The 5 Most Extraordinary Acts of Predation Ever Caught on Camera

Seagull Eats Rabbit

These ubiquitous denizens of the seaside are notorious for their incessant squawking and scavenging.

They can be pesky critters too as they prefer a fish-and-chips diet, so beachgoers must remain vigilant lest a gull swoops in to steal their food. Seagulls otherwise prey on a wide range of creatures on both land and from the sea, including rodents.

But a rabbit? That would surely be for Gulls with eyes bigger than their stomachs.

Not so.

In the clip below a Great Black-backed Gull is filmed devouring a live rabbit whole. It isn’t even a baby but is at least adolescent – a third of the bird’s size.

Cow Chomps on Snake

The endless, monotonous diet of grass got too much for one cow in Australia. With the deceptively cute name of Ginger, it seems she developed a bloodlust. Her confused owner caught her chomping on a small snake like a string of spaghetti, below.

This bizarre dietary perversion is explained as when a herbivore doesn’t get enough protein in their diet, they’ll seldom snack on a snake to compensate.

Tortoise Chows Down on Bird

This one is really freaky. On the Seychelles a conservationist recorded something unknown for a tortoise to do. Although small dead animals make up a tortoise’s diet, the clip below shows one of these lumbering homesteads on legs stalk a chick for seven minutes before killing it. The bird was too young and dumb to fly or hop away.

What is so unique about this is how the turtle hunts its prey. And a bird of all things!

Monkey Beats Seagull to Death

At Chester Zoo in England, a monkey acted out a parody of a famous film scene. In King Kong the great ape scales a Manhattan skyscraper to snatch at encircling biplane fighters, spectacularly destroying one in the process.

Visitors to the zoo captured evocative footage of a monkey clutching a hapless gull it had apparently plucked out of the sky then brutally smash it senseless. It was reported the crazed primate then gorged on the still living bird’s innards, licking the blood from its fingers as it went.

Spider Devours Entangled Bird

Brace yourselves, arachnophobes. Below are pictures of a giant Golder Orb Weaver scuttling over an entangled Chestnut-breasted Mannikin before it plunges its fangs into the hapless bird.

It is the stuff of nightmares for some. The pictures were taken Down Under.

Pin on 01. Creepy: Spiders

And in this clip below, the world’s largest web-making spider caught not one but two Finches and consumed them both before planting eggsacks in their chest cavities (shudder).

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10 Prehistoric Giants of The Animal Kingdom

From dragonflies the size of large birds to sharks the size of large whales, here are the 10 most awesome giants from prehistory.

Archelon 

Just the head of this two-tonne monster was 1 metre long. (youtube.com)

With the Greek roots of its name meaning ‘chief of the turtles’, the Archelon glided across the temperate oceans of the Campanian Period possessing the dimensions of a large, round garden pool.

The Leatherback Sea Turtle of today can measure in at 2.1m (7 ft) long and 650kg (1433 lb) heavy. The Archelon absolutely dwarfed it. The largest specimen found, ‘Brigitta’, measures 4.6m (15 ft) from head to tail, 4m (13 ft) from flipper to flipper and weighed around 2.2 tonnes (4,900 lb), with the head alone 1 metre long. 

Achelons could’ve been found on soft, muddy sea floors moving slowly to use their beaks to crush an abundance of large molluscs and crustaceans, some measuring up to 1.2m (4 ft) in diameter. Alternatively these sea monster’s huge flippers could have made them excellent long-distance swimmers with sharp beaks handy for shearing flesh from larger fish and reptiles, as well as soft-bodied creatures like the squid, jellyfish, or even other Archelon.

Archelon eventually died out mainly due to a cooling of the oceans. An increase of predation from emerging mammalian species on its hatchlings contributed to its eventual demise as well, perhaps 70 millions years ago.

Deinosuchus

This giant croc hunted large dinosaurs (hakaimagazine.com)

Today, crocodiles and alligators are the kings of the reptile world, but in the Campanian Period the Alligator’s largest ever ancestor could grow to more than half the length of a tennis court.

The largest ‘gators come out at 4.2 m (14 ft) long and weigh 473 kg (1,043 lb). Scientists guess the largest Deinos, by contrast, grew to a whopping 10-12m (35-39ft) long and 8.5 tonnes heavy based on a skull alone measuring 1.5m (4.8ft). So, it’s no surprise Deinos were the largest crocodilians of all time.

Deinosuchus, which translates from Greek as ‘terrible crocodile’, would’ve resembled the Alligator closely. With massive incisors towards the front of its maw and blunter teeth towards the back for crushing. Deinosuchus was the apex predator of its age, capable of an amazingly powerful bite force of anything from 18,000 newtons (N) up to 102,803 N (compared to a Tyrannosaurus Rex’s bite of just 35,000 N). As such it probably preyed on large ornithopods like the Kritosaurus around brackish water bays where other large predators avoided. And they’d ambush prey similarly to alligators, even utilising the dreaded ‘barrel roll’ method of killing. It might have also hunted giant sea turtles and large fish in coastal waters. Make no mistake Deinosuchus was the king of its age. 

It eventually died during the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event.

Titanoboa

The one-tonne snake (wired.com)

The giant of the snake world was the Titanoboa and it makes the modern Anaconda look like a grass snake by comparison.

Titanoboa lived in the first ever rainforests to exist in South America, specifically around coastal swampy areas on the proto Caribbean Sea. Its fossil remains were found in the northern coastal region of Colombia Existing during the Paleocene-Period.

Whereas our heaviest snake, the Green Anaconda, can be up to 5.21 m (17.1 ft) long and 70 kg (154 lb) heavy, the Titanoboa is estimated to have been around 12.8 m (42 ft) and weighed about 1.1 tonnes (2,500 lb). One full scale replica model measured a colossal 14.6m – over 1.5 London Buses long!

