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10 Escaped Lab Animal Populations (And What They're Probably Doing Now)

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Why must we constantly fear the supernatural when there's so much real stuff to fear? Take, for example, the many smart, dangerous groups of animals who escaped from their laboratory environments and now roam free. Perhaps they're just enjoying their liberty — or perhaps they're seeking revenge on those who caged them.

10. One Million Chinese Cockroaches

Did you know that cockroach extracts can - possibly - be used to treat medical problems in humans? Neither did the cockroaches. The difference between you and them is they don't care. And there are a million of them. And they all escaped from a lab near Dafeng, China when an unknown intruder broke open their plastic enclosure. No one has any idea where they went. I'm betting they immediately devoured the intruder (to keep him from talking) and went on to build an organized society with nuclear missile silos under all the local refrigerators. Leave the icebox unstocked if you dare. They can survive nuclear war.


9. Nine College-Bound Oregon Monkeys

One night, at a primate research facility, a worker forgot to lock the door to one of the cages. Nine snow monkeys saw their chance and went for it. They slid the latch open and headed out into the world. Authorities were concerned, as these monkeys were infected with the herpes virus. About half were rounded up and brought back to the lab. The rest went somewhere they knew was a breeding ground for herpes: college. They were spotted on Oregon Health and Science University campus, living the dorm life. Unlike the industrious cockroaches, it's unlikely that these monkeys will build anything impressive. They'll probably just sit around on campus, surrounded by their own filth, arguing about who escaped first and who was just a "follower."


8. Burmese Pythons Now Own Florida

Have you ever been to Florida in the last twenty years? If you have, you weren't in human territory. You were in Burmese python country. During Hurricane Andrew, in 1992, thousands of lab, pet shop, and zoo animals escaped into the wild. Most of those animals are now dead. The lab, zoo, and pet shop pythons, however, seemed to have joined together to form a United States of Freakin' Snake. First they displaced other snakes in Florida. Then they went ahead and took on the alpha predators - one tour group through the everglades boated around a corner and found a Burmese python whipping the hell out of a full grown alligator. Now they're thriving, and have evidently decided on their own version of Manifest Destiny. One third of the country is habitable for pythons. They're coming.

7. And Have Blackmailed South Carolina into Reenacting Jurassic Park

South Carolina took one look at Florida and apparently decided to appease the serpent. A lab there wanted to figure out if a Burmese python could live outside a lab. To find out, they let them live outside a lab. Sure, they created an extensive park for the snakes, but it's all enclosed. And they're including radio tagging systems on their snakes. Plus the snakes are all male. So there is no way that they can get into the larger ecosystem and breed. Sure, Mr. Hammond. Sure.


6. Plague Mice Have Nothing To Lose

Just to confirm that there has indeed been a nightmare situation in lab animal escapes, in 2005, three mice carrying strains of the plague escaped from a lab in Newark. There's no word on how they escaped. Presumably, they hid a syringe somewhere in their enclosure, filled it with their own blood, then when some hapless intern got too close to the cage on night they grabbed him, syringe poised over his neck, and hissed, "Do you feel lucky?" Then they made their way out tucked in his pockets, whispering, "Just be cool, Keith. No one wants to do anything crazy. Be cool, and you'll make it through this."


Lab representatives said that animals with the plague tended to die quickly, so there was little reason to be concerned. Of course, whenever spokespeople get involved, there's every reason to be concerned. It's tough to say what the mice did. Did they spend their time achieving enlightenment before they passed on? Or did they start biting every other mouse they saw in order to get the plague to resurface in human society in the northeast? If the latter is the case, I guess we'll find out eventually.


5. Fruit Flies Are Escape Artists

There are some animals that make headlines when they escape from a lab. A gorilla, a bunch of snakes, plague mice - people are going to notice that they're gone. Fruit flies, however, are not going to cause such a fuss. One, it's not a dramatic escape, and two, fruit flies are just escaping. All the time. Plenty of instructions for lab experiments to be done with fruit flies break their dry, academic tone to confidentially warn students that "fruit flies are escape artists." So clearly, adult human beings seem to be regularly outsmarted, distracted, or physically overcome by fruit flies.


