WTF Fun Fact 13396 – Bill Haast

Bill Haast, a renowned snake handler and scientist, led an extraordinary life dedicated to studying and working with poisonous snakes. He became famous for his fearless approach and was bitten by venomous snakes over 170 times. Despite the risks, Haast’s passion for snakes and their venom led to significant contributions in the field of snakebite treatment and research.

Who is Bill Haast?

Born on December 30, 1910, in Paterson, New Jersey, Haast developed an early fascination with snakes. His first significant snakebite occurred at age 12. A timber rattlesnake bit him while at a Boy Scout camp. This experience ignited his curiosity and passion for these reptiles. Haast’s snake-handling journey began when he joined a roadside snake show in the late 1920s. He later went on to work as a flight engineer with Pan American World Airways, which allowed him to travel the world and collect various snake species.

In 1947, Haast fulfilled his dream of opening the Miami Serpentarium. This serpentarium quickly gained popularity, attracting thousands of tourists each year. Inside, Haast would demonstrate his expertise by milking venom from snakes. This venom was used for research purposes but also for the production of antivenom to treat snakebite victims.


Haast’s unique approach to handling snakes involved injecting himself daily with small amounts of venom from various snake species. This self-immunization process aimed to build up his immunity and protect him from the potentially lethal effects of snakebites. While he suspected that these injections contributed to his remarkably good health, Haast refrained from making definitive claims until he reached the age of 100.

Throughout his career, Haast made significant contributions to the field of snakebite treatment. Alongside a Miami doctor, he treated over 6,000 individuals with a snake-venom serum that showed promise in addressing conditions like multiple sclerosis and arthritis. The effectiveness of the serum gained attention after a 1979 report on CBS News’ “60 Minutes.” However, the Food and Drug Administration later banned the product due to manufacturing deficiencies identified in Haast’s process. Nevertheless, researchers continue to explore the potential of venom-derived drugs for treating various diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Haast’s dedication to helping others extended beyond his work at the serpentarium. He traveled around the world to donate his antibody-rich blood to snakebite victims, even receiving honorary citizenship in Venezuela for his efforts. In a remarkable turn of events, the White House once facilitated the delivery of a rare serum from Iran to treat Haast himself after he was bitten by a Pakistani pit viper.

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WTF Fun Fact 13392 – The Scott Kelly Gorilla Suit Prank

We know, we know. You’ve seen the viral posts about Mark Kelly smuggling a gorilla suit onto the International Space Station (ISS). But it turns out the hilarious moment is actually the Scott Kelly gorilla suit prank. Scott is Mark’s twin brother, and they are both astronauts.

Now, if you haven’t heard about this prank, you’re probably very confused right now.

The Scott Kelly gorilla suit prank

In 2016, former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly secretly brought a gorilla suit with him on the mission, keeping it hidden from his fellow crew members. It wasn’t until one day that he decided to surprise his unsuspecting colleague.

Scott Kelly, known for his adventurous spirit and sense of humor, had a playful idea in mind. He understood the importance of camaraderie and lighthearted moments to boost morale in the isolated and demanding environment of space.

After smuggling the gorilla suit onboard, Kelly patiently waited for the perfect moment to execute his prank. He knew that the confined quarters of the ISS would amplify the surprise and make the prank memorable.

Finally, the day arrived when Kelly decided to put his plan into action. He donned the gorilla suit and approached his unsuspecting crew member, who was engrossed in his tasks.

Gorillas in space

Kelly lunged towards his crewmate, letting out a playful roar. The crew member, startled by the sudden appearance of a gorilla in space, jumped in surprise, and his shock quickly turned into laughter.

The crew burst into laughter, with Kelly’s prank providing a much-needed moment of levity. The sight of an astronaut in a gorilla suit floating weightlessly through the spacecraft was undoubtedly unforgettable.

The story of Scott Kelly’s gorilla suit prank spread, capturing the amusement of people on Earth. It showcased the lighter side of life aboard the ISS and reminded us that even in the vastness of space, humor and human connections are vital for well-being.

Of course, the presence of the gorilla suit on the ISS was unauthorized. NASA does not allow astronauts to bring personal items on missions. However, in this case, the harmless nature of the prank and the positive impact it had on the crew’s morale overshadowed any reprimand that Kelly may have received.

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Source: “Fact Check: Did an Astronaut Smuggle a Gorilla Suit Onto the International Space Station?” — Newsweek

WTF Fun Fact 13391 – Giant Penguin Hoax

In 1948, the quiet shores of Clearwater Beach, Florida, were the site of a giant penguin hoax that would continue for a decade and not be explained for another 40 years.

Florida’s giant penguin hoax

Mysterious tracks resembling giant three-toed footprints emerged from the sea, leaving people astounded and intrigued. These footprints, approximately 35 centimeters long and 28 centimeters wide, stretched along the beach for miles, suggesting the presence of a colossal creature.

