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Fake Sea Turtle Eggs Reveal Poachers’ Secret Trade Routes



  • It takes a bunch of bad eggs to catch a bunch of bad eggs, it seems

Exotic foods are a big business around the world. From foie gras to truffles, gourmets from far and wide are prepared to pay exorbitant prices for a new strange thing to stuff into their mouths.

Sometimes, though, these rare treats involve some questionable practices. The aforementioned foie gras, for example, has come under fire because of the force-feeding methods traditionally used in its production.

In Central America, food connoisseurs have a taste for eggs. But not just any eggs – they specifically want to consume the eggs of sea turtles.

In Costa Rica, for example, the eggs are eaten as a rare seasonal treat, with some people even considering them an aphrodisiac, writes ZME Science. They are also in demand in several other countries across the region

Unfortunately for the Caribbean and Central American gourmets, sea turtles are endangered animals and harvesting and selling their eggs is highly illegal. Unfortunately for the turtles, that doesn’t stop unscrupulous poachers looking to make an easy buck.

Going back to the previous example, in Costa Rica, sea turtle eggs sell for about $1 each. As each turtle nest contains up to 100 eggs, it’s easy to see how greed could overpower someone’s morals.

For a long time, researchers and environmental conservationists have been puzzling how to deter the poachers. Many methods have been tried, and equally many have failed.

But now, biologists from the University of Kent in the U.K. and the environmental group Paso Pacifico may have made a breakthrough. They’ve used fake, GPS-enabled eggs to successfully track the poachers.

And the idea came from a TV show.

Hatching a Plan

Helen Pheasey, a conservation biologist from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent, is the lead author of the recent study detailing the scientists’ efforts. She says that despite the use of beach patrols, turtle egg poaching is still prevalent in Central America.

While pondering about the problem one night, she suddenly came up with the idea of putting tracking devices in the turtle nests. She was supposedly watching TV when the thought hit her, based on what she says.

“This innovation really sort of came from Breaking Bad and from The Wire, where they placed tracking devices on a tank of chemicals in Breaking Bad and a sound recorder in a tennis ball in The Wire,” she told ZME.

Paso Pacifico produced 3D-printed shells, designed to resemble real turtle eggs as closely as possible. Inside the fake egg is a hollow cavity, which houses the embedded GPS tracking device.

“It’s got a GPS and an SMS detector in there, and it will give you a signal, whenever there’s clear skies,” Pheasey explained.

She also admits that Paso Pacifico had already been working on a prototype device before she ever came into the picture. However, it was Pheasey who planted the fake eggs – titled InvestEGGators – into 101 turtle nests across four beaches.

“I was the first person to deploy the decoys and actually test this technology on behalf of Pacifico,” she said.

With the trap set, Pheasey and the people from Pacifico waited for the results. Would the fake eggs fool the poachers, or would they immediately realize they were about to be duped?

An Egg-citing Journey

As it turns out, the poachers fell for the trick hook, line, and sinker. After the waiting period was over, the criminals had taken about a quarter of the eggs with them.

Pheasey’s crew turned on their GPS devices, and lo and behold, they could see the eggs were on the move.

“We did it,” she summarized. “We proved the concept that you can actually do this.”

While some of the eggs traveled only a mile or two before the signal went silent, other made it much, much farther. The longest-traveling tracker ended up more than 80 miles away.

“I basically watched this egg moving farther and farther inland. And eventually, it stopped,” she said.

Pheasey zoomed in on the map view, and saw that the InvestEGGator had arrived in the back alley loading bay of a supermarket. Basically, it was a place nobody would be at, unless they were up to no good, she said.

The next day, the egg had moved again. This time, it’d made its way to a residential property. Clearly, someone had bought the eggs from the store and taken them home to eat.

Only a Part of the Solution

Pheasey said that no one has been arrested or faced criminal prosecution because of the study. Not yet, at least. According the Pheasey, the value of the study is in understanding the supply chain of illegal turtle eggs.

“We’re pretty familiar with [the poachers], we know who they are. What we’re interested in doing with this technology is actually taking it beyond that, and looking at the bigger crime if you like, which is trafficking the eggs and moving the eggs around the country,” she explained.

“That’s very much what we’re interested in from a law enforcement perspective.”

She also adds that throwing the poachers into jail is not a solution to the problem. Unless the living conditions of the local people improve, others will soon take their place.

“A lot of the work that really will benefit the conservation of sea turtles is education, providing people with opportunities, so they’re not having to resort to taking wildlife resources illegally,” said Pheasey.

