11 Curious Events That Really Happened

iStock / Rebecca O'Connell
iStock / Rebecca O'Connell

Sometimes things happen that humans just can’t explain in the short-term—or for a long while after. 

1. THE KENTUCKY MEAT SHOWER

Would you eat meat that fell from the sky? In 1876, some people did. That’s because a Bath County, Kentucky couple witnessed meat seemingly falling from the clouds. On March 3, 1876, Allen Crouch and his wife watched chunks of meat inexplicably cover their farm; the newspaper report drew neighbors, spectators and local butchers who attempted to determine where the mysterious meat came from. Some (along with the Crouch’s cat) even sampled the meat and believed it to be "either mutton or venison," but no definitive source could be identified. Scientists at the time eventually concluded vultures flying overhead after an exceptionally large meal could have vomited the half-digested meat mid-flight, leading to the meat shower, but researchers were unable to confirm the theory.

2. SALISH SEA HUMAN FOOT DISCOVERIES

In February 2016, within days of each other, two shoes containing severed human feet washed up in the area of Vancouver Island’s Botanical Beach, and unfortunately, they were not the first. Since 2007, 16 severed feet have washed up along the Northwest Pacific coastline, only to be found by Washington or British Columbia beachgoers. Initially, investigators speculated that the feet could have come from victims of far-off natural disasters or serial killers, but after several years they determined that the identified remains belonged to people who had committed suicide or likely died accidentally during stormy weather. But why are feet the only found remains in these cases? Decomposition in water is tough business, with the push and pull of waves causing hands and feet to disconnect from a corpse. And with modern shoes being constructed with light materials and air pockets, those remains were more likely to float. Still, some believe that similarities between the remains—mostly right feet wearing running shoes or hiking boots—are too coincidental, and that something more sinister is amiss.

3. GERMANY'S EXPLODING TOADS


A small pond in Hamburg, Germany, became the center of an exploding toad epidemic in 2005. More than 1000 toad carcasses were found—including splattered remains—mystifying nearby residents and park visitors. After water testing proved inconclusive and autopsied toads appeared free of fungus or viruses, scientists let another theory take flight: hungry crows. Berlin veterinarian Frank Mutschmann suggested that crows with an affinity for toad livers likely pecked between the toad’s chest and abdomen, causing the amphibians to puff up in an effort to scare away their predators. Unfortunately, the missing liver and subsequent wound (and possibly a punctured lung) could cause the toad’s blood vessels and lungs to burst upon puffing. While this guess seems reasonable, scientists can’t confirm since bystanders haven’t seen it happen.

4. WAKING UP WITH PERFECT PRONUNCIATION

In 2014, Australian native Ben McMahon spent a week in a coma following a car accident. When he awoke, the English speaker instead spoke fluent Mandarin, which he had previously studied, but not to any strong level. Scientists understand that brain trauma can damage portions areas of the brain where speaking skills are stored, possibly causing the brain to re-circuit to other language skills—regardless of how minimal—stored in different zones. But how sudden fluency is achieved isn't known. McMahon isn’t the only person to emerge from a coma with new language skills; a Croatian teenager awoke speaking fluent German in 2010, while a British survivor of a six-car pileup came out of a coma speaking French—and also believing he was actor Matthew McConaughey.

5. RETURNING MORNING GLORY CLOUDS


For centuries, clouds have been used as real-time alerts for incoming weather. While meteorologists have extensively studied clouds, there's one they don't know much about: the Morning Glory cloud. These long, narrow clouds often appear in perfectly straight rows, each cloud reaching up to 600 miles long. When it comes to research, the Morning Glory phenomenon is often overlooked because it is normally only seen between September and November in the skies above northeastern Australia. Scientists know the clouds are created by the collision of sea breezes that lift moist air and forms clouds, but few scientists study beyond their formation, leading us to wonder how long Morning Glory clouds been occurring and why they’re sometimes also seen over Germany and the U.S.