Although assumed to have been an apex predator, preying on crocodilians of the age, experts now believe its diet consisted more of aquatic creatures like 3m (10 ft) long lungfish, a dietary trait unique to Titanoboa among all boas. Because of its sheer weight, moving around on land would’ve been hard, and among the tree canopies out of the question, hence why it was mostly water bound.

Vorombe Titan

84 Prehistoric Madagascar ideas | prehistoric, prehistoric animals, extinct  animals
Vorombe Titan was the very largest of the massive Elephant Birds native to Madagascar.

The Vorombe Titan was the largest ever bird to exist and belonged to the ratite group of flightless birds with long, thin legs. It inhabited Madagascar just 1 millenia ago.

The largest bird to exist today, the Ostrich, grows up to 2.75 metres (about 9 feet) tall and weighs more than 150 kg (330 pounds). By comparison, the Vorombe may not have towered over the Ostrich at 3m, yet was much bulkier with a thicker neck, great hulking legs, and feet more akin to a T Rex than a big bird. And it was more than four times heavier at 650kg (1500 lbs). One specimen even reached 860 kg (1,900 lb) in weight. It was so enormous, its weight matched that of the smallest Sauropod dinosaurs. Its eggs were like large footballs.

Fortunately, with its giant talons and daggered beak, it was a herbivore and fed on fruit among the forests of Madagascar rather than early human settlers. As these people continued to spread and multiply across the large island, however, they preyed on these giant avians and destroyed their habitats from 600 AD until their eventual demise as late as 1200 AD. 

Griffinflies

One of nature’s largest ever bugs discovered (abc.net.au)

Greater levels of atmospheric oxygen in prehistory meant insects could also grow to ginormous dimensions. Meganeuropsis aka the Griffinfly is one of the largest insects ever discovered.

It resembled modern dragonflies/damselflies, with their two sets of wings and long thin bodies.

With the largest flying insects today, the Giant Dobsonfly boasting a 20cm (8 in) wingspan, the Griffinfly was more like the size of a large Sparrowhawk with one specimen measuring a 71cm (28 in) wingspan, and body length of 43 centimetres (17 in).

This huge bug flittered about in the Permian period 300-250 million years back at a time before dinosaurs truly ruled the world. It’s presumed to be carnivorous like its modern descendent.

Arctotherium

Giant jaguars, colossal bears done in by deadly combo of humans and heat |  Science | AAAS
Arctotherium won the arms race to dominate the food chain by simply outgrowing its competition (science.org)

The largest ever bear lived between 2.5-1 million years ago after its ancestors migrated down to South America after the formation of the Panamanian isthmus. Arctotherium, meaning ‘Bear Beast’ would’ve been able to sniff at the cranium of a tall man whilst on all fours before presumably devouring him.

The largest bear and land carnivore alive today, the Polar Bear, can be as big as 350–700 kg (770–1,540 lb), averaging 450kg (990lbs) and can stand on their hind legs to be almost 3 metres (10 foot). The Arctotherium would’ve stood even bigger, at 3.4–4.3 metres (11–14 ft) standing and 1.6 – 1.7 tonnes (3,501 to 3,856 lb) in weight. 

Arctotherium’s size is explained by an evolutionary drive to outgrow its competition in order to secure the largest carcasses against hunters like the Smilodon Sabercat.

Paraceratherium

Paraceratherium was as tall as a Giraffe and heavy as a fully loaded bus. (thoughtco.com)

Now to the largest land mammal ever; the Paraceratherium brings to mind more the Star Wars AT-AT walkers than the largest land mammal today, the African Elephant.

This giant hornless rhino lived during the Oligocene epoch 34–23 million years ago. Incomplete fossils make its size hard to exact but estimates put its shoulder height between 4.8 – 7.4 metres (15.7 – 24.3 feet). Its weight was probably 15 to 20 tonnes (33,000 to 44,000 lb). The long neck supported a skull alone that was 1.3 metres (4.3 ft) long. This compares to a Giraffe’s height of 6 metres (20ft) and a male African Elephant’s weight of 6,8 tonnes (15,000 lbs) 

They ranged across deserts and subtropical environments in small herds browsing on a variety of flora, safe in the knowledge there was barely a creature that could even gnaw on its legs. Although evidence suggests the 10 metre long Astorgosuchus tried, and their young were obviously more vulnerable.

Gigantopithecus Blacki   

A truly giant ancestor of ours (newscientist.com)

The largest ever known primate existed 2 to 0.3 million years ago during the Pleistocene period, and whilst it stood erect you might feel more like you were staring up at King Kong less an Orangutan that is its closest relative.

Size estimates are pretty speculative based on teeth and jaw remains only, yet Gigantopithecus Blacki could grow up to 3.5 metres (11.5ft) standing and could be over half a tonne (1200lb) in weight. This compares to the largest primate alive today, male Eastern Lowland Gorillas which grow to 140–205.5 kg (309–453 lb) and 1.7 m (5.6 ft) upright.

This hulking giant was a herbivore that lived on a diet of fruit and leaves amongst the dense, humid tropical forests of modern-day southern China. The males’ larger size was due to a fierce competition for mates. The species’ size meant the large sabre toothed tigers of the time posed little threat to fully grown Blacki.

They died out 300,000 years ago because their forests retreated southward. This abandoned them to a dwindling diet and possible predation by Homo Erectus.

Pelagornis sandersi

nitter tweet view
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? …it’s a bird (blog.education.nationalgeographic.org)

Gliding vast distances across the oceans at speeds up to 37 mph (60 kmh), the Pelagornis Sandersi is the largest ever bird capable of flight and lived approximately 25 million years back in the Oligocene period. This bird is most closely related to today’s Great Wandering Albatross, however compared to the Albatross with its wingspan of up to 3.7 m (12ft), the Sandersi’s wingspan was so broad it exceeded the height of the tallest giraffes at 6.1 – 7.4 m (17 – 24 ft). It also weighed at least 48 pounds (21.8 kilograms), the same as a Roe Deer, so was too bulky to get airborne by any other method than launching itself off sea-cliff edges.

