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Hotheaded Naked Ice Borers -- April Fool's Day, 1995

"Proud and free,
a fierce ice borer bellows a challenge"
Discover magazine published a brief article in its "Breakthroughs" section detailing the discovery by wildlife biologist Dr. Aprile Pazzo of a fascinating new species: the hotheaded naked ice borer.

Dr. Pazzo, the article explained, encountered this creature while studying penguins in Antarctica. She noticed a frightened penguin rapidly sinking into the ice, and when she pulled the hapless creature out of the rapidly growing slush pool, she found small, bizarre animals attached to its lower body. They were about half a foot long, and quite light. Their unique feature was a bony plate on their head that they could cause to become burning hot, allowing them to bore tunnels through the ice at high speeds, "much faster than a penguin can waddle." Packs of them would rapidly melt the ice beneath a penguin, causing it to sink into the slush, at which point they would surround the creature and consume it.

Dr. Pazzo hypothesized that the hotheads might have been responsible for the mysterious disappearance of noted Antarctic explorer Philippe Poisson in 1837. "To the ice borers, he would have looked like a penguin," she was quoted as saying.

Discover received more mail in response to this article than it had ever received for any other article. The responses of most readers were tongue-in-cheek, but a few readers were annoyed that Discover had taken liberties with the trust of its readers.

Full text of the Discover article
Hotheads
April Pazzo was about to call it a day when she noticed that the penquins she was observing seemed strangely agitated. Pazzo, a wildlife biologist, was in Antarctica studying penguins at a remote, poorly explored area along the coast of the Ross Sea. "I was getting ready to release a penguin I had tagged when I heard a lot of squawking," says Pazzo. "When I looked up, the whole flock had sort of stampeded. They were waddling away faster than I'd ever seen them move."

Pazzo waded through the panicked birds to find out what was wrong. She found one penguin that hadn't fled. "It was sinking into the ice as if into quicksand," she says. Somehow the ice beneath the bird had melted; the penguin was waist deep in slush. Pazzo tried to help the struggling penguin. She grabbed its wings and pulled. With a heave she freed the bird. But the penguin wasn't the only thing she hauled from the slush. About a dozen small, hairless pink molelike creatures had clamped their jaws onto the penguin's lower body. Pazzo managed to capture one of the creatures -- the others quickly released their grip and vanished into the slush.

Over the next few months Pazzo caught several of the animals and watched others in the wild. She calls the strange new species hotheaded naked ice borers. "They're repulsive," says Pazzo. Adults are about six inches long, weigh a few ounces, have a very high metabolic rate -- their body temperature is 110 degrees -- and live in labyrinthine tunnels carved in the ice.

Perhaps their most fascinating feature is a bony plate on their forehead. Innumerable blood vessels line the skin covering the plate. The animals radiate tremendous amounts of body heat through their "hot plates," which they use to melt their tunnels in ice and to hunt their favorite prey: penguins.

A pack of ice borers will cluster under a penguin and melt the ice and snow it's standing on. When the hapless bird sinks into the slush, the ice borers attack, dispatching it with bites of their sharp incisors. They then carve it up and carry its flesh back to their burrows, leaving behind only webbed feet, a beak, and some feathers. "They travel through the ice at surprisingly high speeds," says Pazzo, "much faster than a penguin can waddle."

Pazzo's discovery may also help solve a long-standing Antarctic mystery: What happened to the heroic polar explorer Phillipe Poisson, who disappeared in Antarctica without a trace in 1837? "I wouldn't rule out the possibility that a big pack of ice borers got him," says Pazzo. "I've seen what these things do to emporer penguins -- it isn't pretty -- and emporers can be as much as four feet tall. Poisson was about 5 foot 6. To the ice borers, he would have looked like a big penguin."