6. A SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUSTING TENANT

Those curious about spontaneous human combustion may point to the case of Mary Hardy Reeser, a 67-year-old St. Petersburg, Florida, woman who died in a mysterious blaze. On July 2, 1951, Reeser’s landlady stopped by only to find Reeser’s charred remains in a chair, with the rest of the room seemingly untouched by flames. FBI investigators believed Reeser took a sleeping pill and after falling asleep, accidentally caught her highly flammable clothing on fire from a lit cigarette. The chair she slept in was made of fire-retardant materials, allowing it to remain relatively unscathed while Reeser’s own body fat fed the flames. Yet, many conspiracy theorists find the FBI’s findings unrealistic, puzzled by how a fire so hot could have minimal damage to Reeser’s apartment when cremation often requires temperatures well above 2000 degrees.

7. THE DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT


Even experienced climbers and hikers fear getting injured or worse. But what happened to a team of nine Soviet campers in February 1959 continues to puzzle and terrify many. Led by an experienced mountaineer, the students ventured into the northern Ural Mountains, only to be discovered dead weeks later, with no clear explanation of what went wrong. When five of the campers were initially found, their bodies exhibited signs of traumatic injuries yet there were no obvious clues to how they were harmed. A tent was cut from the inside out and bodies were found leading away from the base camp. Several in the group were missing clothing, revealing their bodies had turned an unusual hue of orange. The Russian government investigated the incident, noting that the bodies displayed some evidence of radioactivity, but case files were sealed, making it difficult to know why exactly that was noted. Plausible theories for the hikers’ deaths include accidental exposure to radioactive testing or infrasound frequencies that were misinterpreted as an avalanche, causing the hikers to flee into treacherous conditions. No matter what the cause, the only ones who truly know what happened on that mountain died there.

8. MYSTERIOUS "CHUPACABRA" ATTACKS

While the lore of a vampire-like beast has existed in the Rio Grande region of Texas since the 1970s (usually described as a giant bird), it wasn’t until the mid-1990s when chupacabra fears hit a fever pitch. In March of 1995, Puerto Rican farmers reported a series of attacks by the chupacabra (which translates to "goat sucker") after finding eight sheep dead and drained of their blood. The only evidence of the killings was a set of small puncture wounds on each animal. By August, the town of Canóvanas saw more than 100 dead farm animals and pets, all drained of their blood with similar wounds. While speculation initially considered satanic cults, many believers found it entirely possible that there were vampire beasts on a bloodsucking frenzy.

By the 2000s, attacks from el chupacabra spread throughout Latin American, Florida, and Texas, where several residents and ranchers captured suspected beasts—though DNA tests show that the animals were simply coyotes or wild dogs with intense mange. Biologists believe there is no such thing as a chupacabra, but instead the attacks were the work of frenzied coyotes and wild dogs that often kill but leave behind their prey. As for the suspected blood drainings, many of the examined animals lost an amount of blood typical of bleeding to death from a bite, proving they weren’t a bloodsucker's meal. Yet many chupacabra believers claim the beast exists simply because the theorized wild dog attacks haven't been witnessed, and so, the legend of the chupacabras continue to haunt the night.

9. THE TOXIC WOMAN

The story of the Toxic Woman sounds like the plot of a sci-fi movie, except it really happened. On February 19, 1994, Gloria Ramirez entered the General Hospital in Riverside, California, for complications attributed to advanced-stage cervical cancer. Within minutes, doctors and nurses who had contact with her mentioned the smell of ammonia before falling ill, with some even passing out due to fumes coming from Ramirez’s body. As a precaution, the emergency room was evacuated, and a doctor and nurse were hospitalized for side effects attributed to the unusual fumes; Ramirez died of heart failure that evening. The autopsy on her body required the coroner’s office to build a special enclosure and follow hazmat procedures, including suits and being washed with decontaminants afterwards, but the autopsy was inconclusive.

While it’s not perfectly clear what exactly happened or why Ramirez’s body emitted ammonia-like fumes, doctors believe it was due to her cancer treatments. Ramirez is believed to have taken a pain-relieving home remedy that included dimethyl sulfoxide, which built up in her body due to a urinary blockage. When oxygen was administered, the chemical transformed into dimethyl sulfone, and the use of defibrillators on Ramirez would have changed that compound to dimethyl sulfate—a poisonous gas.  While researchers in the mid-1990s believed this to be a logical solution, additional testing was not possible due to the decomposition of Ramirez’s body. And so, theories of extraterrestrial interference and the hospital’s wrongdoing have continued to live on.

