WTF Fun Fact 13687 – The Bats of the Biblioteca Joanina

In the walls of the University of Coimbra in Portugal lies the Biblioteca Joanina. This 18th-century baroque library is not only renowned for its opulent interior and precious collections but also for its unique, nocturnal caretakers – bats.

These bats actually play a crucial role in the preservation of this historic library’s books.

Guardians of the Biblioteca Joanina

Every night, after the sun sets and the doors close, the Biblioteca Joanina becomes the domain of small, insect-eating bats. Hidden from the library’s visitors, these bats embark on their nightly feasts, hunting the insects that could otherwise damage the library’s ancient manuscripts.

This natural pest control method has been in place for centuries, a secret pact between the bats and the library, protecting the invaluable collection without the use of chemicals.

A Symbiotic Relationship

The bats in the Biblioteca Joanina are not just tolerated; the caretakers welcome and accommodate them. Before closing time, staff lay out leather covers to protect the historic tables from bat droppings.

Each morning, these are cleaned up, ensuring that the library remains pristine for its human visitors. This routine highlights a remarkable symbiotic relationship. The bats receive shelter and hunting ground, while the library gets a highly effective, eco-friendly pest management service.

The main adversaries of the Biblioteca Joanina’s collection are book-eating insects like silverfish and booklice. These creatures thrive in the organic materials of the books. The bats, by keeping the insect population in check, help preserve these texts in a way that few modern methods can.

However, this unique method of preservation does not come without its challenges. The acidity in bat guano, for instance, can be harmful if not regularly cleaned. It requires diligent maintenance by the library staff.

The Secret of the Biblioteca Joanina’s Bats

The bats of the Biblioteca Joanina are a species adept at navigating the tight spaces and dark nooks of the library, making them perfect for this environment. Their ability to use echolocation allows them to hunt with precision in complete darkness, ensuring that their nightly patrols are successful. This adaptation is key to their role as protectors of the library’s collection, demonstrating nature’s ingenuity.

While visitors seldom see the bats themselves, their presence adds a layer of mystique to the Biblioteca Joanina. Tour guides often share tales of these nocturnal guardians, enchanting visitors with stories of how nature and culture can coexist.

This has turned the library into a place of legend. Today, it attracts tourists not only for its architectural beauty and historical significance but also for its unique, bat-inhabited halls.

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Source: “These Portuguese Libraries Are Infested With Bats—and They Like It That Way” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13681 – Only One Sunrise a Year

The North Pole experiences only one sunrise a year. This singular event marks a transition from one seemingly endless night to a day that lasts for months.

Why the North Pole Has Only One Sunrise a Year

At the North Pole, the sun is a shy dancer, making a grand entrance once a year. This happens because the Earth’s axis is tilted. As the Earth orbits the sun, this tilt allows for varying degrees of sunlight to reach different parts of the planet at different times of the year.

For the North Pole, there’s a period when the sun doesn’t rise at all, known as polar night. This occurs because the North Pole is angled away from the sun. Then, as the Earth continues its journey around the sun, a day arrives when the sun peeks over the horizon, marking the only sunrise of the year.

A Day That Lasts for Months

Following this singular sunrise, the North Pole enters a period of continuous daylight. The sun, once it rises, doesn’t set for about six months. This period, known as the midnight sun, is a time when the North Pole is tilted towards the sun, basking in its light day and night. Imagine a day that stretches on, where darkness doesn’t fall, and the concept of night loses its meaning. This is the reality at the North Pole, a place where time seems to stand still under the constant gaze of the sun.

The Science Behind the Phenomenon

The reason behind this extraordinary occurrence is the Earth’s axial tilt. This tilt is responsible for the seasons and the varying lengths of days and nights across the planet. At the poles, this effect is amplified. The North Pole’s orientation towards or away from the sun dictates the presence or absence of sunlight. During the winter solstice, the North Pole is tilted furthest from the sun, plunging it into darkness. As the Earth orbits to a position where the North Pole tilts towards the sun, we witness the year’s only sunrise, ushering in months of daylight.

