Vampiric Birds and Fish (November’s Weird Roundup)

Just when you thought life couldn’t get any stranger, along comes vampiric fish and blood sucking birds. In the spirit of all things creepy, I’ve scoured the realms of fauna to find all the bloodsuckers out there. And I’ve saved the best to start us off.

Vamp Birds

I Vant to Peck Your Blood

Although no bird on Earth draws all its nourishment from blood, the sharpbeaked ground finch will occasionally delve into vampirism. This bird lives on an island already known for its freakish deviants of evolution: Galapagos. Typically the “Vampire Finch” will peck at seeds, just like a normal bird. But in the light of a full moon… Er, when drought conditions limit the number of seeds available, it switches to the red stuff. Then it mosey’s over to another fowl, a seabird called a booby. The finch pecks at the victim bird’s back until it draws blood, offering up a nice warm meal. The sharpbeaked ground finch never over pecks. They only draw enough bloom to eat. If the finch were to cause too much pain, then the booby would chase them away or attack.

This National Geographic video shows the vampiric finch in action.

Blood Sucking Fish

The candirus (or pygidiid catfish) is strongly attracted to raw turtle meat and will also attack the legs of human waders. These fish crave blood and will attack the gills and fins of dying or disabled fish or even the legs of submerged children. Scientists, Vinton and Stickler, caught a specimen using a bloody cow lung for bait. Another scientists captured one as it tried to rasp the skin of his leg. Generally, these vampire fish seek out larger catfish, burrowing into the gills. One specimen was found halfway inside the belly of a larger catfish. The vampire catfish’s belly was distended with blood.

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In 1960, one researcher captured a canirus catfish and “permitted [it] to fasten onto his hand for a short while during which time it succeeded in drawing blood, apparently using its mouth as a sucking apparatus and rasping with the long teeth in the middle part of its upper jaw.” It seemed, he added, “to be utterly avid for a meal of blood and had to be forcibly removed.” So unlike the finch, this bad boy loves the taste of blood. It gets better.

In 1959, the Cleveland Aquarium acquired four vampiric fish. The keepers tried to feed them anything from worms to brine shrimp. No go. The canirus would have none of it. Only when a half-pound goldfish was put into their aquarium, did they bite. Almost immediately, according to the report, three of the four latched onto the goldfish under its gills and began sucking blood.

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So vampire bats do not have the corner on the creepy bloodsucking market.

Tim Kane

 

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The Bloody Eye of Horus

Ever read a newspaper story about someone mutilated in an accident? We can’t look away from these things. As human beings, we’re drawn to the macabre. It seems the Ancient Egyptians were no different. The myth surrounding the eyes of Horus (god of kingship, victory, and the sky) is a bizarre tale.

horus vs. set

Illustration by James Ryman. Click to go to his website.

Every year I help put on an Egypt Day at my school for the sixth graders. This year, I wanted to give them a taste for the myths of the Egyptians. After digging around through my books, I discovered some really bizarre things about Horus.

First off, there are so many legends and myths in Egypt that contradict each other. For example, the god Seth is sometimes Horus’s brother and other times his uncle.I settled for one that I could string together in one sitting.

The Left Eye of Horus (The Wadjet Eye)

The Egyptians had two different types of desert: The red desert and the black desert. As Westerners, we’re trained to think of black as evil, but the opposite was true in Egypt. If you travel down to Home Depot or Lowes and buy some potting soil, chances are it will be black. That’s because black soil meant life. Red soil, at least to the Egyptians, represented the dry harsh desert.

Horus was the god of the black desert, which meant he represented life. His brother, Seth, stood for the red desert. So obviously these guys weren’t going to get along. As I researched this, their dynamic seemed similar to Thor and Loki.

Seth was jealous of Osiris, their third and eldest brother (a whole lot of other mythology surrounds the resurrection of Osiris and is better left to those with more authority). Let’s just say that Seth wanted what Osiris had and was willing to fight to get it.

Seth transformed himself into a bull (lots of animal transformations with these older gods) and trampled Osiris to death. Horus sough Seth out for revenge. Seth dealt the first blow, ripping out Horus’s left eye. Seth then cut the eye into six pieces.

Each piece became magical and stood for one of the basic senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and thought.

But still, Horus wanted his eye back. He turned to Thoth (god of Wisdom and the guy who always seems to get Egyptian gods out of a jam). Thoth glued the pieces back together using spit. Yes, spit.

EyeofHorusFractions

Here’s the geeky math part in me. Each part of Horus’s eye stood for a fraction. ( The part was also the hieroglyphic symbol for that fraction). When you add all the parts together, something interesting happens.

math

When you create common denominators (I also teach math in my myths) you find that there’s a piece missing. In other words, when you add all the pieces of Horus’s eye back together, one tiny part is missing. The Egyptians believed that that this missing part was filled in by Thoth’s spit.

So there you have it, Horus has a brand new eye. Now he’s ready to give Seth a beat down. He catches up with his brother and promptly slices off his leg. (Remember, Seth is still in bull form). Horus wants to make sure that the hoof that killed Osiris never harms anyone ever again.

You can still see this severed leg anytime you look into the night sky. Instead of seeing a big dipper, the Egyptians saw this constellation as Seth’s severed leg.

leg

In the next post, I’ll talk about Horus’s right eye (the Eye of Ra) and Sekhmet (the goddess you don’t want to invite to dinner, unless you have plenty of beer).

Tim Kane

Vampire Apotropaics Part 4: Die Vampire Die

We all want vampires dead, but what to do when it’s the middle of night and there are no stakes nearby? Why, reach for a sock, of course.

