When the hot months roll around, there's a whole lot more to fear than heat waves, bored teenagers, and a beach body that looks more like a winter squash. But leaving the house for vacation can expose you to all sorts of terrifying unforeseen hazards. Such as ...
The thought of being attacked by any kind of shark is disconcerting, but being the target of a great white is the nightmare that keeps the majority of people from taking up surfing. And Carcharodon carcharias happens to be the one species that's making a huge rebound thanks to conservation efforts. It's great for marine biology, but not so awesome when you're fending off a saw-toothed monstrosity with a paddle and a prayer.
Moreover, worldwide improvements in fishery management and water quality, combined with NBA legend Yao Ming's crusade against shark fin soup, has led to shark populations in general experiencing a worldwide surge. Still, your risk of actually winding up in the center of a mako feeding frenzy is very low. So here's another reason to stay out of the water: the goddamn jellyfish.
Massive jellyfish blooms appear to be increasing in frequency well beyond their natural cycles, thanks to a changing climate and more acidic seas. Not only does this make things risky for beach goers, but their swarms are capable of clogging up the works of anything mechanical, up to and including including power plants. In fact, it's often our own offshore wind farms and oil and gas platforms that provide a perfect breeding ground for gelatinous outbreaks.
But what do you care, as long as you can waddle out into the surf and do your doggy paddle routine? Well, numerous swimming locations had to be closed down in Australia this year because of bluebottle jellyfish driven to shore by unusually strong winds and warm weather. And aside from Australia, where being envenomed regularly is part of everyday life, Florida also recorded 1,000 victims of venomous blooms.
So what's the solution to this slimy invertebrate incursion? Well according to European scientists, that's easy: Eat them.
You might think that as long as you don't plan your next vacation somewhere like the Brazilian Amazon or the Australian Anywhere, you're unlikely to run into a eight-legged situation you can't handle with some quick slipper work. But thanks to nosy researchers, new varieties of hideous arachnids are being discovered with fearful regularity just about everywhere on the planet. You can thank them for recently uncovering this brand-new species of something called a horned baboon spider.
Dr. Ian Engelbrecht
This particular horror comes from Africa, and nobody knows what the hell that fuzzy dong thing on its back is for. But unless you had plans for a safari in Angola, you probably won't wake up to a tickling sensation in your ear and find out, so that's a temporary relief.
A mountaineering expedition in the Andes should put you out of reach of the skittering horde, right? Hardly. Last year, they found swarms of tiny tarantulas living way up there we didn't know about before. Other spiders have apparently adopted a new tactic aimed at luring toddlers to their doom. How else could you explain tarantulas that come in the kind of color patterns normally associated with Build-a-Bear Workshop upholstery options?
"Fine," you say. "I'll get a refund on those international plane tickets and stay right in the good old US of A, where spiders are reasonably hued and don't exceed the size of an entree platter." Well, don't count your spiderlings before they hatch beneath your pillow. In the last few years, we've found 14 new species of tarantula. And in true American tradition, one of them was named after deceased country music legend Johnny Cash.
Hamilton, Hendrixson, Bond/ZooKeys
There has been a marked increase in visitors to the Aloha State being infected with a pernicious parasite known as the rat lungworm. This creature is not only known for terrorizing rats and lungs, but also for burrowing its way into human cerebellums. Hawaii's health department felt compelled to issue a warning to the public after the Centers for Disease Control confirmed that there were indicators of a "sustained boom in the parasite's population and spread."
Now, humans are not the intended host for the rat lungworm. They'd much rather go about their normal routine of getting swallowed and pooped out by a rat, then ingested by a crap-eating mollusk, and then eaten by a rat again to devastate its brain. So all it takes to thwart these guys is thoroughly rinsing your produce. And if your meal arrives with any visible rats, you probably should probably have hired a better travel agent.
Here's a fun fact to contemplate as you frolic through a meadow: Ticks have started carrying viruses previously unknown to science. A nasty one called the Alongshan virus was discovered only this year. Sure, chances are unlikely you'll be bed-and-breakfasting in the small town in Inner Mongolia where the virus was found, but its mere detection only illustrates how much we still have to learn about the abundance of pestilences that fester within the tiny hemoglobin thieves.