The Sandersi lived similarly to the Albatross in that it likely preyed on fish and squid close to the surface. Unlike the Albatross, however, it likely couldn’t touch down on water, thus spending more time airborne.

Megalodon

The notorious Megalodon, the ‘whale hunter’. (thenews.com)

The Otodus Megalodon is perhaps the most terrifying giant of all in this list; a swift sailing behemoth, with the proportions similar to a Sperm Whale yet with a gaping mouth filled with razor-edged teeth like that of its descendent, the Great White Shark. And the Ancient Greek translation of its name, ‘Big Tooth’ was apt; Meg’s teeth could protrude up to 18 cm (7 in).

Estimations of the largest Megalodon sharks are anything between 10 to an awesome 25 metres (32 to 82 ft) in length and 27.4 to 59.4 metric tons in weight. This compares to Great White sharks that grow up to just 6.1 m long. Even the largest fish alive today, the Whale Shark, comes in at 15 m (49 ft).

Estimates suggest they could exert a bite force of up to 108,500 to 182,200 newtons – that’s 18 tonnes per square inch! Together with their size and strength, Megalodon is likely the most supreme predator to ever exist, and in the 23 – 4 million years ago it prowled the seas none of the giant whale ancestors would’ve been too much to take down.

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The Dyatlov Pass Incident, 1959

When investigators found the bodies of nine missing trekkers in the Artic tundra half-dressed and away from their tent for no apparent reason, it began perhaps the spookiest mystery in Russian history. Find out what happened here.

It was the depths of winter and 23-year-old Igor Alekseyevich Dyatlov with eight other fit, young men and women arrived at the town of Ivdel in Siberia’s nether regions.

They had come from the Ural Polytechnical Institute to complete a 190 mile (300km) training hike and the whole group were pretty much experts at operating in this harsh, hostile environment. Yet the mystery around their fates has led to no less than 75 theories to account for their demise.

Rescuers first on the scene and investigators of the day pieced together what they could: The group had passed through the Dyatlov Pass in a blizzard and got disoriented and lost. Realising they had taken the wrong route up the wrong mountain, they camped out in a single large tent on a mountain slope, in spite of some woodland being just one mile yonder, perhaps so that the team could practice making camp in the open.

Then something compelled the group to flee so desperately, they cut a hole in the tent side and so quickly, they didn’t have time to dress or even put on shoes to guard against the −30 °C (−22 °F) winter storm outside. They walked to the nearby copse of trees where two of them were found around a small fire in just their underwear.

Another three were found halfway back towards the tent, apparently trying to return once the danger, whatever it was, had passed. All had died from hypothermia. The other four were discovered later in the year once the snow had melted 75m (246ft) further in the woods and down a ravine. They were missing eyes and lips but also with severe chest injuries and a fatal skull injury.

So what had scared the group so much they fled the tent’s sanctuary under-dressed to certain death in the blizzard? Why had they split up? Were the other four’s injuries really due to falling into the ravine? …and why did one of the nine have heavy traces of radiation?

No one knows why the party ran half dressed from their tents into the freezing night (forum.fortyck.pl)

Reports around the event were highly censored, even by the Soviet’s standards and this only fuelled conspiracy theories and intrigue. Another group of hikers about 31 miles (50 km) south of the incident reported strange orange spheres in the sky to the north on the night of the incident. There are also claims military weapon tests may have been conducted nearby, which could’ve panicked the nine.

Other theories include everything from violent katabatic winds, infrasound, high winds blowing one member away and who the others attempted to rescue, to attack by local tribal people or even by a yeti.

The most plausible explanation, however, is that the group were alarmed by a slow-moving wall of snow known as a ‘snow slide’ which might have blocked the entrance and a fear of getting engulfed by the mass of snow forced them out. Regardless, the swirl of mystique around this incident compelled the Russian state to launch another investigation in 2019.

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The Woman Who Spontaneously Combusted, 1951

Among the phenomena on the fringes of scientific understanding is the propensity for the human body to set itself alight. The explanation, apparently, is Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC). Read here about one famous case and how it discombobulated investigators.

On the morning of July 2, 1951, Mary Reeser’s landlady arrived at her door with a telegram. Trying the door, she found the metal doorknob to be uncomfortably warm to the touch and called the police. They entered the room and were greeted with a disturbing scene.

Reeser’s remains, which were largely ashes, were found among the remains of a chair in which she had been sitting. Only part of her slippered left foot and her backbone remained along with her skull. Plastic household objects at a distance from the seat of the fire were softened and had lost their shapes. Reeser’s skull had survived and was found among the ashes, but shrunken ‘to the size of a teacup’.

Physical Anthropologist Professor Krogman who was asked to look into the case on record saying “I find it hard to believe that a human body, once ignited, will literally consume itself — burn itself out, as does a candle wick, guttering in the last residual pool of melted wax… Just what did happen on the night of July 1, 1951, in St. Petersburg, Florida? We may never know, though this case still haunts me.

He then concluded “I cannot conceive of such complete cremation without more burning of the apartment itself. In fact the apartment and everything in it should have been consumed… I regard it as the most amazing thing I have ever seen. As I review it, the short hairs on my neck bristle with vague fear. Were I living in the Middle Ages, I’d mutter something about black magic” Ms Reeser was the victim of a bizarre phenomenon known as Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC).

That SHC even exists, the scientific community is sceptical. Can a human body really just set alight by itself? Wouldn’t there be a number of cases around the world of people combusting in public?

