Environmental DNA Evidence Suggests the Loch Ness Monster Could Be a Giant Eel

Ariana Walls/iStock via Getty Images
Ariana Walls/iStock via Getty Images

Since the first supposed monster sighting at Loch Ness was recorded in the 6th century, people have been searching for logical explanations. Sturgeons, trees, and even elephant trunks have all been blamed, but scientists (and fans) haven't settled on a single culprit. As The Washington Post reports, one scientist from New Zealand claims he's finally discovered Nessie's true identity: She's not a prehistoric plesiosaur—she's an oversized eel.

That's the suggestion made by a recent environmental DNA project that analyzed the genetic material of every living thing in Loch Ness. In 2018, Neil Gemmell of the University of Otago and his team embarked on a mission to collect 250 water samples from various spot in Loch Ness in Scotland. This was harder than it sounds: The freshwater lake is 23 miles long and 788 feet deep. But the team succeeded in capturing a biological snapshot of the lake, with enough "eDNA"—the genetic material organisms leave behind in their environment—for 500 million sequences.

After comparing the sequenced DNA against global DNA databases of known organisms, the scientists didn't find anything to indicate the lake is hiding an unknown species, prehistoric or otherwise. The findings also ruled out Greenland sharks, catfish, and sturgeon as the stand-ins behind the Nessie sightings. (It's unclear if the study has been published or peer-reviewed.)

They did, however, find an unusually high amount of eel DNA in their samples. "The remaining theory that we cannot refute based on the environmental DNA data obtained is that what people are seeing is a very large eel," a summary of the findings on the project's website reads. "Eels are very plentiful in Loch Ness, with eel DNA found at pretty much every location sampled—there are a lot of them."

Eels indigenous to the British Isles can grow to incredible lengths. Conger eels grow up to 10 feet or more, and in 2001, two 7-foot specimens were discovered on the shore of Loch Ness (though it's possible the saltwater species were planted there by someone looking to stir up monster-related press). When swimming near the surface, a large eel can possibly be mistaken for the backbone of an aquatic beast. The eDNA project didn't reveal whether the eels living in Loch Ness are gigantic or smaller in size.

Despite the new evidence, the research likely won't be enough to dissuade Nessie believers. The most famous photograph of Nessie has been proven to be fake, and there's a lot of science debunking the existence of a massive aquatic reptile hiding in Loch Ness. Nonetheless, multiple monster sightings are still reported each year.

[h/t The Washington Post]

Shocker: This Electric Eel Delivers More Voltage Than Any Creature on Earth

stacey_newman/iStock via Getty Images
stacey_newman/iStock via Getty Images

Eels are proving to be more slippery than previously believed. A newly identified species of these skinny fish (yes, eels are really fish) delivers more electric voltage than any other creature on the planet.

All species in their taxonomic order (Gymnotiformes) are capable of producing a modest electrical field to help them navigate, a perk that compensates for their poor vision. But electric eels (in the genus Electrophorus) pack a far more potent punch. They bear three organs full of cells that can produce electricity on demand. The cells act as a defense mechanism and can effectively taser prey into submission.

In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers collected more than 100 electric eels in the Amazon region and analyzed their DNA, voltage, and habitat. To their surprise, they found that the single known species of electric eel, Electrophorus electricus, was actually three distinct species. They gave the two new ones the very heavy metal names of E. varii and E. voltai. The latter (named for Alessandro Volta, who invented the electric battery) produced the strongest shock: 860 volts, topping the previous record of 650 volts.

Why the varying strength? The researchers suggested that some eels occupy water with low salt content, and therefore reduced conductivity. A stronger charge may be needed to deliver an effective jolt.

While those numbers sound formidable, their low current means a shock wouldn’t necessarily be harmful to a human. Voltage is the measure of pressure of the flow of electrons; current, or amperage, is the volume of electrons. Eels have high voltage but low current; household power outlets have lower voltage but more current and can be deadly. Eels might startle you with a shock, but it won't be fatal.

If you should find yourself in a school of electric eels bent on subduing you, however, the shocks could result in brief incapacitation that could lead to drowning or an aggravation of an existing heart condition. The study authors hope to eventually film a coordinated eel attack on (non-human) prey.

The discovery of two new species was “quite literally shocking,” lead author Carlos David de Santana told The New York Times.

[h/t Phys.org]

Does the Full Moon Really Make People Act Crazy?

iStock.com/voraorn
iStock.com/voraorn

Along with Mercury in retrograde, the full moon is a pretty popular scapegoat for bad luck and bizarre behavior. Encounter someone acting strangely? Blame it on the lunar phases! It's said that crime rates increase and emergency rooms are much busier during the full moon (though a 2004 study debunked this claim). Plus, there's that whole werewolf thing. Why would this be? The reasoning is that the moon, which affects the ocean's tides, probably exerts a similar effect on us, because the human body is made mostly of water.

This belief that the moon influences behavior is so widely held—reportedly, even 80 percent of nurses and 64 percent of doctors think it's true, according to a 1987 paper published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine [PDF]—that in 2012 a team of researchers at Université Laval's School of Psychology in Canada decided to find out if mental illness and the phases of the moon are linked [PDF].

To test the theory, the researchers evaluated 771 patients who visited emergency rooms at two hospitals in Montreal between March 2005 and April 2008. The patients chosen complained of chest pains, which doctors could not determine a medical cause for the pains. Many of the patients suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and mood disorders, or suicidal thoughts.

When the researchers compared the time of the visits to the phases of the moon, they found that there was no link between the incidence of psychological problems and the four lunar phases, with one exception: in the last lunar quarter, anxiety disorders were 32 percent less frequent. "This may be coincidental or due to factors we did not take into account," Dr. Geneviève Belleville, who directed the team of researchers, said. "But one thing is certain: we observed no full-moon or new-moon effect on psychological problems."

So rest easy (or maybe not): If people seem to act crazy during the full moon, their behavior is likely pretty similar during the rest of the lunar cycle as well.

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