Word of the strange tracks quickly spread, and eyewitness accounts of unusual creatures started to surface. For example, students at the Dunedin Flying School claimed to have spotted a creature resembling a furry log with a boar’s head swimming in the water. A couple walking along the beach recounted a sighting of a towering creature waddling near the water before vanishing into the sea. The news of these encounters only deepened the mystery.

Monster hunting

The local police were compelled to investigate the footprints. British biologist Ivan Terence Sanderson, known for his ventures into pseudoscience, also took an interest in the case. Sanderson conducted his own investigations. He meticulously studied the tracks that continued to appear over the next decade. Sanderson proposed that a massive, 15-foot-tall penguin might be responsible for the enigmatic footprints.

The case for a giant penguin

Sanderson noted that the tracks consistently followed gentle slopes, even if it meant meandering along the way. Moreover, they skillfully avoided any obstacles, no matter how small, such as bushes or debris. These traits, according to Sanderson, were characteristic of typical animal behavior. He found it implausible that the tracks could be the result of a hoax, given the level of detail and precision involved in their creation.

The idea of an undiscovered giant penguin roaming the beach without anyone noticing seemed more plausible to him.

Uncovering the truth

Fast forward to 1988. That’s when the truth behind the peculiar footprints was finally revealed. A local man named Tony Signorini stepped forward and confessed to the prank.

Signorini and his friend, Al Williams, were inspired by a National Geographic photo of dinosaur footprints. Motivated by a mischievous spirit, they decided to embark on a decade-long hoax. They constructed enormous three-toed metal feet, which they attached to tennis shoes. Their plan involved taking a small rowboat out to sea, with one of them wearing the 14-kilogram (30-pound) shoes and walking up the beach. Later, they would rendezvous with the boat further along the coast.

To create the illusion of a large stride, Signorini would stand on one leg and swing the other, building momentum for a jump. The pair often had their friend report the footprints the following day to ensure their efforts wouldn’t go unnoticed. They meticulously orchestrated a prank that fooled the public and even experts for an astonishing four decades.

After Signorini’s passing in 2013, his family made sure that his obituary commemorated his role as “The Clearwater Monster.”

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Source: “The Giant Penguin Hoax That Fooled Florida For 10 Whole Years” — IFL Science

WTF Fun Fact 13363 – The Oldest Musical Instrument

Deep within the recesses of a German cave, researchers came across a remarkable artifact in 2008—the world’s oldest musical instrument. It was a flute made from a vulture’s wing bone. This extraordinary find dated back approximately 40,000 years.

Discovering the world’s oldest musical instrument

In 2008, archaeologists exploring the Hohle Fels cave in southwestern Germany unearthed a treasure that would rewrite the history of music. During their search, they stumbled upon the remnants of a bone flute. After the researchers carefully reconstructed it, they revealed the astonishing craftsmanship of our ancient ancestors.

They’ve also traced the flute’s origin back to the Upper Paleolithic period, during a time when early humans roamed the Earth. Radiocarbon dating placed the age of the flute at approximately 40,000 years old. This makes it the oldest known musical instrument ever found. It even predates the development of agriculture and the invention of writing! That really says something about the importance of music in our lives.

The flute’s construction

The flute, made from the hollow wing bone of a griffon vulture, exhibits remarkable craftsmanship. Moreover, the flute’s smooth surface bears the unmistakable signs of intricate carving and polishing, serving as a testament to the skill and dedication of its ancient artisan. The creator carefully fashioned the bone with several holes, allowing for the modulation of sound by covering and uncovering them.

Experts have analyzed the flute’s acoustics and confirmed that it possesses the ability to produce musical tones. And they say the presence of carefully placed finger holes indicates that our ancient ancestors possessed a fundamental understanding of sound. Not only that, but they were capable of manipulating it to create melodies. This information provides some fascinating insight into the human capacity for artistic expression.

Rewriting history with music

The discovery of the world’s oldest flute not only expands our knowledge of human history but also highlights the enduring impact of music on our lives. This serves as a reminder that music has always held a special place in the human experience, bringing joy, solace, and a means of creative expression across civilizations and ages.

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Source: “35,000-year-old flute is oldest known musical instrument” — LA Times

WTF Fun Fact 13346 – Mom Wins Lottery

In a heartwarming turn of events, a Florida mom wins the lottery just days after spending the last of her life savings. Geraldine Gimblet from Lakeland, Florida, won a $2 million top prize from a scratch-off lottery ticket just one day after paying for her daughter’s final cancer treatment.

Geraldine purchased the winning ticket at Pipkin Road Beverage Castle. Initially, the gas station clerk thought there were no tickets left, but Geraldine insisted on a double check, as she preferred the crossword games. Fortunately, the last ticket turned out to be a winner.

