Why are watermelons exploding in China?

Watermelons are bursting at the seams in farms throughout southeastern China, and no one is quite sure what's causing it. Is it chemicals? Freak weather conditions? Or maybe it's just time to prepare for a full-on attack of the watermelons.

So far, the exploding watermelons have been localized around Danyang City in China's Jiangsui province. So far, just under a fifth of a square mile's worth of watermelons have been lost due to this mysterious bursting. An investigative report by China Central Television suggested a growth accelerator chemical was responsible, but agricultural experts don't consider that likely - only one of the ten households affected by the bursting melons actually used the chemical, according to one report.

One possibility is that the farmers themselves were inexperienced. Last year saw a substantial boom in the watermelon market, which prompted many of the farmers to begin growing for the fruit for the first time. Watermelons need to be managed carefully to make sure they don't become overgrown, which can cause them to split open, sometimes rather violently. It doesn't help that these watermelons were reportedly of a particular thin-rind variety that tends to crack open more easily.

Another factor may be the weather - it's been unusually rainy in that part of China, which may have contributed to the bursting. And yes, it's possible that more people were using the accelerator forchlorfenuron that was initially reported. The chemical isn't considered particularly dangerous - it's used on kiwis and grapes back here in the United States - but does need to be used correctly.

So then, the mystery of the exploding watermelons is probably some combination of inexperienced farmers, heavy rain, a variety of melons that were particularly prone to bursting, and maybe the chemical forchlorfenuron - it does seem as though the one farmer who said he used the chemicals experienced an unusually high amount of bursting. But there's no clear explanation just yet, and no two news reports seem to agree on just what is going on with these melons.

That said, authorities around Danyang City should probably still be on the lookout for an impossibly washed-up comedian wandering the farmlands, grimly laughing to himself while he wields a melon-drenched sledgehammer. Just to be safe.

Via BBC News and Today Online. Image via Science Madness.