Marine scientists spotted a ‘real-life’ SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star near an underwater mountain in the Atlantic

sea sponge
A sea sponge and sea star on the Retriever seamount, one mile deep in the Atlantic Ocean, July 27, 2021

SpongeBob SquarePants may wear classy garb, but real-life sea sponges obviously don’t wear pants. Sea stars like SpongeBob’s partner-in-crime, Patrick, don’t wear swim trunks, either.

Nevertheless, marine scientist Christopher Mah quickly spotted the resemblance between the Nickelodeon cartoon characters and a real-life yellow sponge and pink sea star found deep under the Atlantic waves. A remotely operated deep-sea vehicle spotted the colorful duo on Tuesday on the side of an underwater mountain called Retriever seamount, which is located 200 miles east of New York City.

“I normally avoid these refs… but WOW. REAL LIFE SpongeBob and Patrick!” Mah, a researcher affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tweeted.

As part of its newest deep-sea expedition, NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer ship is sending remotely-operated vehicles like the one that found the sponge and star more than a mile below the Atlantic’s surface. The ROVs, as they’re known, explore submarine habitats, livestream their journeys, and capture images of denizens in the deep.

Soleimani SpongeBob
SpongeBob SquarePants.

“I thought it would be funny to make the comparison, which for once was actually kind of comparable to the iconic images/colors of the cartoon characters,” Mah told Insider via email. “As a biologist who specializes in sea stars, most depictions of Patrick and Spongebob are incorrect.”

Comparing SpongeBob and Patrick to their real-life counterparts

There are more than 8,500 species of sponges, and the creatures have been living in the ocean for the last 600 million years. Their shapes and textures vary depending on whether they live on soft sand or hard, rocky surfaces.

Very few of them resemble SpongeBob’s boxy shape.

spongebob
SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star.

But the SpongeBob-like sponge in the image, Mah said, belongs to the genus Hertwigia. He was surprised by its bright yellow color, which is unusual for the deep sea. That far down, most things are orange or white to help them camouflage in the dimly lit environment.

sea star
A Chondraster grandis sea star in the North Atlantic in 2014 .

The sea star nearby, known as Chondraster, has five arms covered with tiny suckers. Those allow it to creep across the ocean floor and attach itself to rocks and other organisms. Chondraster stars can be dark pink, light pink, or white.

This star’s color “was a bright pink that strongly evoked Patrick,” Mah said.

Sea stars are carnivores. Once one clings to a clam, oyster, or snail, the animal extends its stomach out through its mouth then uses enzymes to break down and digest its prey.

Sea sponges, in fact, are a preferred menu item for Chondraster stars, Mah said. So the pink Patrick-like creature scooting close to the sponge likely had food, not friendship, in mind.

The image below, taken last week as part of the same NOAA expedition, shows a white sea star, likely a Chondraster, preying on a sponge.

sea sponge
A sea star, likely a Chondraster, eating a sea sponge on the Macgregor seamount in the Atlantic Ocean.

These creatures’ deep-sea habitat is freezing; no sunlight penetrates.

They live “in the true abyss of the ocean,” Mah said, “well below the depth we think of where cartoon SpongeBob and Patrick live.”

Sharing images from the deep

sponges and coral
Sea sponges and coral in the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian Islands in 2015.

Mah, an expert in sea stars who works at the Smithsonian Museum, hopes to use footage from the Okeanos ROVs to identify new star species.

Since 2010, the program has helped researchers explore the depths below the Hawaiian Islands, the US Pacific Island territories, the Gulf of Mexico, and “all up and down the East Coast,” Mah said. NOAA’s ROVs can traverse deep-sea canyons, sea mounts, and other habitats.

“We have investigated up to 4,600-meter depths [15,000 feet, or almost 3 miles] and seen a wide range of never-before-seen ocean life, including huge deep-sea corals, many deep-sea fish, starfishes, sponges of which many are undescribed species and thus new to science,” Mah said.

He added: “Some of it is very alien and in some cases bizarre.”

