Science

Our Favorite Headlines of the Year Offer Skunk Stunts and Sandwich Scandals

Toward the end of each day, Atlas Obscura’s editors get together online to workshop headlines for upcoming articles. These little brainstorm sessions can cover anything from sandwich-based rivalries to controversial practices such as “skull blasting.” The best headlines give a sense of the story to come, which might be unpacking a new scientific discovery, investigating an archaeological mystery, or recreating a long-lost recipe, and also might inspire a reader to go “Huh?” (And if they happen to have some clever wordplay, that’s an added bonus.) These are some of our favorite headlines to hit Atlas Obscura in 2021, and the great stories behind them.


by Luke Fater

There are many who argue that the Masters, a golf tournament with a close eye for detail and an even stronger sense of tradition, is the best-presented event in sports. But after the tournament chose not to renew a contract with its longtime pimento cheese vendor, a small but crucial element was lost: the recipe for its iconic pimento cheese sandwich.


by April White, Senior Editor/Writer

Philadelphia’s Rosenbach museum is home to Bram Stoker’s original notes on vampires and a growing collection of undead literature. This Q&A with Edward G. Pettit, the museum’s public programs manager and host of an online book club called “Sundays With Dracula,” explores our undying love of the blood-sucking undead.

Bioluminescent firefly squid, a delicacy for the eyes and the palate.
Bioluminescent firefly squid, a delicacy for the eyes and the palate. Courtesy Hotaruika Museum

by Diana Hubbel, Editorial Fellow, Gastro Obscura

Every spring, the waters of Toyama Bay are set aglow by firefly squid, or hotaru ika in Japanese. Visitors come from near and far to witness the spectacle and taste dishes made with the squid, which is only available for a few short months.


by Jack Tamisiea

At Oregon State University, the world’s largest assemblage of garter snakes is coiled and crammed into jars of yellowing alcohol. These pickled reptiles serve as a massive dataset that can help ecologists better understand how animals are responding to a changing climate.

Spotted skunks perform an impressive handstand to appear twice their size and ward off would-be predators.
Spotted skunks perform an impressive handstand to appear twice their size and ward off would-be predators. Robert Yone / Alamy Stock Photo

by Ashley Stimpson

The spotted skunk announces its intention to spray in a uniquely ostentatious pose: a dramatic handstand with tail to the sky. These shy mammals have proved hard to study, but when a group of ecologists put “Wanted” posters with their mugshots all over Texas, it led to a discovery about their evolutionary heritage.


by Alice Barnes-Brown

Some 650 miles of ocean separates Iriomote, a 110-square-mile island at the southern tip of Japan, from the mainland. Without a bathroom, this pristine wilderness was being soiled—quite literally—by the waste left behind by visitors. The solution? Lightweight, transportable toilets in tents.


by Jessica Leigh Hester

“Vivid green and damply hairy, like a Muppet that’s been through the wash” is how writer Jessica Leigh Hester describes moss balls. As charming as that may sound, these aquarium accessories were discovered to be a vector for highly invasive zebra mussels, which is why the U.S. Geological Survey wants you to destroy them by any means necessary.




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