The Real Horrors of the Animal Kingdom

Jonathan Cooke

If don’t like Halloween much, with the plethora of ghouls and zombies prowling the streets in search of sweets, be thankful you don’t live in the undergrowth. Many of the creepy tales and monsters we create are nothing compared to the nightmarish ways some organisms live their lives. This Halloween, let’s take a look at the creepy world of the animal kingdom.

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Image Credit: David P. Hughes, Maj-Britt Pontoppidan/Wikimedia Commons

Whilst they may not be crawling out of graves to feast on the brains of the living, some organisms have found a way to use the dead bodies of others for their own ends. Some, such as the fungus, Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis (or cordyceps, for short), hijack living organisms too. Cordyceps infects and controls living ants, forcing them to climb into the canopy and clamp down on the underside of a leaf. There, the fungus sprouts its fruiting body from the back of the ants head; ready to release its spores down onto even more unsuspecting ants.

Other parasites use their host’s bodies against them, increasing their own chance of getting eaten. Take the case of Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that infects rats, but can only successfully reproduce in cats. Now, the obvious problem is how to get the rat into the cat; rats having a highly evolved sense of predators, deliberately avoiding areas that are heavily populated with cats. T.gondii gets around this by effectively disabling the rats’ fear of cat scent, making them more adventurous and likely to get themselves eaten.

In what is quite a macabre display, the bone house wasp has an interesting taste in interior design. Like many of its parasitoid wasp brethren, this wasp gives its young a tasty snack to munch on as they develop from larvae. The only caveat is that their prey is still typically alive whilst they are being eaten. If you are unlucky enough to be the chosen baby-snack, the wasp will typically inject you with a heavy dose of neurotoxin to paralyse, but not kill, you. They will then drag you back to their nest and lay several eggs inside you, which will then hatch and consume you from the inside out.

Not exactly a glamorous fate, but this is where the bone house wasp takes it to a bit of an extreme. See, the mother isn’t exactly attentive, rather leaving her young to their own devices once she’s finished laying. This does raise the risk of her young getting eaten, and she didn’t go through the hassle of dragging a tarantula home for that to happen. Instead, mother wasp goes and rounds up a bunch of ants and meshes their corpses together to line the entrance of the nest. As she typically selects the soldier ants of aggressive species to be part of her avant garde wallpaper, its speculated the pheromones given off by the ants dissuades potential predators from looking in the nest for a snack.

Vampires are usually a low-key costume for those of us who haven’t had time to build a fully functioning Iron Man suit, but some organisms have become highly specialised blood drinkers. The main problem with blood drinking (also known as Hematophagy) is the high levels of iron found within it. In such quantities, blood is actually highly toxic, unless you have the mechanisms to cope with it. In vampire bats, for example, a specialised tract has evolved in the digestive system to filter out any excess iron.

Unlike Dracula however, these bats typically feast on large, bovine species and tend not to kill their food source, only drinking what they need to survive. Human bloodsuckers are more miniature, and are a lot more deadly. Mosquitoes are the bane of many peoples summer holidays, and for good reason. Whilst the males of the most species exclusively feed on pollen; the females are blood-suckers, and can’t even lay eggs unless they have sufficiently gorged themselves.

The problem with mosquitoes is that they are excellent vectors for all sorts of horrible diseases. Malaria, dengue fever, HIV: all of these are transmitted by mosquitoes, delivered straight into our bloodstreams due to their dietary habits.

Much like the grim reaper, some animals have entered our folklore as harbingers of death. The aptly named deathwatch beetle acquired its name thanks to its feeding habits as a larva. In the past, people would tend to die at home, with loved ones watching over them. In this silence, many would hear a tapping noise coming from the walls and suspect the dead were coming to collect their family member. In reality, this tapping noise was caused by the larvae of the deathwatch beetles, chewing through the wooden walls, which doesn’t exactly sound reassuring.

On the 31st October, we humans like to embrace our spooky side, going out of our way to scare ourselves with stories of monsters and ghosts. However, this Halloween consider this: the natural world is much darker, and much scarier, than anything we could dream up.

 

Happy Halloween.

 

The Science of Stranger Things

Richard Kaskiewicz

This article contains spoilers.