More importantly, we've been living in a vast cloud of escaped fruit flies or the descendants thereof. It's even possible that they're mutant escaped fruit flies, since fruit flies have several genes that are analogous to humans, and the deliberate mutation of these genes in labs tells us about human genetics. Sure, most of these mutations makes it hard for the fruit fly to survive - and one removes its genitals, which is handy. But the cloud of flies that swirl around our overripe bananas might include some escaped lab flies, or their offspring.

4. Behavioral Pigeons Lull Us Into A False Sense of Security

Pigeons have also managed to get themselves loosed on human society. Some research pigeons in a lab docilely sat on researchers' shoulders. Until someone opened a window. Supposedly the pigeons were startled by construction noise outside the open window. And then they just couldn't find their way back. And coincidentally weren't seen by anyone on staff at the lab ever again. More likely, they were just waiting until someone forgot that pigeons know how to fly. Where are they? Well, they were racing pigeons before they got to the lab, and they were used in a behavioral study, so they clearly knew how to manipulate humans. If you ever see a group of pigeons really working a crowd for breadcrumbs, that'll probably be them. They're entertainers. They need to be on the stage and on the circuit.


3. Beagles Break Out Via Mind Control

Ever read The Botany of Desire? It describes how humans have shaped the evolution of certain plants - the apple, the tulip, cannabis, and the potato. It also posits that those plants have basically given humans "treats" to get those humans to terraform huge tracts of land that would otherwise be inaccessible to the plants. They got us to do their bidding by offering us stuff worth way less than the work we do for them.


When you consider the amount of effort that humans put into keeping lab animals in a lab, and then consider that there are organizations that focus on rescuing and housing lab beagles, it doesn't take much to suspect the same thing is happening. There are whole colonies of "rescued" beagles training humans, via sad puppy eyes and noses pressed to human knees, to rescue yet more beagles. Since the cutest beagles will be the most successful, and thus breed even cuter beagles with more effective puppy eyes, soon we will be shaped into a society that worships the beagle. Eh. Could be worse.


2. Octopuses Have Formed a Shadow Society

Most of these animals make an obvious mistake. They choose to let people know about their escapes, thus losing out on any benefits they might get in a lab. Octopuses, as a group, have it both ways. There are countless tales of octopus escape. One octopus managed to break the pipes around its tank, half-emptying the tank and half-flooding the aquarium around it during a long weekend. Another lifted itself out of its tank and squirted water at a light that got in its eyes - but only when no one was looking. It took weeks for people to realize why that light always broke. And then there was the lab octopus that managed to break out every night by squeezing through the oxygenation tube in its tank, crawl to a nearby fishtank, and eat all the fish. It took lab surveillance cameras for the crew to realize who was "stealing" the fish.


But these are only stories of the sloppy octopuses. I think we know that octopuses can bust out whenever they want to. In the dead of night, just before dawn, I think it suddenly becomes Octopus O'Clock. At that hour, when we're asleep, the world's "captive" octopuses raid our fridges, eat our sushi, and trail their tentacles over our vulnerable human throats thinking, "One day. One day."

1. Sacrificial South Carolina Monkeys

Off the coast of South Carolina is a place called Morgan Island. On that island is a large group of rhesus macaques. Native to southeast Asia, the rhesus monkeys were first imported to the United States for the purposes of testing the polio vaccine. It's not clear how they first got to the island. What is clear is that they're there now, and in a creepy symbiotic relationship with both the US government and a company that provides research animals to labs. The monkeys are free to roam. They're even provided with food and their welfare is looked after. And then, every so often, someone comes and drags groups of them off to various research facilities.


Somehow humans and these rhesus macaques have come to have the same relationship as the Eloi and the Morlocks. This seems to be the one feral lab animal population that humans have come to actively collaborate with. We'll support their carefree existence . . . but they will pay a terrible price. Or will we?

Via Death and Taxes, Planet Save, WCNC, The Independent, Cascade Rescue, The New Yorker, The Augusta Chronicle, DefenseTech, Fruit Fly Behavior, Catching Animals.