“Improving literacy in the area, providing better healthcare, better education, and all of these will serve alongside this law enforcement tool.”

It’s baby steps, but each one takes us forward. Hopefully the turtles will soon be able to hatch their eggs in peace.

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Mummified Twinkie Stumps Scientists Trying to Coax Life out of It



  • Never thought a snack cake would have us reflecting on the eventual end of all life

We’ve covered a lot of science lately. From paradox-free time travel to uncovering the reasons behind sexy birdsong, it seems science has been advancing with great strides.

Every now and then, though, research hits a setback. Maybe our technology isn’t quite there yet, or scientists discover some new phenomenon we’ve never seen before, but sometimes thing pop up that just stump science.

And that’s what our story is about today. Scientific hurdles brought forward by an expired Twinkie.

Twinkie has an iconic reputation in American popular culture. A lot of people swear in the name of the snack cake, and it’s also infamous for being extremely non-perishable. It ranks right up there with McDonald’s burgers on the national list of “what the heck is in this thing”.

Twinkies officially have a 45-day shelf life. However, they are rumored to stay edible practically for all eternity. One Twinkie, for example, has been preserved since 1976.

Imagine, then, the shockwave that was felt throughout the U.S. in 2012, when Hostess Brans, the company making Twinkies, declared bankruptcy. A lot of people rushed to the stores to heard Twinkies, scared that the legendary cake would disappear forever.

Of course, that never happened. The avoided apocalypse left a lot of people with a surplus of Twinkies and no idea what to do with them.

“Civilization may be gone, but at least I still have my tote full of Twinkies from 2012.”

A Snack Denied

One of these people is Colin Purrington, a Swarthmore, Pennsylvania-based biologist and photographer. In 2012, he went to the store and purchased a certain box of Twinkies.

That box never got opened, and for eight long years, it sat in Purrington’s pantry. Eventually, the coronavirus quarantine rolled in.

What, did you think you could have one story without hearing about the ‘Rona? Dream on.

One day in early October, Purrington was sitting in his home, bored out of his skull. Suddenly, a craving for something sweet hit him.

Unfortunately, he was all out of snacks, or so he thought. Then, he remembered the ancient Twinkies.

“When there’s no desserts in the house, you get desperate,” he told NPR. Undaunted by the long-since-past expiration date of the cakes, Purrington unwrapped one.

Like so many others, he believed Twinkies will stay oven-fresh until the heat death of the Universe. Like so many others, he was wrong.

One bite out of the cake, and Purrington felt like throwing up.

“It tasted like old sock. Not that I’ve ever eaten old sock,” said Purrington.

Curious – and bored to death – he started examining the other Twinkies. Two of them looked pretty weird; one had a dark brown spot on it, while another one had shriveled up into gray, wrinkled mummy.

Being a photographer suffering from tedium, Purrington did what he does best. He snapped some pictures and uploaded them on Twitter.

I Want that Twinkie!

Meanwhile, at the West Virginia University, scientists Brian Lovett and Matt Kason were equally bored. Browsing Twitter to pass the time, Lovett came upon Purrington’s Twinkie post.

“Matt is going to want that Twinkie,” was Lovett’s first thought when he saw the mummified cake. No, he’s not some kind of a culinary freak, just a researcher specializing in fungi.

In the past, the pair has carried out a study on how well mold grows on Peeps. The answer is, not very. There’s much too little moisture in the Easter treat.

“In a way, they are kind of like an extreme environment, right? The food industry has crafted the ability to make foods that have a long shelf life,” said Kasson.

The science duo figured that Purrington’s Twinkie would be a great way to exercise their brain cells. They contacted the photographer, who was happy to mail his spoiled food over to them.

“Science is a collaborative sport. If someone can take this and figure out what was actually growing, I’m all in. I really want to know what species exactly was eating my Twinkies,” Purrington said.

To the Laboratory

Once the mummified cake reached West Virginia, Kason and Lovett got cracking. The first thing they noticed that the mummy was practically vacuum-packed in its wrapper.

This meant two things. First, the fungus must’ve entered the Twinkie before it was wrapped. Second, as it was proliferating, it consumed also all the oxygen inside the wrapper.

“”You end up with a vacuum. And very well that vacuum may have halted the fungus’s ability to continue to grow,” explained Lovett.

A quick look under the microscope confirmed the presence of fungus. Then, the scientists used a marrow biopsy tool to drill out samples of the cake.

