The remains of the world’s most destructive stone marten are now on display at a museum in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
On Nov. 20, 2016, the animal hopped over a fence at the $7 billion Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, touched a transformer and was electrocuted by 18,000 volts.
The marten died instantly. The collider, which accelerates particles to near the speed of light to study the fiery origins of the universe, lost power and shut down.
“There must have been a big flame,” said Kees Moeliker, the director of the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam and the man behind its Dead Animal Tales exhibit, where the preserved marten is now displayed.
“It was scorched. When you’re not really careful with candles and your hair, like that,” he explained. “Every hair of this creature was kind of burned and the whiskers, they were burned to the bare minimum and especially the feet, the legs, they were cooked. They were darker, like roasted.”
“It really had a bad, bad encounter with this electricity.”
The November incident wasn’t the first time a marten has sabotaged the vast scientific instrument. In April 2016, an animal originally thought to be a weasel and later guessed to be a marten, which is in the weasel family, appeared to have gnawed through a power cable, as we reported. (OK, to be fair, maybe that animal was really the world’s most destructive marten.)
“This was big news [in April]. The collider was out of work for a week, so they had other things on their mind than an excited museum director in the Netherlands,” explained Moeliker, who said he could understand why staffers at the collider weren’t able to provide him with the animal’s corpse.
When it happened again in November, he was ready.
“We had a couple of people who got interested in the request from April, and we contacted them and they made sure [the corpse] wasn’t destroyed,” Moeliker said.
He outfitted a car with a small refrigerator that plugged into the vehicle’s cigarette lighter, bought a block of ice at a local supermarket and drove to France’s border with Switzerland to pick up the carcass.
“It was in good condition,” he said. “Well, for an electrocuted marten it was in good condition.”
The exhibit also houses a sparrow that was shot to death after knocking over 23,000 dominoes in the Netherlands in 2005, sabotaging a world record attempt. And a seagull that died after it flew into an ambulance. And a mallard duck known in the scientific community for its documented history of homosexual necrophilia. And a hedgehog that died after it put its head into a McDonald’s McFlurry cup and could not escape.
And then there’s the smallest critter in the collection.
A few years ago, Moeliker started collecting pubic lice after two British doctors alerted him that the animal might be endangered by habitat destruction associated with modern personal grooming habits. Moeliker said he has since provided specimens of human pubic lice to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
“The things we get are so surprising,” Moeliker said. “Just before the stone marten we had a fish that lodged himself in the throat of a man.”
The man had deliberately swallowed the catfish as part of a game with friends — they had reportedly worked up from goldfish to larger, more exotic species. But he didn’t know it was an armored catfish.
When it entered the man’s throat, the catfish raised spines to defend itself, which did not save its life but did put the 28-year-old man in the hospital for a week.
“I never thought we would get a fish … that had qualifications to be part of this show,” Moeliker remarked.
“Let me be clear, I prefer all wildlife to be happy and flying and crawling around alive,” he explained of the museum’s approach to the Dead Animal Tales exhibit.
“But if [an animal] has a story attached to it [that] shows how and when animal and human life collide, then they are welcome here. It’s only going to increase, the collisions between man and animal. We more and more share the same environment, the same habitat. Nature strikes back. We have to get used to it.”