Strange & Unusual: 50 Facts About Uncommon Plant & Animal Diseases

Plants and animals are integral parts of our ecosystem and play a crucial role in maintaining balance in nature. However, just like humans, plants and animals are also susceptible to diseases. While some of these diseases are well-known and well-documented, there are many that are unusual and not commonly heard of. In this article, we will delve into the world of unusual plant and animal diseases and explore 50 fascinating facts about these rare and unconventional ailments. From the weird to the wonderful, these facts will give you a deeper understanding of the diversity of diseases in the plant and animal kingdom and the ways in which they can impact our environment. So, come along with us on this journey and discover the unusual side of plant and animal diseases!

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1 Oak Gall Wasps

Oak Gall Wasps

When a wasp lays an egg in a leaf bud on an oak tree, it develops into a little, apple-like fruit known as an oak gall. The development of the oak gall is stimulated by a chemical released by the larva. The larva consumes the gall tissue as its food source. It will consume it and the tree’s roots before finally developing wings and flying away. Up until the middle of the nineteenth century, the most common ink recipe was an iron and oak galls mixture. The United States Postal Service even had its own official recipe.


2. A fungus called chaga thrives on tree trunks, particularly those of birch trees. The conk it creates is a woody structure that feeds off of the wood itself. The fungus Inonotus obliquus is the cause, and because this woody growth has stimulating properties, people have used it to make chaga tea and traditional medicine.


3. Grapes are susceptible to a fungal disease known as Botrytis cinerea. It makes the grapes dry out and shrink, which concentrates the sugars and their flavor. As a result, these grapes can be used to produce top-tier dessert wines like Sauternes and Trockenbeerenauslese. However, not every botrytis is good for grapes; in fact, certain types can cause total crop failure.


4. Superior-quality agarwood can cost more than $30,000 per kilogram, which is almost as expensive as gold. Only when infected with a certain mold does it form in the heartwood of Aquilaria trees.


5. Long-term human contact increases the risk of “Berserk Llama Syndrome” in llamas. These llamas misidentify humans as llamas and sneak up on them to launch surprise attacks.


6 White Nose Syndrome

White Nose Syndrome

White-nose syndrome is responsible for the deaths of millions of bats in North America. Researchers haven’t found a cure for the disease. Due to the decline in bats, New England’s agriculture was severely impacted in 2008, when an estimated 2.4 million pounds of insects went uneaten.


7. Laminitis is a painful inflammation of the foot that primarily affects horses and cattle. Increased digital pulses and hoof temperature are two clinical symptoms that may indicate a problem with the hooves. The condition progresses to the point where the coffin bone perforates the sole of the hoof or the animal is unable to stand, necessitating euthanasia, and the common word “founder” is used to refer to the most severe instances with obvious clinical signs.


8. Hedgehogs can develop a condition known as “balloon syndrome,” which causes the animal to inflate due to the accumulation of gas under the skin as a result of an injury or infection. The only animals known to get this illness are hedgehogs. This is because hedgehogs have a unique ability to curl up.


9. Dogs with megaesophagus often have to eat from a raised position, like a high chair, because of the condition.


10. Foals with “Lethal White” syndrome, a genetic condition that is common in American Paint Horses, look healthy at birth (they are all white and have blue eyes), but they die within a few days because their intestines don’t work.


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11 White Drupelet Syndrome/Disorder

White Drupelet Syndrome/Disorder

White Drupelet Syndrome occurs in blackberries and raspberries when they are subjected to excessive sunshine or high temperatures, causing some of the drupelets (the small parts of the berry) to turn white, typically in a solid block or entire berry. Although edible, very few really make it to stores.


12. There has been a fatal starfish pandemic in the Pacific Ocean since 2013. The illness, known as Sea Star Wasting Disease, is thought to be caused by a virus. Starfish react to this stress by tearing off their own limbs, which ultimately kills them.


13. Grazing animals, such as cows, are particularly susceptible to hardware disease, which is caused when the animals ingest metal trash that has fallen to the ground. The condition is not easy to diagnose, but it can be avoided by administering a magnet by mouth when they are one year old. The magnet will remain in the animal’s stomach for the remainder of its life.


