Warning: This article contains tweets that depict graphic scenes from nature.
Have you ever taken a photo of something because it was a bit scary or gross?
Well, you are not alone. And it turns out scientists do have a sense of humour, although it appears to be quite twisted.
This month, biologists and ecologists have flocked to Twitter to share photos of dead animals that they found while in the field. One by one, researchers from around the globe have shared the gruesome pics of animal carcasses using the hashtag #BestCarcass.
You have already been warned once, but you are about to cross the line of no return. Are you sure about this?
Because if you continue you will see dead, dismembered and decaying animals. OK, don’t say I didn’t warn you – that’s three times now.
The gory battle began on January 10, after a group of scientists started sharing pics. Julien Fattebert, an ecologist at the Swiss Ornithological Institute, seems to have kicked it all off with this tweet:
— Julien Fattebert (@FattebertJ) January 10, 2017
Emanuele Biggi, a naturalist and conservationist, found these frogs trapped in a frozen lake:
— Emanuele Biggi (@EmanueleBiggi) January 10, 2017
Science journalist Phillip Hummel posted this fox, which was perfectly frozen in a block of ice:
— Philipp Hummel (@p_humm) January 12, 2017
And marine conservationist and biologist Dr David Shiffman shared this disturbing shot of a dolphin:
— Dr. David Shiffman (@WhySharksMatter) January 10, 2017
PhD candidate and self-confessed “squirrel wrangler” Danielle Rivet found this unfortunate little fella:
— Danielle Rivet (@grizzlygirl87) January 10, 2017
Some took a more light-hearted approach. Californian fish biologist M. Sid Kelly shared this:
— M. Sid Kelly (@MSidKelly) January 11, 2017
#BestCarcass soon spread beyond scientists to people in other professions. Cooking blogger Richard Fitch posted this strong contender:
— Richard Fitch (@tudorcook) January 10, 2017
And law student Anna Caro posted this shot, which looks like it would be perfect for the cover of a heavy metal album:
— anna ?? (@anna_caro13) January 10, 2017
The New York Times reports that although Fattebert was surprised by the popularity of the hashtag, he was glad that it had taken off. He wrote, “death is inherent to life, and we have to deal with it more often than not. And it’s sometimes disgusting, yes I think this hashtag has opened a window on this side of life science.”
Putting it a little more succinctly, he tweeted:
It's not all glitters and rainbows. Animals die. Get killed. Get eaten. Rot. Liquefy. #BestCarcass
— Julien Fattebert (@FattebertJ) January 11, 2017
For people who dismiss these pics as a cruel or macabre gore-fest, keep in mind that scientists learn a lot from studying corpses. For example, The Times article mentions the work of Ted Stankowich, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at California State University. He posted this image of the leftover anal gland of a skunk:
— Ted Stankowich (@CSULBMammalLab) January 10, 2017
To us, it’s a skanky skunk carcass. But to Stankowich, who is trying to understand how animals adapt to avoid skunks, it’s crucial evidence.
Anne Hilborn, a PhD student at Virginia Tech, shared the following fascinating image of a miscarried zebra:
— Anne Hilborn (@AnneWHilborn) January 10, 2017
She sees #BestCarcass as educational and hopes that the contest never ends.
It’s been a busy month for scientists on Twitter. In addition to #BestCarcass, a hastag #Doesitfart has been doing the rounds. It’s helping biologists, who are in the process of building an epic database that reveals which animals break wind.
— Dani Rabaiotti (@DaniRabaiotti) January 9, 2017
— Julie Blommaert (@Julie_B92) January 9, 2017
If you are curious (and if you have read this far, then you must be), you can check out the fart spreadsheet here. In it, you’ll find some real comic gems in the Descriptions/Notes section.
For example, birds don’t fart “but they could if they wanted to”, and African wild dogs fart because “any self-respecting canine does”. Domestic cats fart, and it “seems to worsen in the vicinity of human face… silent but deadly”.
Uh, thanks, science.