The Bizarre History of Pregnancy Tests

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By Esther Inglis-Arkell

The Bizarre History of Pregnancy Tests

The Bizarre History of Pregnancy Tests

Nowadays, finding out if you’re pregnant is relatively easy — but it wasn’t always that way. Over the centuries, people have come up with downright strange and sometimes revolting tests to figure out whether or not a person is knocked up. Some of them were useless, some required being a chemist in the bathroom, and some caused major ecological disasters.

Check out the long, strange history of pregnancy tests.

Top image: Carmen Seaby on Flickr.

The thing about pregnancy, as a condition, is most people eventually figure out their status on their own. Pregnancy tests, for much of history, have seemed unnecessary.

Still, people have always tried to find ways to peek inside themselves. Some people want to make an early announcement to family. Some need to put their names on a six-year-long waiting list for a private kindergarten, and hope that a year’s worth of kids drop out of the running. Some just wish to experience the sheer joy of peeing on something scientific. Whatever the reason, all those who grab a stick and run to the ladies’ room are participating in a long, occasionally-destructive, and sometimes outright loony march of scientific progress.

Flim-Flam and Hoo-Hahs

There were many ways said to spot a pregnancy early in ancient times, and they all revolve around various things to do with what is known in scientific circles as a woman’s undercarriage. ‘Babies come out of there,’ the ancient wisdom seems to say. ‘So clearly that’s the first place to check.’ The ancient Egyptians used to have a woman urinate on bags of wheat and bags of barley. If wheat sprouted, it was a girl. If barley did, it was a boy. If neither did, there was no pregnancy. (Incidentally, pregnant women’s urine does make wheat and barley grow faster. Think about that the next time you dip into your whole grain cereal.)

The Greeks figured that they could check by applying perfumed linen to the genitals. The mouth and nose, they said, would take on the odor of the perfume if the woman was pregnant.

The Bizarre History of Pregnancy Tests

Medieval doctors, perhaps with a brief flash of insight or perhaps because they were fond of urine in general, focused their attention on liquid excretions. Any way of measuring urine, any way of mixing it with things, spilling it on things, and dipping things into it, became a way to foretell pregnancy.

A needle put in a woman’s urine would rust red or black, if the woman was pregnant. Sprinkled sulfur on urine would cause worms to suddenly appear, indicating pregnancy. Doctors even mixed urine with wine – thankfully just to observe its appearance. Since wine does react with certain proteins, this was as close as anyone at the time really came to being on the right track.

Rabbits and Frogs and Rats, Oh My!

To be fair, the medieval doctors’ methods don’t really sound sillier than anything that was used in the majority of the twentieth century. If someone told you that an injection of a pregnant woman’s urine would make an adolescent rabbit horny, would you believe it? Doctors certainly wouldn’t, which is why they got to horny bunnies by a roundabout route.

At first, early twentieth century scientists were simply doing what scientists are doing now; cataloging the seemingly endless amount of stuff that makes the human body go. Nowdays, this involves peering at DNA, RNA, and mRNA. In 1925, though, they trained their eyes on something a little bigger and looked at hormones. Hormones fluctuate in normal patterns, especially a roughly 28-day cycle that women go through when menstruating. Doctors followed this cycle of hormones. When pregnancy occurred, scientists found a spike in human chorionic gonadotropin hormone, or hCG, which could not be matched by any other biological state. In other words, they’d found something which, when measured, indicated pregnancy.

The Bizarre History of Pregnancy Tests
Next came the difficult task of finding a way to reliably and easily measure that something. What scientists came up with were bioassays, tests that required the use of biological organisms. Rats, naturally, were the first things on the chopping block. An injection of the urine of pregnant women into rats would send them into heat. A few days after the injection, these rats were dissected, in order to get the results. To keep the results from being skewed by naturally horny rats, scientists routinely picked rats who were too young to have gone into estrus yet.

Next up were rabbits, and they were by far the most famous of the animals, despite being used only briefly. The rabbit test has made it into many pop culture references. The phrase, “the rabbit died” came to imply pregnancy — although the rabbit died whether the woman was pregnant or not. The most infamous is the African Clawed Frog.

The demand for pregnancy tests in the thirties, moderate though it was, caused large amounts of frogs to be imported. With them, many people now think, came chytridiomycosis, a fungal disease that eventually managed to escape the lab, along with a few of the frogs. The fungus spread, and now threatens many of the world’s amphibians.