Now you may well have seen the eight-episode miniseries full of 80s nostalgia, which has become somewhat of a sensation over the last few months. I’m talking of course, about Netflix’s Stranger Things. And if you haven’t, well… Go! Watch it now! What are you waiting for?

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The show centres on the investigation of ‘who, what, where, why, and how’ relating to a string of sinister disappearances befouling the quaint little town of Hawkins, Indiana. Soon our protagonists find themselves falling deep down the rabbit hole into a world of government conspiracy, mysterious powers, and most importantly, alternate dimensions.

Before we begin, I must clarify that the science I will be talking about is purely theoretical and thus we can’t confirm any of it is true. Nevertheless, the idea that space and time could have some components and parameters that we cannot observe has been the subject of debate for several decades, and has been thought by many to be a real possibility.

During the series, the kids’ teacher explains gaining access to and moving within another dimension using an analogy involving an acrobat and a flea suspended on a tightrope. The acrobat can move both forwards and backwards along this rope in the obvious long direction, in correspondence to the dimensions we are aware of. A flea, being much smaller, can still move forwards and backwards, but can also explore additional dimensions by moving ‘upside down’ on the rope. This is similar to the way theoretical physicists often explain this concept.

This extra direction around the circumference of the rope is so small that it is almost unperceivable to the acrobat, and the underneath is hidden from their view. It is incredibly difficult, nigh impossible for the acrobat to transverse, despite the fact that it’s still the same rope. Another way to think about this is to think of our world as the page of a book. We’re free to move around the surface area of the page but due to our limits, we cannot move from page to page – despite the next page being just a fraction of a millimetre away.

A much larger problem arises if we consider trying to transfer entities between the two dimensions. In order to do this, you would literally have to change the physical reality of space and time, tearing a hole through it. With our current concepts of physics, this would take more energy than the sun has produced so far in its lifetime. In essence, as a civilization we would have to be way more advanced.

So what about other interpretations of alternate dimensions/universes?

Unless you’ve spent the last ten years living under a rock or in an alternative dimension (in which case, congrats for finding your way here), you’ll have heard of Schrodinger’s Cat, a famous thought experiment devised by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger in 1935.

A cat sits in a box alongside a vial of poisonous gas and a radioactive element that decays (emits radiation) randomly. If the element decays, the vial of gas breaks, killing the cat. The radiation emitted by the element exists in what is called a superposition, which essentially means that it subsists in a state of being both ‘decayed’ and ‘not decayed’ at the same time, until the lid of the box is opened and the outcome is observed – collapsing the superposition and resulting in the observation of either a cat that is alive, or dead.

A hypothesis was soon suggested that perhaps two different universes are created when the superposition collapses; one in which the cat is dead (radiation emitted), and one in which the cat is alive (no radiation emitted). Considering the number of observations we make that could have multiple outcomes, this suggests that millions, if not billions, of universes are created every second.

Taking this further, we can apply this concept to decision making.

The ‘daughter universe’ theory says that if you follow the laws of probability, every outcome that could come from one of your decisions, would each create its own range of universes — each of which saw one outcome come to fruition.

For example, if you had the option to wear two different sets of clothes this morning, one universe is created for either choice. Then, for each of these universes, more and more would be created stemming from each parent universe. In one universe, you chose the sequined dress over a shirt and jeans, thus creating two universes. In this universe you might be subject to further decision-making. For instance, having chicken or a burger for lunch, and so on and so forth. Eventually this would create a quite simply unimaginable number of universes.

It is on these notions that we are lead to the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and the beginnings of the multiverse theory, where any and all possibilities can occur simultaneously in different universes. Each dimension is different from our own, some quite subtly, others dramatically.

The point is that any and all eventual possibilities exist in one way or another.

If you are still interested in the possibilities of multiple dimensions and universes, lots of material has been written on the subject – far too much to be discussed in a short article.

So maybe we exist on one page of a whole endless library of universes, stacked end to end and on top of one another, and all we need to do is find a way to turn to the next page. Though, do we want to face the Demogorgon?

Who Were The Neanderthals?

Christopher Butler

The Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) was humans’ closest relative. We are so incredibly similar that scientists have considered grouping modern humans and Neanderthals together under one subspecies– I challenge you to distinguish between a Siberian and a Bengal tiger, which is an equivalent relationship. No doubt we too looked and acted very similar to a Neanderthal. Recent evidence points towards their ability to utilise fire, build tools and perhaps most impressively – bury their dead. It seems only a shame that Neanderthals are now extinct.

