Strange animal-nuclear tales

By Susan D’Agostino, Thomas Gaulkin, December 16, 2021

Have you ever wondered what nuclear technologies look like from the perspective of animals? In these short, strange-but-true stories and photographs, you’ll encounter animals whose paths intersected with nuclear infrastructure, including crocodiles drawn to the warm water surrounding nuclear power plants, chickens detonating nuclear landmines, and even lizards accused of being nuclear spies.

Paul Harrison / Wikimedia

A is for ant

Ants in Poland—hundreds of thousands of them—trapped for years in an abandoned nuclear bunker ate their dead to survive.

Mykola Swarnyk / Wikimedia

B is for bear

A black bear outside of a US Air Force Base fence during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis was mistaken for a Soviet saboteur, causing officials to consider starting a nuclear war.

Marco Rubens

B is for bee

Bees in the southeastern United States ingest radioactive isotopes from the first atomic bomb tests that shows up in their honey.

Dominique Hoekman / Wikimedia

B is for bird

A bird over the US state of Maryland took down a US Navy “doomsday” aircraft designed to survive a nuclear attack.

Tuis / Flickr

B is for butterfly

Butterflies in Fukushima mutated after the 2011 nuclear disaster.

Alvesgaspar / Wikimedia

C is for chicken

Chickens—live ones—were part of a British plan to detonate nuclear landmines during World War II.

Judgefloro / Wikimedia

C is for cockroach

Cockroaches could likely survive a nuclear winter.

Salil Kumar Mukherjee / Wikimedia

C is for crab

Crabs in the Russian Arctic archipelago invaded a nuclear waste graveyard—almost 14,000 crabs per hectare—in what researchers dubbed an “avalanche.”

Judd Patterson / National Park Service / Wikimedia

C is for crocodile

Crocodiles in the US state of Florida have thrived in the waters outside of a nuclear power plant—so much that their status was down-listed from “endangered” to “threatened.”

Charles J. Sharp / Wikimedia

E is for elephant

Elephants in East Africa absorb radioactive carbon from decades-old nuclear tests in their tusks, which offers clues to the age of ivory and could help fight illegal poaching.

Photollama / Wikimedia

J is for jellyfish

Jellyfish in Scotland clogged sea water-cooling intake pipes at a nuclear power plant, causing it to shut down.

Pahcal123 / Wikimedia

L is for lizard

Lizards served as nuclear spies, at least according to an accusation made by Iran against Western nations.

John Ragai / Flickr

M is for mosquito

Mosquitoes in Argentina that transmitted Zika were sterilized using nuclear technologies.

US Forest Service / Flickr

O is for owl

Owls, including the threatened Mexican spotted owl, nest on the grounds of Los Alamos National Laboratory, prompting the birthplace of the atomic bomb to modify its legacy waste clean-up activities.

Arturo de Frias Marques / Wikimedia

P is for polar bear

Three polar bears in search of food in the Arctic leapt onto a Russian nuclear submarine.

William Suhr / Wikimedia

S is for sheep

Sheep in Australia that were found to be radioactive helped bolster the country’s claim that Israel had tested nuclear weapons.

John D. / Flickr

S is for snail

Snails—precisely four of them—were listed as potential collateral damage on a US Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center environmental impact report concerning the impact of intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

Hannah Gerke / University of Georgia

S is for snake

Snakes in Fukushima don dosimeters and help monitor radioactive fallout.

Marco Rubens

S is for squirrel

Squirrels in the US state of Montana tunneled under a nuclear missile base’s fences and set off intruder alarms.

T is for turtle

A turtle named “Bert” starred in the 1952 US civil defense cartoon film that taught school children how to “duck and cover” in the event of a nuclear explosion.

W is for whale

Blue whales in the Indian Ocean sing into nuclear-test-detection equipment.

Christian Mehlführer / Wikimedia

W is for wolf

Wolves rule the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which has been described as a “post-nuclear Eden.”

GerardM / Wikimedia

Z is for zebra mussel

Zebra mussels—an invasive species in the Midwest—proliferate in the warm water around intake pipes of nuclear power plants.

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Jenny Agutter fan
Jenny Agutter fan
2 years ago

We humans aren’t as far removed from nature as we like to think.

2 years ago

“Chickens—live ones—were part of a British plan to detonate nuclear landmines during World War II.”

Who had nuclear mines in WW2?


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