The sad thing is, many of these tests were not reliable. Rabbits, rats, and frogs couldn’t distinguish the difference between luteinizing hormone (LH) and the pregnancy-related hormone hCG unless the hCG level was sky high. The tests were expensive, and took days to run. The field was ripe for innovation, which came in the form of antibodies.

Immune Reactions and Peeing At Home

The first step away from heaps of dissected lab animals was taken in the 1960s, when science turned towards antibodies. In what were called immunoassays, rather than bioassays, hCG from the lab was swished together with anti-hCG antibodies and a urine sample from the woman. If the cells clumped in a particular way, the woman was pregnant. The test involved a lot of fiddling in a lab, but no animals and no long waiting period. Results were produced in a matter of hours.

Immunoassays were cheaper, and slightly more sensitive, so they overtook the bioassays quickly. One major deficiency was the old problem of luteinizing hormone. It was still mixed up with hCGs, and still caused false positives.

The Bizarre History of Pregnancy Tests

The way to solve that particular problem came in the form of more antibodies. (The immune system, it seemed, always had more to spare.) In the early 1970s, while working for the National Institute of Health, scientists found a special antibody. This antibody was directed at a subunit of hCG. The subunit of a protein assembles with the other proteins in a hormone to form the final product. This subunit was not to be found in LC, and so adding the specific antibodies for that subunit to the mix formed a new, distinct, pattern that indicated pregnancy and nothing else.

Once the science was done, consumer marketing took over. It took a few years, but in 1978, the first home pregnancy test started being advertised in women’s magazines. It cost ten dollars. Included in the test kit was a vial of purified water, an eye dropper, a test tube stand with a mirror at the bottom that let you observe the patterns in the tube clearly, and a concoction of solutions that included sheep’s blood. (One can’t help but think the Medieval urinologists would approve.) The test was ninety-seven percent accurate for positive results, and eighty percent accurate for negative ones, provided it was used correctly. When the contents of a package include a tube of sheep’s blood, it’s a safe bet to guess it won’t always be used correctly.

The Bizarre History of Pregnancy Tests

Researchers went to work finding simpler tests and reluctant bathroom chemists were soon relieved. The eighties saw the advent of one-step tests. The early nineties ushered in enzyme indicators. Now we have digital screens. We also have early testing capabilities. The norm used to be two weeks after the next menstrual period was supposed to start. Now testing can be done, with certain tests, eight days after ovulation. Results show up in minutes.

It still would be easier if the only thing necessary to do would be peeing on a bag of barley.

Wine Image: Francesco Pappalardo

Frog Image: Columbia

Test Image: NIH

Panda Image: Elizabeth Galle on Flickr.

Via NIH twiceEarly Pregnancy TestsRandom History, and the BBC.



10 Diseases Kids Can Catch from their Pets

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10 Diseases Kids Can Catch from their Pets

Kids tend to be more hands-on with pets than the adult members of the family, and to also have poorer hygiene habits. As a result, they’re more likely to end up on the receiving end of an illness that can be passed from animals to humans. These ten diseases can originate with the household pet, but affect the entire household.

  1. Cat Scratch Fever – Cats infected with Bartonella henselae bacteria are responsible for cat scratch fever, which causes swollen lymph nodes, fever, headaches and fatigue in humans.
  2. Ringworm – Despite the name, ringworm is actually a type of fungus that feeds on skin cells and hair of mammals. Cats and dogs are commonly affected in youth, and it can be transferred to humans if spores come into contact with skin.
  3. Plague – While it is possible for domestic cats to become infected with Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes bubonic plague, from prey rodents, it’s exceedingly rare.
  4. Tuberculosis – While dogs and cats are usually resistant to tuberculosis, African and Asian pet monkeys are a quite common source of exposure to humans. Once easily treated, newer strains of tuberculosis are treatment-resistant.
  5. Strep and Staph – Streptococci and Staphylococci rarely cause symptoms in infected pets, but can still be passed on to humans. When the bacteria do cause symptoms in pets, they typically present with eye or skin infections.
  6. Salmonella – The same salmonella bacteria that causes us to carefully cook chicken and to scrub countertops religiously can also be passed between pets and their humans. Those with healthy immune systems usually only experience diarrhea and stomach cramps, but it can be life-threatening for infants and kids with compromised immune systems.
  7. B-Virus – Macaque monkeys, of which several species are sold as pets, often carry a virus called herpesvirus simiae, or B-virus. Up to 90% of adult macaques are infected; the disease is mild or altogether asymptomatic in monkeys. However, a bite from an infected pet monkey can lead to meningoencephalitis.
  8. Rabies – There’s no cause for concern if your pet’s vaccinations are up to date, but a newly-taken-in stray or rescue that carries rabies can infect any mammal it encounters, including humans.
  9. Toxoplasmosis – The same organism that causes obstetricians to discourage pregnant women from cleaning a cat’s litter box can also infect children. While it typically causes no overt signs of disease, in some rare cases, headache, fever, sore throat and muscle pain can occur.
  10. Giardia – A single-celled organism known as Giardia lamblia that lives in the intestines of birds and mammals alike is the most common non-bacterial cause of diarrhea in American humans, according to doctors. Children are more likely to contract giardia than adults.

