Category Archives: LISTENER-APPROVED

June 30: SPECIAL GUESTS in the studio

This week’s Break Your Radio show is here WSG: a baker’s dozen helium balloons, returning co-host Jennifer Lee, hip-hop starlet One Thought, and our very quiet music director.

LISTEN (2 hours):
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We start with lots of soul, get into some old-school jams, and indulge in a few digressions. We celebrate the impending Fourth of July by reciting “America the Beautiful” over machine gun fire and the tinkling of classical piano.

Herein, also learn what Lord Buckley’s voice would sound like on helium (sped up from 33 to 45 rpm). A note to trivia hounds: Frank Zappa edited the Lord Buckley album that I found in our music library, “A Most Immaculately Hip Aristocrat.”

Artist = “Song title”, Album title. [Notes.]

Things got chaotic in the studio. This list surely lacks some trax.

1. Roger Taylor = “Future management”, Fun in space.
2. INF = “Soul check mate”, Music for crime scenes.
3. Von Ryan’s Express = “Squat pot”, Von Ryan’s Express.
4. Johnnie Taylor = “The users”, She’s killing me.
5. Luther Ingram = “My honey and me”, I’ve been here all the time.
6. Redbone = “Sweet lady of love”, Come and get your Redbone: The best of Redbone.
7. John Lennon & Yoko Ono = “Cleanup time”, Double fantasy.
8. Exusama = Baroquin, Excusez-moi!.
9. Family of God = “Watch with mother”, Family of God.
10. Elastica = “Indian song”, Elastica.
11. Family of God = “2nd touch”, Family of God.
12. Eels = “Beginner’s luck”, Hombre Lobo: 12 songs of desire.
13. Animal hours = “Submarine”, Do over.
14. TRAFFIC = “Rock & roll stew”, The low spark of high heeled boys.
15. The Guess Who? = “Maple fudge”, Wheatfield soul.
16. The Orb + Lee Scratch Perry = “Soulman”, The observer in the star house.
17. Sleepy Kitty = “THE HOAX”, Projection room.
18. Potpourri of Pearls = “Shadow on my shoulder”, Why does coco cry?.
19. Little Lapin = “Silent tears”, Little Lapin.
20. Courtney Barnett = “Kim’s caravan”, Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit.
21. Hot Chip = “White wine and fried chicken”, Why make sense?.
22. Nocturnal Sunshine ft. Chelou = “Believe”, Nocturnal Sunshine.
23. Andreya Triana = “Clutterbug”, Giants.
24. INF = “Bubble gum heist”, Music for crime scenes.
25. The Sixths w/ Melanie = “I’ve got New York”, Hyacinths and thistles.

June 23

In which I realize that three squared does not equal twenty-seven.

(2 hours)
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Scattered throughout the show are a few of the bands that I caught at the NXNE music/comedy/film/etc festival in Toronto. Not included here, though worth checking out, are brilliant comedians who gave me belly laughs, namely Ashley Barnhill and Nick Thune.

[Aside: I missed this crazy choreographed event with David Byrne, tune-yards, Nelly Furtado, et al. in Toronto by a mere one day. I don’t want to talk about it anymore because it makes me sad and frustrated to have missed it. Console me.]

Stay tuned to the end to experience the mesmerizing hypnosis of found sound from a casino. JACKPOT.

Artist = “Song title”, Album title. [Notes.]

