But when you die, your friendly gut flora quickly become your gut foe. Without food, the microbes escape your GI tract through the circulatory system and spread to your other organs, feeding on your dying cells and colonizing your body.
Now, forensic experts are finding that this macabre Manifest Destiny may provide crucial clues about a corpse. According to New Scientist, Peter Noble and his research team at Alabama State University analyzed organ tissue samples from 11 cadavers, between one to 10 days after death. From the spreading bacteria’s genetic material, they were able to figure out how long it took for the gut microbes to reach other organs, and which species traveled where.
Apparently, there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to this microbial takeover:Contrary to the team's expectations, there was no predictable pattern of microbe distribution. This was a surprise, says Noble, as he had expected different microbes to thrive in different organs. For example, the team had thought that bile-tolerant species would flourish in the liver, whereas those adapted to iron-rich environments would do better in the spleen.
In fact, there was more variation between individuals and according to time since death than there was between the organs within a single cadaver (Journal of Microbiological Methods, doi.org/t6x).
However, these findings do hold some benefit, especially in the field of forensics. Knowing how gut bacteria swarm throughout the body post mortem can reveal a body’s time of death or where the body has been lying, as the environment surrounding the body at death can have a significant effect on the spread of gut microbes. If a body has been moved to a second location after death, the bacteria of the internal organs can indicate where the person was originally killed. So, after you die, your gut microbiome is still working for you.
After sundown, a completely different world comes to life.
Photographer Traer Scott writes that her journey into darkness started with moths, "the mysterious, moonlit cousins of the perky, sunny butterfly--flitting wildly and ever frantically near our porch lights but never coming quite close enough to be truly illuminated." Then she got to thinking about the bats that eat the boths, and an idea hatched. Her book, "Nocturne: Creatures Of The Night," calls itself the first photography book devoted to nocturnal animals, and it goes on sale September 2.
Many of the animals pictured in the book were injured or orphaned, and wouldn't have been able to survive in the wild. Traer managed to get up close to the smaller animals with the help of a contraption that she calls her Little Black Box--it's essentially a box with lens holes cut in the sides, which provided a black backdrop and kept the animals calm. For the larger animals, she worked with zoos and wildlife rehabilitation centers.
The book has a strong focus on conservation, and Traer reminds us that many of these fascinating creatures are threatened with habitat loss, poaching, and light pollution.
One hundred years ago today, the scientific community mourned the passing of a very important bird. Her name was Martha (after George Washington’s wife), and she was the last known passenger pigeon to have existed. She died in her cage at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914, marking the end of the passenger pigeon species, Ectopistes migratorius.
Just a few decades prior to Martha’s death, the passenger pigeon flourished throughout much of North America; in the early 1800s, they were considered one of the most abundant species of bird in the world, with their numbers somewhere between 1 and 5 billion. They lived in giant colonies that stretched for miles in length, darkening the sky for hours as they passed overhead.
But a combination of over hunting and habitat loss caused the species’ numbers to dwindle, and between 1870 and 1890, the passenger pigeon suffered a “catastrophic decline,” with millions of birds slaughtered. After 1900, there were no longer any passenger pigeons in the wild, and only a handful (including Martha) remained in captivity at the University of Chicago. Their handler, zoologist Charles Otis Whitman, tried one last attempt to breed the birds -- without success.
After her death, Martha was frozen in a block of ice and sent to the Smithsonian, where she remained on display for 80 years. Now, she is considered somewhat of a cultural icon, symbolizing the threat of extinction for many other endangered species.
But at first, it was hard for many people to accept the end of the passenger pigeon. For years after Martha’s death, numerous people kept “seeing” the bird in the wild, and many experts tried to figure out where they might have gone. In the October 1930 issue of Popular Science, the magazine details one of these “sightings.”Passenger Pigeon Shoot A flock of passenger pigeons being hunted. Wikimedia Commons “Extinct” Passenger Pigeon Seen Alive Popular Science, October 1930
Recent reports that the passenger pigeon, which supposedly became extinct in 1914, may not have perished after all have been given added weight by a scientific observer.
The first reports concerned the observations of two laymen. A Michigan publisher reported seeing a pair of passenger pigeons on the road sixteen miles from his Munising home. From a distance of only ten feet he could plainly identify them by the sheen on the neck and the red eyes. A Traverse City, Mich., physician, driving from Florida, observed a flock of about fifteen between Indianapolis and Kokomo, Ind. Both these men had hunted the birds in the years when they were common and were thoroughly familiar with them.
Now Dr. Philip Hadley, University of Michigan biologist, reports that he himself recently saw a bird that may have been a passenger pigeon; his companion, a veteran naturalist, obtained a better look and positively identified the bird. Doctor Hadley suggests that the species may be returning to the northern peninsula of Michigan, once a famous nesting ground for them.
Science has long considered the passenger pigeon as extinct as the auk or dodo. The last known specimen died in 1914 in a Cincinnati, O., zoological park. Previous to that, the last wild bird was seen near Detroit, Mich., in 1898, according to report.