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What’s inside the ‘world’s ugliest animal,’ the blobfish

  • The blobfish was crowned the world’s ugliest animal in 2013 – a title it still defends today.
  • But drop this fellow 9,200 feet below sea level, and the water holds up all that flab like a push-up bra, making the fish a little more handsome.
  • Between the skin and the muscles is a lot of fluid. And that’s the secret to the fish’s distinct appearance – and its survival.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: This creature was crowned the world’s ugliest animal in 2013, a title it still defends today. On land, he’s got a body like Jell-O and a big old frown. But drop this fellow 9,200 feet below sea level, and the water holds up all that flab like a push-up bra, making the fish a little more handsome. Same old fish, but with a little more support. So, what is all that water pressure holding together?

David Stein: Between the skin, that flabby skin, and the muscles is a lot of fluid.

Narrator: This is David Stein, a deep-sea-fish biologist who was lucky enough to dissect 19 blobfishes in the 1970s. Blobfish look blobby because they are full of water. Under their skin, blobfish have a thick layer of gelatinous flesh that floats outside their muscles.

Stein: If you pick up a blobfish by the tail, then it kind of flows to the head.

Narrator: This water-filled, Jell-O-like layer allows the blobfish to stay somewhat buoyant, which is important because blobfishes don’t have a swim bladder.

Stein: And fishes that have swim bladders are able to adjust their buoyancy. They can secrete gas into the swim bladder or remove it. A fish that lives on the bottom doesn’t need to be able to maintain its buoyancy.

Narrator: So, the Jell-O layer isn’t a perfect substitute, but the blobfish doesn’t need to be a strong swimmer. The predator has a highly specialized hunting strategy that’s perfect for the rocky barrens of the deep sea.

Stein: It just sits there and waits for dinner to come by.

Narrator: If all you do is sit, you don’t need much under your skin. Just watery tissue, some yellow pockets of fat, and a smidgen of muscle. In case you hadn’t guessed, blobfishes aren’t exactly yoked. They have very little red muscle, the kind that allows you, a human, to run a mile or a tuna fish to migrate across oceans. Instead, blobfish have a lot of white muscle, which allows them to swim in short bursts and lunge at prey that on occasion ramble by.

This is a baby blobfish. It’s a cleared and stained specimen, meaning all its tissue has been dissolved to show only the bones and cartilage. Those thin red lines you see, they’re the blobfish’s bones dyed red. If you’re having trouble seeing the bones, you’re not the only one. Blobfish have poorly ossified skeletons, meaning they’re thinner and more fragile than the bones of most shallow-water fish. This is another handy deep-sea adaptation, as it takes a lot of precious energy to build strong bones.

But the blobfish saves its energy to develop what might be the most important bone in its body: its jaws, which also happened to be the reason it looks so gloomy. The fish needs enormous jaws so it can snap up any prey that passes by and swallow it whole, maybe even smacking its blubbery lips as it eats. And that brings us to its stomach. If you’re the kind of creature that eats anything that swims by, some surprising things can wind up in your stomach. Stein found a wide range of foods and not-foods in the blobfish he dissected. Fish, sea pens, brittle stars, hermit crabs, an anemone, a plastic bag, and also lots of rocks.

Stein: Their stomach contents kind of bear out the fact that they’re probably not too bright.

Narrator: He also found octopus beaks, the cephalopods’ hard, indigestible jaws. This means that one of the world’s flabbiest fishes has been able to eat one of the sea’s most cunning predators. If you’re surprised, just think about the blobfish’s thick skin. What would it be harder to grab in a fight: a sack of bones or a sack of Jell-O? Stein suspects it might be the latter.

Stein: If the skin is loose, perhaps the suckers can’t really get a good grip on it.

Narrator: Stein found sucker marks across the blobfish’s body, a hint that the fish might’ve been in some deep-sea fights. So while all of this Jell-O might look a little unconventional, well, it seems to have served its purpose. The blobfish is perfectly suited to life in the deep sea, where beauty standards are probably quite different. After all…

Stein: Ugly is kind of in the eye of the beholder.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in December 2020.

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This is what happens when you hold your pee for too long

Following is a transcript of the video.

You’re about an hour and a half into the movie and, boy, are you regretting that large soda. You can hold it… but should you?

Peeing is pretty important. Your kidneys filter excess water and waste out of your blood and that urine needs somewhere to go: your bladder. Normally, it’ll hold 1-2 cups comfortably. But if you make a habit of holding your pee for long periods of time, you can actually stretch your bladder to easily hold even more.