While some of these diseases are quite rare, others are relatively common. Making sure that children wash their hands after handling a pet or its waste is absolutely the most effective method for preventing these illnesses.

The 12 Smartest Cars for College Students

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The 12 Smartest Cars for College Students

Posted on Sunday January 29, 2012by 

That beater you’ve been driving around in high school is on its last legs, and you need a new ride to take you to college. Because the funds you’re working with are the result of your job in the fast-food industry, it needs to be a cheap car. And your parents will make a bunch of noise unless you get something that scores well on safety tests. Fortunately, carmakers have plenty of offerings for you to choose from. Although smart cars have pretty much reached the end of their 15 minutes of fame, here are a dozen cars, including some used options, that are smart choices for college students.


    At a base of price of $16,850, the Jetta hits on all cylinders in the areas you’ll need it to. It’s got a huge trunk for hauling luggage on your weekend trips, a roomy backseat for carting your friends around, and a diesel engine for a nice 29 miles per gallon highway. It’s also a top safety pick thanks to its six airbags in the front, side, and rear, and highest possible marks on roof strength and rear collision tests.


    People tend to think of Kias as cheap, and not in a good way. However, in recent years they’ve made strides in performance while maintaining the low sticker price. The Forte runs about $15,000 and boasts 25 city/34 highway mileage. Kia stands by this car, offering a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. It comes in coupe, sedan, and four-door hatchback, so you can pick the body that suits your lifestyle best. Standard anti-lock brakes and traction control help make the Forte a safe bet.


    Finally, American cars are worth buying again. At a base of just over $13,000, Ford’s Fiesta is a sedan (or hatchback) with style that’s hard to find in this price range. Fuel economy rocks at 29 city/38 highway. Reviewers say it is a blast to drive, with terrific steering and handling. It’s not the most spacious of small cars, but it doesn’t miss out on any key features cars in this class sometimes do. As for safety, your parents can rest easy; the Fiesta got top scores on top, side, rear, and roof crash tests.


    Don’t worry Chevy fans, we didn’t forget you. Try going up a car size to the compact SUV class with an Equinox. U.S. News rates it their #1 affordable car in the category. If you get in a wreck, it helps to be bigger than the other car; the Equinox is a Top Safety Pick according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It does cost quite a bit more than a small car like a Fiesta, but you get more seating room, more cargo room, and more horses without sacrificing much in fuel economy.

  5. 2002 TOYOTA PRIUS

    Sure, you could get a new Prius, but it will cost four times as much as one from 2002, which can be had for around $7,000. Obviously the sale price is smart, but since it’s a Prius you’ll be getting up to 52 miles on a gallon of gas…in the city. It’s spacious for a hybrid, with lots of head and leg room. With great warranties and excellent scores in reliability, a used Prius is a brainy buy.


    The new, redesigned Kia Soul packs more horsepower (138), more torque (123 lbs.), and better mpg (27 city/35 highway), but keeps the sticker price pretty much the same. The base model MSRP comes in under $14,000. The Soul has a slew of cool features, some of which are standard, like the telescoping steering wheel, folding rear seat, and USB and auxiliary outlets on the dash. The Soul scores highly on safety, with front and side airbags and antilock brakes with brake assist. It’s an especially good choice for taller people that need extra headroom.


    The Chevy Cruze is hard to beat for college drivers. It’s got a roomy interior, sharp styling, and its mpg rating of 25/36 is up there with the best of ‘em in the compact, non-hybrid bracket. You’ll also appreciate the features Chevy has now made standard on the Cruze, including audio controls mounted on the steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, and a USB port on the head unit. And it’s safety first with the Cruze, with its 10(!) airbags, including knee airbags that keep you from sliding down in your seat in a crash.