1. Lucius = “Turn it around”, Wildewoman.
2. Hop Along = “Powerful man”, Painted shut.
3. Alabama Shakes = “Future people”, Sound & color.
4. Ava Luna = “Steve Polyester”, Infinite house.
5. TEEN = “toi toi toi”, The way and color.
6. Pins = “Got it bad”, Wild nights.
7. Matthew E. White = “Holy moly”, Fresh blood.
8. Acorn = Influence, Vieux loup.
9. Roisin Murphy = “Uninvited guest”, Hairless toys.
10. Tubes = “Muscle girls”, Love bomb.
11. Papas Fritas = “Hey hey you say”, Helioself.
12. Nick Diamonds = “Something about the moon”, City of quartz.
13. The Roots = “The seed (2.0)”, Phrenology.
14. Young Fathers = “27”, White men are black men too.
15. Justin Walter = “Western tears”, Lullabies & nightmares.
16. Andreya Triana = “Lullaby”, Giants.
17. Girlpool = “Before the world was big”, Before the world was big.
18. Prinzhorn Dance School = “Reign”, Home economics.
19. Michelle Blades = “Risk fruit”, Ataraxia.
20. Nessa = “Gigue by Blavet”, Nessa.
21. Tyondai Braxton = “Boids”, HIVE1.
22. Damaged Bug = “Grape basement”, Cold hot plumbs.
23. Nuyorican Soul = “Habriendo el dominante”, Nuyorican Soul.
24. Money Mark = “Another day to love you”, Change is coming.
25. Shamir = “Make a scene”, Ratchet.
26. Shokazulu = “Pie”, EP.
27. Adrian Rew = “Horseshoe Casino, Cleveland, Ohio”, Slot Machine Music.

We’re back online! new new new radio show

If you’ve drifted off, then WAKE UP because have I ever got a new show for you, after lo these many periods of time.

It’s not that I haven’t been playing music for you–you can Break Your Radio every single Tuesday night at 10 til midnight by tuning to 88.3 FM in southeast Michigan or streaming live anywhere on the planet via

But opportunities to Break Your Radio have been as ephemeral as the electromagnetic waves received moment by moment and emitted just as quickly through the speakers in your radio or computer, only to disappear once more into the ether.

But HOORAY, each episode once again will be memorialized on this very website for your aural pleasure.

Thanks to Chicago Alex for making this happen. THANKS, Alex, for listening all this time and for asking me so nicely to replenish your RSS feed every week. You’re not a spy from the FCC or a major record label, are you?

Please enjoy the June 2 edition of Break Your Radio:

(2 hours)
Right-click or Command+click to download

Artist = “Song title,” Album title. [Notes.]

1. [Broadway Stars] = “Some enchanted evening,” South Pacific soundtrack.
2. Punch Brothers = “Who’s feeling young now?” Who’s feeling young now?.
3. Punch Brothers = “You are,” Antifogmatic.
4. Elaine Purkey = “Who’ll watch the homeplace,” Mountain music, mountain struggle.
5. Joan Collins = “Sleep,” The Joan Collins beauty and exercise record.
6. Stephanie Greggains = “Chariots of Fire – Cool down,” Thin thighs, hips & stomach: Aerobic shape-up III. [Contains 16 page photo instruction book]
7. Barbie Allen = “Cool down stretch – Just the two of us,” Dance/Exercise.
8. DJ Jester: the Filipino Fist = track 2, River walk riots.
9. Jib Kidder = “Lossy Angeles,” Earzumba/Jib Kidder split.
10. Bobby Troup & Trio = “That darn cat,” Original music score from the sound track of the motion picture: That Darn Cat.
11. Dean Martin = “June in January,” The Dean Martin Deluxe Set. [More than 30 of his greatest hits!]
12. Warren Covington and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra = “Orchids in the moonlight,” It takes two…to cha cha tango samba merengue mambo rumba.
13. Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass = “So what’s new?,” What now my love.
14. Kenosha Kid = “Map of the universe,” Inside voices.
15. Jel = “Thnk4U,” Late pass.
16. DJ Mayonnaise = “Post reformat,” Still alive.
17. Illuminati Congo ft. Del the Funky Homosapien = “No no,” All eye see.
18. K-Chill = “Boom booms 93,” Get ya funky off.
19. Govind Bolo Gopal Bolo = “Nandbhawan Nandlal Thumak Chalan Lage,” Krishna Bhajan.
20. Frank Zappa = “Dirty love,” Apostrophe/Overnight sensation.
21. Janet Jackson = “What have you done for me lately,” Control.
22. Courtney Barnett = “An illustration of loneliness (sleepless in New York),” Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit.

This week was an especially auspicious time to start all this up again, as the exceedingly lovely Gina Gettum brought her brightness and her veggietables to bear during the show.

Also check out the new sticker on the window in our FM studio. It provides a pep talk every time you look up from the microphone.