Case in point, one study found that nurses who often held it in all day due to job constraints had nearly double the normal bladder capacity! And they were totally fine.

But this doesn’t mean you should hold it in if you can help it. Because your bladder may not be the only thing to stretch.

You may also stretch your external sphincter muscles. Those are important muscles connected to the outside of your bladder that are the gate-keepers of your golden liquid. Clench them and you hold in the gold. Relax them and you release the flood! But if you overstretch them, you can actually lose control. This is rare, and usually takes decades of holding it too long to reach that point, but once you do, it can lead to some awkward or even dangerous situations.

For example, with less overall control, you risk leaking urine when your bladder is full and not emptying it all the way when you finally do go. Not only can this increase your need to urinate more often since your bladder fills up quicker, it can also lead to a serious disorder called urinary retention, where you end up with too much urine in your bladder for too long. And since your bladder is basically a warm, wet bag of body waste, it’s the PERFECT breeding ground for harmful bacteria that’ll cause all sorts of damage.

Even worse, if you’re really unlucky and retain too much urine, it may back up into your kidneys. Which could lead to kidney failure, and ultimately death.

The good news is that you’re more likely to just lose control of your muscles and pee waaaay before your bladder hits that point. But why not just reduce the risk all together and go to the bathroom?

Ok, ok, we get it. That movie is absolutely gripping. Luckily… You’ll be fine if you only hold it in for a short time, every once in a while. So go ahead, hang in there… just don’t make a habit of it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published on June 2018.

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Caterpillar fungus, the world’s most valuable parasite, can cost up to $63,000 per pound

  • Caterpillar fungus is a hybrid of a fungus that kills and lives in caterpillars.
  • It can sell for up to three times its weight in gold and can cost as much as about $63,000 per pound.
  • Some towns in the Himalayas rely on collecting and selling this fungus for a living.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: What would you do if a fungus invaded your body, and started consuming you from the inside? It sounds like something out of a horror film, but that’s actually what happens to a certain type of baby moth.

The fungus eats its way through the helpless moth larvae and then sprouts out of their heads like a spring daisy. But this rare hybrid, the caterpillar fungus, isn’t just totally fascinating, it’s also expensive. Sometimes selling for more than 3 times its weight in gold!

Caterpillar fungus grows in the remote Tibetan Plateau and Himalayan Mountains but that’s not the only place you can find it. Here we are in New York City’s Chinatown. And nestled among countless drawers of dried mugwort leaves and hibiscus flowers,

There it is a small pile of 50 or so pieces of dried caterpillar fungus. Here, 1 gram of it costs about $30. But even that might be considered a good deal. Vendors on eBay, for example, list a gram for up to $125. The price is so high because this hybrid creature is incredibly rare.

It shows up for only a few weeks each year in remote regions of Nepal, Tibet, India and Bhutan. And even then, the fungus can be tricky for collectors to find, hidden amidst a sea of grass. For centuries, it’s been a staple of traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine.

Kelly Hopping: “Traditionally, it was used as a general tonic, for immune support.”

For instance, a family might add half of this to a chicken soup. And it’s even rumored that it can be used as a sort of Himalayan viagra though there’s little evidence to back it up. People also buy the fungus as a gift or use it for bribes or as a status symbol. As a result, better looking pieces fetch a higher price.

Kelly Hopping: “It’s all dependent on exactly the color of the caterpillar fungus, even the shape of its body when it died, all of these things that don’t necessarily have anything to do with medicinal value make all the difference for the economic value.”

In 2017, for example, high quality pieces sold for as much as $140,000 per kg, or about $63,000 per pound. Now, caterpillar fungus has always been pricey. But experts say its value really skyrocketed in the 1990s and 2000s because of a growing Chinese economy, and the resulting increase in disposable income. Which ultimately, helped drive a massive boom in harvest.

In the Tibet Autonomous Region, for example, collectors reportedly hauled out more than three times as much caterpillar fungus in the early 2000s, than they did in the 1980s. And now, many families depend on the cash it brings in.

In fact, experts say that up to 80% of household income in the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas can come from selling caterpillar fungus. One district in Nepal reported collecting $4.7 million worth of caterpillar fungus in 2016. That’s 12% more than the district’s annual budget! But those profits are at risk.

Surveys indicate that annual harvests have recently declined.