HNIB Haiku (submitted by Hoax Museum readers)
Hot head, razor teeth,
boring through the ice at speed.
Penguins, watch your feet!
(by J)
All life is at risk
As hot-headed ice borers
May make ice caps sink
(by Paul)

Penguin predator
catch them by melting ice, but
Explorers taste nice!
(by Thisisnotadrill...)

Twenty ice borers
encircle their living prey —
a penguin slushee.
(by HeyThereItsEric)

Links and References
  • "Hotheads." (April 1995). Discover. 16(4): 14-15.
Hi Alex,
about this article, it's interesting to note that "Aprile Pazzo" is a loose translation of "April's Fool" into Italian, therefore the article actually contained a sort of hint...

Moreover, "April's Fool" is called "Pesce d'Aprile" in Italian (April's Fish) and maybe our fish inspired the story, as well as the "missing" noted explorer's name, Poisson ("poisson" = "fish", in French).

Great site!!!

Greetings and thanks for your work
Posted by Donatella  on  Tue Mar 30, 2004  at  06:02 PM
The naked ice borers were picked up by one of the major wires (I forget if it was AP or UPI) as a true story and was run by a local rag. At the time, I was working as an assistant librarian and was chastised by our administrative librarian because we sent in an unapproved letter informing the newspaper that naked mole rats belong in the same make-believe category as jackelopes and snarks.
Posted by Sarah  in  Chicago  on  Thu Apr 01, 2004  at  05:42 PM
Um, I remember this story from when I was quite young -- we subscribed to Discover and I was taken in by it. So I'm quite sure 1985 is the more likely date. It's possible they reprinted it in 1995. I remember the letters to the editor they published in the following issue very fondly. This was, I believe, their first in what became a tradition of yearly April Fool's articles, many of which were ingenius, but none of which ever topped this one. I was very disappointed last year, when there were none, and have cancelled my subscription!

In French, "April Fool's!" is said as "Poisson d'Avril!".
Posted by heather  in  dundas, ontario  on  Thu Apr 01, 2004  at  08:53 PM
I remember being horrified while reading this article, visualizing these gruesome creatures devouring unsuspecting peguins.

The pictures were of a naked mole rat, modified with the "blood horn".

Naked mole rats need no extra help to look ugly!
Posted by Jon Smallberries  in  moon  on  Fri Apr 02, 2004  at  11:51 AM
It has to be 1995, because I remember falling for this one, and I was not in junior high, which is where I was in 1985.
Posted by Wacky Hermit  in  Undisclosed Mountain State  on  Fri Apr 02, 2004  at  04:36 PM
Yes, I don't know about reprints, but it was first published in 1985, because by 1995 I had long stopped subscribing to Discover Magazine (which had changed owners and had become very "dumbed down," and had started publishing articles with questionable science that supported the owners' other companies).

