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Chuck Shepherd's News of the Weird

Jun. 13, 2012
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Cockroach P.R.

Perhaps no insect is in greater need of a public relations boost than the cockroach, and Mathieu Lihoreau of Rennes, France, provided it in a recent issue of the journal Insectes Sociaux. Roaches are highly social, suffer when isolated, recognize members of their own families and appear to make "collective decisions for the greater good" of their community, according to a review of the research in May by BBC Nature. They act in "emergent forms of cooperation," or "swarm intelligence." Functioning mostly through chemical cues, they advise each other on where to find food and water, where to sleep and how to stay attached to their social networks.

Least Competent Criminals

Bad Strategies: (1) James Cruz, 58, was arrested in May in West Palm Beach, Fla., after allegedly pulling out a gun at a McDonald's drive-through lane in order to skip in front of another car in line. The other driver backed off, but got a full view of Cruz's license plate. (2) Two weeks earlier, in Wilmer, Texas, Keithan Manuel, 18, was arrested after he allegedly walked into the Wilmer police station with a white towel covering his hands and told the dispatcher to "give me all your money."

Recurring Themes

Though several cases have been reported in medical literature (and twice in News of the Weird), credulity is still strained by reports that people might accidentally swallow an entire toothbrush (usually 7 to 8 inches long). In the most recent episode, Ms. Bat-El Panker, 24, of Kiryat Yam, Israel, had trouble convincing doctors at her local hospital and instead had to go to Carmel Hospital in Haifa, where a gastroenterologist, using ordinary tools of the trade, manipulated the brush until it was at an angle that made it removable without damaging her digestive tract, according to a report on Ynetnews.

Challenging Business Models

  • No Trademark for You: (1) A restaurant set to open in April in West Palm Beach, Fla., named with a Japanese word suggesting "good fortune, wealth and prosperity," was denied a trademark by the Florida Division of Corporations. The name in question: Fuku.
  • In April, the Taiwan tabloid Apple Daily profiled a 27-year-old man who said he has tripled his previous salary by becoming a public snitch, turning in videos of litterers and spitters violating Taipei laws. Taipei officials reward informants with a fee of up to one-fourth the amount of any fines. In the last two years, the man (identified by his surname as "Chou") said he has had 5,000 cases result in fines, for which he has been paid the equivalent of $50,000. He said he now teaches classes on snitching.

Science on the Cutting Edge

  • Surely the world's longest-running science experiment is the 85-year-old ongoing project to visually ascertain whether "pitch" (a tar) is liquid. The project is housed at the University of Queensland in Australia, where the current custodian of the project believes the next drop (the ninth ever) will fall in 2013. The previous teardrop-shaped bead descended in 2000.
  • Dung beetles are known to researchers to roll perfectly made balls with their back legs and to periodically mount the balls, pirouette and climb down to be on their way. Emily Baird of Lund University in Sweden explained why in a January issue of the journal PLoS One: The beetles are gathering celestial readings to help shepherd their balls in a straight line, away from competitors at the dung pile. Baird's specialty is learning how animals with tiny brains perform complex tasks. To test the dung beetle, she patiently watched 22 of them guide their balls through an obstacle course her team created.

© 2012 Chuck Shepherd


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