Interview with Mirah

Mirah and I chatted on the phone, then a tiny bit in person after her show at Trinosophes this week. Listen to the phone interview (plus my whole radio show, even):

Right-click or Command+click to download

The audio includes my two-hour radio show, plus a smidgen of the next DJ’s. Mirah stars for the first 1.5 hours, and the interview begins about 30 minutes in.

Click to READ the interview with Mirah

Artist = “Song title”, Album title. [Notes.]

1. Mirah = “Take me out riding”, The old days feeling
2. Mirah = “Gone are all the days”, (A)Spera
3. Mirah with the Black Cat Orchestra = “The light”, To all we stretch the open arm
4. Mirah YomTov Zeitlyn/Ginger Brooks Takahashi & Friends = “Pure”, Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project
5. Thao & Mirah = “How dare you”, Thao & Mirah
6. Mirah YomTov Zeitlyn/Ginger Brooks Takahashi & Friends = “Oh! September”, Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project
7. Mirah feat. Tender Forever = “Low self control”. [video]
[The interview]
8. Mirah = “1982 (atari)” Storageland
9. Mirah = “La familia”, You think it’s like this but really it’s like this
10. Mirah and Spectratone International = “Community”, Share this place
11. Thao & Mirah = “Rubies and rocks”, Thao & Mirah
12. Mirah = “No direction home”, Changing light [video]
13. Mirah = “I am the garden”, Changing light
14. Mirah = “Pollen”, You think it’s like this but really it’s like this
15. Mirah = “Cold cold water”, Cold cold water EP
16. Thao & Mirah = “Sugar and plastic”, Thao & Mirah
17. Santigold + Diplo = “Icarus”, [Some sorta exclusive album]
18. Tune-Yards = “Little tiger”, Bird-brains
19. Kate Bush = “Army dreamers”, The whole story
20. Suzanne Vega = “Pilgrimage”, Days of open hand
21. Gaze = “Static”, Shake the pounce
22. Enon = “Daughter in the house of fools”, Hocus-pocus
23. Belly = “It’s not unusual (the usual mix)”, Moon
24. Envelopes = “I don’t even know”, Demon [which is Swedish for “demos”]

25. FKA Twigs = “Two weeks”, LP1
26. Xeno & Oaklander = “Jasmine nights”, Par avion
27. Actress = “Towers”, Ghettoville
28. Santigold = “Disparate youth”, Master of my make-believe
29. Dr. Science [the science of shampoo]

Click to READ the interview with Mirah

hugabug 12: Carrion flowers

The biggest flower in the world smells like a rotting corpse, which attracts the flies that pollinate it.
Listen to find out how and why.

Right-click or Command+click to download

Music in this show:
1. Eels, “Flyswatter”
2. Bela Karoli, “Some things that fly there be”
3. Tin Hat Trio & Tom Waits, “Helium reprise”
4. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

— — — — —

Imagine the fragrance of a dense jungle full of colorful flowers. Now imagine the smell of death. That’s the stench of the biggest flower in the world. It’s called Rafflesia, and it smells like a rotting corpse.

You know who loves Rafflesia? Bugs. Flies, most often. The kind of flies that like the smells that nauseate people. The kind of flies that eat poop and lay their eggs in rotting flesh.

Rafflesia depends on flies for pollination. Yet Rafflesia does not reward its pollinators for the favor. No, it fools flies into visiting by mimicking the stench, appearance, and even the temperature of a rotting animal carcass.

The Rafflesia flower is so big that you really could stumble on it as you hike through Sumatra or the Philippines. It’s huge–3 feet across, from petal to petal. Perhaps even big enough to resemble the body of a dead animal. Some other stinky species have hairy petals, which looks deceivingly like mold or fur. Rafflesia flowers even generate heat! Higher temperatures help to volatilize the odors so the pungent aromas can waft through the forest and attract distant flies. The flower’s heat also may feel like a steaming pile of excrement or a warm dead body.

And the flies, they come. They’re attracted to the flower that smells, looks, and feels like a good place to eat and lay their eggs. These flies are foolish, or desperate, or bound by instinct, and relegate their maggot babies to a short life of starvation–because the maggots find themselves not in the rotting meat of an animal, but instead on a flower that’s inedible. The baby flies that hatch on Rafflesia cannot survive.