    Just try getting a sofa into a Prius. The Tacoma won’t knock you over with its amazing fuel savings, but 21/25 is respectable enough when the payoff is a truck bed. The Tacoma is the #1-rated compact pickup and costs an affordable $17,000 base MSRP. It’s at the head of the class in standard features, with a six-speaker stereo, rearview camera, tilt and telescope wheel, and comfortable, supportive front seats. On top of the standard safety features, driver and passenger whiplash protection systems earned the Tacoma five stars on front, side, and rear crash tests.


    The 2011 Elantra won rave reviews, and the success continues with the 2012. If you want 40 mpg-efficiency but think the Prius leaves something to be desired in the looks department, the Elantra’s for you. It’s got nice looks, a fat trunk, and a handy 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty from Hyundai. The cabin is roomy and spooky-quiet. And, last but not least, the Elantra earns a ridiculous 9.8/10 safety rating from U.S. News.


    If you like Kias and you’ve got a little more scratch to work with, the Optima is another good option from this automaker. Fuel economy, handling, crash scores, and engine performance are all very solid with this ride. If you squint, it almost looks like a Mercedes from the side. It gets good grades in all the crash test categories and throws in features like tire pressure monitors and electronic brakeforce distribution.

  11. 2001 HONDA CIVIC

    OK, going this far back might be approaching the boundaries of your comfort zone. But if you’re familiar with Hondas, you know they last forever. And the ’01 Civic was a champ: it has a larger cabin and trunk than previous models, runs quieter and smoother, gets 28/35 mpg, and has strong crash-test ratings. Get one that’s been taken care of for $6k, and you should be able to get at least another 100,000 miles out of it.


    If you prefer to be an original owner, try a 2012 Honda Fit. The Fit has been a hot item with college kids for several years because of its cavernous interior, snappy engine, and sweet gas mileage, all for a reasonable price. What helps make the Fit so roomy is the Magic Seat that folds to give you space to haul a surfboard or a giant science project. And to top it off, the Fit is an IIHS Top Safety Pick

10 Crazy College Secret Societies

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10 Crazy College Secret Societies

For the most part, you can find everything you need to know about a college by visiting its website or reading what the public relations department puts out. But for many schools across the country, there is an element of mystery surrounding certain aspects of campus traditions, and possibly even the student sitting next to you in class. Secret societies aren’t isolated to the Ivy Leagues, and their purposes and methods vary from school to school. Some keep their members’ identities secret; others maintain the mystery around their activities and proceedings. You can’t help but wonder what goes on at the meetings of these secret organizations and how you can get in one.

  1. Flat Hat Club at College of William & Mary

    The original F.H.C. Society, which really stood for some secret Latin phrase but is more commonly referred to as the Flat Hat Club, was the first collegiate society in the U.S., formed in 1750.Thomas Jefferson himself was a member, and the group had a secret handshake (like any good organization does) and met to discuss the day’s issues. The group disbanded during the American Revolution, and it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the society came back, in a slightly different form. It now includes 12 undergrad guys and four professors, while the original had only six students. The activities of the all-male group are kept secret, though they are assumed to be altruistic.

  2. The Noble NoZe Brotherhood at Baylor University

    At a huge Baptist university, there’s bound to be some people who just aren’t ready to take it all so seriously. Founded in 1924 around the joke that one guy’s nose was so big you could form a club around it, the NoZe Brothers main jobs are putting out the satirical Baylor paper, The Ropepulling pranks on unsuspecting students and university officials, and wandering around at campus events in the Groucho glasses that hide members’ identities. Several important people with ties to Baylor have been named “ornery” brothers, including university president Ken Starr, Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, and President George W. Bush, while Rand Paul, the son of Ron Paul, was revealed in 2010 to be a former member.

  3. The Machine at University of Alabama

    What started as Theta Nu Epsilon became known as The Machine after being referred to as such in an article in the school paper in the ’20s. This group is a campus political machine made up of members of the school’s sororities and fraternities who take actions to sway the student government elections at Alabama. Since the university is located in the Deep South, it’s not surprising that the Machine has been accused of racism in the past, though many who may or may not be part of the group say that the stories are all highly exaggerated. Some of these legends include assaults, office break-ins, and cross burnings. A school administrator even suggested an editor at the school newspaper change his locks after running a story about the Machine. Whether the tales have gotten out of hand or not, only a handful of student government presidents have won without being backed by the Machine.