Mom wins lottery with perfect timing

The timing of Geraldine’s win was especially significant as it coincided with a major milestone in her daughter’s life. Her daughter had been battling breast cancer, and the day before Geraldine bought the winning ticket, her daughter completed her final cancer treatment. The news of her mother’s lottery win brought immense joy to her daughter, who expressed gratitude for her mother’s support and sacrifices during her illness.

Geraldine chose to receive her prize as a one-time, lump-sum payment of $1,645,000.00. The crossword game that she won featured eight top prizes of $2 million and 20 second-tier prizes of $100,000.

According to Florida Lottery Communications:

“The $10 game, $2,000,000 BONUS CASHWORD, launched in May 2022 and features eight top prizes of $2 million and 20 second tier prizes of $100,000! The game’s overall odds of winning are 1-in-3.12. Scratch-Off games are an important part of the Lottery’s portfolio of games, comprising approximately 77 percent of ticket sales in fiscal year 2021-2022. Since inception, Scratch-Off games have generated more than $17.69 billion for the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund (EETF).”

The Pipkin Road Beverage Castle, where Geraldine bought the winning ticket, will also receive a bonus commission of $2,000 for selling the lucky ticket.

This heartwarming story serves as a reminder of the unpredictability of life’s fortunes and the power of hope and perseverance in the face of challenges. It represents a moment of celebration and relief for Geraldine and her family, marking a new chapter of positivity and possibilities after their battle with cancer.

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Source: “Florida mom wins $2M lottery prize a day after her daughter has her last cancer treatment” — CBS News

WTF Fun Fact 13341 – Parrot Video Calls

Parrots are social animals. That’s why they don’t always make the best solo pets. However, recently, researchers have given pet parrots a new way to thrive after teaching the birds to use technology to make parrot video calls.

Parrot playtime with video calls

Researchers from Northwestern University, MIT, and the University of Glasgow conducted the study. With the help of some parrot parents, the team successfully trained parrots to communicate with each other.

Over several months, participants taught captive African grey parrots to use a custom-built video-calling system. First, researchers trained the birds to use touchscreens mounted inside their enclosures with easy-to-understand symbols and icons representing different contacts. The researchers rewarded their interactions with food treats. As the birds grew more comfortable with the devices, they were gradually introduced to video calls, first with their handlers and later with other parrots.

Parrots embrace technology

The African grey parrots demonstrated a remarkable ability to learn and adapt to the use of the video-calling system. Not only were they able to initiate calls, but they also showed preferences for specific contacts, indicating that they understood the purpose of the technology and were actively seeking social interaction through the calls.

The study found that the parrots were more likely to engage in video calls when they were alone in their enclosures. This suggests that the video-calling system provided social stimulation and companionship, especially in the absence of human interaction. The introduction of video-calling technology in captive settings could potentially improve the quality of life for these intelligent and social animals.

So, it turns out parrots like to video chat with one another just like humans do, and that it makes them feel less lonely. Many birds in the study stayed on the calls for the maximum allotted time and still choose to call their buddies from the research study over a year later.

According to Northwestern University:

“The most popular parrots were also the ones who initiated the most calls, suggesting a reciprocal dynamic similar to human socialization. And while, in large part, the birds seemed to enjoy the activity itself, the human participants played a big part in that. Some parrots relished the extra attention they were getting from their humans, while others formed attachments for the humans on the other side of the screen.”

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Source: “Scientists Taught Pet Parrots to Video Call Each Other—and the Birds Loved It” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13323 – Helicopter Tree Trimming

Helicopter tree trimming involves the use of a helicopter equipped with a circular saw to trim tree branches. Skilled pilots and experienced arborists execute the carefully planned process of helicopter tree trimming, which can be dangerous and risky.

The wild world of helicopter tree trimming

The use of helicopters for tree trimming has become increasingly popular in recent years due to its efficiency and effectiveness. And it’s not just for giant trees. In fact, traditional methods of tree trimming, such as using cherry pickers or bucket trucks, can sometimes be too time-consuming or require crews to shut down roads and neighborhoods. With helicopter tree trimming, a team of arborists can trim several trees in a single day while minimizing disruption to the community.

Still sounds dangerous, right?

How does this process work?

Before the trimming process begins, arborists carefully examine trees and render a thorough assessment of the surrounding environment. The team obviously needs to take into consideration any obstacles or hazards, such as power lines or buildings (or people!) in the area.

Arborists identify the trees to be trimmed, then the helicopter takes off, and the pilot hovers over the target tree. An arborist then lowers from the helicopter on a line carrying a chainsaw or the pilot lowers a specially designed trimming saw to get the job done. These saws are equipped with a circular blade that can quickly and cleanly cut through thick branches.