Of over a hundred cases investigated, none have been observed. Victims are frequently elderly, female and prodigious drinkers. They are also usually near a heat source. There is probably no single explanation for each case of SHC but the general consensus is that an external source starts a fire on the person and then body fat acts as a sort of ‘candle wax’ to the human ‘wick’. Other pseudo-scientific theories exist.

Mrs Reeser and her remains after bursting into flame (tampabay.com)
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The Rainstorm That Went Splat, 1994

Residents of Oakville were flummoxed by a downpour of goo they experienced in 1994. What was even more disconcerting was the wave of illness that rippled throughout the community immediately after…

With the sight of undulating woodland resembling the serried ranks of a million upright matchsticks covered in a fuzzy green blanket of needles to the north and the sound of the wily Chehalis River babbling by to the south, Oakland in Washington State is the kind of all-wooden, spread-eagled town American frontier folk, accustomed to all the wilderness they want, like to call home.

On August the 7th, 1994 there was no indication that the coming day would be unlike any other.

Oakland is rinsed by mountain rains year-round so, for the few awake at 3 am, the rhythm of precipitation was familiar. Yet, any awake in bed would have strained breathlessly to scrutinise an alien sound; not a patter of raindrops on bedroom windows but rather a queer, dull splattering. What on earth could it be?

A cop and his friend on the graveyard shift were cruising the area in his patrol car. They were caught under the heavy deluge and left open mouthed as a translucent, soupy liquid was smeared across the windscreen by the wipers.

We both looked at each other and we said, ‘Jeez, this isn’t right. I mean, we’re out in the middle of nowhere, basically, and where did this come from?’”

They pulled over under shelter and the cop took a closer look at what had just gunged his car.

The substance was very mushy. It’s almost as if you had Jell-O in your hand… We did have some bells go off in our heads that basically said that this isn’t right, this isn’t normal.

The rain had covered an area of 20mi² (32 km²)

The puzzle deepened. People soon began to turn nauseous and dizzy. Pets dropped dead and Officer Lacey was finding it hard to breathe by the day’s end. Most of the residents were reportedly struck down with a mystery virus which lasted up to three months. Was the mystery rain of goo and sickness coincidence? Surely not.

Questions about the gelatin’s origin remain open. Lab tests on the substance were inconclusive; human white blood cells and two types of bacteria were found but the theory that it was human waste dumped from overflying airliners was discounted. Another idea that the goo is caused by a phenomenon called Star Jelly is… peculiar, to say the least.

Some residents recalled the drone of slow, black military aircraft over the town around the time but the Airforce denies involvement.

Shockingly, the official government reports of the event are no more.

(newspapers.com)
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Phineas Gage, the Man Who Survived the Impossible When an Iron Bar Skewered His Brain

To survive was one-in-a-million, but to almost completely recover is incomprehensible. The side-effects, however, made him shunned by decent society

A moral man, Phineas Gage

Tamping powder down holes for his wage

Blew his special-made probe

Through his left frontal lobe

Now he drinks, swears, and flies in a rage.

(Anonymous limerick)

On September 13, 1848, an unbelievable medical marvel occurred.

A foreman named Phineas Gage was toiling at the head of a work-gang who were blast­ing rock to pre­par­e the road­bed to lay railroad track on the under-construction Rut­land & Bur­ling­ton Rail­road in Ver­mont, USA,

A fit, strong man, sound of mind, temperament and morality, Gage was 25 at the time and his employers described him as “the most efficient and capable foreman in their employ”.

Setting a blast entailed boring a hole deep into an out­crop of rock; adding blast­ing pow­der and a fuse; then using the tamping iron to pack (‘tamp’) sand, clay, or other material into the hole above the powder in order to contain the blast’s energy and direct it into surrounding rock.

A freak instance of fate then shattered Gage’s life forever.

He stood over his tamping iron as he worked when one of his men drew his attention.

Gage’s head was turned over his right shoulder and his mouth was open mid-speech when his life changed forever.

At that precise moment, his tamping iron sparked against the rock and ignited the explosive powder.

The iron bar, 1.25in (3.2 cm) thick, 3ft, 7in (1.1 m) long, and weighing 13.25lbs (6.0 kg)‍ shot out the hole like a cannonball and straight up into Gage’s cranium.

A diagram showing how the tapering iron skewered Gage’s cranium (en.wikipedia.org)

In a flash, the pointed, smooth, cylindrical bar skewered the foreman’s brain, entering the left side of Gage’s face in an upward direction, just forward of the angle of the lower jaw.

Continuing upward outside the upper jaw it possibly fractured the cheekbone, before passing behind the left eye, through the left side of the brain, then completely out the top of the skull through the frontal bone.​​

The tamping iron landed like a javelin point-first some 80 feet (25 m) away “smeared with blood and brain”.

Gage was thrown onto his back and convulsed violently for a few minutes. Instead of perishing, however, this incredibly robust fellow started to speak.

Within minutes and, with only little assistance, Gage walked over and sat upright on an oxcart for a ride back to town.

Within half an hour of the accident physician Edward Williams arrived to find Gage sitting outside his hotel and was greeted with perhaps the greatest understatement in medical history:

“When I drove up he said, “Doctor, here is business enough for you.” I first noticed the wound upon the head before I alighted from my carriage, the pulsations of the brain being very distinct… Mr. Gage, during the time I was examining this wound, was relating the manner in which he was injured to the bystanders.”

“I did not believe Mr. Gage’s statement at that time, but thought he was deceived. Mr. Gage persisted in saying that the bar went through his head. Mr. G. got up and vomited; the effort of vomiting pressed out about half a teacupful of the brain [through the exit hole at the top of the skull], which fell upon the floor.”

Another doctor by the name Harlow arrived later and related his shock at Gage’s injury:

“You will excuse me for remarking here, that the picture presented was, to one unaccustomed to military surgery, truly terrific; but the patient bore his sufferings with the most heroic firmness. He recognized me at once, and said he hoped he was not much hurt. He seemed to be perfectly conscious, but was getting exhausted from the hemorrhage. His person, and the bed on which he was laid, were literally one gore of blood.”