  4. The Bullingdon Club at Oxford University

    It’s hard to say whether this society is actually secretive or whether it’s so elitist that people wish it was secretive. Started way back in 1780, The Bullingdon Club has been causing destruction wherever they go for centuries. The group is made up of only the richest, most prestigious students, and many go on to become important in the world of British politics and business. We’re talking Prime Minister David Cameron, BBC commentator David Dimbleby, and numerous kings. Many of the members try to keep a low profile about the club while they’re in it (thus its secretive nature), and for good reason: the main events for the club are to rent out restaurants and clubs for extravagant dinners, get drunk, and then make a contest out of destroying the place.

  5. Skull and Bones at Yale University

    The most well-known collegiate secret society, Skull and Bones has made a name for itself through its famous alumni (President George W. Bush, Supreme Court justices, and spies, for instance) and mysterious activities perpetuated by movies and the media. Since 1832, the group has tapped 15 seniors a year for membership who then go through an initiation process at a tomb-like building said to contain the skull of Geronimo, stolen by previous Bonesmen. The aim of the group seems to be to get members to positions of power later in life, though conspiracy theorists will tell you that they were behind the Kennedy assassination and the nuclear bomb. That’s how you know it’s a good club — the crazies love to talk about it.

  6. The Spades at Auburn University

    Each year, 10 seniors are selected to become a Spade, based on their contributions to the university or position of influence. Depending on who you talk to, the mission of the Spades is either the noble deed of establishing scholarships and the like or the not-so-noble task of manipulating campus activities. It’s hard to say since their activities are anonymous and they supposedly meet in the woods. Many acts of kindness have been attributed to The Spades, but they have also been accused of pressuring editors of the school paper to nix certain stories, influencing student elections, and hazing new members with firearms. Members of the group aren’t kept secret, but mystery still surrounds their purpose and actions.

  7. Seven Society at University of Virginia

    If you want to raise your chances of getting into a secret society, look into attending the University of Virginia. There are at least 10 well established groups, with the possibility of others being formed recently. The nature of the societies varies from being service-oriented to the bizarre — the Rotunda Peers are rumored to exist with the purpose of urinating on the campus Rotunda at night. The Seven Society is one of the most secretive groups, said to have originated when a group of eight agreed to meet for a card game but only seven showed up. Members’ identities are kept secret until they die; then a wreath of black magnolias shaped like a seven is supposedly placed on their grave. To let the university know a former member has died, the bell tower at the chapel on campus chimes every seven seconds at seven past the hour, striking the seventh dissonant chord.

  8. Quill and Dagger at Cornell University

    This infamous club was founded in 1893 and was actually the first Ivy League group to let women run in their old boys’ club. Members are chosen based on their character and reputation of service on campus, and the names of new members are published in the school newspaper every semester. The secret part is what they do and what goes on in meetings. They meet on the top floor of a campus tower, and entry onto the floor by anyone outside of the group is forbidden. Quill and Dagger, along with another society on campus, Sphynx Head, supposedly work for the betterment of the Cornell community and campus, but most people are unsure of exactly what each contribute.

  9. Eucleian Society at New York University

    This literary group keeps most of its members’ names under lock and key, and its internal procedures are even more thoroughly shrouded. All documents and records have been redacted and most are written in a strange shorthand (though it seems like a bad idea to be keeping records of your secret society to begin with). The society used to hold publicized literary events (with frequent lecturer Edgar Allen Poe) and became a progressive voice on campus and in the city, speaking out in their two publications in favor of gender equality (though they don’t accept female members) and Native Americans’ rights and satirizing news items of the day. Today, the group is quieter and their activities are largely unknown.

  10. Cadaver Society at Washington and Lee University

    Members of the Cadaver Society know how to have fun but also know that it’s important to contribute to their alma mater. The identities of the group members are kept secret but it’s said they are mostly pre-med students (where do they find the time?). You can see their mark around campus — a letter C with a skull inside — and it often accompanies one of the pranks the group likes to pull. They only appear after dark and even then, they wear black capes and hoods to conceal who they are. On the kinder side of things, though, Cadavers have also contributed money to different university endeavors, including the fitness center and new stadium.

