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Chuck Shepherd's News Of The Weird

Jul. 24, 2013
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Science on the Cutting Edge

  • Carnivorous Vegetation: It was a special occasion in Surrey, England, in June as a rare plant prepared to bloom. The Puya chilensis, native to Chile, features neon-bright greenish-yellow flowers with blooms large enough to yield drinkable nectar, but its most startling distinction is its ability to nourish itself by trapping small animals in its razor-sharp spines, leaving them to decay. (At England’s Wisley Garden, it is fed with ordinary fertilizer rather than animals.)
  • Physicians at Kwong Wah Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital, publishing in the Hong Kong Medical Journal recently, described a 66-year-old man seeking relief from a swelling in his abdomen (after having had a sparse history with doctors). They concluded that the man was basically a woman and that the cause of the swelling was an ovarian cyst. The patient had both Turner syndrome, which causes women to lack some female features, and congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which boosts male hormones. (While females have two X chromosomes, and males an X and a Y, those with Turner syndrome have one X and no Y.)

Animals in the News

  • Alarming Headlines: (1) “Koala Chlamydia: The STD Threatening an Australian Icon” (BBC News). (2) “Super-Sized Crabs and Oysters With Herpes” (Field & Stream). (3) “Far-Right Extremists Chased Through London by Women Dressed as Badgers” (International Business Times, reporting June rallies of two British nationalist parties and their opposition occurring at the same time and place as a better-attended demonstration against the government’s cull on badgers).
  • Horse Bullies: In June, Barbour County, W. Va., firefighters, called to a farm in Belington, rescued the horse “Rowdy,” whose entire body was somehow trapped inside an industrial-sized tire. Rowdy’s owner said she believes Rowdy had an altercation with some of the other horses.

People Different From Us

Melanie Typaldos, 57, and her husband, Richard Loveman, 54, in Buda, Texas, are supposedly part of a growing trend of people keeping pet capybaras (giant, semi-aquatic guinea pig relatives that are the world’s largest rodents, at more than 100 pounds). “Gary” sometimes lounges on the couple’s marital bed and frolics in the above-ground pool the couple installed for him. Although Melanie and Richard keep other, more traditional animals at their home (they told London’s Daily Mail in June), Gary is, of course, the only one as large as a human but with the distinctive body and head of a rat.

Least Competent People

Apprentice Brooklyn, N.Y., tree-trimmer David Fleischer, 21 (and son of the company owner), had to be rescued by firefighters in July after he apparently violated the cardinal rule in the business by cutting lower branches first—until he was stranded at the top of the tree. “He is a good boy,” said “Izzy” Fleischer, “but he is learning.” (2) Emergency crews in Fort Worth, Texas, responded to a Quik Trip gas station in June when an unidentified man got his finger caught in his car’s gas cap after he poured in some additive. Rescuers had to use a hammer and screwdriver to break the plastic around the cap and finally freed the man’s hand, unscathed, after a 20-minute struggle.


“Breatharianism” Revisited: Kirby de Lanerolle of Sri Lanka appeared on the National Geographic Channel to claim that he had lived without food for five years—on nourishment only from the sun, wind and the “vibrations of God.” But his story provoked the same skepticism faced by other breatharians—that who can know if he cheated? In May, Naveena Shine, a breatharian in Seattle, attempted to head off that criticism by installing 24-hour cameras throughout her home for her upcoming four-to-six-month regimen consuming only air and sunlight. However, she called off her project after 47 allegedly pure days (and a 33-pound weight loss) because, she said, she was out of money and because people seemed no less skeptical that she was somehow cheating. (De Lanerolle, interrogated on the TV show, actually confessed to minor cheating but insisted that science’s two-month maximum for surviving foodlessly is wrong.)


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