Convalescence and Recovery

Both physicians cleaned up the wound, bandaged it loosely for it to drain and applied a nightcap.

They also applied bandages to his arms which had been deeply burned by the blast, as had Gage’s face, and on that first evening on the long road of convalescence, Harlow noted: “Mind clear. Constant agitation of his legs, being alternately retracted and extended … Says he ‘does not care to see his friends, as he shall be at work in a few days.’”

Despite his own optimism, Gage’s convalescence was long, difficult, and uneven. Though recognizing his mother and uncle — summoned from Lebanon, New Hampshire, 30 miles (50 km) away‍ — ‌ on the morning after the accident, on the second day, he “lost control of his mind, and became decidedly delirious”

His condition ebbed and flowed over the coming days, and the fellow’s friends and family braced themselves for his inevitable passing with a coffin at the ready.

Yet, the moment never came.

One of the factors which saved Gage’s life was Dr Harlow’s experience with cerebral abscess, and the good doctor was compelled to drain eight ounces [250 ml] of excessively fetid, ill-conditioned pus and blood from the wound.

By the 24th day Gage “succeeded in raising himself up, and took one step to his chair”.

Despite all the odds, he was on the road to recovery.

“Disfigured, yet still handsome” (en.wikipedia.org)

After 10 weeks, Gage could return to his mother’s home, and by February the following year had recovered so extraordinarily, he could do light work around the farm.

In less than a year of an iron bar shooting through the man’s skull, he could do a good half-day’s work and his physical damage appeared restricted to mild memory loss and loss of use of his left eye.

“No Longer Gage”

Another factor to explain Gage’s survival was the fact the tamping bar skewered his Frontal Lobe and not more critical lobes of the brain. In simple terms, damage to the Frontal Lobe affects memory and planning, and psychological functions linked to morality and substance abuse, amongst others.

Out of all the parts of the brain to suffer a spiked bar fly through it, the Frontal Lobe is the best cerebral section to endure that injury.

Gage may have been the first case to prove that the brain determined personality based on his startling change of character as a result of his horrific accident.

Dr Harlow noted changes in Gage’s behaviour within three years of his accident, particularly in the first few months.

Although the man’s intelligence, and memory even, appeared fine his temperament and morality, in contrast, were completely scrambled.

Before the accident, Gage was known as hardworking, responsible, focused and popular with his men. Yet afterwards, Harlow noted: “He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not pre­vi­ous­ly his custom)”

And Harlow went on to describe how he could be extremely obstinate one moment then capricious and vacillating at others.

He stated: “A child in his intel­lec­tu­al capacity and man­i­fes­ta­tions, he has the animal passions of a strong man.

For a while, folks even came to avoid his company as he was described as “gross, coarse and vulgar to such a degree his [company] was intolerable to decent people.”

1851 report based on information from Harlow (en.wikpedia.org)

More salacious rumours that he became a wife-beating, psychopathic, degenerate layabout were gross exaggerations or outright lies, however. For starters, he wasn’t married.

Later Life

In November 1849, as the rumours and scepticism of his injury spread Gage was invited to Boston to present himself to the Boston Society for Medical Improvement, after Harvard University’s Professor of Surgery examined Gage’s cranium to establish that the unbelievable accident had actually happened.

Since he’d lost his old job, Gage toured around for three years exhibiting himself; appearing for example as one of ‘Two Wonders of the World’ at a Vermont exhibition alongside ‘General Washburn, the living dwarf skeleton’. But made a poor living from these exhibitions.

He managed to scrape enough money together to travel down to Chile in August ’52 to work as a long-distance stagecoach driver on the ValparaísoSantiago route.

He took with him the tamping bar he reacquired as his constant companion.

During this time of employment Gage managed to recover the responsibility and decency he’s once been known for, and demonstrated full mental faculties for which the job of stagecoach demanded, including forward planning, care for the horses and courtesy with the passengers, etc.

Yet, by 1859 the hardships of the job caused his health to decline again and he returned to recuperate in San Francisco with his mother and sister.

Despite recovering enough to begin working again, by February 1860, Gage began to suffer severe epileptic seizures and succumbed to them four months later.

He was 36 at the time.

Phineas Gage’s impossible survival of his accident is down to the fact the bar transitioned through less critical cerebral tissue; his fitness; and prompt, skilled medical attention.

But his almost complete physical, mental and psychological recovery make this a tale to be remembered.

In 1866 Harlow, who was by then a prominent physician, busi­ness­man, and civic leader in Massachusetts ​​somehow learned that Gage had died and, at Harlow’s request, the Gage’s family had his skull exhumed and delivered it to Harlow themselves.

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The King of England’s Human Pet: Peter the Wild Boy

The story of when King George I adopted a feral child from the forests of Germany into his royal court

When King George I brought a feral boy into the British Royal Court in 1726 he caused a sensation among London’s high society. ‘Peter the Wild Boy’ as he came to be called, neither walked upright or could speak nor write and, to many it seemed, he’d surely been raised by wild animals. Yet, the truth behind why Peter behaved more animal than man only came out two centuries after his passing when a portrait of the boy was carefully scrutinized.

King’s Feral Forest Boy

So it was that in 1725, King George I of Great Britain returned to his birthplace of Hanover, Germany, and was out hunting in the Hertswold Forest one day.

Amidst a dank, dark grove of beechwood, the King and his hunting party were startled to come across a strange sight.

The fateful moment King George I came across Peter ‘the wild boy of Hanover’ (alamy.com)

It was a young adolescent boy scuttling about on all fours like some forest animal. He did not speak but growled and grunted like some guttural, primeval savage.