10. THE TUNGUSKA EVENT

More than 100 years after an explosion charred a Siberian forest, scientists still don’t know what exactly happened. In 1908, the remote Tunguska region of Siberia experienced a blast so intense that scientists say it produced nearly 185 times more energy than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The closest eyewitnesses, who were 35 miles away, claimed to see a fireball light the sky above the forest before hearing and feeling a crash, followed by heat. At most one or two people were killed, along with hundreds of reindeer. Initial speculations included a volcanic explosion or meteorite impact, but investigations proved difficult due to the rural, rugged area and Russian politics. During the past century, scientists have leaned on the theory of an asteroid or air burst, yet little physical evidence supports this idea.

11. MEOWING NUNS


Modern science understands mass hysteria—a situation where groups of people suffer from the same mysterious effects of a strange illness or behavior—and how easily it can spread. We also now know it can be common among people who live in strict social settings for extended periods of time. But before modern psychology, no one understood this phenomenon or knew how to deal with it—especially when an entire convent of nuns got a little … catty. After one nun mysteriously began meowing, an entire French convent took on the persona of cats. Soon, many in the convent also began meowing for hours each day, gaining the attention of nearby villagers who eventually had enough. Soldiers were called in to circle the convent and nuns were warned that if they didn’t stop meowing, they’d be whipped. Not surprisingly, the meowing stopped pretty quickly, but how the cattitude started and why it lasted so was never clearly documented. How curious.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Facts About Argentine Ants

A pile of genetically-related Argentine ants
A pile of genetically-related Argentine ants
Marc Matteo, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

A supercolony of invasive Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) stretches for 560 miles beneath California, from San Diego to San Francisco. The billions of Argentine ants are unlike other ants in many ways—and they are virtually indestructible. Along with their supercolonies in Europe, Japan, and Australia, L. humile’s global domination is rivaled only by that of human beings. Here’s what you should know about these prolific pests.

1. Argentine ant colonies are ruled by hundreds of queens.

Most ant colonies revolve around a single queen. Growing much larger than the worker drones, she is programmed to mate as quickly as possible, then to leave her nest of origin and establish a new one. In some species, a single queen can lay millions of eggs in a lifetime, producing an army of worker drones and future queens who will go off to build their own nests. But unlike most ants, Argentines are polygynous: Each nest contains multiple queens. In some, they can form up to 30 percent of the population.

2. Argentine ants move their nests frequently.

Nest types vary from ant species to ant species, but those who live in soil commonly dig tunnels and chambers deep into the earth that will protect the colony throughout the life of the queen. L. humile, though, is transient and ever shifting. Argentine ants frequently pack up their eggs and move the entire colony, queen and all, to a new nest, even when there is no apparent threat. Biologist Deborah Gordon told Ars Technica that the ants typically have 20 to 30 shallow nests at any one time, which can be built up in a matter of just weeks.

3. Argentine ants traveled the U.S. before settling down in California.

Argentine ants arrived in the United States from Northern Argentina in the late 19th century, when the first recorded Argentine ant was found in Louisiana in 1891. Researchers believe that the ants hitched a ride to North America in Argentinian shipments of coffee or sugar off-loaded at the Port of New Orleans. From there, they traveled—most likely by train—across the South and into California. Enticed by the Mediterranean climate, one similar to that of its original home in South America, the ants set up shop. By 1907, they’d displaced local native ants and begun their first steps towards total soil domination along 560 miles of California coastline.

4. California’s Argentine ants are more laid-back than their South American cousins.

In side-by-side comparisons of Argentine ants from their South American homeland and California, researchers have found that those from the West Coast are far more mellow than those from Argentina. In studies, it was typical for two ants from different nests to fight when placed in the same vial in Argentina, but in California, ants from different nests rarely fought, even when they were collected from locations several hundred miles apart.

A DNA study of ants from both locations in 2000 revealed a stark difference. In the ants from Argentina, microsatellites—short, uniquely patterned DNA sequences passed down from generation to generation—had more than twice as much variation as the microsatellites of the Californian ants. When two individuals from different nests in California were placed together, they recognized one another as family. The ants from Argentina didn’t, making them more likely to display territorial aggression.