Kelly Hopping: “The collectors themselves mostly attributed this to overharvesting, acknowledging that their own collection pressure was driving these declines.”

And it doesn’t help that it’s difficult to regulate the harvest.

Daniel Winkler: “All these different political units have different policy. In the end, it is really down to county level, how it’s implemented.”

Climate change is also causing problems. You see, the fungus is more abundant in areas with long, cold winters, which are increasingly hard to come by.

Daniel Winkler: “For the rural economy, if there’s a lot of loss, that would be devastating.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in March 2019.

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Humans will be able to reproduce on Mars because sperm can survive there for up to 200 years, a new study suggests

mars santa cruz mountain nasa perseverance rover
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover used its dual-camera Mastcam-Z imager to capture this image of “Santa Cruz,” a hill about 1.5 miles away from the rover, on April 29, 2021.

  • Humans will be able to reproduce on Mars, according to a scientific study.
  • Scientists believe found sperm could survive on the Red Planet for up to 200 years.
  • Researchers previously believed space radiation would destroy our DNA, making breeding impossible.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Human reproduction will be possible on Mars because sperm can survive there for up to 200 years, a study suggests.

The findings were part of a six-year experiment in which scientists kept mouse sperm on the International Space Station and exposed it to deadly radiation.

As The Daily Mail reports, researchers had believed radiation in space would destroy human DNA and make breeding impossible. Cancer was thought to be one possible health risk to humans.

But after six years, scientists found that the mouse sperm stored on the space station was still healthy.

They also exposed it to X-rays on Earth and discovered it did not affect fertility.

One of the study’s authors, Professor Sayaka Wakayama, of Japan’s University of Yamanashi, told The Daily Mail: “Many genetically normal offspring were obtained. These discoveries are essential for mankind to progress into the space age.”

“When the time comes to migrate to other planets, we will need to maintain the diversity of genetic resources, not only for humans but also for pets and domestic animals,” he added.

The study’s results come days after NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter completed its seventh flight on Mars.

The Perseverance rover that carries Ingenuity to Mars is roaming the planet to search for signs of life. As reported by Insider’s Kate Duffy, Perseverance is due to travel three miles across Mars over the next few months.

On its road trip, Perseverance will help NASA understand the geology of Jezero Crater and explore the area for signs of ancient microscopic life, the agency said in a statement.

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Scientists shot tardigrades out of a gun at more than 2,000 mph to see if the critters could survive

Scientists are just starting to understand the tardigrade - and it's fascinating
A microscopic tardigrade.

Tardigrades have a reputation for being among the hardiest critters in the animal kingdom.

These microscopic creatures can survive in the vacuum of space, inside a volcano, and in an Antarctic lake nearly a mile underground. They have even returned to normal functioning after being frozen for three decades.

But according to a recent study in the journal Astrobiology, even seemingly indestructible tardigrades have their limits.

The researchers shot canisters full of tardigrades out of a high-speed gun at various speeds to see if the creatures could survive the pressure of each resulting impact.

After being shot out at speeds under 900 meters per second (about 2,000 miles per hour) – that’s faster than your average bullet – the tardigrades could be revived. Any faster than that, according to Alejandra Traspas, an astrochemist at Queen Mary University in London and a co-author of the study, and they didn’t make it.

Being shot more than 2,000 mph meant the critters experienced 1.14 gigapascals of pressure on impact – that’s equivalent to the pressure of about 40,000 people standing on your back at once.

“They just mush,” Traspas told Science.

Solving a lunar mystery

tardigrade
A microscopic image of an Antarctic tardigrade found in a frozen moss sample.

Tardigrades are also known as water bears or moss piglets – apt nicknames, considering that these 0.05-inch-long organisms look like eight-legged potatoes with scrunched up faces and tiny paws under a microscope.

The critters can withstand temperatures between minus 458 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 272 degrees Celsius) and 304 degrees Fahrenheit (151 degrees Celsius) and pressure up to six times that of the deepest part of Earth’s oceans.

They’re able to survive lethal radiation and temperatures because water bears, like their namesake, can enter a state of hibernation. Tardigrades can go without water and oxygen for long periods of time in a state of suspended animation called cryptobiosis, in which their bodies dry up and their metabolisms shut down. Place a dehydrated, hibernating tardigrade in water and it regains its full function in a matter of hours.

