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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26Chytrid Fungus

Chytrid Fungus

Chytrid fungus is a horrifyingly lethal amphibian fungal disease that has wiped out many species of frogs and salamanders and has a near-total mortality rate in amphibians.

27. Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a fungus that has been known to destroy entire ant colonies. In response, ants have evolved the ability to sense that a member of the colony is infected. Healthy ants will then carry the dying one far away from the colony in order to avoid spore exposure.

28. Lumpy jaw is a fatal disease that affects marsupials like wallabies and kangaroos. It is caused by people feeding them too much soft food.

29. Lumpy skin disease is an infectious disease in cattle caused by a virus of the family Poxviridae, also known as the Neethling virus. The disease is characterized by a high fever, enlarged superficial lymph nodes, and multiple nodules (measuring 2-5 centimeters (1-2 in) in diameter) on the skin and mucous membranes (including those of the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts). Infected cattle may also develop edematous swelling in their limbs and exhibit lameness.

30. Cats can get pimples. Feline acne are blackheads with inflammation on the cat's chin. Persian cats can get them on their faces and skin folds. Severe cases can damage the cat's health and appearance. Warm compresses, washing, and exfoliating with benzoyl peroxide may help.

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31Epizootic Outbreak of 1872

Epizootic Outbreak of 1872

A large downtown fire broke out in Boston during "The Great Epizootic Outbreak of 1872," a widespread outbreak of equine influenza, in part because firemen couldn't use horses to pull equipment since they were all sick with the virus. Instead, they had to pull all the equipment by hand.

32. After millions of trees in the USA died of Dutch elm disease in the 1980s, they were replaced by clonal males, which led to an increase in pollen and pollen-associated epidemics (allergies and asthma).

33. Mistletoe is a parasite that infects hundreds of species of trees and shrubs. Once it starts growing, it steals nutrients and water from the host, killing the portion of the branch it's on. Heavy infestations may kill off the entire host plant.

34. Gypsy moth caterpillars infected by a species of baculovirus are hypnotized into climbing to the tops of trees to die, liquefy, and rain viral particles on the foliage below to infect others.

35. Frankincense and myrrh are derived from the hardened resin of desert-dwelling plants. The resin gets its aroma from antibacterial chemicals meant to protect the plant from infection.

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36Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic Wasting Disease

The prion responsible for causing Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in ungulates (deer, elk, etc.) can lay dormant on plants and leaves for years until it's ingested. It can lay dormant in the dirt after the animal sheds saliva or other bodily fluids. If plants grow through that soil, even years later, it can harbor prions inside of it. Then, when the plant is eaten by another deer, the cycle starts all over again. Deer hunters are now being told to bring carcasses into a disposal facility after dressing the deer for meat so that they can be disposed of correctly. Even burning the carcass won't get rid of that pesky folded protein.

37. It's hypothesized that warm-bloodedness evolved in mammals and birds because it provided defense against fungal infections. Very few fungi can survive the body temperatures of warm-blooded animals. In contrast, fungal infections are a problem for insects, reptiles, and amphibians.

38. In various incidents, thousands of toads have swelled up with gas, grown to several times their normal size, then exploded for unknown reasons, propelling their innards as far as one meter away.

39. Freshwater snails are one of the world's most deadly animals because they transmit the organism that causes schistosomiasis (aka bilharzia), which is, in and of itself, one of the deadliest parasites on the planet. In 2014, nearly 230 million people were infected, with 200,000 deaths each year.

40. Overfeeding fish can cause constipation and cause "Swim Bladder Disease," where fish turn upside down, thus creating "false death."

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41Green Muscle Disease

Green Muscle Disease

Green Muscle Disease is a condition that affects broiler chickens in which the breast muscle tissue necrotizes and turns green. This is most likely due to the limited space available to them during the growth phase, when the chickens are confined or otherwise restricted from spreading their wings. This causes a lack of blood supply to the muscles.

42. Researchers believe that the high-calorie foods of humans are to blame for the deformity known as "angel wing" in ducks. It renders them unable to fly, and it is only found in waterfowl fed by humans.

43. Unilateralis, or "zombie fungus," will hijack an ant's central nervous system and force the ant to climb a stalk of vegetation and anchor itself. The fungus then sprouts a stalk from the ant's head, releasing spores that infect ants below.

44. Black currants were outlawed in America in 1911 due to spreading tree disease and impacting the timber industry. Thus, many Americans don't even know about this berry that is very popular in England.

45. Malaria-infected mosquitoes actually suffer fitness costs from carrying the malaria parasite. Studies have found that mosquitoes infected with malaria had about half as many offspring as noninfected mosquitoes, and another study showed that mosquitoes genetically manipulated to be resistant to the parasite performed better than normal mosquitoes when feeding on infected prey.

46Myxomatosis In Rabbits

Myxomatosis In Rabbits

In 1950, a disease called myxomatosis was introduced to rabbits for population control in Australia. It wiped out 500,000,000 rabbits, giving them skin tumors and causing blindness, often killing them within 2 weeks. After that, calicivirus was introduced, which caused rabbit hemorrhagic disease.

47. Asian tigers (and other big cats) can become infected with the canine distemper virus, leading some of them to lose their fear of humans and wander into busy cities and towns. This could make endangered big cat species more vulnerable to poachers.

48. In the early 1980s, the US, Canada, and Mexico compelled Haiti to eradicate its pig population. This was meant to prevent the spread of African swine fever, but it devastated Haitian peasant wealth.

49. The Fainting Goats aren't really "fainting." They have a hereditary condition called myotonia congenita, which causes their muscles to stiffen up as they go to run, causing them to fall over, which makes them look as though they are fainting.

50. Avian keratin disorder is an emerging disease in North America (first observed in the 1990s) that causes overgrowth of the keratin in birds' beaks. Birds with misshapen beaks can't feed and preen properly, which often results in their deaths.

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  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??

  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.

  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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  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.

    • 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!

    • 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?

      • 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.

        • 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.

  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!

  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?

    • 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).

  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.

    • 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.

  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.

    • 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.
    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

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

      • 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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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

  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.

  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.

    • 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.

        • 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.

  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.

    • 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.

    • 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!

        • 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.


  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.

    • 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.

  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.

  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?

    • 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.

      • 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.

  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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  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.



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