Meet the newest weird creatures

Thanks to the good people at Scientific American, one of my favorite news sources (as well as the oldest continuously operating magazine in the US), we’ve got some more strange Earth-based life forms to marvel over.

Last month, Scientific American released a slide show featuring ten newly-discovered creatures. These range from a frog that keeps its eggs inside the body instead of dropping them into a mucky pond, to a tiny jellyfish-like sea creature off the Australian coast that resembles a see-through mushroom. But these three oddballs below are my favorites of the bunch.

Anzu Wylei, aka the Chicken from Hell

chicken from hell

Unfortunately this one is NOT a living creature, but a newly discovered fossil. It took me a while to get past this disappointment, but I’m good now. Anyway, Anzu is a feathery birdlike dinosaur that roamed North America 66 million years ago. Why is it called the Chicken from Hell? Not for the obvious reasons — its fangs and claws and general viciousness. Nope. It’s because it was found near the Hell Creek fossil site in South Dakota. That part is a letdown. But on the brighter side, Anzu is derived from the name of a feathered demon in Babylonian mythology, so there’s a glimmer of dark hope for this crazy looking beast.

Phyganistria tamdaoensis, aka the Walking Stick

walking stick

I hate bugs. Even ladybugs — I pretend to like them but that’s a lie. Bugs are ugly and evil. Luckily they’re all really small. Or so I thought. Now comes the Walking Stick. As the image shows, this bug is as big as a human forearm. Can you imagine a dozen or so coming after you? I can. So how was this big-ass bug never discovered? Turns out it’s a master of disguise. Thank God this tree branch creature lives in Vietnam, and not in New Jersey.

Phyllodesmium acanthorhinum, aka the Photogenic Sea Slug

sea slug

I like this freaky looking thing for two reasons. 1) it lives in the ocean, and I love the ocean. 2) it looks cool. (Call me shallow, that’s okay.) Anyway, this pretty little gastropod sports brilliant shades of red, blue and gold. But it isn’t just a pretty face. This Photogenic Sea Slug gets along well with its neighbors. Algae that lives in its stomach helps it with photosynthesis, and in turn the slug cleans debris from nearby coral and feeds them to the algae. Win-win.

Time’s arrow and our weird universe

Our universe, and the nature of time, may be much stranger than we ever could have imagined.

Think about this. What is time? It is something that can be measured.Seconds, minutes, hours, years, millennia. But unlike other properties of our physical world, it only goes in one direction. You can’t add or subtract time, not literally. This has left scientists stumped.

Now, scientists have come up with one of the more bizarre theories of the universe and time that I’ve ever heard. To explain the back and forth movement of time, our universe might be just one side of another universe that was formed during the big bang. And since we exist on the opposite side of that universe, we are living in that mirror universe’s distant past.

This all comes courtesy of an article in Scientific American (by Lee Billings, who I work with there, btw). Much of it is over my head, to be honest, and I’m probably not summarizing it correctly. But what intrigues me most is the whole issue of time as a physical property. I always assumed that time flows, consistently, constantly, in one direction. But scientists can’t explain this. I never realized it was an issue.

After reading the article, I didn’t come away with the impression that we’re going to build some sort of time machine. or maybe visit this parallel universe (thought that would really be cool from a sci-fi perspective). What the article shows me is that there’s so much that we don’t know — about the universe, about life, about even ourselves.

Some might be scared by this lack of certainty. I think it’s exhilarating.

Tiny monsters, continued

Real-life creepy bugs are one of my favorite science-related topics. Not sure why — maybe because it combines monsters and science.

Here’s the latest. First, we have book scorpions. I’ve only seen a scorpion in real life once. I was in El Paso and one of the suckers, pincers snapping away, was crawling up a bedroom wall. Totally freaked me out.


Well, it turns out not all scorpions are vicious. Not only are so-called book scorpions too tiny to harm us humans, they’re pretty helpful. These small creatures (there are over 3,000 different species) are only a couple of millimeters in length. What they love more than anything are booklice.

What are booklice? Bugs that eat the glue that binds books. And book scorpions devour these booklice. If it wasn’t for them, all our books would fall apart.

No word on whether book scorpions would help keep your Kindle clean.

The second of today’s tiny monsters is the Demodex mite.


This microscopic critter is a relative of spiders and ticks. And you are very familiar with it. How familiar? Right now there are scores crawling all over your body.