Living under the midnight sun is an experience unique to the polar regions. For the indigenous communities and wildlife of the Arctic, this constant daylight influences daily rhythms and behaviors. Animals adapt their hunting and feeding patterns to the availability of light and prey. Human residents have also adapted to these unique conditions, finding ways to mark the passage of time without the usual cues of sunrise and sunset.

A Long Night and Only One Sunrise a Year

The contrast between the endless night and the day that lasts for months is a stark reminder of the Earth’s diverse environments. It challenges our perceptions and highlights the adaptability of life in extreme conditions. The North Pole, with its single sunrise, stands as a testament to the planet’s wonders. It’s a place where the rules of day and night are rewritten by the tilt of the Earth and its path around the sun.

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Source: “Time Has No Meaning at the North Pole” — Scientific American

WTF Fun Fact 13669 – Iceland’s Comedian Mayor

Have you ever heard of Iceland’s comedian mayor, Jón Gnarr? He had an unexpected and captivating rise to political power when he became the Mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland.

From Laughter to Leader

Jon Gnarr wasn’t your typical mayoral candidate. Before venturing into the volatile waves of politics, Gnarr was best known for his work as a comedian and actor. His satirical radio shows and television sketches were beloved in Iceland, making him a household name. But it was in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis that Gnarr found a new stage for his talents.

Iceland was hit hard by the financial meltdown, leading to widespread public distrust in the political establishment. Sensing the public’s yearning for change and perhaps a bit of levity during tough times, Gnarr founded the Best Party in 2009.

It was a satirical political party that started almost as a joke but quickly gained serious momentum.

Gnarr’s campaign was anything but ordinary. Promising a polar bear for the Reykjavik Zoo, free towels at public swimming pools, and a drug-free Parliament by 2020, his platform was a mix of the absurd and the appealing.

The Best Party’s campaign video, set to Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best,” became a viral sensation, showcasing the party’s unique blend of humor and honesty.

What set Gnarr apart was not just his comedic background but his transparency and refusal to play by the unwritten rules of political campaigning. He openly admitted that some of his promises were not realistic. This honesty, oddly enough, resonated with a populace tired of the same old political rhetoric.

Becoming Iceland’s Comedian Mayor

To the shock of many, Jón Gnarr won the mayoral election in 2010. His victory was seen as a direct response to the public’s frustration with the traditional political class. But the big question loomed: Could a comedian effectively lead a city?

Gnarr’s tenure as mayor was as unconventional as his campaign. He often appeared at official events dressed in drag or as a Star Wars character, yet behind the humor was a serious commitment to change. He prioritized human rights, welfare, and culture, and while not all his policies were successful, he brought a fresh, more human face to Icelandic politics.

Challenges and Controversies

Leading a city was not all laughs for Gnarr. He faced criticism for his lack of political experience and some of his more unconventional approaches. Moreover, governing in coalition with the traditionally serious Independence Party posed its own set of challenges and compromises.

Yet, throughout his term, Gnarr maintained his unique style and approach, arguing that humor could be a powerful tool to address serious issues.

Jón Gnarr chose not to seek re-election after his term ended in 2014.

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Source: “The joker: Jón Gnarr, the comedian who became mayor” — The Guardian

WTF Fun Fact 13665 – US Time Zones

In the early days of American history, the concept of time was not as unified as it is today. With over a hundred separate time zones, the United States’ approach to timekeeping was a complex and often confusing system. This fascinating period in the nation’s history reveals much about the evolution of time standardization and its impact on society and commerce.

The Era of Numerous Time Zones

Before the adoption of standardized time zones, the United States operated on a surprisingly intricate system of over 144 separate time zones. Each city or town was free to determine its own local time, usually based on the position of the sun. This meant that when it was noon in one town, it could be 12:15 in a neighboring city just a few miles away.

This system was manageable when communities were isolated, but as the country expanded and the railway system connected distant cities, the multitude of local times became problematic. Train schedules were particularly affected, as rail companies struggled to create timetables that made sense across various local times.

The Push for Standardization of Time Zones

The turning point came with the advent of the railroad industry. The need for standardized time became evident as train travel made the flaws of multiple local times apparent. Railroads operated on their own time systems, creating a confusing and sometimes dangerous situation for travelers and operators alike.