King George was puzzled by this naked and dishevelled child. He was so at odds with the grace and decorum he’d always known. Had he’d been nurtured by wolves or bears, the King wondered?

He returned from the hunt with this curious child, and a year later the boy, now called Peter, was brought over to London to be transformed from a savage into a gentleman.

Media Sensation

Peter’s arrival quickly became the talk of the town and he became a celebrity; a media sensation who was the subject of newspaper articles, poems and ballads.

This was a time when London was a burgeoning epicentre of European civilization and the Age of Enlightenment was in full flow. Into this intellectual environment, Peter fanned the flames of a debate raging around science and philosophy, nature versus nurture and the delicate line between humans and wild animals.

Questions around whether genetics or environment engendered Peter’s bestial traits, and whether his inability to talk betrayed the absence of a soul or conscience kept the royal court rife with speculation.

Daniel Defoe, of Robinson Crusoe fame, wrote a pamphlet, ‘Mere Nature Delineated, in which he mused about Peter’s nature. Meanwhile, the linguistic scholar Lord Monboddo, in his ‘Origin and Progress of Language’ presented Peter as an example of his theory of human evolution. Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, even went so far as to create a new category of human in his ‘Systema Naturae’ just for Peter called ‘Juvenis Hanoveranus’.

A wax figure of him was exhibited on Westminster’s Strand, and the renowned satirist Jonathan Swift poked fun at the excitement surrounding his arrival with a pamphlet called ‘The Most Wonderful Wonder that ever appeared to the Wonder of the British Nation’.

Peter’s Palace Life

Once Peter settled in. he was treated as something of a pet. Peter charmed the royal household by stealing kisses and cheekily picking the courtiers’ pockets.

Predictably he did struggle to adjust from his life in the undergrowth to one in the plush surroundings of a royal palace, for example making it difficult for palace staff to get him to walk or dress in his green jacket. And the sight of a man once taking off stockings horrified Peter because he thought the man was peeling off his skin.

Dr. Arbuthnot was soon assigned to oversee Peter’s education but be made zero progress in teaching the teenager to speak, read or write. The most he ever achieved was to say his own name and ‘King George’. He did seem to understand much of what was said to him, however.

On balance, Peter seemed more beast than man.

Farm Life and a Pension

In 1727, Peter’s sovereign passed away and he was sent to live out his days on a farm with a handsome annual pension of £35 and his welfare was taken up by a yeoman known to the royal household.

And there, he lived out a long and presumably comfortable life in a laidback rural parish of Northchurch, Hertfordshire where he developed a taste for gin but was known for his general timidity.

He could still get up to mischief, however.

In 1750 Peter went missing. Despite searching far and wide, he could not be tracked down until a nearby jail for vagrants and miscreants caught on fire. In the ensuing evacuation, Peter was identified by his unusual physique and traits.

After that episode, a collar was made for Peter inscribed: ‘Peter, the Wild Man from Hanover. Whoever will bring him to Mr Fenn at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, shall be paid for their trouble’.

Peter’s headstone, now an English Heritage Grade II listed structure (thechilterns.blog)

Peter outlived both King George I and II and was well into his 70s when he finally passed away in 1785. He was buried with a gravestone, and flowers are still laid there to this day as a mark of the affection he evoked.

Yet, the scientific mystery around why he failed to cast off his savage ways lay unsolved until as recently as 2011 when a remarkable discovery was made. Painter William Kent included a depiction of Peter in a large painting of King George I’s court that today hangs in Kensington Palace.

Peter’s tell-tale features from a painting by William Kent (bbc.co.uk)

A recent analysis of this portrait by the Institute of Child Health suggests Peter had a rare genetic condition known as Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome, indicated by:

  1. His short stature

2. Lustrous mop of thick curly hair

3. Hooded eyelids

4. Cupid’s bow mouth, with a pronounced curve to the upper lip

5. He disliked clothes and was wrestled daily into a green suit

6. Pictured holding acorns and oak leaves – symbolic of living wild in the woods – and some fingers on his left hand (not seen) were fused

Pitt-Hopkins is a genetic condition only identified in 1978 and has severe neurological effects. People who have it are characterized by severe learning difficulties, developmental difficulties and the inability to speak. It is thankfully extremely rare; just 500 people have been diagnosed with it across the globe. This discovery would explain why Peter was abandoned in the forest; his parents no doubt struggled to cope with his handicaps.

So, the mystery was solved; ‘Peter the Wild Boy’ was not raised at the teet of a wolf or bear, he was just a boy with a one-in-a-million medical condition.

He was clearly unfortunate in one sense. Nevertheless, Peter was very lucky to encounter His Majesty on that fateful hunt. The King’s interest in Peter’s development did wane with his novelty, but most people with his condition would’ve ended up in a zoo or circus freak show. Peter, however, was treated with care and affection throughout his life.

10 Little-Known British Natural Disasters

Read about the worst that Mother Nature has thrown at Britain

When Mother Nature gets angry the effects can be both spectacular and catastrophic. You’ll rarely hear stories of homes getting obliterated by violent winds, buildings rocking on their foundations or tornadoes tearing across the land emanate from Great Britain, however.

The UK has, it seems, a very droll climate, yet you’d be surprised by the extreme weather events and natural disasters that have actually occurred on this supposedly green and pleasant land.

Hurricane

Between a tree and a hard place; two of Britain’s iconic telephone boxes sandwiched by one of the 15 million trees uprooted that night (alamy.com)

The Hurricane of 1987 was an event immortalized in the annals of British pop culture by preeminent BBC weatherman Michael Fish denying on live TV that a hurricane was on its way, only to eat his words hours later.

On the night of 15th/16th of October, the great storm ploughed into the English south coast and gave the country a thorough battering before coming out the other side again at The Wash.

With the highest gusts measuring 135mph (217km/h), 15 million trees were felled, blocking roads and crushing cars.

