Sunday 2 November 2008

Halloween Science Special

As it's Halloween, here is the Halloween news that I presented on Diffusion Science Radio this week. Diffusion can be heard on Monday nights at 6.30pm on 2SER 107.3 in Sydney, at various times across Australia on stations affiliated with the Community Radio Network, and on the Diffusion podcast.

1) Halloween, Candy and Science

What's worse: eating all the lollies collected on Halloween night at once, or spreading this out over the coming days and months?

When it comes to your teeth at least, it is far worse to ration your lollies all through the day, day after day than it is to gorge it all at once. Mark Helpin, a pediatric dentist at Temple University, says that snacking on candy keeps your teeth bathed in enamel-corroding acid, which is produced by bacteria feeding on the sugar in your mouth.

When you cover your teeth with sugar, oral bacteria cause a rise in acidity levels. This is neutralised when you brush your teeth. Even if you don't brush, saliva will eventually wash away the sugar and starve the bacteria. If you continually snake on chocolate and other lollies, the level of acidity stays constantly high, and this can lead to tooth decay.

Helpin also thinks that potato chips are just as bad, or worse, than lollies. Acid-producing bacteria feed on carbohydrates in potatoes, which are far more sticky than lollies and so hang around longer on your teeth. This poses an even greater risk for tooth-decay.

More information on ABC

2) Bigfoot revealed to be Halloween Costume

There's been a recent downturn in the fortunes of those hunting for Bigfoot, which a supposed frozen corpse of the animal turning out to be a Halloween costume. owner Tom Biscardi had paid an estimate $50,000 to Matthew Whitton and Rick Dyer for their frozen Bigfoot "corpse". Biscardi also hired Sasquatch detective Steve Kulls to check out the specimen.

Kulls was not a happy man, and neither, it turns out was Biscardi, especially after Whitton and Dyer ran off with his money.

"I extracted some [hair] from the alleged corpse and examined it and had some concerns," Kulls writes. "We burned said sample and said hair sample melted into a ball uncharacteristic of hair. Within one hour we were able to see the partially exposed head. I was able to feel that it seemed mostly firm, but unusually hollow in one small section. This was yet another ominous sign."

"Within the next hour of thaw, a break appeared up near the feet area. ... I observed the foot which looked unnatural, reached in and confirmed it was a rubber foot."

When Biscardi found out, he called Whitton and Dyer at their California hotel, who confirmed the hoax. However, when Biscardi went to look for them, they had disappeared with his money, and plenty of his dignity.

More information on

3) Vampire Moth

A population of vampire moths has been found in Siberia that entomologists suggest may have evolved from a purely fruit-eating species as there are only slight differences in their wing patterns from the herbivorous cousins, Calyptra thalictri.

When the Russian moths were experimentally offered human hands , the insects drilled their hook-and-barb-lined tongues under the skin and sucked blood.

Entomologist Jennifer Zaspel from the University of Florida said the discovery could shed light on how indeed caught a fruit-eating moth evolving blood-feeding behavior, it could provide clues as to how some moths develop a taste for blood.

It may be that blood-feeding in insects evolved from feeding on tears, dung, and pus-filled wounds.

"We see a progression from nectar feeding and licking or lapping at fruit juices to different kinds of piercing behaviours of fruits and then finally culminating in this skin piercing and blood-feeding," she said.

In addition, only male moths exhibit blood-feeding, which means that maybe its so the males can pass on salt to females during sex. This could provide a nutritional boost to young larvae that have sodium-poor diets.

More information on National Geographic

4) Trick-or-treat safety tips

Children are twice as likely to be hit by a car and killed on Halloween than on any other day of the year - so take care! More information at AJC

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