But the unfortunate flies have pollinated the putrid Rafflesia flower, which now can make malodorous babies of its own.

You know what’s strange is that it seems fairly common for cadavers and cheese to share odors. In the case of cheese, people exploit pregnant flies and their maggot babies. There’s this cheese from Sardinia–casu marzu–that tastes delicious because of the flies that lay their eggs in it. The maggots eat the cheese, digest it, and poop it out, helping to create the soft, leaky delicacy. You’re advised to eat it, maggots and all, while the bugs are still alive.

So next time you’re in the jungle, and you spot the rare and beautiful (but awful-smelling) Rafflesia flower…or when you have a taste of that wriggling Italian cheese…Thank a fly. Hug a bug.

— — — — —

Elsewhere in the world and on the internet:

The titan arum is another magnificently beautiful and gigantic flower that emits a characteristically fetid stench.

The “stink lily” is an edible (by humans) tuber that also smells disgusting (to humans). Here is an illustrated account of a manual pollination attempt, replete with a dog wearing a gas mask.

hugabug 7: Animals in space

Ham the chimpanzee

The United States of America launched a chimpanzee into space, and he came back to Earth with a bruise on his nose.
Listen to find out how and why.

Right-click or Command+click to download

Music in this show:
1. NASA space recordings of Earth
2. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)
3. John Williams, “The conversation”

— — — — —

It’s January, 1961. We know nothing about how to travel in outer space, or whether it’s even possible. The closest to outer space we’ve reached is the top of Mount Everest–just recently, in 1953!

And the trip up the mountain was very, very difficult–physically and mentally. Climbing to high altitudes makes the strongest among us weak in the body and impaired in the mind. Outer space is 11 times higher than Mount Everest, the highest place on Earth.

Can an astronaut go as high as outer space without dying or going insane? In 1961, we had no idea.

Actually, we figured that an astronaut could physically survive a trip to space. We tested that idea by launching a whole bunch of animals in rockets. Mice, fruit flies, hamsters, rats, rabbits, cats, dogs, goldfish, monkeys, guinea pigs, chicken eggs, frogs. Most of them died, but we saw that it’s possible to leave the earth and come back alive. Still, we had no clue whether our brain could function in outer space.

Baker the space monkey

So, how do you test mental capabilities in outer space without risking a person’s life? Ham the chimpanzee.

Ham learned complex tasks in a lab on Earth. The lights and levers in Ham’s training resembled, as closely as possible, the controls that an astronaut would use in spaceflight. If Ham could replicate complex behavior equally well in a rocket ship as in a lab, we figured that a person could do it.

The experiment with Ham was crucial because he was not just a passenger.

Ham was fitted with monitors measuring his temperature, heartbeat, and breathing. He experienced weightlessness…and Ham made it! He flew out to space, returned to Earth, and survived–with just a bruise on his nose. Ham performed his complex tasks in the rocket, showing that it would be possible for the first human American astronaut to travel and function in space, just a few months later.

Ham survived to a ripe old age, and his cremains are buried in New Mexico, where he’d been trained for his space mission. People still leave bananas on his grave.

Click on a pic!

The unknown grows less scary, the more we learn about it. Go where no person has gone before! Get out there and hug a bug.

— — — — —

Not to be missed elsewhere in the inter-stellar-net:

This mini-documentary produced by the Air Force

Or, if you prefer, you can learn English while listening to French music and watching old-school footage of Ham, the space-traveling chimpanzee.

A slideshow of pictures from LIFE Magazine of chimpanzees being trained for spaceflight

Video of a shuttle launch

— — — — —

(and if you’ve been trying to figure out a good way to tell The Liz how much you love the show…get her one of these shirts!)

hugabug 5: Honeypot ants

The honeypot ant has junk in her trunk.
Listen to find out how and why.

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Music in this show:
1. Ani Difranco, “Manhole”
2. Eddie Murphy, “Boogie in your butt”
3. Daleduro, “La poli”
4. Beatles, “Wild honey pie”
5. end credits from Bob’s Burgers
6. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

— — — — —


If you walk past a honey ant colony, you probably won’t notice it at all, because the only evidence of its existence is a small hole in the ground, which is surrounded by tiny dry clods of dirt or sand. If your scientific eye does spot the honey ant colony, though, you probably won’t notice anything different about most of the honey ants…unless you dig several feet under the hard-packed desert ground.