So when an Israeli spacecraft carrying a horde of hibernating tardigrades crash landed on the moon in April 2019 due to a computer glitch, scientists thought the animals would surely have survived.

But Traspas wasn’t so sure: “I was very curious,” she told Science. “I wanted to know if they were alive.”

Tardigrade
Tardigrades look like microscopic bears.

To test the theory, Traspas’ team froze 20 tardigrades (to get them to hibernate), loaded them into hollow nylon bullets, and fired them at sandbags using a high-speed gun.

They found the animals just couldn’t survive an impact if the bullet was fired at more than 2,000 miles per hour – only fragments of the tardigrades remained – because the pressure of 1.14 gigapascals from the impact was just to great.

Although the spacecraft was only traveling about 310 miles per hour when it smashed into the moon, the impact pressure when the lander hit the lunar surface was “well above” that 1.14-gigapascal threshold, according to Traspas.

“We can confirm they didn’t survive,” she told Science.

meteorite
An artist’s depiction of a meteorite falling to the ground.

The findings also throw some cold water on the theory known as panspermia, which suggests microscopic organisms like tardigrades can hitchhike across the solar system on asteroids fragments that ricocheted into space after their parent rocks hit a moon, for example.

According to panspermia proponents, those asteroid fragments, or meteorites – and the organisms they carry – could one day seed life on another planet.

But if tardigrades can’t survive the pressures of a collision with our moon, it’s unlikely they could survive a meteorite impact with another planet, the study authors wrote.

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Sharks are among a group of animals with a 6th sense that humans don’t have – they use Earth’s magnetic field to navigate

bonnetheads sharks
Bryan Keller holding a bonnethead shark.

Shark species have an uncanny ability to find their way back to the same feeding grounds every year – even areas thousands of miles away.

According to a study published Thursday, that’s because sharks have a superior navigational tool at their disposal: They can orient themselves using Earth’s magnetic field.

They’re far from the only animals to do so. Birds, whales, and many other species use the same sixth sense to plot their migrations.

Bryan Keller, a biologist at Florida State University who co-authored the new study, likens this sense to “having an ‘internal GPS.'”

“This is, in my opinion, the best explanation for how migratory sharks successfully navigate during long-distance movements,” Keller told Insider.

‘Sharks garner map-like information from the magnetic field’

Earth's Magnetic Field
An illustration of Earth’s magnetic field.

Nearly 2,000 miles below Earth’s surface, swirling iron in the planet’s outer core conducts electricity that generates a magnetic field. This field stretches all the way from the planet’s interior to the space surrounding the Earth. It’s what protects the world from deadly solar radiation.

But the direction that the electromagnetic energy flows, as well as the strength of the resulting protective sheath, depends on where on the planet’s surface you are. So animals that use the magnetic field to orient themselves do so by detecting these differences in field strength and flow. They then use that information to figure out where they are and where to go.

Scientists long suspected sharks could navigate using the field, since the animals can sense electromagnetic fields in general. But that hypothesis had been difficult to confirm until Keller’s study.

His team examined the bonnethead shark, known as Sphyrna tiburo, because the species exhibits site fidelity – meaning it returns to the same estuary habitats each season.

“This means the sharks have the capability to remember a specific location and to navigate back to it,” he said.

bonnetheads sharks
An overhead shot of bonnethead sharks in a holding tank.

The team captured 20 bonnetheads off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico, then placed the sharks in a 10-by-10-foot tank. They generated a tiny magnetic field within a 3-square-foot area of that tank. (Bonnetheads only reach 4 feet in length, which made them an ideal species to study in such a small pool, Keller said.)

The team then tweaked that localized magnetic field to mimic the electromagnetic conditions of various locations hundreds of miles away from where they’d caught the sharks. If the animals were truly relying on magnetic-field cues to navigate, the thinking went, then the bonnetheads would try to reorient themselves and start swimming in the direction they thought would lead to the Florida coast. That’s exactly what happened.

When the researchers mimicked the conditions of the magnetic field on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the animals exhibited no preference in which direction they were swimming – suggesting they assumed they were already in the right place.

“I’m not surprised that sharks garner map-like information from the magnetic field, because it makes perfect sense,” Keller said.

Many animals use the magnetic field for navigation

Even though the new study was done on bonnetheads, Keller said the findings likely apply to other shark species as well.