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Sub-Species: The Bengal tiger (1) and the Siberian tiger (2) are an example of a subspecies. So may be Homo sapiens (3) and Homo neanderthalensis (4).

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Image Credit: Pexabay, Wikimedia commons

It is believed that the last resting place of H. neanderthalensis was on the island of Gibraltar, where they feasibly became extinct as recently as 28,000 years ago. Their decline coincides with a time in which humans were migrating out of Africa. Many scientists conclude that our ancestors simply outcompeted our close relatives. But what attributes did H.sapiens possess which Neanderthals lacked during this evolutionary arms race? Professor Chris Stringer; who works for the Natural History Museum London, believes he has found the answer. Analysis of skull properties has indicated how Neanderthals have larger eye sockets, which presumably allowed them to see during our gloomy European winters. Conversely H. sapiens; which originate in sunny Africa, could afford to have significantly smaller eye sockets. Stringer argues how this anatomical set up may have allowed H. sapiens to develop large frontal lobes; areas of the brain associated with “high level processing”. This allowed our ancestors to develop complex speech patterns giving them the ability to organise themselves into efficient social groups. Essentially, Stringer believes that H.sapiens were able to out-think and therefore out-compete the Neanderthals. Underlying Stringers’ theory is a more universal message: working together is usually a more successful strategy than working alone.

Events in human history which occurred earlier than the Neanderthal Extinction (~28,000 years ago):
  • The invention of the flute.
  • The invention of a bow and arrow, replacing spears as a method of hunting food.
  • The domestication of dogs
  • Cremation acts during rituals
  • H. sapiens had migrated out of Africa and had already settled in far reaching locations; such as Sydney, Australia.

It’s important to note that we did not evolve from Neanderthals, but we both evolved from a common ancestor. Whilst Neanderthals may be extinct now, for many years they coexisted with our ancestors. This period of time lead to genomic introgression: essentially genetic material from Neanderthals was transferred to H. sapiens and visa versa through sex. As a result, the current global human population carries approximately a fifth of the Neanderthal genome, which makes up around 1-3% of our genome. What genes are Neanderthal in origin but currently reside in modern humans? And are these genes considered a hindrance or an advantage when considering our modern way of life?

  1. Straight hair. Genetic analysis has revealed that the mutation which allows keratin to form straight, thick hair is Neanderthal in origin. This makes sense – as modern humans migrated out of Africa we needed to adapt to colder environments. Straight hair is typically oilier and therefore more insulating.
  2. Freckles. The gene BNC2 is Neanderthal in origin and causes its owner to develop freckles and paler skin. Fair skin is of benefit of populations where light levels are limiting as it allows more efficient production of vitamin D.
  3. Red hair. The gene which causes ginger hair is Neanderthal in origin.
  4. Blood clotting. A gene variant that speeds up the process of blood clotting is considered Neanderthal in origin. Whilst this trait is largely adaptive in preventing infections, it does have further complications amongst modern humans such as increasing stroke vulnerability.

There have been lots of other human traits which have been proposed as Neanderthal in their origin. Some of the more bizarre include vulnerability to depression and nicotine addiction. These findings always bring about great excitement amongst the scientific community and the general public alike. There is something curious about studying our closest set of ancestors. This is only heightened in the case of the Neanderthal because they have long been extinct, living on in our own DNA.

The Element of Surprise: Things You Didn’t Know About The Periodic Table

Dan Chesman

If you were to walk into any school science laboratory and not see a periodic table on the wall, I would eat my own underwear. This seemingly unordered array of squares in a sort-of-but-not-really-rectangular shape takes its mammoth foot and stamps on your tiny ant of an Excel spreadsheet. It’s probably the most concise bit of database compiling you’ll ever see. Some would say that it’s art.

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Almost as good as the periodic table.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Though many laid the foundations, it is Dmitri Mendeleev’s first incarnation of the periodic table that gets all the credit. According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, his arrangement of the properties of elements correlated almost perfectly with the atomic weight of the known elements at the time. He noticed there were gaps, and went on to predict the properties of the elements that filled these gaps. By 1886, scandium, gallium and germanium had all been discovered based on Mendeleev’s predictions, and his method forms the basis of the modern periodic table. What a hero.

