WTF Fun Fact 13292 – Earthquake Lights

Earthquakes can generate electromagnetic waves that are detectable by animals hours or even days before the actual event occurs. This phenomenon is known as the “earthquake lights” or “seismic lightning” and is still not fully understood by scientists.

The strange phenomenon of earthquake lights

Have you ever heard of “earthquake lights” or “seismic lightning”? This phenomenon has intrigued scientists for years. The lights appear to be the result of electromagnetic waves. Their faint glow appears to be detectable by animals (and certain forms of technology).

Regardless of its origin, this phenomenon has the potential to provide valuable insights into the physics of earthquakes.

According to National Geographic (cited below), “Earthquake lights can manifest themselves in different ways, from a faint, diffuse glow on the horizon to flame-like streamers emanating from the ground.” They can appear in a variety of colors, including white, blue, yellow, and red.

These lights have been observed in various forms, including:

  • luminous clouds
  • flashes of light
  • glowing balls of light that hover over the ground

Predicting earthquakes

Studies have shown that some animals, including dogs and horses, are able to sense the electromagnetic waves produced by earthquakes. As a result, they may exhibit unusual behavior before an earthquake strikes.

Similarly, some researchers believe that the lights themselves may be an early warning sign of an impending earthquake. Eventually, this could allow us to prepare and evacuate before the shaking begins.

These lights have been observed for centuries. But they remain poorly understood by scientists who are still working to determine how and why they are produced. Some suggest that they are the result of electrical charges building up in rocks and soils under stress. Others propose that they may be related to the release of gases from the Earth’s crust.

In 1965, residents of Matsushiro, Japan, witnessed a spectacular display of earthquake lights before a major earthquake struck the area. The lights appeared as bright, white flashes that seemed to be coming from the ground. The earthquake, which had a magnitude of 7.0, caused significant damage in the region.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Earthquake Lights – Explained” — National Geographic

WTF Fun Fact 13276 – Hallucigenia

If you’re a fan of bizarre creatures that once roamed the Earth, then Hallucigenia is probably right up your alley. This ancient invertebrate still confounds scientists today with its appearance and mysterious origins. The Hallucigenia lived during the Cambrian period. That’s about 515 to 500 million years ago.

What’s in a name?

We derive its name from its strange anatomy and shape. At the front of its body, it has a pair of tentacles. Next, its long, narrow body was covered in spines and spikes – likely for protection against predators rather than to simply make it look cool.

It also had seven pairs of legs, each with multiple spikes, and a pair of spiky protrusions on its head.

The Hallucigenia’s body ended in a pair of hooks, and it had a thin, flexible skin that may have been used for gliding or swimming. It’s definitely not something you’d want to hug.

With its long spines, claw-like appendages, and worm-like body, some have dubbed it a “nightmare creature.” Scientists are puzzled by this unique anatomy since the creature is not built like animals on Earth today.

Hallucigenia loco-motion

You might think because it has legs that it “walks.” But no, it moves in the creepiest way possible.

Instead of walking or crawling on the ground, the Hallucigenia used its long spines to travel across the sea floor. We call this type of locomotion “arm-leggedness,” and we see it in very few creatures today.

Scientists believe that the Hallucigenia was a simple, bottom-dwelling creature that likely lived in shallow seas. Its long, tubular body could have been an advantage to burrow into the sediment or to probe for food.

Researchers once thought it was a primitive crab, but it is not included in the group called Lobopodia since it’s more likely that it’s an early offshoot of a group of animals called Panarthropoda. This would make it an evolutionary “cousin” of modern-day arthropods such as spiders and insects.

Hallucingenia and the fossil record

The fossil record of Hallucigenia serves as a window into the Earth’s past. It provides a glimpse into how our planet’s ecosystems and organisms have evolved over millions of years. And as researchers continue to make new discoveries, it will be interesting to see how scientists piece together the puzzle of this strange creature and learn more about its story.

It might not be the cuddliest creature in history, but the Hallucingenia is no hallucination. It’s one of the planet’s fascinating mysteries born in a time when nothing like a human existed. The Cambrian period saw an explosion in the evolution of new types of creatures. And we know a lot about it because there were many hard-bodied creatures that got preserved in the fossil records (as opposed to being smashed into goo).