I saw the Hotheaded Naked Ice Borer raise its head again in a book about science in the X-Files, published in the early-mid 90s. The author, who perhaps had never heard of checking facts, refered to the HNIB as a real creature. I thought at first she was joking, but on rereading, it was apparent that she'd been taken in completely.
Posted by David Farnell  in  Fukuoka, Japan  on  Thu Apr 08, 2004  at  12:13 AM
this was the first one that took me in, also. i was horrified. when i found out it was a hoax, i had a good laugh but hoped desperately to not have been the only one so taken. when i tried to find a pix years later to make a toy one as a birthday gift to my brother, i typed "hot headed naked ice borer" into the search field. what it returned was all sorts of "hot headed naked" things, not make-believe animals at all. i hurridly shielded the monitor so those images could not be seen. so i got taken twice by these beasties!
Posted by littletwin  on  Fri May 07, 2004  at  02:13 PM
It is 1995's issue. My buddy had brought it out for me to have a gander while we were getting high ( the microscopic creatures article is trippy). I was totally taken in, but the HNIB's picture looked a little too odd and too much like a naked mole rat to be a real mammal. So when I saw that it was April's issue I borrowed his copy to look it up. Thanks everyone for clearing this stuff up for us!
Posted by Sillyputty  on  Fri Sep 24, 2004  at  07:45 PM
It was most certainly published in 1995, I remember I was the editor of a small-town newspaper at the time and I couldn't wait until the following year to publish my own April Fool's joke. We reported that roads were being treated with radioactive material from a nearby nuclear research facility in order to reduce traffic accidents due to icy highways. A cheap imitation, certainly, but still a lot of people were suckered into believing it.
Posted by Don  in  Canada  on  Fri Dec 17, 2004  at  07:52 PM
Smileys
Oh great, this creature is a hoax and it has taken me until just now to discover it?! I've been going around telling people about the naked mole rate for years, a creature who eats penguins. Then I see a naked mole rat cartoon charactor on one of my kid's shows (Kim Possible) so I decide to find the original acrticle to educate my kids. I find out that the real naked mole rat lives in Africa, so I Google "rat penguin" and find this site. Now I have to go tell my kids that Daddy-o has been duped!
Posted by Dan  on  Sun Mar 13, 2005  at  02:24 PM
I was an editor at Discover at the time--yes, 1995, not 1985--and my colleague Tim, a comic genius, wrote this joke, along with others on previous and subsequent years. I think my favorite was the one about Albert Manque, the physicist who discovered the Bigon, a bowling-ball-sized particle--though Tim's first one, about some archaeologists who uncovered the Holy Grail, was pretty good too. The blood in the grail turned out to be type O-, making Jesus the universal donor. That story was partly a science-writing in-joke. Writers always describe scientists as searching for the "holy grail" of their field. We editors were always having to edit holy grails out of stories.
Posted by Not as funny as Tim  on  Tue Apr 05, 2005  at  01:42 AM
The bigon is fake? That would explain why I've never been able to find anything about it from other sources.

I wasn't getting "Discover" in April 1995 but I read about the hotheaded naked ice-borers in "The Unofficial X-Files Companion." I had no idea it was a hoax until I visited this site today. Seriously, that "X-Files" book contains many grievous errors; don't take anything printed in it as fact (including information about the show) unless another source says the same thing.
Posted by Lee Sherman  on  Fri Jul 08, 2005  at  03:44 AM
I AM a naked ice borer, and I resent greatly being told that I am ficticious. You're just jealous because I'm better looking than you, you disgusting smelly great hairless apes! Aaah, for a taste of fresh penguin blood...I think I'll do a little boring...

But before I go:

Danny Devito did not do my favourite snack any justice. In fact, it makes me a bit upset to my naked hairless stomach every time I even think about that movie...

Also, btw, we don't just eat penguins. We travel from one ice flow to the next by using a rope made from sea weed, attaching it to a group of penguins, hitching it around our waists, and getting them to fly to the next ice flow. Then, often, we eat them.

It's amazing how long they've kept their flying secret from people...

My second cousin is actually married to one (a penguin, not, for God's sake, a great hairless ape!). There is more and more inter-breeding these days, which doesn't do either species any great service, imho. This is how, in case you didnt know, sharpeis are made...
Posted by NIB  on  Tue Jul 12, 2005  at  07:04 PM
This is a very interesting situation for me. I was given as assignment for school and i had to compare and contrast 2 articles for my biology class and this was one of the articles. I researched it a little bit further and found it was fake...who would have thought...lol. Thanks for letting me know because i got extra credit on this assignment smile
Posted by chris  in  waterbury connecticut  on  Wed Aug 31, 2005  at  05:53 PM
I was taken in by this one.
High school science teacher set me straight.
The ice weasels will come for you too.
Posted by C-olin  in  Canada  on  Sun Apr 02, 2006  at  07:34 AM
Well, Well....I was really duped by this one!! My son got a Friday homework assignment for extra credit and seeing that he REALLY needed the extra credit, we were going to do this report and make it really count!! Needless to say we spent a whole afternoon at the library and quite a bit of money on poster board and such to make this the best report ever!!! My son told me all about this animal and I was amazed that God could create such a thing...but as I know people...I was not surprised.