No worries, though. The mites that live among us are relatively harmless, though when their numbers get out of whack they can cause skin conditions such as rosacea.

It turns out that Demodex has been with us for a long, long time, perhaps as long as when humans first left Africa and spread out all over the world. Not only Demodex — there are several species of mites that scientists are just beginning to identify.

Read more about book scorpions here at Scientific American, and more about the hitchhiking mites at Discover Magazine.

(Book scorpion image courtesy of Protasov AN/Shutterstock; mite image courtesy of Alan R. Walker)





Spider fangs: nature’s perfect piercer

Some people love spiders (why??). Some people love to hate spiders. My view is: hey, Mr. Spider, you stay over there, I’ll stay over here. To me, they’re creepy as hell — horror movie creepy.


Now there’s more to add to their creep factor. Not only are spiders adept at trapping their prey alive in a sticky web and sucking their blood and bodily fluids out in a slow, agonizing death, their fangs were honed by nature, God, evolution (take your pick, or as I believe, all of the above) to be the perfect piercing tools.

This article published in Scientific American discusses a study of spider fangs. It turns out that the curve of the spider fang allows the spider to not only attack from different directions, but also hold their prey while injecting their venom. And the hollow, conical shape gives the fangs strength.

Not cool.

The upside?

1) More fodder for horror writers. Now we’ve got an even more gruesome way to describe spider attacks.

2) Maybe they can design better piercing equipment, not only for medical applications, but also for those casual body piercers among us.

(Image courtesy of

Are multiple universes real? Some scientists say yes

The good news – they believe they may be real. The bad news – we may never be able to access them, or even want to.

How cool would it be to visit an alternate version of yourself, say, a world where you married your college girlfriend instead of breaking up? Or visit the version of yourself who is the ninja badass you always imagined yourself to be?


Scientists have long theorized that multiple universes exist, and now they may have proof.

I won’t delve into the science behind all this — it’s over my head. But I’ll get to the heart of it: a recent discovery on the inflation of the universe, as explained in this Scientific American article, supports a hypothesis that multiple universes exist in this humongous thing called space.

How would it work? Imagine a glass of soda. In the soda there are tons of bubbles. Each bubble would be its own universe. Simple enough.

But there’s a catch. Actually, a few.

First, it is theorized that these alternate universes would follow different physical laws. Scientists have no reason to believe that the basic properties of matter hold true. It just seems to be the way our universe is constructed, by nature, by God, take your pick. Let your mind go crazy with how these other universes might be constructed. The possibilities are infinite. But we would stand no chance of surviving.

Second, how would we access these alternate universes, even if we wanted to? We can’t even get very far across our own universe, which is too large for us to rationally fathom.

Third, and this gets to my problem with science, this is all basically theory. Science and religion love bashing each other, but what they don’t realize is that they’re more alike than they’d care to admit. Both are tightly constructed belief systems with high priests who disseminate knowledge. Science relies on the observable world, and religion tends toward philosophy, but both frequently get it wrong. (For the record, I’m a fan of aspects of both.)

So, in the end, I think we’re stuck with multiple universes existing solely in our imaginations, which is good. I loved when the TV show Fringe, a great underrated sci-fi series, used alternate universes to enhance the show’s mythology. The old TV show Sliders, where the cast of characters went from alternate world to alternate world, was great fun. Doctor Who used parallel universes briefly and effectively. And I’m writing a story now that is centered on parallel worlds – and alternate versions of the main character.

While the science is exciting, I’ll stick with the fictional side of multiple universes. For now.

Holy autopsies, or, nuns with knives


Take a look at this photo:


No, he’s not the victim of some slashing monster. He’s been autopsied by a bunch of nuns way back in the Dark Ages.

Fiction aside, science is one of my other fascinations, and I came across this article on medical science in the Dark Ages in Scientific American. It turns out a lot of what we know about these centuries is dead wrong. For instance:

–Most people did NOT believe that the world was flat. Then knew it was round

–The Catholic church was a leader in scientific study, not a suppressor

The Catholic church was believed to be against autopsies. Again, not so. In fact, the church often performed “holy autopsies,” in which a corpse was dissected in an attempt to uncover a relic. In 1308, nuns performed an autopsy on an abbess and reported to have found a tiny crucifix embedded in her heart (How did that get there?).

File this under truth is stranger than fiction.