Humans would eventually evolve from the first vertebrates (creatures with a backbone) that emerged during this time. But that was going to take tens of millions more years.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “What is hallucigenia?” — BBC Science Focus

WTF Fun Fact 13275 – The Hyrax

The hyrax looks like a rodent. But, in fact, it’s actually more closely related to elephants, despite its small size and rodent-like appearance. This surprising relationship is due to similarities in their teeth and skull structures, as well as genetic evidence.

Fun facts about the hyrax

This is one odd little animal!

Hyraxes are also known as dassies or rock rabbits. These little creatures are furry mammals native to Africa and the Middle East. Hyraxes belong to the order Hyracoidea and are found in rocky habitats, such as mountains and cliffs.

There are four species of hyraxes: the rock hyrax, the bush hyrax, the yellow-spotted hyrax, and the tree hyrax. The rock hyrax is the most common and can be found in many parts of Africa.

Hyraxes are social animals that live in groups of up to 80. They communicate with each other through a series of grunts, whistles, and screams (so charming!).

They’re also territorial and mark their territory with unique specialized scent glands located on their feet. The cute little herbivores feed on a variety of vegetation, including leaves, shoots, and bark.

Hyraxes are also known for their excellent sense of hearing and sight. This helps them detect predators such as eagles, leopards, and snakes. When threatened, the animals really know how to make a racket. They will emit a loud, high-pitched scream to alert the rest of the group. (We’re getting increasingly grateful these don’t live in our backyard.)

Turning animals into oil?!

Hyrax oil, also known as rock rabbit oil or dassie oil, is a type of oil that is extracted from the fatty tissues of hyraxes. It has been used for a variety of purposes, including in traditional medicine, as a fuel source, and for cosmetic and perfume production.

Historically, this oil has been used in traditional medicine to treat various ailments, such as skin conditions, ear infections, and rheumatism. It has also been used as a lubricant and fuel source for lamps and candles.

In some cultures, hyrax oil has also been used in cosmetics and perfumes due to its distinctive musky odor. However, the use of their oil in modern cosmetic and perfume production is not common, and synthetic musk fragrances have largely replaced it.

Despite its historical use in traditional medicine and other industries, the harvesting of hyrax oil is considered illegal in many countries due to the endangered status of some hyrax species. As a result, it has largely fallen out of favor in modern times.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Hyrax” — Encyclopedia Britannica

WTF Fun Fact 13251 – Playing Possum

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “playing possum,” and perhaps you even know that opossums “play dead” when faced with a dangerous situation. But here’s an interesting animal fact: Did you know that, when threatened, opossums actually go into a comatose state that can last for several hours?

During this time, they appear to be dead, lying motionless with their eyes closed and tongues hanging out of their mouth. They also emit a foul-smelling fluid from their anus, which can deter some predators.

They aren’t just playing around!

(Oh, and Americans often use possum and opossum interchangeably even though “possums” are the Australian version of the marsupial.)

What’s the point of possums playing dead?

One theory is that playing dead (or playing possum) is an instinctual defense mechanism. This may have evolved to protect the tiny creatures from their larger predators who don’t really want a dead meal. Not many animals (that aren’t sick) want to eat dead creatures since decomposition can be hazardous to health.

In this case, the opossum’s best chance of survival would be to make themselves unpalatable to their attacker by appearing dead. The opossums that learned to play dead survived to reproduce and teach their young the trick, while those who tried to run had less chance of survival and reproduction.

Playing dead may also allow opossums to avoid confrontation (don’t try this at home). It may be the case that by lying motionless, they convince their potential attacker they’re not a threat worth pursuing.

Death is not a choice

It’s important to note that the possums that play dead do not actively choose to do so. This is an instinctual behavior that can automatically happen when they’re overwhelmed. In these situations, the opossum’s natural response is to go into a state of shock and “play dead” as a last resort to survive.