Last year in the Western United States, we detected a new bacteria called Borrelia miyamotoi. It's in the same family as the type that causes Lyme disease, in case you were looking for a little more variety to your multi-symptom, paralyzing, debilitating illness.
And it's that whole "multi-symptom" aspect which can confound physicians. The CDC reports that there were 59,000 cases of tick-borne diseases in 2017 alone, and that number doesn't look to be going down any time soon. Because as one expert explains, "The overarching theme is the more we look at ticks, the more we find. We find parasites, viruses, bacteria. We just found worms in ticks in New York."
Anna E. Perea/CDC
While actually getting mauled by an alligator has always been rare (as long as your retirement home isn't adjacent to one's lair), "nuisance" gators are becoming increasingly common. And the word "nuisance" can encompass a lot of things. Like "home invasion with homicidal intent."
Clearwater Police Department
That picture was taken this very summer in the home of a 77-year-old woman named Mary Wischhusen, who had to deal with an 11-foot beast crashing through her window at 3:30 in the morning. She recounts her surprise at the intrusion thusly: "All I had was a vision of a huge head. A big head looking at me saying, 'Hey.'"
Another massive lizard didn't even bother with social niceties before it gobbled up an unsuspecting couple's picnic goodies in Gainesville (including the guacamole). And in a scene torn from the pages of the Happy Gilmore novelization, a golfer in North Fort Myers was walking past a water hazard when he was bum-rushed by a toothy remnant from the Cretaceous. It chomped onto his foot and only relented after a concentrated assault on its eyeball.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Like we mentioned, attacks are rare, but ever since we took alligators off the endangered species list, they've shown their appreciation by increasing their hostility exponentially. And as human development and population increases, we can only expect more of grandma's beloved Pomeranians to wind up in the belly of the beast. If you're looking for hard numbers in regards to the chomping menace, consider this: Since 2014, Florida has experienced a 22% jump in nuisance alligators (ones that required either relocation or something more ... drastic), an alarming spike to go along with the steady increase that has been occurring for decades.
The situation is such that police academies in Florida actually train their officers in alligator wrangling. But it's clearly necessary, as Lorenzo Velos of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has explained to reporters: "We've found them in public bathrooms, called out to people's homes, in their pools, on their cars, sometimes we've found them in their cars." Ever been carjacked by an alligator? Don't get comfortable, that answer might change.
When you're kicking back at the beach with your toes in the sand, you probably don't feel especially threatened by those big colorful umbrellas. Yet these innocent-looking pieces of outdoor furniture are responsible for an inordinate amount of emergency room visits each year. And the stories of mishaps they're involved in are both spectacular and gruesome.
It seems that if your pole-jamming technique lacks vigor, a gust of wind can turn an umbrella into an organ-seeking javelin. It's not like you can be on your guard every second for murderous airborne parasols, and misfortune can strike at a moment's notice. Such as in the case of the British woman who visited the Jersey Shore and would up with a spike through her ankle.
If an impaled ankle doesn't trigger your instinctual panic response, we can discuss the woman in Virginia Beach who took an hour to die after an umbrella inflicted a gaping wound to her torso. The umbrella immediately blew away afterward, as if Mother Nature was trying to cover up the crime. Or we could talk about the unfortunate man named Ed Quigley, who was celebrating the Fourth of July with his family on Delaware's Bethany Beach when a rogue umbrella arced directly through his left eye and into his brain. Miraculously, he survived, but it devastated the portion of the lobe which controls taste and smell. So now he can no longer enjoy food and drink like he used to, but he faced up to adversity by becoming an advocate for umbrella safety.
The flying menace became enough of a concern that both of Virginia's Senators, Mark Warner (R) and Tim Kaine (D), agreed to put partisan politics aside to join forces in opposition to the scourge of seaside skewerings. That's what it takes to bring us together in these trying times.
E. Reid Ross has a book called BIZARRE WORLD that's due to be released in September. He's practically on his knees begging that you pre order it now from Amazon or Barnes & Noble and leave a scathing/glowing review.
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