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This story’s bearded hero, Dmitri Mendeleev

Image Credit: The Telegraph

But what about these elements? Chemistry is weird and wonderful (and also really irritating – ask any PhD student how their lab work went this week!) and the elements form the basis of all the funky little molecules that do all the cool stuff we love.

By far, the best and most versatile group of elements are the transition metals. These are the three rows sat in the centre of the periodic table, with scandium at the top right and mercury at bottom left, among a few additional ones in a fourth row. These elements are responsible for much of the colour we see in the laboratory, and their compounds do a whole host of important things: from catalysing the manufacture of cling-film (titanium compounds) to curing cancer (cisplatin, a platinum compound with two NH3 and two chlorine (Cl) groups arranged around a central platinum atom).

Did you know that sodium (Na) in your table salt (sodium chloride) will catch fire if you put a chunk of the pure metal in water? Move one element down, and potassium will explode. Move to the second bottom row, and a few grams of caesium might demolish your house. These elements, the alkali metals – named because their reaction with water forms an alkaline solution – ignite on reaction with water because they have one very loosely bound electron which they will do anything to get rid of. As you move down the group, the elements hold on to their electron more loosely and will throw it at whatever will take it with ever more ferocity.

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Colours in transition metal compounds

Image Credit: chemguide.co.uk

In stark contrast, one left of the top right of the periodic table, is fluorine. This is one short of a full shell of 8 electrons and if caesium were to throw its electron toward it, fluorine would probably rugby tackle it to the ground. Fluorine is massively reactive for precisely the opposite reason to caesium. It will do anything to steal an electron.  Get even a whiff of this stuff, and you’ll be on the floor in a heap.

What about the other elements? Did you know that humanity has created its own elements? The first was technetium, which can be found in any hospital, where it is used as an imaging agent. Others include flerovium and livermorium, as well as the new kids on the block: nihonium, moscovium, tennessine and oganesson. These last four were named as recently as June 2016!

Some of the more exotic and rare elements lie on the bottom two rows of the periodic table. These are known as the lanthanides and actinides, or the f-block elements. These do all kinds of cool things. Many of them are man-made, and some named in honour of famous scientists (einsteinium, fermium, nobelium…). The top row – the lanthanides – are used in many fields from medical imaging to lighting your TV. Gadolinium is used to enhance the contrast of MRI scans, making it possible to diagnose diseases such as cancer and brain tumours. Europium is found in old TVs to give a red colour, and americium (an actinide, the bottom row) is a key component in your smoke alarm.

What’s the best element though? They’re all in with a shout really, but purely for being the real element of surprise, the award goes to mercury.  It’s one of the most toxic things you can come across, and it has baffled scientists for years. It’s a liquid, one of only two in the periodic table, and a heavy metal. Based on its position, it should not be a liquid, and it’s only recently that scientists have come up with a plausible hypothesis as to why this is the case – relativity. Yet again, Einstein has the answer.

What Do Bees Do For Us?

Jack Maxfield

There are three main different types of bee: honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees. Honeybees live in large colonies of up to 60,000 workers, they tend to make their nests in the cavities of trees and buildings. They have been domesticated by man and, obviously, make honey! Bumblebees, like honeybees, are also social bees, living in smaller colonies of between 40 and 400 workers. Bumblebees sometimes nest in buildings and trees but also nest underground. Solitary bees live on their own, but do sometimes nest near to others. They, too, make nests in trees, buildings and underground. Whilst honeybees are a single species, there are many species of bumblebees and solitary bee.

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Image Credit: Pexels

All three types of bee are pollinators. In the UK, 70 crop types are dependent on, or benefit from bee pollination. Globally about a third of all the food we eat depends to some extent on pollination by animals, including bees. It’s estimated crop pollination by animals contributes $170bn to the global agricultural economy. While honeybees are used commercially to pollinate crops, wild bees are also important to crop pollination. Wild bees pollinating alongside honeybees increase the pollination efficiency fivefold. In Brazil there is an example of what can happen if the wild pollinator population drops too low, where passion fruit farming requires labour intensive hand pollination.