Great White Shark
A great white shark heads near the Neptune Islands, Australia, in June 2014.

How else could a great white, for example, migrate from South Africa to Australia – a distance of more than 12,400 miles – then return to the exact same chunk of ocean nine months later?

“En route to Australia, the animal exhibited an incredibly straight swimming trajectory,” Keller said of great whites. “Given that the magnetic field is perhaps the only constant and ubiquitous cue available to these migratory sharks, it is sensible that magnetic-based navigation is responsible for facilitating these incredible navigational successes.”

Other navigational cues do exist, including currents and tides, but Keller said the magnetic field “is likely more useful than these other aids because it remains relatively constant.”

Biologists still aren’t sure how sharks detect the field, but a 2017 study suggested that the animals’ magnetic receptors are probably located in their noses.

The ability to detect and orient using the magnetic field is fairly common in the animal kingdom overall, according to Keller. Scientists have observed that type of behavior in bacteria, algae, mud snails, lobsters, eels, stingrays, honey bees, mole rats, newts, birds, fish like tuna and salmon, dolphins, and whales.

Sea turtles, too, rely on magnetic cues when they migrate thousands of miles to lay eggs on the same beaches where they hatched.

Two_Wire_Fox_Terriers
Two wire-haired Fox Terriers.

Dogs, meanwhile, can find their way home both using their impressive sense of smell and by orienting themselves using the magnetic field, according to a June study.

“The magnetic field may provide dogs with a ‘universal’ reference frame, which is essential for long-distance navigation,” that study said.

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Here’s what would happen if all insects on Earth disappeared

  • Although it’s impossible to say exactly what would happen if all insects on Earth suddenly vanished, it’s likely that civilization and ecosystems would be in serious trouble.
  • Nitrogen-rich feces would potentially build up, choking plant life and preventing new growth.
  • Meanwhile, no dermestid beetles and other corpse-eaters would lead to fewer custodians available to clean dead bodies and recycle their nutrients back into the ecosystem.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Humans might have built civilizations, but insects own the world. After all, over half of all known species are insects. So if they all suddenly vanished, you’d notice. No more summers of singing cicadas and flickering fireflies. No bees to pollinate apple, cherry, peach, or almond trees. No one to make honey. A world without insects means a world with empty grocery-store shelves. But that would be just the beginning of our problems. Now, it’s impossible to say exactly what would go down, but here’s a worst-case scenario of what could happen if all the insects disappeared.

There are a few insects most people would be happy to see vanish. Like mosquitoes. They kill hundreds of thousands of people every year by transmitting malaria, West Nile virus, and other diseases. But if they disappeared tomorrow, we might actually miss them. There are over 3,000 species of mosquitoes on Earth, all of which are food to birds, bats, frogs, and other animals. No more mosquitoes means these creatures and the animals that eat them could go hungry. The same goes for the dreaded cockroach, a protein-packed meal for birds, rodents, and even humans in some parts of the world. If we lost all 4,400 species of roach, entire ecosystems would struggle to survive. Believe it or not, we’d have even worse troubles ahead since we’d face a serious poop problem without one of the world’s greatest recyclers, the dung beetle.

You see, history has taught us exactly what happens when these critters can’t do their job. Back in 1788, the British introduced cattle to Australia, and these cows pooped a lot. Each one poops enough to fill five tennis courts every year. But while the dung beetles back in Britain would eat and break down cow poo, the native Australian beetles wouldn’t touch the stuff because they evolved to munch only on dry, fibrous marsupial dung. So the cow poop piled up. By 1960, the cattle had carpeted 500,000 acres of pasture in dung. That’s enough to cover over half of Rhode Island, and while a little bit of poop is great for fertilizer, this ocean of dung would flood plants with nitrogen, making it impossible for anything to grow. So, imagine if all 8,000 species of dung beetle, plus other doo-dining insects, like flies, vanished worldwide. The land would be knee-deep in…you know.

Farmland, forest, and desert would all collapse, and floating throughout would be loads of corpses. You see, most animals won’t eat dead bodies. That’s where flesh-eating beetles, aka dermestids, and other corpse-munching insects come in. Over 500 species of these grisly undertakers live worldwide, devouring dead flesh until nothing but bone remains. Without them, there would be fewer custodians around to clean up the mess. Sure, there would still be hungry vultures and bacteria around to help, but it wouldn’t be enough.