14. Researchers have found compounds found in hallucinogenic mushrooms in a cicada fungus known as Massopora. Cicadas infected by it lose their appendages and begin acting strangely. Despite the fact that the fungus has eaten their genitalia and butts, males will still attempt to mate with anything they come across.


15. If deep-sea fishes such as red snapper are to be released back after being caught, they need to be vented. This is due to the fact that they suffer from barotrauma, or inflation of the air bladder, when they are caught and brought up rapidly from the deep sea.


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16 Happy Tail Syndrome

Happy Tail Syndrome

Dogs can suffer from “happy tail syndrome.” This happens when they wag their tails so hard in happiness that they injure them.


17. There is an illness that causes a corncob to mutate into a mushroom crop. It is known as “corn smut.” It ruins the kernels, but tastes like truffle with some sweetness from the corn. It is a delicacy in some parts of Americas, known as Mexican truffle and huitlacoche. It contains some missing proteins from corn.


18. Cats often avoid consuming food or water from the sides of their bowls to prevent “whisker fatigue.” When a cat’s whiskers brush against a bowl, it can cause sensory overload, which makes eating and drinking painful and stressful.


19. There is a disorder called “Zoochosis” that most animals get from being confined in zoos, leading to repeated pacing, rocking, vomiting, and even self-mutilation. These behaviors are not seen in the wild and are seen only in captivity.


20. Ligers are a hybrid offspring between a male lion and a female tiger. They continue growing throughout their entire lives due to a genetic disorder called growth dysplasia. They grow twice as big as their tiger and lion mothers and fathers. The largest cat in the world is a 922-pound liger.


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21 Rage Syndrome

Rage Syndrome

Some dog breeds suffer from a genetic condition known as “Rage Syndrome,” which is characterized by sudden and unprovoked bouts of aggression that cannot be prevented by training.


22. In the same way that the spread of smallpox killed up to 90% of the people in the Americas, the spread of rinderpest in the late 1800s killed up to 90% of the cattle in Eastern and Southern Africa, destroying the economies of herding and farming communities.


23. Adopting puppies from the same litter is frowned upon, as it can be detrimental to the puppies’ ability to bond with humans. This is known as “Littermate syndrome.”


24. Canine dysfunctional behavior is a recognized disorder on the autism spectrum that can affect dogs. Some of the symptoms of this neurological condition that is present at birth in dogs are trouble communicating, being mean to other people, and doing things over and over again.


25. Beer hops naturally produce an acid that can kill a parasitic mite known to annihilate entire colonies of bees. Hops have shown so much promise in helping with colony collapse disorder that the EPA has even approved their use as a biochemical miticide.


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1 COMMENT

  1. RE: Fact# 3 – Botrytis Cinerea Wine: Like, I look at culinary delicacies like this and I just… Who the fu*k did the trial and error to arrive at this insanely specific process, and further, convinced other people to enjoy it??

    1812
  2. RE: Fact# 4 – High quality Agarwood: The vast majority on the agarwood market is either faked or adulterated in some way. Similar to other expensive products like wasabi, olive oil, avocado oil, many species of fish, and (to a lesser extent) honey.

    1994
  3. RE: Fact# 6 – White Nose Syndrome: A friend of mine who guides caving trips in the Appalachian Mountains (a pro spelunker!) suggested that cavers contaminate bats in other caves through unsanitized gear they bring from cave to cave. Perhaps a spelunking moratorium would help minimize the spread of this disease. Never thought I’d be discussing this issue when I woke up this morning, btw.

    1658
    • Interesting! I wonder how bats who live in non-cave locations play into this issue, though? For example, I see bats flying around where I live every night, and there aren’t any caves in this vicinity that I know of. I thought they lived in the forest, but they might also live in my neighbors’ barn.

      507
      • WNS only affects cave hibernating bats. The fungus itself doesn’t kill the bat, but rather it disturbs their winter hibernation. They will then leave the hibernacula and die of exposure and/or starvation since they obviously have no business being out in the cold.

        There are also multiple species of migrating bats who simply migrate in the fall to warmer climates. These bats are generally unaffected by WNS, however they suffer heavy mortality at wind farm installations. I’ve worked on wind farms as a biologist for the past 8 years studying this phenomenon.