As well as food crops, bees are important pollinators for wild plants. There are over 250,000 species of flowering plants and trees. Over half of these rely on insects, mainly bees, to ensure pollination. This makes bees important for biodiversity in general. Managed honeybees aren’t as effective as pollinators as bumblebees and solitary bees (which are up to three times better), so it’s important that there is a diverse selection of wild bees, as well as managed hives.

The number of bee colonies had been in decline since 1945, from 400,000 managed hives to an estimated 275,000 managed hives currently, although the number of beekeepers is thought to have increased slightly in recent years due to the increased coverage of bees in the media. There are 250 wild British bee species, of these, half are either nationally scarce or are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In Britain in the last century 18 species of solitary bee and two species of bumblebee were lost. General wild bee diversity and distribution have also been in decline, especially amongst specialist bee species. So what’s killing bees?

The intensification of agriculture in the past 50 years has been one of the main causes for bee population decline. Changes in land use have caused the destruction and fragmentation of their natural habitat, e.g. 97% of flower rich meadows in England and Wales have been lost since the 1930s. The use of herbicides causes weeds and plants along the borders of crop fields to die, which are food and home sources for bees. Flood irrigation also causes the drowning of species which nest underground. Honeybee hives have also recently suffered from Colony Collapse Disorder. This is where most of the worker bees leave the colony, causing the remaining colony to die. The causes of this mysterious phenomena are yet unknown, though it’s been linked to mites and pesticide use.

Bees do a lot for us, both for food and for general wildlife, so we should care about their decline and try to prevent it.

The Autumnal Rainbow: Why Do Leaves Go Different Colours?

Aleksandra Nikoniuk

It’s here again; the most colourful season of the year. While walking down the street you might wonder why green leaves, which surround us in the summer, suddenly change their colours. Why do they go through all the hassle of displaying such a variety of shades and tones when it seems much easier to just turn brown and fall off the tree straight away?

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Image Credit: Pexels

The answer is in the pigments that can be found in a leaf. You’ve probably heard of chlorophyll, a pigment present in all green plants, which is responsible for the production of energy. It absorbs solar rays and turns them into sugars, which allow plants to grow.

Large quantities of chlorophyll are present in many chloroplasts across a plant, which causes their green colour. However, there are other pigments as well, such as carotenoids. During spring and summer, the amount of chlorophyll is so great that it masks the effect of other pigments. When chlorophyll is not being replenished anymore, the amazing shades of yellow and orange are revealed.

Let me explain how it all works in a bit more detail:

During energy production chlorophyll is broken down. However, the veins of the leaf (which you can easily spot on its surface) provide essential nutrients for the chlorophyll to be synthesized. So during spring and summer when days are long and nutrients are readily available, chlorophyll production can continue.

As the days get shorter and nutrients more scarce those veins are closed off and as a result chlorophyll can’t be replenished anymore. This is when different coloration by other pigments in plant cells becomes visible.

Carotenoids are the second largest group of pigments (after chlorophyll) and are responsible for the yellow and orange colour of the leaves in autumn. You can also see them all year around in fruits and vegetables such as carrots or bananas.

The red colours of the autumnal leaves are caused by another kind of pigment called anthocyanins. Contrary to carotenoids they are not always present in the leaves and are produced only at a specific time of the year. The production of anthocyanins begins when the important nutrients such as phosphate, responsible for the breakdown of sugars produced by chlorophyll, stop reaching the leaves and concentrate in the stem of the plant instead.

That change in the sugar breakdown process triggers the production of anthocyanins. Interestingly, the weather influences the intensity of the pigment produced. The synthesis of red pigments begins in late summer and sunny weather during that period of time increases the intensity of the colour. Additionally, cool and bright autumn, with little rain and no frost greatly enhances the shades of anthocyanins.

Anthocyanins are synthesized in addition to existing pigments, so what could their function be? It has been suggested that the change of leaf colour could be a form of protection against parasites. There’s some evidence that the red colour of anthocyanins can scare off potential parasites, who would use that tree as a host, as it signals the presence of a toxic substance on that tree.

Unfortunately, we can only enjoy beautiful autumnal colours for a few weeks. Since the production of chlorophyll slowly ceases, an extra layer forms on the surface of the leaves and gradually limits the flow of nutrients.

By late autumn this prevents anything from being transported and a leaf falls off. So let’s enjoy the autumnal landscape while we still can.

Chocolate Crisis!