So, that’s where we could end up in an insect-less world. Starving to death while drowning in a sea of poop and corpses.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in August 2019.

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Why we don’t have birth control for men

  • The condom was invented more than 5,000 years ago. While it’s made some strides since then, men are still left with few options for birth control, besides a vasectomy.
  • It’s not due to a lack of interest, but a lack of funding for research – and biology.
  • Men produce millions of sperm each day. Even if that count is reduced by 90%, they could still be fertile.
  • There are new methods coming, but experts say it will be years, if not decades, before they hit the market.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Did you know the condom is over 5,000 years old? That’s right, some of the first forms of birth control date back to around 3,000 BC, and while the condom has made some strides since the Bronze Age, men still don’t have a much better option all these millennia later. Besides a vasectomy. Especially compared to the pills, IUDs, and implants available to women today. So why don’t we have birth control for men? In 2002, researchers asked more than 9,000 men across four continents whether they’d be willing to use contraception capable of preventing sperm production. Over half said yes. So the problem isn’t lack of interest, it’s partly human biology. Women ovulate just one or two eggs each month. Men, on the other hand, produce sperm daily, and it’s not just one or two.

There’s literally hundreds of millions of sperm produced each day, so because there’s so many sperm produced, actually, you can reduce your sperm number over 90% and still be completely fertile. Narrator: To reach infertility, a man’s sperm count needs to be somewhere around 1 to 10 million per milliliter, but getting there is near impossible, at least without side effects. That’s because sperm count is tied to the production of testosterone. In the past, researchers tried decreasing testosterone in an effort to decrease sperm count.

The problem is you don’t have any libido, you have very little testosterone to act on other tissues and so forth, and so the side effects were so dramatic that it really wasn’t ever going to be a contraceptive pill. Narrator: Scientists also tried using different compounds that attack the cells that produce sperm. But again, biology got in the way. Germ cells, as they’re called, developed inside a fortress-like structure within the testes.

So literally, nothing can get through it. There’s been a lot of small molecule studies to try and actually attack the germ cell to stop it from working. Literally, I can think of 10 or 15 different compounds that actually have been developed to do that, but they don’t work because of that barrier. Narrator: But the complex male anatomy isn’t the only problem. It’s also funding or lack thereof. In 2002, two big pharmaceutical companies took interest in male contraception, Schering and Organon. And together they funded a large clinical trial on a hormone-based contraceptive, offering hope that a pill backed by Big Pharma might be on the horizon.

Then these two companies became, as you know, acquired by bigger company, and then even bigger company, so now they are merged in huge companies, and women’s health is still a priority in many of the companies, but men’s health became part of the general matter of health. And therefore, the development of contraception becomes a really very low priority. Narrator: According to Dr. Wang, male contraception was also too risky for Big Pharma at the time. The long-term side effects were unknown. Companies were concerned that women might not trust it, and despite the survey results, it was unclear whether men would actually use a hormone-based contraception. Today, the limited funding comes mostly from government agencies like the National Institutes of Health. But there are in fact some promising lines of research. Dr. Wang is working on a gel that can lower testosterone where it matters, in the testes where sperm is produced, while keeping testosterone levels normal elsewhere. That means low sperm count and, more importantly, no major side effects.

We have preliminary studies to show that if we give the gel and if the man applies the gel, 90% of the men will reach the level that you talk about, 1 million per mil.

And Skinner is pursuing a new approach, shutting down Sertoli cells, which are a part of that impenetrable barrier that houses germ cells.

So if you shut down the Sertoli cell, then you shut down the sperm production. Narrator: But perhaps most promising is a sort of reversible vasectomy that’s in the works.

So they have this ability to inject this gel into what’s called the vas deferens, and it makes this plug, so then essentially it does the same thing, but you’re not cutting it. Then believe it or not, you can actually inject this chemical mixture, which will dissolve the plug, and so then you can get your fertility back. Narrator: But as promising as these approaches may be, they’re still years, if not decades, out, Skinner says. And without more funding, some of them may never hit the market. So at least for now, men are left with few options. Irreversible vasectomies, pulling out , and that slightly updated Bronze Age invention.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in April 2019.

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