Freaky Friday: Screaming Caterpillars and Siamese Twins

Biologically Bizarre

Welcome to the first installment of Freaky Fridays, where every Friday in October I’ll be giving you some freaktacular tidbits to start your weekend off right. Share them at a cocktail party, wow your blind date, or amuse your children. And if you want more, check out my books The Book of the Bizarre and Beyond Bizarre for loads more terrifying trivia and hilariously horrific facts. chang_eng_conjoined_twins_2

  •  In 1990, Dr. Phillip J. DeVries published a study in which he identified not only caterpillars that screamed, but also the nature of their screams and the reason behind them. The caterpillars have two sets of organs-behind the head, shaped like grooved rods, and one that protrudes from the top of the head that, when rubbed together, produce a sound DeVries described as being like that of a comb running over the edge of a table. The “screams” are actually a call to arms for troops of ants, who come to protect the caterpillars from predatory wasps. The caterpillars secrete amino acids as a reward for ants.
  • In Texas, the fire ant, one of the South’s biggest pests, is facing a new predator of its own. Researchers at Texas A&M University have introduced a tiny phorid fly originally native to South America, to lay their eggs onto fire ants. These eggs hatch into maggots inside the ant and begin to eat away at the ant’s brains, essentially turning the fire ants into tiny little zombies. The ants wander around for up to two weeks while the maggots eat away at their brains, until the ants’ head fall off. Then the maggot turns into a fly and is ready to start the cycle again.
  • These days most Siamese twins have the option of attempting surgical separation at birth, but back in the early 1800s, there wasn’t a choice for two guys born joined at the hip. Chang and Eng Bunker were the original sideshow Siamese twins, and they were actually joined at the sternum by a piece of cartilage. Their livers were fused together, but each organ worked independently. The Bunker’s  developed a killer business model, traveling the world they put themselves on exhibition. They finally settled down in North Carolina, of all places, and adopted the surname “Bunker.” They bought slaves, set up a farm, and even got married–to two sisters born and raised in North Carolina . For a time the twins and their wives all shared a bed made for four, but the sisters were prone to bickering, and soon two separate households were set up. The brothers would alternate three nights at each home, during which time they were apparently very busy: Chang’s wife had ten children, and Eng’s wife had eleven. The story of Chang’s and Eng’s death is rather touching: Chang contracted pneumonia and died suddenly in his sleep. Rather than undergo an emergency separation from his dead brother, Eng stuck by Chang’s side and passed away three hours later. The twin’s liver is preserved in a museum in Pennsylvania.
  •  The cymothoa exigua parasite latches on to a snapper fish’s tongue and sucks its blood until the tongue atrophies and falls off. But instead of swimming on to its next victim, the parasite hooks itself into the fish where the tongue used to be and functions like a new tongue. The fish can use this new “tongue” just like its old one. The only difference is that the new tongue siphons off some of the fish’s food. Sneaky and effective dieting technique, anyone?
  •   In a remarkable 2008 story from Colorado Springs, Colorado, fully developed infant foot was discovered in the brain of a newborn baby who was being operated on for a life-threatening tumor. Doctors explained that is not uncommon for the type of tumor presented in the tissue-most often muscle, hair or teeth—from an undeveloped fetal twin. It is extremely rare for the tissue to develop this far. The foot was removed, and the infant was expected to make a full recovery.

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