National Geographic’s top photos of the week

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National Geographic’s top photos of the week


Photo and caption courtesy Joshua Yurche/National Geographic Your Shot

Mt. Etna erupted for the first time in the new year. As the cloud of smoke rose into the sky, the sun was also rising behind me, painting beautiful, vibrant colors on the smoke cloud, almost giving an illusion of fire in the sky. I created this HDR image by shooting three different exposures. It seemed to be the only way I could capture the colors I was seeing.


Photo and caption courtesy Eva Liskova/National Geographic Your Shot
Beautiful sunny morning in National Park Celaquein, Honduras


Photo and caption courtesy Boris Bajcetic/National Geographic Your Shot
Forest in early winter, near the Danube River, in Vojvodina, Serbia


Photo and caption courtesy Mudesar Ahmed/National Geographic Your Shot

Diran Peak is neighbor of Rakaposhi. Since opening of Karakoram Highway it has become increasingly popular due to its easy approach from the road. Though its lower part has an easy climb, it has not had a big success rate due to serious climbing requirements. It was first attempted by the Matthias Rebitsch Expedition via the Southern Route in 1954. On August 17, 1968, an Austrian team comprising Rainer Goschi, Hans Schell and Rudolph Pischinger reached the summit.


Photo and caption courtesy Fernanda Pateo/National Geographic Your Shot

One of the native species that can be found on the archipelago of Antarctica is the leopard seal. They can measure from 2 to 3.6 meters and weight 600 kilos.


Photo and caption courtesy Andrea Mazzotta/National Geographic Your Shot

I was looking to capture interesting texture images. This duck had just come to the surface of the pond after a dive. The green algae in the water added a nice extra splash of color


Photo and caption courtesy Timothy Wenzel/National Geographic Your Shot

After waiting over two hours for any decent light in the biting cold on Christmas day, I got in the car to return home. About 5 minutes later I thought, let’s not give up just yet. I turned around and could see an opening in the clouds coming. Just one. I ran to the beach, set up, and the opening passed in the perfect place to reveal the sun on the pier, in South Haven, Michigan, USA.


Photo and caption courtesy Goran Anastasovski/National Geographic Your Shot,


Pythons apparently wiping out Everglades mammals

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Pythons apparently wiping out Everglades mammals

By MATT SEDENSKY | Associated Press – 4 hrs ago

In this 2009 photo provided by the National Park Service, a Burmese python is wrapped around an American alligator in Everglades National Park, Fla. The National Academy of Science report released Mon

In this 2009 photo provided by the National Park Service, a Burmese python is wrapped around an American alligator in Everglades National Park, Fla. The National Academy of Science report released Monday, Jan. 30, 2012, indicates that the proliferation of pythons coincides with a sharp decrease of mammals in the park. (AP Photo/National Park Service, Lori Oberhofer)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A burgeoning population of huge pythons — many of them pets that were turned loose by their owners when they got too big — appears to be wiping out large numbers of raccoons, opossums, bobcats and other mammals in the Everglades, a study says.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that sightings of medium-size mammals are down dramatically — as much as 99 percent, in some cases — in areas where pythons and other large, non-nativeconstrictor snakes are known to be lurking.

Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, helps National Park Rangers as they prepare to put a 13-foot python in a bag in the Everglades, Fla., Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012. Salazar announced the ban on importatio

Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, helps National Park Rangers as they prepare to put a 13-foot python in a bag in the Everglades, Fla., Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012. Salazar announced the ban on importation and interstate transportation of four giant snakes that threaten the Everglades. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Scientists fear the pythons could disrupt the food chain and upset the Everglades’ environmental balance in ways difficult to predict.

“The effects of declining mammal populations on the overall Everglades ecosystem, which extends well beyond the national park boundaries, are likely profound,” said John Willson, a research scientist at Virginia Tech University and co-author of the study.

Tens of thousands of Burmese pythons, which are native to Southeast Asia, are believed to be living in the Everglades, where they thrive in the warm, humid climate. While many were apparently released by their owners, others may have escaped from pet shops during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and have been reproducing ever since.

Burmese pythons can grow to be 26 feet long and more than 200 pounds, and they have been known to swallow animals as large as alligators. They and other constrictor snakes kill their prey by coiling around it and suffocating it.

In this 2009 photo provided by the University of Florida a researcher holds a Burmese python near her nest in Everglades National Park, Fla. The National Academy of Science report released Monday, Jan

In this 2009 photo provided by the University of Florida a researcher holds a Burmese python near her nest in Everglades National Park, Fla. The National Academy of Science report released Monday, Jan. 30, 2012, indicates that the proliferation of pythons coincides with a sharp decrease of mammals in the park. (AP Photo/ University of Florida, Jemeema Carrigan)

The National Park Service has counted 1,825 Burmese pythons that have been caught in and around Everglades National Park since 2000. Among the largest so far was a 156-pound, 16.4-foot one captured earlier this month.