What this revealed is that the cream-filled center of the cake was still soft. It appeared the fungi had been more interested in the cake layer.

Finally, they placed the Twinkie samples into nutrient-filled petri dishes. Into another one, they put samples of a fresh-looking Twinkie from the same box.

The Eternal Reminder

This is where the mummy cake started defying science. No matter what they tried, no fungus would grow from it. From the fresh Twinkie, though, they got a fungal garden.

It would be unlikely, but the scientist suspect that there may simply be no living spores left in the withered Twinkie.

“It may be that we don’t have any living spores despite this wonderful, rare event that we’ve witnessed. Spores certainly die, and depending on the fungus, they can die very quickly,” Lovett mused.

The duo is undaunted, though. They are determined to prove the supremacy of science and are proceeding with other methods to try and find some form of life in the cake.

“We enjoy the challenge of trying to culture fungi,” Kasson said.

Lovett sees the whole process as a kind of an ode to the eventual end of all life.

“We’re living in a time where we’re all really grappling with our mortality,” he said, no doubt referencing the ongoing pandemic.

“Eventually, all of us are food for fungi. Seeing that is sort of facing the reality of our mortality and our destination.”

Maybe that’s why Twinkies are so popular. Looking at it we can rest easy with the knowledge that there will be something left of us.

On the cold Earth of the grim, dark future, a shriveled, dead Twinkie will testify that mankind was once there.

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Zoo’s Stolen Lemur Found Safe, Suspect Arrested



  • San Rafael police arrested Cory McGilloway Friday morning for breaking into the zoo and stealing Maki, the lemur.
  • Maki was dehydrated and hungry, but is expected to return to full health.

After Tiger King, you’d think people would realize that “exotic pets” are just wild animals. They look very chill and approachable in their enclosures, but people have to understand that’s not how they’ll behave in your living room. Well, 30-year-old Cory McGilloway found out that simple truth the hard way when he kidnapped Maki, the lemur, from the San Francisco Zoo. 

Adorable, but Not Good Pets

Photo by Amy Reed on Unsplash

Keepers discovered Maki missing and evidence of a break-in shortly before the zoo opened on Wednesday. Maki was spotted Thursday evening, hanging out in a Daly City playground, a few miles away from the zoo. We don’t yet know whether the lemur escaped on his own or McGilloway released him after he proved to be an actual wild animal with sharp teeth. 

Daly City police apprehended the lemur. “We contained him until staff from the zoo took him back home,” the police department tweeted. 

Maki is a staggering 22 years old and lives with one of his offspring in the enclosure. In the wild, ring-tailed lemurs live around 16 to 19 years, but in captivity, they can live as long as 30. It’s reasonable that at 22, Maki may have wanted to see the world and orchestrated his own kidnapping. Among the myriad of questions about the heist is how a lemur-thief could break in and abscond with the animal so easily, especially since no one noticed his absence until the zoo was opening. You’d think the SF Zoo would have a Ring camera or SimpliSafe or something.

Best Day Ever, for Kindergarteners

Photo by Rebecca Campbell on Unsplash

James Trinh, a five-year-old, first spotted the missing lemur while leaving school on Thursday. We probably have Madagascar to thank for the reason Trinh could identify the animal. He alerted Cynthia Huang, the school’s director, who was skeptical, “We’ve had coyotes, skunks, raccoons. I thought, ‘Are you sure it’s not a raccoon?’” Maki scampered into a playhouse on the school’s playground and hunkered down until authorities arrived. 

Friday, San Rafael police arrested Cory McGilloway Friday morning; he was already in custody for an unrelated crime on Thursday. 


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Missouri Man Sells Discontinued Taco Bell Tacos from His Freezer for $70 Each



  • The laws of the free market say that when there’s demand, there’s supply, but this is ridiculous

Getting passionately attached to strange things is surprisingly common. People form emotional ties to anything from bands to sports teams, certain makes of car to a brand of beer.

One of the things that some folks get gung-ho over, despite its fairly objectively awful nature, is Taco Bell. Even some of this author’s best friends would, while not necessarily die, then at least get seriously wounded on the Taco Bell hill.

To anyone looking for their torches and pitchforks right now, I’m sorry, but Taco Bell is just a million miles away from actually good food. Though I will admit, that if you’re stumbling home drunk from a party and the hunger pangs hit you, Taco Bell’s products that you could call “burritos” if you squint and apply a generous dose of imagination may have their place.