Roofs and windows were smashed and several hundred thousand people were left without power, not fully restored until more than two weeks later. At sea, one ferry capsized.

18 people perished and the damage totalled over two billion pounds.

Heatwave

1st August 1911: Men sleeping on the sands at Westcliff, Essex during the 1911 heatwave (notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com)

For a country known for its rain and mild climate, the UK has endured some pretty brutal heatwaves over the decades.

The worst of them was the heatwave of 1911. For over two months, temperature records were smashed, with a high of 36.7 °C (98.1 °F).

It got so hot rural workers in Lancashire had to adopt a ‘siesta’ workday where they would quit the mid-afternoon swelter to return to their labours in the evening. Whilst on the London Docks thousands of workers went on strike in desperation to escape toiling in the merciless heat.

2500-4000 souls, including over 600 babies, succumbed to the punishing heat before it abated.

Tsunami

“So violent and swift were the outragiouse waves…” (volcanocafe.com)

You might find it hard to believe, but some evidence suggests a tsunami devastated the coastline of the Bristol Channel in 1607AD.

It drowned thousands of people, swept away houses and villages and destroyed whole flocks of cattle.

A contemporary account of the event described the disaster: “… so violent and swift were the outragiouse waves, that pursued one an other, with such vehemencie, and the Waters multiplying so much in so short a time, that… most part of those cuntreys (and especially the places which lay lowe) were all over flowen, and many hundreds of people both men women, and children were then quite devoured, by these outragious waters, such was the furie of the waves, of the Seas, the one of them dryving the other forwardes with such force and swiftnes.

Tornado

Tornado or terrorism? Carnage aftermath of 2005 Birmingham Tornado (BBC.com)

The UK actually gets about 35 twisters each year, though admittedly, quite weak ones.

In Birmingham 2005, however, a tornado tore through the city, briefly reaching F3 status on the Fujita scale.

It picked up cars and flung them around, ripped the tower off a primary school and uprooted 1100 trees, among other damage caused. 19 people were injured and 40 million pounds of damage was caused.

In 1981 the UK was hit by an outbreak of over 100 tornadoes in the space of five hours on November the 23rd. Although the strongest reached just F2 status, hundreds of properties were damaged. It was the largest recorded tornado outbreak in European history.

Drought

One of Britain’s many parched reservoirs (todayifoundout.com)

Although Britain is notorious for its frequent showers, it has suffered a number of droughts in recent history.

The UK was absolutely parched and desperate for a thirst-quenching downpour by the end of the summer of 1976. This was the most severe drought in living memory.

The warmest Summer in 350 years was preceded by an exceptionally dry 12 months including the previous winter which received only 61% of the rainfall expected.

In the Summer of ’76 some parts of South West England hadn’t seen a drop of rain for 45 days and by August the situation had deteriorated to the extent Parliament passed the Drought Act.

This resulted in thousands of homes in Yorkshire and East Anglia having their water supply replaced by communal standpipes in the streets, and many house-holders in Wales and the west of England were left without tap water for much of the day.

Meanwhile, crops were badly hit; £500 million pounds worth of crops were wasted resulting in a 12% jump in food prices.

The Haweswater Reservoir dried up so much it held just 10% capacity.

September rains finally broke what had become the driest 16 month period in more than a quarter of a millennium.

Snow Storm

Men work to dig out one of the many snowed in trains during the ‘Big Freeze, 1963 (dovegreyreader.typepad.com)

The UK once made a sterling attempt to imitate the frigid Siberian Tundra in what became dubbed the ‘Big Freeze’ of 1963. It was the coldest winter in 200 years with an average temperature of −2.1 °C (28.2 °F) in the month of January.

In Scotland the thermometer bottomed out at an arctic −19.4 °C (−2.9 °F).

A blizzard hit Britain just before the turn of the year and snowdrifts formed up to 6 metres (20 ft) in places. My father remembers it as the winter when he awoke one morning to find the snow was up to his bedroom window!

On the 20th of January 283 workers had to be rescued by RAF helicopters from Fylingdales, where they had been snowbound for several days.

In February people had to endure a whopping 36-hour-long blizzard. The transport network was severely disrupted and farmers could only keep their flocks from starving by dropping food to them from helicopters.

Meanwhile, lakes and waterways froze over and could be skated on. The Thames even saw its first car rally on the ice.

Even the sea off the Kent coastline froze to a mile out. The Chatham Dockyard was only kept open with the use of an icebreaker.

Most of the country was covered in snow for January and February and it was only until March that this once temperate land began to thaw out.

At least 50 people died in this artic spell.

Wildfire

The Scottish Highlands on fire (wildfiretoday.com)

From ice to fire, we’ve been awed by the footage of raging forest fires that break out every year across vast swathes of the USA and Australia, torching everything in their path to a crisp, but the UK also regularly gets wildfires.

One of the worst of these was a wildfire which ignited in Scotland, of all places, in 2019.

Dry conditions and high winds caused the flames to spread aggressively and at its height, 80 firefighters were tackling the blaze.

In just the first day, the fire incinerated more than 40 square kilometres (10,000 acres) and created a plume of smoke that could be seen from space.

Later, firefighters thought they had tackled most of the blaze and left the scene. However, it reignited and scorched another 50 square kilometres (12,400 acres).

Avalanche

The aftermath and rescue efforts of the Lewes Avalanche (historic-uk.com)

The winter of 1836 was an exceptionally severe one and blizzards had swept across the island, even to the very south of it over the South Downs around Lewes town.

One of the hills above and around the town, Cliffe Hill, though not very big, did have a very steep slope and at its base was a row of cottages.

The blizzard conditions had caused a huge amount of snow to accumulate into a cornice hanging over the row of houses, and even back then they could see the danger and the cottage residents were advised to evacuate, but they chose not to.