During this state, the opossum’s heart rate and breathing slow down, and it becomes unresponsive to external stimuli. The body also produces a foul-smelling liquid that makes it unappetizing to predators. The opossum may also release a small amount of fecal matter, adding to the illusion that it is dead.

The biological advantage

There are also biological advantages to looking dead. When a possum plays dead for any significant length of time, it’s conserving energy in addition to avoiding injury. By going into a comatose state, they may be able to reduce their metabolic rate and lower their body temperature, which can help them conserve energy.

This may be particularly important for opossums that live in harsh environments where resources are limited or predators are abundant. You need every ounce of energy you can get just to stay alive.

Do all possums engage in this behavior?

Interestingly, no. Not all opossums play dead.

While it is a common defense mechanism among opossums, some individuals retain the ability to flee or fight back when threatened.

The decision of which response to use is not a conscious one but is determined by a complex set of factors, such as the type of threat, the possum’s physical condition, and the environmental conditions.

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Source: “Why Do Opossums Play Dead?” — North American Nature

WTF Fun Fact 13224 – Full Moons in February

It’s possible to have no full moons in February. It doesn’t happen often, but February goes by without a full moon roughly every 19 years.

How can there be no full moons in February?

The lunar cycle starts with a new moon and ends with the next new moon.

The length of a lunar cycle is roughly 29.5 days. In a normal year, February has 28 days. This makes it shorter than the average length of a lunar cycle.

February does not have a full moon in a year when there are two full moons in January. This occurs approximately once every 19 years, as part of the Metonic cycle, which is a pattern of full and new moons repeating approximately every 19 years.

Recent years in which February did not have a full moon include 2018, 1999, 1980, 1961, and 1942.

What’s the significance of a full moon?

The gravitational pull of the moon and the sun causes the tides to rise and fall. The full moon has the strongest tidal effect because it is in direct line with the earth and the sun.

The full moon also provides brighter light at night. This can impact the behavior of nocturnal animals, such as owls and bats. It can also affect the migratory patterns of some species.

A full moon has the strongest effect on tides, and it is responsible for producing spring tides, which are the highest tides of the lunar cycle.

In some cultures, the full moon is used as a reference point for planting, harvesting, and other agricultural activities. And for many cultures and religions, the full moon has spiritual significance and is associated with rituals, ceremonies, and festivals.

In the future, February is expected not to have a full moon in 2037, 2056, 2075, and 2094.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Why no full moon in February 2018?” — EarthSky

WTF Fun Fact 13208 – A Flamboyance of Flamingos

A group of flamingos is called a flamboyance. It is also called a “colony” or a “stand,” but as you can imagine, flamboyance is far more popular.

How did it get named a flamboyance of flamingos?

The word “flamboyance” is derived from the French word “flamboyant,” which means “flaming” or “blazing.” It was originally used to describe the flamelike shapes found in the tracery of Gothic architecture, particularly in the late Middle Ages. The term was later used to describe a style of architecture characterized by elaborate and ornate decoration, as well as a flamelike appearance.

In the 19th century, the word began to be used to describe people and things that were showy, flashy, or ostentatious.

What makes flamingos so “fiery”?

Flamingos are social birds, and they tend to live in large groups (or colonies). Their bright pink or orange plumage is caused by pigments in the algae and crustaceans they eat.

The term “flamboyance” was first used to describe groups of flamingos in the 1930s, likely because of the birds’ striking coloration and the way they move in large, coordinated groups.

Their colonies can range in size from a few hundred to several thousand birds. Flamingos also establish a hierarchical social structure. Dominant birds are at the top and are typically larger and stronger. They get the best access to food and breeding sites.

Flamingos are also known for their synchronized behavior. They take off and land together and perform group displays such as head-flagging or wing-saluting during the breeding season. This synchronized behavior is thought to be used for communication and for predator detection.

While the term “flamboyance” has come to refer to any group of flamingos, it can also be used to describe any large, brightly colored group of birds or other animals that move and behave in a coordinated, showy manner.  WTF fun facts

Source: “What is a Group of Flamingos Called? (Complete Guide)” — Birdfact

WTF Fun Fact 13207 – The Headless Chicken Monster

Have you heard of the headless chicken monster of the sea? Well, it’s slightly less exciting than it sounds, but we’re going to tell you about it anyway.