Anyway about 3/4's of the way through our searching my son comes up with the website that shows us its a big hoax!! And to think that I wa thinking that we made it through another April 1st without any pranks!!

HA HA on us!......However my son did get the extra credit! : ) tongue laugh
Posted by Mags  in  Arizona  on  Tue Apr 04, 2006  at  04:06 PM
The Joke is very funny, but in fact there are realy some animals who live in the ice. There are example the Ice worms (not as big as in the April fools but...) to finde out more http://www.nichols.edu/departments/glacier/iceworm.htm or do your own google..
Posted by Fire_Shark  in  US  on  Fri Apr 07, 2006  at  02:51 PM
I am so GLAD that I was not the only person fooled by the ice boarer hoax! Like one of the other commenters, I believe there are so many wondrous undiscovered things out there...
Posted by AmanitaEater  on  Thu Sep 28, 2006  at  04:11 PM
I was not only taken in, but I spent YEARS telling everyone about it. It was my all time favorite animal. When after about five years I discovered I had been tricked by a magazine who I trusted with scientific info, it guaranteed that I would never again buy their magazine.
Posted by Marc  in  Indiana  on  Wed Nov 15, 2006  at  07:20 PM
I was totally taken in by this one. I believed it for years I am embarrased to say. I used to show everyone that issue of Discover thinking the world needed to know about the naked hot headed ice borers. It was only years and years later when I was reading a similar list of april fools jokes that I learned the truth. That was quite an embarrassing moment.
Posted by Bob  in  NJ  on  Fri Mar 30, 2007  at  11:21 PM
I remember totally being taken in by this one. It was just a small article, but it seemed to have huge ramifications. A small mammal, in Antarctica, capable of melting ice, and eating not only penguins, but humans???!!!! I was dumbfounded, amazed, and wasn't until the next issue when they revealed the hoax able to contain my excitement and stop telling my friends about the "scourge of Antarctica".
Posted by Joel  in  florida  on  Sun Apr 01, 2007  at  12:48 AM
The article mentions Antarctic explorer "Dr. Philippe Poisson?"

"poisson d'avril" = "April Fool" in French
Posted by SoberG  in  California  on  Sun Apr 01, 2007  at  06:37 PM
I WANT ONE. IT CAN LIVE IN MY FREEZER. I WILL HUG HIM AND SQUEEZE HIM AND CALL HIM GEORGE.
Posted by David  in  USA  on  Fri May 04, 2007  at  10:56 PM
I was suckered by this one too. I went around telling people about it for about a year afterward until I realized it was an april fools' joke. I think it was the story of the Bigon the next year, that made me suspicious about both of them.
Posted by jim collier  in  san francisco  on  Thu Nov 01, 2007  at  03:01 PM
This hoax completely got me when I was in 9th grade. I didn't think about the language. I only wanted to believe that there were naked mole rats living in the Antarctic. It really had me for the entire month until the next issue. I had told a bunch of kids about it, and they were incredulous. A month later I admitted that I was wrong but everyone had forgotten about it.
Posted by justin damm  in  chicago, IL  on  Tue Apr 01, 2008  at  01:01 AM
"Proud and Free, a fierce ice borer bellows a challenge"

That caption with the picture from the original Discover article,
suggesting that the little critters either barked or made whatever rodent-like sounds,
had me and a buddy of mine back in the day nickname these things "Antarctic screaming heat weasels" !
Posted by Danjo Dycle  in  PA  on  Tue Apr 01, 2008  at  07:14 AM
I was also an editor at Discover at the time. And Tim did a brill job of describing my charismatic invention. Thanks Tim!
"V"
Posted by Patricia Gadsby  in  nyc  on  Thu Apr 22, 2010  at  06:17 PM
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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.