By far the most common method to off a vampire is with a stake. Van Helsing uses it, why shouldn’t you? However, you don’t always have to chop up grandma’s antique chair. A needle also works. Romanians believe (present tense, mind you) that a needle inserted into the navel will kill a vampire. Why the navel? That’s where the second heart lies. It has to have a second one, because the first one went kaput when the person died. The second heart is what keeps the vampire alive after death.

Vampire blood was so evil that any person who came in contact with it would become insane. Therefore during staking, an animal hide was placed over the body. Vampires were seen as squishy blood balloons, so this form of protection helped minimize splatter.

Click on the picture to bring up the YouTube clip.

Steven Weber (playing Jonathan Harker) could have used a bib in Mel Brooks’s “Dracula Dead and Loving It.” Click on the picture to bring up the YouTube clip.

A consecrated bullet would kill a vampire, but not in the way you think. Shoot it through the coffin. One reason for this might be that it spoiled the coffin and gave the vampire no place to rest. A version of this can be seen in Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula where they ruin the vampire’s coffin but placing holy wafers in the dirt. The idea that sunlight can kill vampires is an invention of film. In Poland and Prussia, the creatures can hunt the living from noon till midnight. Even Bram Stoker’s Dracula could function in daylight.

1943 Son of Dracula played by Lon Chaney Jr. just before sunlight strikes him.

1943 Son of Dracula played by Lon Chaney Jr. just before sunlight strikes him.

The first film to have a vampire to die by sunlight is Son of Dracula with Lon Chaney Jr. as the vampire. The rays of dawn strike his body and he fades from sight. A few months later, Return of the Vampire showed Bela Lugosi (playing a vampire called Armand Tesla) succumb to sunlight. Though this isn’t really fair, as he was simultaneously being staked by his werewolf servant. The film did depict the first image of a vampire melting in the sun.

The first face melting of a vampire in sunlight (or from staking, who's to say).

The first face melting of a vampire in sunlight (or from staking, who’s to say).

If you suspected that your kin were a vampire the solution was simple. Dig up the body, dismember, burn to a crisp and drink the ashes. A pretty hefty cure if you ask me. Boiling oil was another method to destroy the undead.

Vampires were considered terribly OCD (counting knots or grains of rice). The final method of demise plays off this weakness. Steal the vampire’s left sock (I’m assuming this is the evil one with the Latin name for left being sinister). Then fill it with rocks and toss it into a river or other running water. The creature will go after it (possibly crying, “Who took my sock.”) and the moving water will be its downfall. Moving water was long believe to destroy vampires.

That’s it. Now you know all there is about how keep vampires out. If, however you’re yearning for a midnight nibbling, you know not to take the guy’s sock. He needs that.

Tim Kane

The Man with the Iron Fists Hammers the Chop-Chop Flick

This is a film that you will either love or hate. And you’ll know before you even see it. If you’re excited about over the top sound effects, fists flying through the air, and blood squirting everywhere, then this is the film for you. If you have even the slightest doubt, then you’ll hate it. No in between.

Directed by rapper RZA and co-written with horror filmmaker Eli Roth, this film delivers. It starts off with gansta rap while two clans, lion and hyena, spar. You know you’re in for a great film when the leader of the lion clan, a fella decked out with a massive mane of hair, rips the arms off his opponent.

Plenty of blood throughout the film.

RZA certainly knows how to hit all the marks for a chop chop film. The plot is fast and loose. (Honestly, if you pay too much attention to plot on these films, it just gets in the way.) He segues from rap music to cowboy (as the clans ride out to battle) as well as traditional Chinese.

The Gemini Twins using the their secret weapon, a thigh mounted gun.

The fight scenes are well choreographed and filmed so you can witness every bit of gore. There’s one scene where an eyeball shoots out toward the audience. Excellent.

Eyeball popping scene.

Russel Crowe eats up the scenery as Jack Knife, the lone Caucasian with a twirling bowie knife.

Byron Man, who plays the baddie Silver Lion, is so over the top he makes the whole film. Every line is delivered with a devilish grin. When one of his victims begs for mercy, Silver Lion mocks him, whining out: “Please stop.”

Cung Le as Brass Lion (left) and Byron Mann as Silver Lion (right wearing glasses)

Did I forget to mention that Lucy Liu is there, as the madame of a brothel? She holds off with her Kung Fu skills till the final battle royale.

I can’t add to much more without spoiling the best parts. If any of this sounds good, then just go see it.

Tim Kane

The Modern Madame Bathory

Ah Madame Bathory, the Countess who took the term “blood bath” to a whole new level. If you’re unfamiliar with the lady, she was a sixteenth century royal in Hungary who decided create her own fountain of youth from young woman’s blood. Specifically, she drained them and bathed in the blood.

She might have been on to something. Now it seems that researchers have found evidence to support that young blood can restore metal health (to mice at least). They swapped blood between an older mouse and a younger mouse. The younger one’s brain began to age more rapidly and the older one (with the newer blood) showed more elasticity in thinking. It was able to solve water mazes quicker with fewer mistakes.

This is a frightening prospect, not for the scientific advancement (which is terrific) but the implications for us. We already have fang bangers who dress and act like vampires. Some even delude themselves into believing they are the living dead. Now, bolstered by scientific evidence, will they round up the youngsters, Bathory style, and drain them to renew their flagging vigor? Don’t laugh, it’s a real possibility.

Until then, keep a close watch on your children. The vampire wannabes are out there.

Tim Kane