What is the headless chicken monster?

The headless chicken monster is actually a type of sea cucumber. And as you may have guessed, “headless chicken monster” isn’t its real name.

The sea cucumber was discovered in the Southern Ocean near East Antarctica in 2017 and made headlines in 2018. It is called the “headless chicken monster” because it has long, feathery appendages that resemble a chicken’s legs. Oh, and it doesn’t have a head. It uses appendages to move along the seafloor and filter feed on plankton. It has a mouth on the underside of its body.

The scientific name of this species is Enypniastes eximia.

Discovering a “monster”

The creature was seen using an underwater camera system. It’s thought to be the first sea cucumber of its kind to be observed in the Southern Ocean and has yet to be fully studied by scientists.

According to Smithsonian Magazine (cited below):

“While conducting a video survey of the deep, dark waters of the Southern Ocean, Australian researchers recently captured footage of a host of funky creatures that swim about near the sea floor. But the team was particularly surprised when a pink, blob-like animal fluttered into shot, propelled by a little pair of fins. It looked “a bit like a chicken just before you put it in the oven,” Dirk Welsford, the program leader for the Australian Antarctic Division, tells Livia Albeck-Ripka of the New York Times. The researchers had no idea what it was.”

Interestingly, scientists seem to have known about the creature since the 19th century, it’s just rarely sighted. It wasn’t named its own species until the recent footage.

The future of E. eximia

The Southern Ocean is a remote and inhospitable environment, and scientists know very little about the sea creatures that live in this region. The discovery of E. eximia is important because it highlights the diversity of life in the Southern Ocean and the need for further research in this region.

Due to its remote habitat and deep waters where it lives, wildlife officials don’t consider the species endangered. CNN reported that the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) proposed creating three large protected areas along East Antarctica to study the unique marine life there. However, Russia and China have blocked the proposal.  WTF fun facts

Source: “A Rare Sighting of the ‘Headless Chicken Monster of the Sea” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13206 – The Bombardier Beetle

You may have heard of the Bombardier beetle since they have a rather interesting ability. Or as National Geographic (cited below) puts it, “the infamous ability to synthesize and release rapid bursts of stinky, burning-hot liquid from their rear ends.”

Tell me more about the bombardier beetle!

There are actually over 500 species of bombardier beetle (and about 40 in the US alone). These creatures live in many different types of ecosystems. The boiling hot chemicals they can shoot out of their rears as a defense mechanism can reach temperatures up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. And the beetle can shoot the spray multiple times in quick succession. The spray can also produce a loud popping noise as it is released, adding an extra deterrent.

The details are even more fascinating.

In the bombardier beetle, special cells produce hydroquinones and hydrogen peroxide which then collect in a reservoir. In order to spray, the beetle has to open a valve controlled by a muscle in order to release the chemicals into a separate “reaction chamber.” This chamber is lined with cells that catalyze the chemical reaction that makes the compounds hazardous to the beetle’s predators.

The catalases and peroxidases lining the chamber also aid in the reaction that generates enough heat to bring the mixture to the boiling point (though some of it becomes vapor). The pressure created by the gases closes the valve and expels the chemicals at high speed. Amazing, right?!

Should I be afraid of this creature?

People don’t need to be afraid of the bombardier beetle. They’re too small to hurt humans (about the size of a fingernail), and they don’t go around indiscriminately spraying. They use that function only as a defense mechanism against predators.

Bombardier beetles usually keep to wooded areas and fields and don’t roam around places with lots of humans. They typically have dark abdomens and reddish legs, antennae, and heads, in case you want to keep an eye out.

How on Earth did this beetle feature evolve?

Funny you should ask. Some creationists like to use the bombardier beetle’s two-chamber system as an example of their theory of irreducible complexity. They insist that since the beetle’s defense mechanism wouldn’t operate without two complex parts, they could not have evolved via small modifications and are therefore a product of “intelligent design.”