When the accumulation of snow finally gave way, 15 people were judged to have been in the houses below.

One eyewitness described what happened: “The mass appeared to strike the houses first at the base, heaving them upwards, and then breaking over them like a gigantic wave. There was nothing but a mound of pure white.”

A rescue operation by townspeople succeeded in pulling seven survivors from the wreckage before hypothermia or suffocation could claim them, but eight other individuals were found dead.

The Lewes Avalanche remains Britain’s deadliest ever.

Landslide

Racked by grief, a mother says goodbye at a funeral of one of the 116 children who perished that day (businessinsider.com)

The story of a horrific landslide that hit Aberfan in Wales on 21st October 1966.

The village is nestled on the slopes of the Brecon Beacon mountain range where mining was an integral part of the economy.

Over the years a spoil tip (accumulated waste material removed during mining) had been negligently built up on the slopes above the village.

A period of heavy rain in the days leading up led to a build-up of water within the tip which caused it to suddenly slide downhill.

Those who heard the mass of mine mud surging down towards them said the sound reminded them of a low-flying jet or thunder.

The tragedy was that it wasn’t just houses in the path of this slurry of death; Pantglas Junior School also lay in its path and was full of students when the wall of sludge overwhelmed them and snuffed out most of their short lives.

Feverish rescue efforts managed to save dozens of buried adults and children yet, sadly, 144 people died that day, including five teachers and 109 pupils from the school.

Earthquake

An elderly woman is helped from her home through rubble after a 4.3 earthquake in Folkestone in 2007 (thesun.co.uk)

Although the UK is clearly not earthquake-prone, it may interest you to know that 200–300 tremors and mild quakes are detected every year by the British Geological Survey.

On June, 7th, 1931 a severe earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter Scale hit 60 miles (97 km) off the Yorkshire coast in the North Sea which toppled chimneys and caused cliffs to crumble. A woman also died from a heart attack triggered by the shocking event.

Flood

Due to flooding around Foulness in Kent, a herd of cattle takes sanctuary around an old abandoned farm (channel4.com)

This is one natural disaster we British are very familiar with, particularly around my corner of the island in the Cotswold Hills. It makes me recall driving to work in 2007 over the top of the hills with the bizarre sensation of being surrounded by lakes of floodwater on either side of the road.

The worst flood, indeed natural disaster, to befall the UK in modern times undoubtedly has to be the North Sea Flood of 1953.

On New Year’s Eve a combination of roaring winds and a high spring tide forced seawater to rise and overwhelm the inadequate sea defences along the south-east coast of England (not to mention of Belgium and the Netherlands).

The sea level swelled so quickly, thousands were caught off guard as water surged into their homes and businesses. 250 square kilometres (65,000 acres) of land were submerged.

People were forced to wait for rescue as the water continued to rise, with an account of at least one family forced to spend the night exposed to the elements on the roof of their house as the waters sloshed around them. Houses and livestock were washed out to sea as water levels rose by 4m (16ft).

The death toll is estimated at 307 plus another 224 at sea, and 30,000 had to be evacuated. There was also a whopping £50 million pounds worth of damage.

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The Policeman Whose Sense of Smell Once Saved Many Lives

The story of the hero policeman who sniffed out trouble to save the lives of his neighbours

When the nose knows, you’d better take notice; that was certainly the case for Police Constable Nick Shaw in the wee hours of the 9th of January, 1987. It was because of this policeman’s sense of smell and quick thinking that the worst ever disaster to befall a locale of Gloucestershire, UK, was narrowly avoided.

It had just gone 3 am and along Wickwar village’s long, wide thoroughfare, with its fine houses which line it, all was still save the prowling of a cat or two among the shadows cast by the street lighting.

And it was almost silent, as one would expect… save for an unusual hissing noise.

Another noise chimed in; the low growl of a car engine as a car was driven up the street then around to the rear of one of the homes.

Having finished a late night game of backgammon Nick Shaw arrived back home and could feel the weight of his eyelids. He was now more than ready to slip into his warm bed.

Once through the back door he began to remove his coat yet something made him pause, ears pricked.

Shaw could detect a queer, muffled popping noise which he described later as the sound of “neighbours falling out of bed.”

Then a more alarming sensation hit him; the strong, unmistakable whiff of gas filled his nostrils. This was most strange, especially as his house was all-electric. Now wide awake the policeman went to investigate.

Opening his front door the stench of gas and a sound of hissing emanating from the road surface confirmed his worst fears. A gas mains ran under the length of Wickwar’s broad, main roadway and it had ruptured.

Now, gas was filling the street and could explode at any moment. Shaw stayed cool but the enormity of the situation hit him. He knew he had to act bloody fast.

He first rang 999 (911 in America) then raced up his stairs to rouse his young wife out of bed. Throwing a blanket over her shoulders he briskly sent her down the street to safety. Shaw knew he was in a desperate race against time to get his neighbours out of their homes before half the street went up in flames.

So, dashing from door to door Shaw woke his neighbours and they responded awfully well, with the kind of good humoured ‘keep calm and carry on’ spirit which has always served the British in times of emergency. Almost 40 villagers, without even time to change out of their night-clothes, were evacuated into the social club.

At 5.52am, just 30 minutes after everyone nearby was evacuated, came a massive blast which shook the village and was heard three miles away. It blew a crater in the road and great tongues of fire spewed upwards to the height of the bedroom windows.

PC Shaw’s very own home took the full brunt of the explosion, destroying it and everything he and his wife owned. 13 surrounding homes were also wrecked. Yet there were no serious casualties and, for that, PC Nick Shaw was hailed a hero by his grateful community.

In the aftermath the fracturing of the cast iron gas pipe was blamed on too many heavy goods vehicles passing over it.

Shaw is still revered in Wickwar, even today. He retired from the Police Force in 2013.

Compilation of news reports on the incident (youtube.com)
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