvester termites, but no nests were found. The soil inside the circles is not toxic, and there are no obvious differences in soil quality in soil samples from inside and outside the circles.

Unlike more traditional fairy rings which form in areas with high moisture and generally caused by fungi, Namibia’s circles form only on sandy soil, but not on dunes or alluvial fans which are formed by water.

Over the last ten years, the Namib Rand Nature Reserve has found a novel way to raise funds with these fairy rings.  They sell sponsorships to the circles, whose GPS coordinates are recorded while each sponsored circle is marked with a ceramic plaque.

It is not likely that the mystery of these fairy circles will be solved any time soon. They are located more than 110 miles (180 kilometers) from the nearest village in an arid grassland populated by leopards, ostriches, springbock and other animals. With no money to fund studies, it is not likely that researchers will be willing to spend a great deal of time investigating this phenomenon.
If you’re interested in seeing photographs of these mysterious fairy rings, go here