There, you’ll find hundreds of amber globes dangling from the domed roof of the nest, light from the hole you dug glistening in the hanging orbs. Wait a minute–those globes are dangling ant asses.

The honeypot ant has junk in her trunk.

Honeypot humong-asses grow to be the size of grapes or cherries, which is like a 2-year-old child having a butt the size of a refrigerator. And that’s exactly what these honeypots are: living refrigerators.

Honey ants live in dry areas around the world (usually deserts), in Australia, Mexico, South Africa, Arizona, Utah, California, Colorado. The lifestyle in a desert can be summed up pretty simply–feast and famine. During feast times (like the rainy season, when plants are growing and food is plentiful), ants have access to more food than they can eat.


Everyone knows that the good times don’t last forever, so worker ants plan ahead by bringing extra food to the nest. There, extra food can be stored for times of drought and famine. Stored right there in the humong-asses of live honeypot ants.


The sweet sweet junk in her trunk.

Worker ants in the colony tap these delish-asses when resources are scarce. The honeypot regurgitates what’s in her butt into the mouth of a hungry ant friend.

Two regurgitations actually have to happen so that food can be stored and retrieved with the honeypots. First, a worker collects nectar or animal guts from aboveground and returns to the nest to vomit the goods into a honeypot’s mouth. Next, when food is scarce later in the year, the honeypot vomits up the stored food–drop by delicious drop–into a hungry supplicant’s mouth.

The junk in a honeypot trunk might really be junk, in a sense. Sometimes worker ants harvest the guts, fats, and body fluids from worms and other scavenged animals. Most often, though, honeypots contain the sweet stuff, like nectar from flowers, fruits, and extrafloral nectaries, or the sugars produced by aphids, galls, and scale insects.

A honeypot has one function–to serve as a living refrigerator–so she has license to do nothing but dangle from the roof of the nest and sleep all day long, while her backside becomes oversize.

Sweet nectars last in her delish-ass storage space because the honeypot digests barely any food. Turns out that being lazy and dangling requires very few calories.

The nectars are so delish-ass that people eat them. Raw. You can pinch one by the head and legs, bite her butt off, and let the sweet nectar dribble into your mouth.

Australian Aborigines exhume the honeypots to satisfy their sweet tooth. During the Spanish conquest of Mexico, honeypots were sold individually in the markets of Mexico City. Honeypot nectar used to be fermented into an alcoholic drink. Badgers, coyotes, and other animals eat honeypots, too. In fact, other ant colonies sometimes raid honey ant nests and kidnap the honeypots! I wonder how the honeypots feel about imprisonment…

Like many other things in nature, once the function of a honeypot has been fulfilled, she becomes unnecessary. disposable. obsolete. In this case, when the nectar is drained from an enormass by hungry nestmates, the shrunken, withered butt never recovers, and the shriveled honeypot dies.

With that in mind, hug a bug, would you?

photo by Mike Gillam

— — — — —

Worth checking out around the internet:

An adventure in pictures–a filmmaker finds honey ants in the Arizona desert.

hugabug 3: Sea cucumbers puke their guts out

Above: photo by Graeme A. Barber
Below: Byrne 2001 (Journal of Experimental Biology)

The internal organs of a sea cucumber explode out of its body, and the sea cucumber survives.
Listen to find out how and why.

Right-click or Command+click to download

Music in this show:
1. Sara Tavares, “Sumanai”
2. Bernie Krause, “Fish wrap”
3. from Donald in Mathmagic Land
4. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)
5. Battles, “Inchworm”

— — — — —

Actually, a sea cucumber explodes repeatedly in the 10 years it’s alive. And all of its guts regenerate.

Two things can happen. Scenario 1: A sea cucumber is wandering around on the sea floor. A predator attacks, and the sea cucumber pukes up all of its guts, maybe tangling the enemy in a sticky mess of intestines, or the predator may be distracted by the free meal of delicious entrails, allowing the empty sac of sea cucumber skin–still alive!–to crawl away to safety.