Most of the creationist rhetoric masquerading as science gives an incomplete or sloppy description of the beetle’s inner workings.

In fact, a step-by-step evolution of the beetle is pretty straightforward (even if it does seem weird to us). The beetle likely developed its ability to secrete chemicals as a defense mechanism that was released via the epidermis to make it distasteful to predators. While the steps in between are all hypothetical since we didn’t see the creature evolve, the development of the beetle we know now is easily broken down into tiny evolutionary steps we’ve seen in other species.

You’ve got to wonder why a creationist would assume God created this beetle specifically to shoot chemicals out its rear end.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Bombardier beetles” — National Geographic

WTF Fun Fact 13205 – The Immortal Jellyfish

The immortal jellyfish (Turritopsis dohrnii) is a specific species of jellyfish that has the ability to revert back to its youthful, immature state after it reaches maturity. It’s a very small species that reaches a diameter of about 0.18 inches. It’s found in the Mediterranean Sea and in the waters around Japan.

This creature gets its nickname from its ability to undergo a process called transdifferentiation. This allows it to revert back into a polyp and start its life cycle over again.

Wait, seriously? There’s a jellyfish that can reincarnate itself and live forever?

Ehhh, kind of. But jellyfish don’t live their lives by the same rules that we do. Their brains and community structures don’t operate in the same ways. It’s not like their memories live on forever (that we know of).

The process of transdifferentiation in this jellyfish acts kind of like a reset button.

Turritopsis dohrnii begins life as a fertilized egg that then hatches a larva (or planula). According to the American Museum of Natural History (cited below):

“A planula swims at first, then settles on the sea floor and grows into a cylindrical colony of polyps. These ultimately spawn free-swimming, genetically identical medusae—the animals we recognize as jellyfish—which grow to adulthood in a matter of weeks.”

Anyway, during the medusa stage, the jellyfish will reproduce sexually, releasing eggs and sperm into the water. There, they will fertilize and develop into the next stage, known as a polyp. Some jellyfish species will alternate between a medusa stage and a polyp stage in their life cycle, while others will only have a medusa stage.

Here’s the key: Once the medusa reaches maturity, it can reproduce and then die, but the immortal jellyfish is able to undergo transdifferentiation, reverting back to its polyp stage, and starting the life cycle again.

The AMNH explains:

“The cellular mechanism behind it—a rare process known as transdifferentiation—is of particular interest to scientists for its potential applications in medicine. By undergoing transdifferentiation, an adult cell, one that is specialized for a particular tissue, can become an entirely different type of specialized cell. It’s an efficient way of cell recycling and an important area of study in stem cell research that could help scientists replace cells that have been damaged by disease.”

Why isn’t this a bigger deal? Can we study jellyfish to become immortal?

Undoubtedly, some billionaire has a tank full of immortal jellyfish and a geneticist at hand to try to discover that particular secret of life. But it’s important to keep in mind – again – just how different a jellyfish’s life cycle is from our own. And there’s A LOT we don’t understand about underwater creatures, which may actually hold a lot of cool secrets about life, the universe, and everything.

So, it’s important to note that it is not completely understood how or why this process of transdifferentiation occurs. It’s only unclear if these jellyfish truly can live forever or not. (I mean, what is “forever” anyway, and how do humans even measure it?)

But it is a pretty cool trick.

The immortal jellyfish is also known to be a hardy species. It can survive in a wide range of conditions, allowing it to spread and colonize new areas. Of course, there’s a downside to being hearty and potentially immortal. It’s also known to be an invasive species in many parts of the world. That means it can cause serious damage to native ecosystems. In that sense, its potential immortality is a bit of a nuisance.

In any case, the immortal jellyfish is a fascinating creature that scientists are still trying to understand.

Now, you may have noticed another fun fact which is that a mature jellyfish is often referred to as a “medusa.” The medusa is the adult, sexually reproducing stage of a jellyfish’s life cycle. The name “medusa” is taken from Greek mythology, and the jellyfish’s trailing tentacles are thought to resemble the head of Medusa. WTF fun facts

Source: The “Immortal” Jellyfish That Resets When Damaged — American Museum of Natural History