The solution emerged in the form of four main time zones proposed by the railroad companies. On November 18, 1883, known as “The Day of Two Noons,” railroads across the country synchronized their clocks to these new standard time zones. This was not an official law but rather a practice adopted by the railroads and the communities they served.

Government Intervention and the Standard Time Act

It wasn’t until March 19, 1918, that the United States government officially adopted the standard time zone system with the Standard Time Act. This act also established daylight saving time, a contentious and ongoing debate to this day. The act was a response to the confusion and inefficiency of having multiple time standards and was also influenced by the needs of World War I.

The transition was not immediate or smooth. People were accustomed to their local times and resisted change. However, over time, the benefits of a standardized system became clear, especially for scheduling trains, conducting business, and broadcasting.

The Impact of Standardization

The move to a standardized time system revolutionized many aspects of American life. It facilitated better communication and coordination across the country, essential for a growing nation. Economic activities, especially those related to transportation and communication, became more efficient and reliable.

Moreover, the concept of time zones influenced the world. Today, time zones are an integral part of global coordination, affecting everything from international flights to the stock market.

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Source: “Snoozers Are, In Fact, Losers” — The New Yorker

WTF Fun Fact 13659 – Hawaii Snow

While New York City and Boston are typically associated with snowy winters, Hawaii snow has surprisingly outpaced them in snowfall this winter.

Hawaii Snow

The Mauna Kea Weather Center on Hawaii Island experienced a significant snowstorm in late November. That resulted in approximately half a foot of snow. This event occurred on the peaks of the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes.

In contrast, Boston reported only a fraction of its average snowfall, receiving a mere 0.2 inches on December 6. New York City, often pictured with winter snowscapes, has yet to see its first snowfall of the season.

Social media buzzed with images of Hawaii’s snow-covered volcanic peaks. This surprised many who associate the Aloha State solely with sun and surf. However, snow on Hawaii’s higher altitudes is not as rare as one might think.

Hawaii’s High-Altitude Snow

Hawaii’s volcanic peaks, particularly the nearly 14,000-foot-tall Mauna Kea volcano, are known for their altitude and even receive snow occasionally in the summer. Mauna Kea is recognized as the world’s tallest mountain when measured from base to peak, extending about 20,000 feet below sea level. This significant elevation means that these mountains can experience winter conditions distinct from the tropical climate below.

Skiers sometimes venture to these Hawaiian peaks for a unique skiing experience, despite the absence of traditional ski resorts in the state. Blizzard warnings are not unheard of in these areas during the winter months.

On the East Coast, cities like Boston and New York City are experiencing an unusually mild winter. Boston’s most significant snow event in January produced only 3.5 inches, while New York City’s largest was a modest 1.8 inches in February. Tom Kines, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather, highlighted that this level of snowfall is atypical for these cities. Boston’s average snowfall for November is 0.7 inches, escalating to 9 inches in December. New York City usually sees about half an inch in November and close to 5 inches in December.

El Niño’s Potential Impact

The weather pattern known as El Niño, characterized by warmer ocean waters in the Pacific, might change the East Coast’s winter outlook. Following the end of La Niña in March, El Niño began this summer.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted that El Niño could lead to near-normal or slightly above-normal precipitation for the East Coast.

This means there’s still a chance for cities like New York and Boston to catch up and experience their share of winter wonderland scenes. El Niño’s influence could bring more wet weather to these areas, potentially increasing their snowfall totals as the winter progresses.

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Source: “Hawaii’s Gotten More Snow This Winter Than New York City, Boston Combined” — Newsweek

WTF Fun Fact 13556 – Quebec’s Civil Code

Since 1981, Section 393 of Quebec’s Civil Code has forbidden women from legally taking their husbands’ surnames post-marriage.

Quebec established the law to combat societal pressure on women and to promote gender equality. However, not all women agree with the law and some find it restricting.

With this law, a woman’s maiden name remains her legal name after marriage, and she cannot change it without the authorization of the court—which isn’t an easy task.