        494
  4. RE: Fact# 2 – Chaga Fungus Tea: Do people only make tea from chaga or can you make anything else out of it? I’ve only heard of chaga being made into tea.

    1774
    • I prepare a tincture by first grinding the plant material, then extracting its essence in alcohol for three months, and finally diluting the tincture with water. There are excellent methods available online, but the double extraction is necessary because chaga contains chemicals that are both alcohol and water soluble and are so more effective. Only about a teaspoon of the tincture is needed daily, so while the process may take a while (4 months, I believe), it’s well worth the wait. Even though I tried the double-extracted chaga tincture from Whole Foods, it was extremely watered down in comparison to the one I produced at home. Store any you prepare in an amber bottle away from light and heat, and keep some in a medical dropper vial for regular usage. I know this is a long response, but I really want to be helpful!

      531
    • Now I’m a little confused. I’m no expert but that just looked like some kind of dominance display and some of the other comments suggest it’s just dominance behavior. For the berserk llama syndrome, the description of the attacks seem pretty vicious though. So are the llama attacks cute if not annoying like this video, or vicious and dangerous?

      495
      • As llamas can weigh up to 500 pounds, they are certainly capable of inflicting harm if they so choose. They are so effective at protecting their herds from danger that they are often utilized specifically for that purpose. Wolves have no interest in provoking them in any way. Source: I frequently visit a llama and alpaca rescue, where I spend time with the animals.

        477
        • They are able to destroy most predators

          Jesus I wish people would refrain from hyperbole like that when talking about animals.

          Its a tough animal but maybe not make it sound like a literal great white shark? They are fed on by pumas after all and even the bigger Llama rarely reaches 500lbs.

          Normal adult Llama weight is somewhere around 300lbs, which is substantially smaller than most ponies, donkeys and mules. It can mess up your day, no doubt but its not an unfettered killing machine.

          A big alpaca is more like 200lbs.

          510
  5. RE: Fact# 1 – Oak Gall Wasps: Wow. Since I had been discovering them in my yard, I had assumed that either my oak trees had unusual fruit or that squirrels were bringing them in. I have the variety with the fibers radiating out. For reference, I’m in Zone 8A. Thank you for sharing!

    1784
  6. RE: Fact# 4 – High quality Agarwood: Is there a wood-smith in the hood that can explain what’s so good about this wood?

    1774
    • Agarwood, aloeswood, eaglewood or gharuwood is a fragrant dark resinous wood used in incense, perfume, and small carvings. It is formed in the heartwood of aquilaria trees when they become infected with a type of mold (Phialophora parasitica).

      533
  7. RE: Fact# 6 – White Nose Syndrome: Two of the most critical animal maladies affecting us are this, and the Varroa Destructor plague. It is of critical importance that these issues be solved lest our food supply be compromised.

    1778
    • It’s worth noting that Varroa destructor isn’t inherently a problem for the bees but is a vector for a plethora of bee diseases such as Lake Sinai virus and deformed wing virus. It’s just an ectoparasite that drinks the bee equivalent of blood (haemolymph). A huge problem seems to be that shuffling practically half of the bees in the country to one spot for the almond season in California is allowing for the rapid proliferation of really destructive strains of disease that are being passed between colonies by Varroa among other things. And when you take those bees back to the state they came from, you now bring that jacked-up virus to a susceptible population of wild bees as well as your domesticated ones.

      532
  8. RE: Fact# 22 – Rinderpest Epizootic : Guinea Worm is next. This is a horribly painful parasite that is mentioned in the Old Testament and is probably the origin of the “snake” on the caduceus, the symbol of medicine. Jimmy Carter has been a global leader in eradicating this parasite, and he hopes to outlive the last guinea worm.

    1825
    • Just read up on the Guinea worm. I didn’t know it existed until just now, but I’m glad it’s almost eradicated. Because fuck that.

      Some highlights:

      • After ingestion, […] , thus releasing the stage 3 larvae, which then penetrate the host’s stomach or intestinal wall,
      • About one year later, the person develops a painful burning feeling as the female worm forms a blister in the skin, usually on the lower limb.
      • The worm may be slowly removed over a few weeks by rolling it over a stick.
      • The worm is about one to two millimeters wide and an adult female is 60 to 100 centimeters long [approx. 2 to 3 feet]
      • The ulcers formed by the emerging worm may get infected by bacteria. Pain may continue for months after the worm has been removed.
      • There is no medication or vaccine against the disease.
      • Infection does not create immunity, so people can repeatedly experience guinea worm disease throughout their lives.
      497
    • It could very easily have been Polio next and damn near was – till various religious muppets in the few remaining areas where it existed decided vaccinations were some big plot.