For the study, researchers drove 39,000 miles along Everglades-area roads from 2003 through 2011, counting wildlife spotted along the way and comparing the results with surveys conducted on the same routes in 1996 and 1997.

The researchers found staggering declines in animal sightings: a drop of 99.3 percent among raccoons, 98.9 percent for opossums, 94.1 percent for white-tailed deer and 87.5 percent for bobcats. Along roads where python populations are believed to be smaller, declines were lower but still notable.

Rabbits and foxes, which were commonly spotted in 1996 and 1997, were not seen at all in the later counts. Researchers noted slight increases in coyotes, Florida panthers, rodents and other mammals, but discounted that finding because so few were spotted overall.

In this November 14, 2009 photo provided by the University of Florida, University of Florida researchers hold a 162-pound Burmese python captured in Everglades National Park, Fla. Therese Walters, lef

“The magnitude of these declines underscores the apparent incredible density of pythons in Everglades National Park,” said Michael Dorcas, a professor at Davidson College in North Carolina and lead author of the study.

Although scientists cannot definitively say the pythons are killing off the mammals, the snakes are the prime suspect. The increase in pythons coincides with the mammals’ decrease, and the decline appears to grow in magnitude with the size of the snakes’ population in an area. A single disease appears unlikely to be the cause since several species were affected.

The report says the effect on the overall ecosystem is hard to predict. Declines among bobcats and foxes, which eat rabbits, could be linked to pythons’ feasting on rabbits. On the flip side, declines among raccoons, which eat eggs, may help some turtles, crocodiles and birds.

Scientists point with concern to what happened in Guam, where the invasive brown tree snake has killed off birds, bats and lizards that pollinated trees and flowers and dispersed seeds. That has led to declines in native trees, fish-eating birds and certain plants.

In 2010, Florida banned private ownership of Burmese pythons. Earlier this month, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a federal ban on the import of Burmese pythons and three other snakes.

Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, right,  Ron Bergeron, second from left, of the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service Supervisor Ranger Al Mercado, second from left, and Sen. Bill Nelson,

Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, right, Ron Bergeron, second from left, of the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service Supervisor Ranger Al Mercado, second from left, and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., left,hold a 13-foot python in the Everglades, Fla., Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012. Salazar announced the ban on importation and interstate transportation of four giant snakes that threaten the Everglades. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Salazar said Monday that the study shows why such restrictions were needed.

“This study paints a stark picture of the real damage that Burmese pythons are causing to native wildlife and the Florida economy,” he said.

The United States formally banned the import of Burmese pythons earlier this month

This undated handout photo provided by the journal Science shows an adult Burmese python. You don't think of pythons as big-hearted toward their fellow creatures. They're better known for the bulge in

16-Foot-Long Burmese Python Devours 76-Pound Deer

When it came to eating his last meal, a 16-foot-long Burmese python in South Florida did not mess around. The humongous, slithering snake devoured a 76-pound female deer right before the snake was captured and killed last Thursday in western Miami-Dade County in the Everglades. Workers…

Handout photo shows Burmese python feeding on American Alligator in Everglades National Park

A handout photo released on October 6, 2005 by Everglades National Park shows a dead Burmese python which had swallowed an American alligator. The United States announced a ban on Burmese pythons on January 17, 2012 after years of unsuccessful efforts to eradicate the giant snakes from the Everglades National Park in Florida. REUTERS/Everglades National Park/Handout (ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) 

In this April 18, 2006 photo, Jim Dix, left, and volunteer Daniel Ader hold a female Burmese Python at Reptile Rescue Service in West Valley City, Utah. Utah transportation officials are trying to evi

In this April 18, 2006 photo, Jim Dix, left, and volunteer Daniel Ader hold a female Burmese Python at Reptile Rescue Service in West Valley City, Utah. Utah transportation officials are trying to evict a reptile rescuer who’s using his rental home as a shelter for hundreds of animals, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011. (AP Photo/The Deseret News, Ravell Call) SALT LAKE TRIBUNE OUT; PROVO DAILY HERALD OUT; MAGS OUT