Scenario 2: A sea cucumber has been living its life on the sea floor for yet another year. Maybe poop wastes have filled the nooks and crannies of its digestive system. Maybe an uncomfortable number of parasites have invaded the sea cucumber’s internal organs. Maybe the guts are just old enough, now, to be discarded.

First, the sea cucumber stops eating. It gets all lazy and sits around instead of being active. Then, the front end of the sea cucumber expands like a balloon, as muscle spasms push all the intestines and repiratory organs and gonads all up into the front of the body, and BOOM! The front end of the sea cucumber pops like a piñata full of guts. Either that, or sometimes, BOOM! All the guts just spill out of the sea cucumber’s butt.

What’s crazy is that this is not a destructive process.

from Alvarado 2000 (Bioessays)

More muscle contractions seal off the explosion holes, and the sea cucumber rests for about a month, while its internal organs regenerate. And there you have it. The sea cucumber is alive another day with a brand new, clean set of organs. And it starts eating again.

Along similar lines, did you know that a starfish pukes up its stomach to eat? A starfish will approach another animal that looks delicious–sometimes a sea cucumber, sometimes a clam or a mussel–and just kind of sit on the creature. That way, the starfish mouth is pressed up against its prey. The starfish wraps a delicious creature in the pouches of its regurgitated stomach. It oozes digestive juices, rendering its prey a blob of mostly-digested flesh. Then, the starfish eats its own stomach again, and the stomach folds up and tucks back into the starfish’s mouth.

Now, let’s say the starfish stomach gets caught on the rough edges of a mussel shell and tears off or gets damaged. Like the sea cucumber, a starfish can regenerate its own stomach.

Not only that–some species of sharks also can puke up their stomachs if they accidentally bite into any “large objects of dubious digestibility” [1]. These visceral acrobatics involve the shark turning its own stomach inside-out and pushing the stomach through its mouth. Once the accidentally eaten boot (or whatever) is expelled, the stomach can be pulled back into place, into the belly of the beast.

And some sharks, like the hammerhead–from time to time, it expels its intestines through its butt, then pulls those guts right back in through the anus.

But anyway, the point is–the extraordinary sea cucumber explodes its guts out and lives to tell the tale.

You may be wondering, “How come people can’t do that?” Well, to some extent, a very small extent, we actually can, sort of. Our livers are pretty good at regenerating after injury. More experiments with sea cucumbers may lead to human health discoveries. For example, the sea cucumber digestive tube expresses a couple genes associated with cancer and tumor growth in humans. By figuring out how gut regeneration stops in sea cucumbers once their guts are fully formed, maybe we can stop tumors from growing in human cancer patients.

from Brockes 1997 (Science)

— — — — —

Don’t miss this crazy stuff elsewhere on the internet:

The music is unfortunate, but the visuals are awesome in this video of a sea cucumber gut piñata exploding. Just put it on mute and provide a personalized soundtrack.

There are so very many things to learn about starfish (sea stars, if you prefer). For instance:
Time-lapse movie of a starfish feeding on the side of an aquarium
– Front-row seat for the regurgitation of a starfish stomach–the view from the inside of a mussel shell
– Grisly time-lapse footage of starfish and other creatures feasting on a dead seal
Pure entertainment with photoshop

from J. Arthur Thomson, (The Outline of Science, Vol. 1)

— — — — —


Fun-razor is the time of year when you can show your support for WCBN-FM Ann Arbor by flashing some cash. It’s the student-run community radio station at the University of Michigan, serving as a safe and educational haven for the kids and oldsters, alike. You can keep the dream alive! You know? And we’ll toss a T-shirt or other good swag your way in appreciation.

Call (734) 763-3500 or click here to donate. Thanks!

— — — — —

[1] ^ An article by Eugenie Clark (a.k.a., The Shark Lady). Clark, E. 1992. Whale sharks: gentle monsters of the deep. National Geographic, 180(6):120-139.

hugabug 2: Turtles cry

Mr Andrew Murray kindly shared this photo

Turtles cry, and butterflies lick the tears.
Listen to find out how and why.

