Weather Reporting Leeches

By Anupum Pant

Of all the creatures in the whole wide world, you’ll be surprised to know that leeches have played a fairly important role in the history of weather forecasting. An incredibly bizarre device invented by Dr. George merry weather, in the 19th century, called the tempest prognosticator, was basically a barometer powered by leeches.

Dr. George Merryweather, aptly named, was a surgeon by profession who was a lot into leeches. Since barometers were already being used for a long time then, to indicate approaching storms, he knew that air pressure was crucial in determining weather. However, Dr. Merryweather, an ingenious man, hell-bent on doing things the different way, had a different plan in his mind.

In his profession, he came across medicinal leeches all the time. In course of time, with a keen ability to notice details, he noticed that leeches were sensitive to electrical variations in the atmosphere.
He noticed a peculiar behaviour among these creatures. He observed that the leeches often started squirming around in a chaotic manner before a storm arrived.

Putting this practical knowledge to use, and experimenting with a number of designs, Dr. Merryweather devised a contraption. It consisted of 12 pint-sized bottles arranged in a circle. Each of which contained a leech in one-and-half-inch deep rain water. The top of every bottle had a tube into which the leech could crawl and disturb a mechanism, which in turn would activate a hammer to hit a bell – indicating that a storm is coming.

When a storm would come, the leeches were expected to crawl up the bottle, into the little pipe and activate a Heath-Robinson like mechanism which would make a hammer hit the bell. When the leech had completed its job it would fall down into the water and the hammer would go back to its place.

However, a number of times the leeches would give a false alarm. That was the reason he decided to use a jury of 12 leeches. And said,

The more of them that rang the bell, the more likely it was that a storm would be on its way.

If you ever go to Devon, you must take some time out to visit the Barometer World Museum to check out a full-scale working model of this device. Or you could go to the Whitby Museum in North Yorkshire to see the other working model.

A Disease That Doesn’t Let You Sleep And Kills

By Anupum Pant

Background

In my very first article on this website, I talked about a 17-year-old boy, Randy Gardner who remained awake for an incredible 11 days and set a world record which no one had beat for a very long time. And then, in the 90s, Toimi Soini, of Hamina, Finland, set a new record of 276 hours of sleeplessness.

Well, no one should even try to beat it because depriving yourself of sleep can have some serious health issues and can even kill you. The seriousness of health consequences associated with such attempts is the reason that these records are no longer recorded in the Guinness books.

The disease

Not always do people decide to voluntarily break sleeplessness records. Some times, they can be the victims of a horrific and an extremely rare disease called fatal familial insomnia (FFI) – A progressively worsening form of insomnia discovered only 10-15 years ago. When it affects someone, the person starts having bouts of insomnia at first and then they aren’t able to sleep at all. Hallucinations, delirium, and confusional states occur and a person usually dies within 18 months from the first insomnia. 

The disease is caused due to a defective gene and the people having it start seeing symptoms from the age of 30 (never at an early age). It has been believed to have originated from an Italian man in the year 1765 (not necessarily).

Symptoms in detail

  • For the first four months there is an onset of insomnia and the person starts getting panic attacks and unfounded phobias.
  • For the the next 5 months the hallucinations become severe.
  • In the next 3 months, rapid weight loss and serious deterioration of mental ability happens,
  • Next comes dementia, unresponsiveness, and may be death.
[A list of couple of people who never slept]

Here’s a 10 minute documentary which discusses FFI in detail.

[Everything else you need to know about it]

Dozens Died During The Dance Epidemic of France

By Anupum Pant

Background

In the year 1518, a woman named Frau Troffea suffered with a very mysterious, contagious and a scary disease. Till date, doctors or science has no explanation on what really was going on in her body and the disease is still named among one of the most bizarre and the most unexplainable diseases ever – The Dance plague of 1518.

In the month of  July Frau Troffea came down to a quiet street in the city of Strasbourg, France and started dancing fervently on the street.  Even 6 days later, the woman was still dancing. On the 6th day, she probably died out of exhaustion.

But by the time she had stopped, the dancing disease had spread to 34 more people. And by the end of that month there were 400 others who were experiencing this irresistible urge to dance. Dozens died out of exhaustion.

Ironically, doctors and physicians suggested that the cure to this dancing plague would be to dance more. It was literally dance till you drop. Musicians were hired, stages were made for these hoards of dancers.

Similar contagious of these dancing epidemics in other European cities have been recorded in the history at least 10 other times before this. There was one in the year 1374, which the records say, spread to several towns!

Agreed the story is too old and seems to have become hyped due to repeated story telling, but clearly that isn’t the case because the certainty of the event, is established through a number of independent records.

Why was this happening?

Well, no one knows for sure. The mysterious disease has baffled scientists for years. However, there are of course some weak theories that explain the behaviour of these dancing people.

One theory says that the dancers got high on ergot – A psychotropic fungus that grows on rye and must have reached these people through bread. Since the symptoms associated with ergot poisoning are very similar to what these people were experiencing, it seems like a valid explanation. But there’s almost no chance that ergot poisoning happened…

That is because when a person gets poisoned by this fungus, they start having hallucinations and involuntary muscle contractions. However, the people who were affected by the dancing plague, according the people who had seen this happening, were clearly not willing to dance – which doesn’t happen when you are poisoned by ergot.

Also, these “muscle contractions” they were experiencing weren’t just involuntary contractions that are associated with ergot poisoning. They were moving in a very coordinated manner, actually dancing. Clearly, it wasn’t ergot.

Another possible explanation says that it was out of fear, anxiety and desperation among the people because of the widespread famine and disease in that area during this period. This is presently a widely accepted explanation.

Still, what exactly was happening their brains and what exactly caused it, no one knows.

[Source] [Read more here]