Unusual chemical properties in a Tanzanian lake give it the ability to support some wildlife while turning other animals into calcified mummies.
Photographer Nick Brandt, who has captured images in eastern Africa for years, stumbled across Lake Natron in Tanzania and found dead birds and bats that looked like they were frozen in time. Brandt told CBS in an email, “Discovering them washed up along the shoreline … I thought they were extraordinary — every last tiny detail perfectly preserved down to the tip of a bat’s tongue, the minute hairs on his face.” (Via YouTube / Hasted Kraeutler)
Brandt told New Scientist he believed these animals were, at some point, immersed in the water. He later took them from the shoreline, placed them in different poses and photographed them.
So how exactly did these animals become mummies? According to Greek mythology, Perseus beheaded Medusa some time ago, so that’s out the question. It starts with natron, a naturally occurring compound that gives the lake a high alkaline content and its name. The natron comes from volcanic ash. It gives the lake — which can reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit — a pH balance between 9 and 10.5. (Via Wikimedia Commons / NASA)
NBC reports, “Ashy runoff collected by rainwater winds up in the lake, which explains why the washed-up animals look like they’ve been dropped in a bucket of cement.”
But these animals don’t just touch the water and turn to stone. The process happens over time, although scientists don’t know how long the process takes.
And the lake isn’t completely lethal. Alkaline tilapia and Lesser Flamingos live and breed around Lake Natron despite the potentially deadly chemicals. Still, if the flamingos aren’t careful, they, too, could fall in and become calcified remains. (Via YouTube / MyCromfilms)
Brandt’s images of the stone-like creatures can be found in his book “Across the Ravaged Land.”
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