Right-click or Command+click to download

Music in this show:
1. Monster Rally, “Chaska beach”
2. Monster Rally, “The new optimism”
3. Arif Sağ, “Osman Pehlivan”
4. Prince, “When doves cry”
5. Elvis Costello, “Deep dark truthful mirror”
6. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

— — — — —


A sea turtle may need a hug from you. Because why? Because sea turtles cry.

The poetic explanation for turtle tears is that females laying their eggs on the beach can’t bear to abandon their eggs in a nest of sand, forcing their babies to grow up alone in this harsh world of sharks and ships and desiccation. Yet they must. Thus, they cry.

OK, it’s an unlikely scene. But we can’t really exclude the sentimental possibility, because who are we to say how a turtle feels? But there may be a more likely reason why turtles cry.

For one, the moist, viscous lubricant of turtle tears could protect the eyes of females as they dig immense piles of sand to lay their eggs.

And this here is the perfect time to review one of the major rules of being shipwrecked: If you find yourself lost at sea, do not drink the saltwater, no matter how thirsty you get. If you become so parched that you throw all logic to the wind and gulp down the salty water surrounding your life raft, you can damage your brain and go insane.


Sea turtles, however. Sea turtles drink saltwater! Not because they love salt, but because sea turtles can get rid of all that extra salt, which is so harmful to their bodies. Similar to humans, turtle kidneys are useless for the purposes of drinking saltwater. Their kidneys can’t produce pee that is concentrated enough to excrete the enormous amounts of salt acquired through drinking saltwater and eating very salty foods like algae and jellyfish.

To compensate for their useless kidneys, sea turtles have giant modified tear glands, one behind each eyeball. These glands are rather large. They’re much bigger than the turtle’s brain. These are salt glands; they cause turtles to cry salt.


(Click the picture to enlarge)

Other animals in the sea have their own ways of getting rid of excess salt. The salt glands in other animals are similar, but certainly different. Snakes have salivary glands, and crocodiles have tongue glands. Snakes and crocodiles thus drool to get rid of salt. Sharks have rectal glands; their salty wastes exit through the butt. Lizards have nasal glands, giving them salty snot. Some birds, too, have salty runny noses, but some birds also cry, like sea turtles, with modified tear glands.

You know what’s even more weird? Butterflies and moths drink the tears of other animals. A bee was spotted hovering around a turtle in the Amazon, maybe doing the same thing. You can see beautiful pictures of insect tear-drinkers all over the internet.

When butterflies hover around a turtle’s face, they may be gathering minerals that they can’t find anywhere else. Male butterflies sometimes give these extra minerals to females as an incentive to mate.

So the turtle is not crying because it is sad. Its eyeballs are just dripping salt after the turtle has gulped its fill of thirst-quenching seawater. Hug a turtle anyway.

And better yet, hug a bug. Bugs don’t get much love.

— — — — —

There’s more to see:

A butterfly and a bee commandeer each eye of a spectacled caiman, probably to imbibe extra minerals: Youtube it!

Talented wonderwoman Oliva Walch created a comic about turtle tears:

from Olivia’s Methods comic series

hugabug 1: Bombardier beetle

from Eisner & Aneshansley 1999 (PNAS)

Bombardier beetles fart to escape predators.
Listen to find out how and why.

Right-click or Command+click to download

Music in this show:
1. Goldfinger, “King for a day”
2. TriBeCaStan, “Bed bugs”
3. from Donald in Mathmagic Land
4. Vignatis, “Catnip swing”
5. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

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This here’s the first episode of hugabug, where we hug bugs instead of squishing them. Unless the bug is toxic or aggressive.

There’s this beetle that farts to escape predators. It’s called the bombardier beetle. It’s got wings, but the wings don’t work. It’s a ground beetle, so it lumbers around kind of slowly. This beetle can’t fly, and it can’t run, so when it’s threatened by death, it farts.

Wet farts would be more accurate, but explosive diarrhea actually sums up most precisely what goes on with this beetle.

