The explosion of animals is an uncommon event arising through natural causes or human activity. Among the best known examples are the post-mortem explosion of whales, either as a result of natural decomposition or deliberate attempts at carcass disposal. Other instances of exploding animals are defensive in nature or the result of human intervention.
Causes of explosions
Natural explosions can occur for a variety of reasons. Post-mortem explosions, like that of a beached whale, are the result of the build-up of natural gases created by methane-producing bacteria inside the carcass during the decomposition process.
Various military attempts have been made to use animals as delivery systems for weapons. In Song Dynasty China, oxen carrying large explosive charges were used as self-propelled explosive missiles. During World War II the United States investigated the use of "bat bombs", or bats carrying small incendiary bombs, while at the same time the Soviet Union developed the "anti-tank dog" for use against German tanks. Other attempts have included the so-called kamikaze dolphins, intended to seek out and destroy submarines and enemy warships.
The defensive behaviors of Camponotus saundersi, a species of carpenter ant, include self-destruction by autothysis. Two oversized, poison-filled mandibular glands run the entire length of the ant's body. When combat takes a turn for the worse, the ant violently contracts its abdominal muscles to rupture its body and spray poison in all directions. Another instance of autothysis is that of the termite Globitermes sulphureus.
Others are altruistic, or at the expense of the individual in defense of its colony. Several species of ants, such as the aforementioned C. saundersi in southeast Asia, can explode at will to protect their nests from intruders. Likewise, many species of termites have members, deemed the soldier class, who can split their bodies open emitting a noxious and sticky chemical for the same reason.
In October 2005, rangers in the Everglades National Park discovered the carcass of a 6-foot (1.8 meters) alligator protruding from the burst and headless carcass of a 13-foot (4 meters) Burmese Python (a non-native, invasive species). It was suggested that the alligator had tried to claw its way out of the snake; or that the alligator was already dead when swallowed; or that a third animal or human was responsible for cutting open and decapitating the snake; or that the alligator decomposed and ruptured the snake's body.
According to worldwide media reports in April 2005, toads in the Altona district of Hamburg were observed by nature protection officials to swell up with gases and explode, propelling their innards for distances of up to one metre. These incidents prompted local residents to refer to the area's lake—home to the toads—as "Tümpel des Todes" (Pool of Death). The incidents were reported as occurring with greatest frequency between 2 and 3 a.m. Werner Smolnik, environmental movement worker, stated on April 26, 2005, at least 1,000 toads had died in this manner over a series of a few days.
According to a witness, "toads swell up to three-and-a-half times their normal size before blowing up", and were noted to live a short time after exploding.
Berlin veterinarian Franz Mutschmann collected toad corpses and performed necropsies. He theorised that the phenomenon was linked to a recent influx of predatory crows to the area. He stated that the cause was a mixture of crow attacks and the natural puff up defense of the toads. Crows attacked the toads to pick through the skin between the amphibian's chest and abdominal cavity, picking out the liver, which appears to be a delicacy for crows in the area. In a defensive move, the toads begin to blow themselves up, which in turn, due to the hole in the toad's body and the missing liver, led to a rupture of blood vessels and lungs, and to the spreading of intestines. The apparent epidemic nature of the phenomenon was also explained by Mutschmann: "Crows are intelligent animals. They learn very quickly how to eat the toads' livers."
Initial theories had included a viral or fungal infection, possibly one also affecting foreign horses involved in racing at a nearby track. However, laboratory tests were unable to detect an infectious agent.
- Decline in amphibian populations
- Military animals as living bombs
- Animal-borne bomb attacks
- Raining animals
- Spontaneous human combustion
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