      481
      • Yeah it had nothing to do with the CIA having agents posing as health workers to secretly gather intel, getting caught, and undermining the efforts of foreign doctors attempting to actually help people in the region.

        547
        • Fair point and the CIA are culpable as hell in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Using vaccine program’s as cover is going to destroy more lives than 9/11 did. Although the locals could have organised polio vaccines once they kicked the international teams out but didn’t.

          The good news is at least Nigeria is on the brink of polio eradication again now – which would mean a polio free Africa.

          516
  9. RE: Fact# 9 – Megaesophagus Disorder: Stop buying deformed and disabled dogs because they’re “cute”. There’s nothing remotely humane about that.

    1912
      • Breeding can affect it indirectly. Here’s a good example:

        My girlfriend had this wonderful tiny little Yorkie she got from a breeder. She was so sweet. She was only 3 pounds at age 3 though. Dogs that small can have a lot of health problems. A lot of breeders are also trying to breed these “teacup” versions. Although she wasn’t bred to be THAT small, there are some that try. She had megasophagus. She ate her food one day, and then was on the couch about 30 minutes later trying to regurgitate it and couldn’t. My girlfriend rushed her to the vet but it was too late. This wasn’t her first attack, but we didn’t know what it was then. So yeah, breeders that breed dogs to be very small can increase the risk for it. I’ve also read that some breeds white labs have a higher chance of developing it anyway.

        554
  10. RE: Fact# 10 – Lethal White Syndrome: If you want to know WHY a horses skin colour is connected to no functioning nerves in the colon, it’s because early in the Embryonic stage both the neurons that handle colon functioning and melanocytes which handle skin/hair colour come from the same central Neural Crest. So an error in the gene that controls that area caused both the colon problem and an all white coat.

    1789
  11. RE: Fact# 8 – Balloon Syndrome: Hedgehogs also have a tendency to get a disease called “Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome”. Which despite its cute name is actually kind of sad as it’s basically MS for hedgehogs.

    1782
  12. RE: Fact# 14 – Massospora Zombie Cicada: That was a lot to unpack.

    If reincarnation is a thing, I’m gonna uncheck the Cicada option on those forms. To be honest it wasnt very high on the list to begin with but it is definately a lot lower now.

    1887
  13. RE: Fact# 8 – Balloon Syndrome: Here’s one with balloon syndrome I treated a few years back whilst training as a vet. Just had to stick a needle in and suck all the air back out and hope it didn’t blow back up again…

    X-ray Comparison

    1854
  14. RE: Fact# 16 – Happy Tail Syndrome: We had a Dalmation when I was a very young child. Poor Jackie had to wear a wrap on his tail cause he was constantly wagging it into the wall and corners of cabinets and splitting it open. Basically, he ended up in a near-permanent soft-cast for his tail. Cause he was always happy. Always wagging it. And if he hit the cabinet just right (which he did often) it would split his tail and fling blood everywhere.

    1946
  15. RE: Fact# 15 – Fish Barotrauma: Catch-and-release is a bit of a comforting lie fishers tell themselves.

    Something like 20-50% of fish so released die within a few days.

    1901
    • All the studies I saw were lower then that… it seems to be 16% on the high end for the mortality rate. Unless they are brought to weigh in, but at that point it’s on the fisher who thinks that’s ok to do. It mostly has to do with how you handle them, if your quick and know what your doing, they seem to be much better off at around 2% depending on species.

      544
        • Environmental regulations.

          Eco-terrorists in the U.S. successfully made it illegal to catch juvenile fish (usually judged by length), so when you reel one in and its under the legally-unprotected size it’s a criminal act to not throw it back.

          It’s pretty fascistic, since it either just goes unenforced entirely or it just results in cops badgering people over fractions of inches because some father wanted to bring his toddlers fish and forgot which fish needed to be over 11 3/5ths inches and which was over 7 and 2/7ths inches.