Bombardier beetles have these glands on each side of their butt. I’ve heard them called “tailpipes”, but they’re glands. One gland holds nasty chemicals that smell foul and burn your eyeballs, and they’re gross. The chemicals are meant for defense against enemies; it’s like carrying mace in a creepy part of town. The other gland holds enzymes, which are like fuel for the fire–when the enzymes hit the nasty chemicals, there’s this immediate reaction that lets the beetle rip out a big, nasty, chemical fart.

You actually can hear it. People say it sounds like a pop.

What the beetle does is it squeezes the horrible chemicals into a reaction chamber of enzymes, this firing chamber, this explosion chamber. All this pressure builds up in the explosion chamber from the reaction and the release of oxygen that the whole chemical mess just spews out of the beetle’s butt and into the face of whatever’s attacking.

That’s if they’re attacking from behind; but even if the attack comes from the front, the bombardier beetle can swivel its glands and spray forward, 500 bursts of chemical reactions per second.

So imagine an ant looking for a vulnerable victim to eat. The ant finds this slow-moving beetle on the forest floor, just walking around on an old log, and the ant sinks in its mandibles.

The beetle sprays in the ant’s face, and the ant can’t even get angry and come back with rage because the spray evaporates really quickly, and a chemical cloud surrounding the beetle ensures that ants stay away, at least for a while.

Plus, there’s a chemical residue that lingers on the beetle’s butt and legs. The beetle wipes away the droplets, essentially rubbing itself with insect repellent. Which it created. In its own butt.

The toxic cocktail is bad news for other bugs and spiders and even larger animals. And if the toxic chemicals don’t hurt an attacker, the heat will get them.

Bombardier beetles shoot out scalding hot streams the temperature of boiling water. These are high-velocity scalding jets at 500 painful squirts per second. People say that it hurts.

Legend has it that Charles Darwin–Mr. Evolution himself–came across a bombardier beetle. He’s a naturalist, so he’s the kind of guy that hunts around for rocks and animals; he was looking for beetles on this particular day. I guess he didn’t bring containers, or maybe he couldn’t reach them in his pockets, because he had two valuable beetle species–one in each hand. He spotted another bug that must have been too beautiful to let go, and he had to act quick to get it, so he stuck one of the beetles in his mouth and reached for the third. The following is paraphrased from one of Darwin’s letters to a friend[1]: “…so that in despair I gently seized one of the [beetles] between my teeth, when to my unspeakable disgust & pain the little inconsiderate beast squirted his acid down my throat & I lost [all 3 bugs].” So you may not want to try and catch these guys with your bare hands, and especially not with your mouth.

All of this is true. We have been talking about the real world here, but in our own lives, these bombardier beetles actually show up, somehow, in ways you maybe wouldn’t expect.

The mechanism of the bombardier beetle’s wet fart is actually similar to a weapon from World War II. The German “buzz” bomb (the V-1, it’s called) uses pulse jet propulsion that’s similar to the beetle’s rapid butt-spray. Both the beetle and the bomb produce a pulsed jet through these “microexplosions”, which are intermittent chemical reactions.

Plus, some researchers built an experimental contraption that mimics the spray action of the bombardier beetle. Such technology can make your shaving cream warm as you spray it out of the can and is designed to “administer a lather that is pleasantly hot”[2].

And that is the story of the beetle that farts to defend itself.

I don’t know whether a beetle like this can get bamboozled by its enemy into being eaten. Maybe if it’s caught by such surprise, or maybe if it’s old and frail, or already dead or something. Nor do I know how this beetle survives the scalding hot toxic mess that must splash onto itself in these desperate situations. But it’s something to think about.

This is a snack–not a meal–of science, but it is all you will get on hugabug this week. You just remember–hug a bug.

from Dean et al. 1990 (Science)

(Click the picture to see it larger)

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Other related things around the internet:

Video of a bombardier beetle spraying an ant. Action starts at 0:50; includes a great fart noise at 1:58.

What the heck, NPR? An artist’s rendering of the bombardier beetle and its attacker, a beetle’s-eye view.

Tom Eisner, entomologist extraordinaire, invited Mira Sorvino to teach one of his classes at Cornell University. Eisner named a beetle chemical after her.

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just a couple References:

[1] ^ Darwin Correspondence Project

[2] ^ Aneshansley & Eisner 1969 (Science)