The difference is rooted in the genetic bottleneck the ants encountered on their arrival to the Golden State over a century ago. According to biologist Neil D. Tsutsui, who conducted the DNA study, the ants in California today are all descendants of that founding colony. “It would be as if all of the people in the United States were descended from the Pilgrims who came here in 1620,” he told the Stanford Report in 2004. Instead of competing with one another, generation after generation has worked together to take out native ants and build an immense California colony.

5. Argentine ants protect other insects in exchange for sweet, sweet honeydew.

Argentine ants
Two Argentine ants share a tiny blob of honeydew.
Davefoc, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Argentine ants love to feed on sweet nectar, but flowers and suburban kitchens aren’t the only source of such desirable foodstuffs. Insects that feed on plant sap, like mealybugs, scales, and aphids, naturally excrete sugar-rich liquid “honeydew” from their butts. To secure a steady flow of the sticky-sweet substance, Argentine ants will fight off the predators of their insect chefs, including soldier beetles and midges. They’ll even relocate their honeydew producers to better food sources or microclimates to get the most they can out of their anal secretions.

6. The California Argetine ant supercolony is one-sixth the size of Southern Europe’s.

The California supercolony, which scientists have named the “Californian large,” is only the second-biggest conglomeration of Argentine ants in the world. The biggest colony is found along Southern Europe’s Mediterranean coast, where it stretches 3700 miles from northern Italy to the Atlantic coast of Spain. The ants, introduced around 80 years ago, now number in the billions. Smaller supercolonies also exist in Japan and Australia.

7. Argentine ants are second only to humans in their scale of world domination.

In 2009, researchers discovered that Argentine ants from three of the world’s largest supercolonies (Southern Europe, California, and Japan) are so closely related that they actually form a single mega-colony. The study, led by Eriki Sunamura from the University of Tokyo, found that when placed together, ants from the three supercolonies refused to fight. Instead, they rubbed antennae in greeting the way L. humile does when interacting with genetically-related individuals.

The researchers believe that the Argentine ant mega-colony isn’t just the largest insect colony ever identified; it rivals that of human colonization around the globe. Presenting their findings in the journal Insect Sociaux, they wrote, “the enormous extent of this population is paralleled only by human society.”

8. A mass execution of Argentine ant queens takes place every spring.

Each spring, just before mating season begins, worker ants go on a killing rampage and assassinate 90 percent of their queens. Entomologists aren’t sure exactly why the large-scale execution occurs, but one hypothesis, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology in 2001, suggests that it is a “spiteful behavior” to kill the queens that are less related, on average, to the workers.

In their study, researchers from the University of Lausanne hypothesized that Argentine ants are regularly separated from direct family members through free exchange among the nests. Before mating season begins each year, those that are genetically related band together to kill more distantly related queens. Doing so decreases the nest’s genetic diversity and allows it to be rebuilt with a queen who is directly related to the greatest majority of workers.

The study’s results were inconclusive and the question remained unanswered, yet researchers learned something unexpected in the process. Instead of finding genetic diversity among worker ants, those belonging to each nest were actually a homogenous population. Only the queens were genetic outliers with relatively few familial relationships in each nest.

9. Climate change is making Argentine ants more of a nuisance to humans.

Argentine ants thrive in a Mediterranean climate where winters are cool and wet and summers are warm and dry. When conditions are ideal, they largely keep to themselves, but when conditions are drought-like or extremely wet, the ants move indoors in search of more hospitable climes. Experts at survival, Argentine ants can find food or water that’s been left unguarded in just minutes.

With the climate crisis, conditions in California are becoming more extreme. Hot days, no longer relegated just to the summer months, are becoming more numerous and prolonged. Droughts are becoming more frequent. While these changes are unlikely to harm much of the California supercolony, they are likely to drive the residents of urban nests more frequently into people's homes, making the ants a major nuisance for residents from San Diego to San Francisco.

10. Argentine ants are almost impossible to eradicate.

Individual Argentine ants are easy enough to kill, but an Argentine ant colony is a different story. The California colony has no natural predators and, thanks to their high levels of cooperation and massive numbers, L. humile has effectively destroyed possible competitors and disrupted the ecological balance of native species in the process. Insecticides, which are unable to penetrate into the underground nests, aren’t particularly effective. And because the ants can pick up and move their entire nest so quickly, neither are household control measures such as ant bait. After just over a century in California, Argentine ants are now virtually invincible.