James Vines

According to a headline in the Daily Mail earlier this year, “THE WORLD IS RUNNING OUT OF CHOCOLATE”. To me that sounds pretty worrying – I wouldn’t want to see a world without chocolate. But what is it we’re running out of? Why is it so important? And what solutions are there?

Seattle: Theo Chocolate Factory Tour

Image Credit: Flickr

What Is It We’re Running Out Of?

If you ever took a visit to Cadbury World in Bournville when you were younger, you’ll probably remember being shocked at the fact chocolate is made from beans. Beans grow on trees, fruit also grows on trees, fruit is healthy, so chocolate must be healthy too, right? That has always been my justification as to why chocolate must be good for you.

The actual process of turning cocoa beans into chocolate was lost on me when I was younger, however it turns out beans are pretty important when it comes to making that chocolatey goodness. It’s these beans that we’re running out of.

Cocoa beans are grown year round in countries like the Ivory Coast, before they can be harvested. The beans are split in two and harvested for their pods and pulp, which are then fermented in barrels for up to 7 days. Fermentation allows the chocolate flavour to develop and is a key part of getting that signature rich taste.

Following fermentation, the beans are dried, bagged, and sent to the chocolate factory to be roasted. The time and temperature of roasting is often kept secret, and is unique to each chocolate maker. Once roasted, the beans have their crispy shells removed before being ground. Grinding turns the beans into a pure form of chocolate which contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Some manufactures will remove the cocoa butter and replace it with cheaper vegetable fats. This is because cocoa butter is used in greater quantities in more premium chocolate bars to give a smoother texture and glossier appearance.

Further refining then occurs in a conching machine; this is also where the milk powder, sugar and other flavours are added. Deciding how long to conch for has the biggest impact upon the chocolates taste and texture –  it will vary depending on the maker’s skill and preference. The final step is to temper the chocolate, giving it that distinctive ‘snap.’

The whole process of chocolate production is thus, unfortunately, reliant on cocoa beans.

Why Beans?

You might be wondering if we can ‘fake’ chocolate, that is, make it without the beans. Well, making fake chocolate is harder than it sounds. The taste of chocolate combines over 400 different flavour compounds, and getting the right balance of all of these is pretty hard to replicate.  Also, without cocoa butter from the beans chocolate loses its “melt in the mouth” property. As we’ve seen, cocoa butter can be replaced with vegetable fats, but this technique often leads to a lower quality form of chocolate and is tightly controlled by EU regulations – take out too much cocoa butter and your chocolate is no longer allowed to be classed as chocolate. You are allowed to take out the cocoa solids however; this makes white chocolate!

Who Says We’re Running Out? Just Grow Some More!

I bet you didn’t know that the International Cocoa Organisation based in London is responsible for monitoring the world’s cocoa needs. They take the business of cocoa beans very seriously. Their job is to keep a constant track of the availability and price of cocoa beans throughout the year.

As of the end of trading on October 12th this year they put the price of cocoa at $2651.01 per tonne! The price of cocoa is affected by estimates of production and by weather conditions in the cocoa mega-producing countries like Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon, which collectively produce over 1.5million tonnes of cocoa every year. That’s nothing though compared to the Ivory Coast which, alone, is responsible for the production of over 1.6million tonnes of cocoa a year. It is only these tropical countries that are capable of cultivating the cocoa plant, and getting them to produce more is not always easy.

That sounds like a lot of cocoa, so where is it all going? Well, the EU is the world’s biggest importer of cocoa, taking in 53.24% of all cocoa imports. The International Cocoa Organisation published their latest quarterly bulletin in May 2016. Their forecast predicts that by the end of this ‘cocoa year’, the total world production of cocoa beans will be 4,039,000 tonnes of beans. However, consumption will be at 4,179,000 thousand beans; that leaves a deficit of 180,000 tonnes of beans in just one year! Luckily for us, the clever cocoa people know we have 1,432,000 tonnes of beans sitting in storage somewhere. In other words, we still have quite a few beans in our bank account, which is a good job too, as I don’t know of any banks that lend out cocoa beans.

So while it’s true that we are consuming more cocoa beans than we are making, we’ve built up a nice reserve of beans. This means that headlines such as ‘THE WORLD IS RUNNING OUT OF CHOCOLATE’ shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Your favourite chocolates will still be hitting the shelves for some time yet.