          596
  16. RE: Fact# 15 – Fish Barotrauma: I used to fish red snapper off the Texas coat at Port Aransas in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Every one we brought on board had its swim bladder sticking out of its mouth. In those days there was no catch and release. I doubt they would have survived being brought up from that depth. Snapper were highly prized and there for over fished so they were limited to 2 or 3 per person. The same happened to Spanish Mackerel.

    1912
    • FYI, that’s not their swim bladder. That’s their stomach and digestive tract. Their swim bladder is higher up in their body. As it inflates, it pushes other organs out the mouth.

      509
    • That’s actually a real animal. If you mate a female lion with a male tiger, you get a tigon.

      If you mate a tigon with a tiger, you get a ti-tigon!

      539
        • So did the zookeepers.

          Reports also exist of the similar titigon /ˌtaɪˈtaɪɡən/, resulting from the cross between a female tigon and a male tiger. Titigons resemble golden tigers but with less contrast in their markings. A female tigon born in 1978, named Noelle, shared an enclosure in the Shambala Preserve with a male Siberian tiger called Anton, due to the keepers’ belief that she was sterile. In 1983 Noelle produced a titigon named Nathaniel. As Nathaniel was three-quarters tiger, he had darker stripes than Noelle and vocalized more like a tiger, rather than with the mix of sounds used by his mother. Being only about quarter-lion, Nathaniel did not grow a mane. Nathaniel died of cancer at the age of eight or nine years. Noelle also developed cancer and died soon after.

          Source

          497
  17. RE: Fact# 16 – Happy Tail Syndrome: Yes. For instance, Boxers are one breed where veterinarians actually encourage bobbing the tail because they’re so prone to breakage.

    1798
    • It’s not the breed itself, it’s shitty breeders. In many countries docking is legally banned and after only a few generations where breeders focus on tail quality instead of just chopping them off the dogs are fine.

      566
  18. RE: Fact# 17 – Corn Smut: That is not a good picture of corn smut (although good of the fungus itself). It is usually blue and usually found in larger growths at the end of the corn ear. Can verify, good in street tacos – certainly no worse than the worms that go into street tacos. For mid western corn farmers, ugly stuff.

    1909
  19. RE: Fact# 18 – Whisker Fatigue: Then why does my cat like to shove her whole head in my glass of water when she has 3 dishes and a cat fountain?

    1828
    • If you look into this theory, it was actually started by a company that makes special watering bowls. There’s actually a lot of debate whether it is true or not. There are plenty of anecdotes about cats who knock glasses over to get the water out, or cats who dunk their paw then lick off that – sometimes adding a watering fountain changes the behavior, sometimes it doesn’t. It could still just be that they prefer one dish over the other for different reasons.

      570
      • Bought a watering fountain bowl for my cat. He was skeptical of it at first but after about a week, he exclusively drank from that.

        Then, about maybe six months of loving the fountain, he stopped drinking from it. It wasn’t dirty, I always made sure to have a fresh clean filter in it. He just inexplicably stopped drinking from it.

        Cats are weird. Now he just drinks from a bowl.

        532
  20. RE: Fact# 21 – Rage Syndrome: One of my best friend’s had a Jack Russell Terrier that bit her in the face, requiring 11 stitches to her upper lip, the first time, and 13 stitches the 2nd time it bit her in the face. After biting 3 more people in the face, she finally had to have it put down. I wouldn’t go anywhere near that dog.

    2028
    • My ex has a Jack Russell that would do the same thing. I never had to get stitches, but she did make me bleed a time or two.

      485
    • There are some disadvantages to this mutation, most of which aren’t really relevant for a meat cow, such as premature aging and lowered sperm count. The main disadvantage that affects farming costs is how many of the cows have difficult births, to the point where it’s just assumed they’ll have to give the cow a c-section. This isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it does drive up costs for an already high maitenance breed.

      539
  21. RE: Fact# 21 – Rage Syndrome: this legitimately sounds like my mom’s shih tzu. All the sudden, for absolutely no reason, it’ll start flipping out and biting people (drawing lots of blood… not nips). No amount of training helps, and he seems to have no memory of it afterwards.

    1767

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