Still, no matter what I or anyone else says, Taco Bell has its fans. And to you Taco Heads, I extend all my sympathy for the loss you’ve experienced this year.

As if 2020 wasn’t awful enough already, anyone who actually likes Taco Bell was surely shocked when the fast food chain axed a good portion of its menu this fall.

Gone were many of the most popular grotesque imitations of Mexican cuisine. Naturally, fans of Taco Bell didn’t take the change kindly.

“Taco Bell has removed their entire menu and replaced it with kicking you in the **** and putting a DUI checkpoint in their drive-thru lane,” tweeted username @synthandlasers.

In memoriam, Taco Bell Mexican Pizza. All photos courtesy of Taco Bell Newsroom.

Turning Loss into Profit

But where others saw only problems and a terrible loss, some saw an opportunity. Bryant Hoban, a resident of O’Fallon, Missouri, didn’t sit idly by when he heard that Taco Bell was discontinuing its Potato Soft Taco.

Instead, he hopped into his car and zoomed to the nearest Taco Bell. There, he purchased three of the potato tacos.

Once he returned home, however, he didn’t consume the products. Instead, he placed them in his freezer.

You see, Hoban had a vision. A strange vision, but a vision nonetheless. In his vision, he saw himself rolling in money after selling the tacos at an astronomically higher price once they had left the market.

True to his plan, Hoban has now listed the tacos for sale on the Facebook Marketplace. For the affordable price of $200, you can enjoy three mint condition Taco Bell Potato Soft Tacos.

“From drive through to freezer. These babies are rare! Never been eaten!” Hoban says on the posting.

You’d think this kind of a hackneyed idea would fail hilariously. Wrong, says Hoban. In an interview with Riverfront Times, he said that he has already individually sold two of the three tacos.

He apparently couldn’t find a buyer for the full collection.

“I sold them for $70 apiece. I recouped my investment,” he told Riverfront Times.

The Future Freezer King

But Hoban’s vision goes far beyond simply selling frozen Taco Bell products. No, this is only a trial. In his future, Hoban pictures an entire frozen, discontinued fast food empire.

“I’ve had this idea of ‘investment sandwiches’ where, like, you’d buy a limited-offer sandwich in bulk, freeze it, and then sell it later for a profit,” he explained his vision.

“You know, like the McRib — McDonald’s only offers it once a year, but the demand doesn’t go away. So then when I heard Taco Bell was discontinuing the Potato Soft, I decided it’d be a good opportunity to test this idea out before McRib season.”

Ridiculous as it sounds, Hoban has already proven that people will buy the frozen fast food. He only has one taco left in his freezer, but the frozen treat is giving him cold feet about selling it.

The Soft Potato Taco was, after all, Hoban’s favorite Taco Bell product. When he bought his trial tacos, he also purchased a bunch that he has frozen and later eaten himself.

And now they’re gone. All that remains is that solitary third taco.

“Once I got down to the last one I realized that we need to preserve this for future generations to experience this delicious being,” he said.

“So I’m holding onto it right now, and I’m hoping someone comes along and wants to maybe help me with preserving this – conserving the Potato Soft. I mean, if you had the last panda, you wouldn’t sell that on Facebook, right?”

His logic might be sound, but… Come on, it’s a Taco Bell taco. Some things are just doomed to extinction.

Taco Bell Death Row

What gave birth to Hoban’s frozen taco idea was Taco Bell’s decision to cut its menu. In a July statement, the fast food chain announced that it would drop several of the products it offered.

“Beginning August 13, we will be simplifying our menu. This evolved menu approach comes after months of analyzing the new way we are running our restaurants,” the company said.

“While change is hard, a simplified menu and innovation process will leave room for new fan favorites, continued progress in categories such as plant-based diets, and even opportunities for the return of some classics on a limited time basis.”

All Taco Bell enthusiasts could do was read the list of doomed products in horror. To an early grave went, together with the Potato Soft, the Grilled Steak Soft Taco, the 7-Layer Burrito, the Spicy Tostada, and Triple Layer Nachos.

But the bad news, didn’t stop there. In September, the company announced a second list of products that would not get to live más.

This time, the executioner’s block welcomed such popular names as the Mexican Pizza and Pico de Gallo. However, at the same time, Taco Bell announced its new Chicken Chipotle Melt and the Dragonfruit Freeze beverage.

Will passionate Tacobellists accept these newcomers? Can they fill the enormous boots of those that came before them?

Only time will tell.

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