Lake Natron: African Body of Water Turns Birds, Animals to Stone

by at .  Updated at . Comments

East Africa's Lake Natron is so inhospitable to most wildlife that it will literally turn birds and other creatures to stone if they happen to fall into its waters.


The lake's steeply alkaline waters are a graveyard for thousands of small birds, as wildlife photographer Nick Brandt documented in a series of photographs.

Lake Natron is usually a toasty 80 degrees Fahrenheit and blood-red from bacteria, the only living things that can easily survive its deadly alkalinity.

Lately, it's earned a reputation for washing up the bodies of small animals on its shores, each well preserved and wrapped in a delicate crusty shroud.

"I unexpectedly found the creatures - all manner of birds and bats - washed up along the shoreline of Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania," Brandt said.

The photographer said he "took these creatures as I found them on the shoreline, and then placed them in 'living' positions, bringing them back to 'life.'"

The lake is full of thousands of well-preserved carcasses - it's so alkaline, creatures that die and fall in don't decompose and wither, they simply get pickled.

If a body falls anywhere else it decomposes very quickly, but on the edge of the lake, it just gets encrusted in salt and stays forever, biologists say.

Small birds or bats that try and fail to cross the 12- by 30-mile lake fall in, as do insects who don't make it across or realize what they're getting into.

Water levels fluctuate easily because it's so hot - when the levels drop, the corpses are left behind on the shores, coated in salt, exactly how Brandt found them.

How did the lake get this hostile? The "salt" in it isn't the regular table variety harvested from seawater, but magmatic limestone that's been forged deep in the Earth.

The culprit is Ol Doinyo Lengai, a million-year old volcano just south of Lake Natron. Continue reading about the natural phenomena in this NBC News article.

Tags: ,