Animals At The Heathrow Animals Reception Centre

LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 25: A Burmese Python is pictured at Heathrow Airport’s Animal Reception Centre on January 25, 2011 in London, England. Many animals pass through the centre’s doors ranging from exotic animals such as snow leopards and elephants, snakes and crocodiles, to the more common such as cats and dogs. In 2010 alone the centre processed approximately 10,500 cats and dogs, 1,300 birds, 105,000 day old chicks, 246,000 reptiles, 230 horses and 29 million fish. Most animals are part of zoo transfer schemes, the pet trade, or are pets in transit. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

10 Things You Should Never Carry in Your Purse or Wallet

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10 Things You Should Never Carry in Your Purse or Wallet

We carry a great risk of becoming victims of identity theft every day, and it all starts in the wallet and purse. Every piece of plastic, every password, and every receipt you put in your wallet or purse could be the very thing thieves use to compromise your finances and steal your identity. The best way to protect yourself and your belongings is to use common sense and not carry the following items:

  1. Social Security card and number

    Your Social Security number is incredibly valuable and it can be detrimental if someone gets access to it. You may use your Social Security number for work documentation and government services, but very rarely will you have to show your Social Security card. If your card gets into the wrong hands, there’s no telling what a person will do with it. Thieves can open a credit card in your name, apply for loans, and much worse. If you can’t memorize this number for the life of you, do not write the numbers on paper and leave it in your wallet or purse. Even if you delete the dashes, a thief can figure out what number this is because all SSN have nine digits. Be smart and leave your Social Security card and number in a safe place with other important documents.

  2. Passport

    When traveling abroad, you can’t really get around carrying your passport on you. However, American travelers are advised to pack extra passport photos and a photocopy of their passport information in case it is lost or stolen. These documents and photos should be left in the hotel, preferably in a hotel safe. This will make getting a replacement easier and protect you from other identity theft dangers.

  3. Checkbook

    It might be convenient to keep your checkbook on hand, but it can be a big mess if someone gets ahold of it. One look at your checkbook and a thief will have access to your account number, routing number, and possibly your signature. If they’re really sneaky, they might be able to forge your signature and cash a check. Avoid this fiasco by keeping your checkbook at home in a safe place.

  4. Passwords

    Passwords, such as PIN numbers, e-mail passwords, and even alarm codes should not be carried around in your wallet or purse. It doesn’t take much for a thief to figure out that four digits could be your PIN number. If you cannot remember important passwords that you need to use on a regular basis, then store them on a protected computer or phone.

  5. Gift cards and certificates

    Many people carry gift cards and certificates in their wallet because they never know when they’ll end up using them. This might seem convenient, but if your wallet or purse gets stolen, you’ll be kicking yourself for not leaving these gifts at home. Gift cards and certificates are as good as money, and you don’t have to show an ID to use them. Avoid this risk by leaving gift cards and certificates at home until you’ve picked a day to use them.

  6. USB devices

    As wonderful and convenient as USBs are, they can be very problematic if a thief gets ahold of one. Many USBs contain confidential files and personal information that a thief would love to have. Not to mention, all of your hard work and important documents could be lost in an instant if someone snags your purse or wallet.

  7. Receipts

    Many people disregard receipts and leave them hanging around or stuffed into a purse or wallet, but these small pieces of paper can be quite telling, especially to a smart thief. Some receipts contain your credit card information and signature, which opens the door for identity theft and forgery. Also, if a thief has access to your address and they can see what you bought on a receipt, they may go as far as to rob your house.

  8. Unprotected cell phone

    A cell phone without a password is a dangerous thing to carry around. A thief will have full access to your e-mail and other personal information stored in your phone. Placing a password on your phone could deter a thief from taking your phone in the first place and prevent them from accessing any personal information. If your phone does not have a password option, then carry it in a pocket or on your body instead of in a bag.

  9. Too many credit cards

    Carrying all of your credit cards in your wallet can be very risky and quite the hassle if they get stolen. Not only will you have to cancel each and every credit card, but you’ll also have to use cash or write checks while you wait on new credit cards to be sent. To avoid this fiasco, only carry the cards you use on a regular basis and leave the rest at home so you’re not completely S.O.L.

  10. Large amounts of cash

    Carrying a lot of cash in your wallet or purse is risky for many obvious reasons. If you get mugged, you’ll be out a lot of money. It’s never a bad idea to keep some cash on you, especially when traveling, but be sure to bring only as much as you need and don’t flash it around for others to see.