Obviously, the arborists are highly skilled and experienced in using the saw. They need to be able to make precise cuts, avoid hitting power lines, and make sure there are no unfortunate accidents. They also need to be able to move quickly move from one branch to another as the helicopter hovers and maneuvers around the tree.

Helicopter tree trimming allows arborists to trim trees in areas that are otherwise difficult or impossible to reach. This includes steep slopes, remote areas, and densely forested regions.

It should come as no surprise that this is a risky business. The arborists work at great heights and in challenging weather conditions. They must be constantly aware of the rotor blades and other potential hazards. But with proper safety protocols in place, it is a safe and effective technique.

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Source: “Aerial Saw Is Boon to Line Trimming” — T&D World

WTF Fun Fact 13308 – Smart Slime

Have you ever heard of “smart slime”?

Physarum polycephalum is a type of slime mold. Fun, right? Well, it’s actually found in many natural areas around the world. If you run across it, throw it a puzzle!

This mold is capable of solving complex mazes and other spatial problems without a brain or nervous system. Ok, not a boxed puzzle.

Despite lacking a brain, this organism has navigated mazes and established efficient routes between food sources. Scientists still don’t know what to think.

How does “smart slime” work?

So how does Physarum polycephalum do it? According to some researchers, the key lies in the way that this slime mold processes and responds to information.

Humans and other animals rely on centralized nervous systems to process and interpret information from the environment. But slime molds are decentralized and they exhibit a more distributed form of intelligence.

One striking example of this distributed intelligence can be seen in the way that slime molds navigate mazes. When placed in a maze with multiple food sources, slime molds are able to explore and test different paths! They gradually identify the most efficient routes between the food sources. This ability has been attributed to the slime mold’s ability to sense and respond to different environmental cues. In other words, they can sense the presence of food, humidity, and light. But it’s a whole extra step to use that information to solve problems!

Some researchers have suggested that the slime mold’s ability to solve spatial problems may be related to its ability to process information in a way that is fundamentally different from known forms of intelligence. For example, one study found that Physarum polycephalum is capable of solving the “shortest path problem.” This involves finding the shortest route between two points in a network.

Humans typically solve this problem by analyzing and comparing different routes. But slime mold is able to accomplish the same task by physically growing and adapting to the network itself. Say what?!

Nature loves a puzzle

Despite its remarkable abilities, Physarum polycephalum is still a subject of ongoing research and debate among scientists. Some researchers believe that the slime mold’s distributed intelligence may hold the key to developing new forms of artificial intelligence. Other people are understandably freaked out by that.

Many scientists are focused on understanding the fundamental biological mechanisms underlying its behavior before they go trying to turn it into a monster.

One thing is clear: the slime mold’s abilities are truly remarkable. As we continue to study and learn from this fascinating organism, we may even discover new insights into the nature of intelligence, adaptation, and evolution itself.

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Source: “This Weirdly Smart, Creeping Slime Is Redefining How We Understand Intelligence” — ScienceAlert

WTF Fun Fact 13307 – Project Pigeon

During World War II, the United States government developed a program to train pigeons to guide missiles to their targets. This program was known as Project Pigeon or Project Orcon. It was developed by psychologist B.F. Skinner and was intended to provide an alternative to radio-controlled guidance systems, which were vulnerable to jamming and interference.

Using animals in technology

The idea behind Project Pigeon was simple: Skinner would train pigeons to peck at a target on a screen, and their pecking guided a missile to its target. To prove this, Skinner trained the pigeons to associate the target with food and were able to peck accurately and consistently, even under stressful conditions.

The military ultimately discontinued the program in favor of other guidance systems. But the concept of using animals to guide technology has continued to be a topic of interest and research in modern times. Today, researchers are exploring the use of trained animals such as dogs, rats, and even bees to detect and respond to various stimuli, including explosives, drugs, and diseases.

What was Project Pigeon?

During World War II, the United States government needed to develop an effective guidance system for missiles and other weapons. Radio-controlled systems had proved vulnerable to jamming and interference, and researchers were eager to explore alternative approaches.

Psychologist BF Skinner believed that he could train animals to guide missiles to their targets. His idea was based on the principle of operant conditioning, which he had developed through his work with laboratory animals.

The basic idea behind Skinner’s approach was to train pigeons to associate a target on a screen with the release of food. He then placed the pigeons in the nose of a missile, where they would peck at the target on the screen. This would send signals to the missile’s guidance system and steer it toward its target.

Skinner’s idea eventually received support from the military. The military developed it into a program known as Project Pigeon or Project Orcon. They trained of hundreds of pigeons, housing them in special compartments in the nose of the missile.

While the program never saw actual use in combat, it did succeed in demonstrating the potential of animal-guided technology.

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Source: “B.F. Skinner’s Pigeon-Guided Rocket” — Smithsonian Magazine