A married couple may hyphenate each other’s surnames, and women can call themselves whatever name they’d like in an unofficial capacity. But only their birth name is legally recognized by law.

Quebec’s Civil Code Intent and Reception

The law’s primary intent was to protect women from societal pressures and ensure their freedom. However, as Dubé notes, it’s a delicate balance between protecting and improving freedom. Exceptions to the law exist, but they are rare and only apply in extreme cases. This rigidity applies even to Canadian women who relocate to Quebec after marrying in other provinces.

Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, Canada’s de facto first lady, recently used a hyphenated version of her name, igniting a discussion on this topic. Despite the legal stipulations, she chooses to use both her maiden name and her husband’s surname, symbolizing her personal identity and partnership.

For many Quebec women retaining their birth names may be a significant aspect of their cultural identity. This practice signifies autonomy and self-belonging.

Cultural Shifts and Modern Perspectives

Over the years, Quebec’s approach to married names has influenced cultural norms, including the trend of parents giving children two last names. While this was popular for a time after the 1981 law, its prevalence has decreased. The law’s existence remains a crucial part of Quebec’s identity, reflecting the province’s commitment to gender equality and individual autonomy.

In the broader context, Quebec’s approach to married names remains a unique case, raising important questions about personal freedom, cultural norms, and the evolving nature of marriage and identity in modern society.

As discussions around these issues continue, it becomes evident that the choice of a name, far from being a mere formality, is deeply rooted in notions of identity, tradition, and personal freedom. Perhaps Quebec’s Civil Code will be changed to allow more women freedom over their names in the future.

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Source: “Does Quebec’s ban on married names infringe on women’s rights?” — Global News

WTF Fun Fact 13647 – The Optical Illusion of the Gateway Arch

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, a renowned symbol of America’s westward expansion, presents a fascinating optical illusion.

To many observers, this iconic structure appears to be taller than its width. However, the reality defies this visual trickery: the Arch measures precisely 630 feet both in height and width.

This illusion stems from the unique shape and viewing angles of the Arch, challenging our perceptions and adding to its allure.

Engineering Marvel Behind the Illusion

The construction of the Gateway Arch was an exercise of extreme precision. The two separate legs of the arch had to meet with an incredibly small margin for error – less than 1/64th of an inch. Any deviation from this would have prevented the arch from joining correctly.

The success in achieving this feat is a testament to the extraordinary skill of the welders and engineers involved in its construction.

Remarkably, despite the high-risk nature of the construction, not a single life was lost during the building of the Arch. This defies the initial predictions of the insurance company, which expected 13 fatalities due to the project’s complexity and the lack of safety nets for workers.

More Interesting Facts about The Gateway Arch

Another aspect of the Gateway Arch’s design that adds to its distinction is its unique tram system. This system, part elevator and part Ferris wheel was conceptualized by Dick Bowser, a man without formal engineering training. His innovative design solved the problem of transporting visitors to the top of the curved structure, something a traditional elevator could not achieve.

While security concerns generally prevent presidents from ascending the Arch, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a notable exception. He insisted on riding the tram to the top during a visit in 1967, becoming the only president to have experienced the Gateway Arch from its highest point.

Maintaining an Icon

The Gateway Arch’s recent renovation is an extensive and costly endeavor. Costing over $380 million, this project involves the renovation of the surrounding park, expansion of the museum, and implementation of flood prevention measures. This cost notably exceeds the original construction cost of the arch, adjusted for inflation.

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Source: “8 Facts You Didn’t Know About St. Louis’s Gateway Arch” — Architectural Digest

WTF Fun Fact 13541 – NYC’s Rat Czar


New York City has taken a significant step forward in its war against rodents by appointing Kathleen Corradi as the city’s first-ever “rat czar.”

This initiative is a part of Mayor Eric Adams’ administration’s efforts to address a major quality-of-life and health challenge. Corradi’s role involves coordinating rat reduction efforts across city government agencies, community organizations, and the private sector.

Harlem Rat Mitigation Zone and Funding

As part of this initiative, Mayor Adams also announced the Harlem Rat Mitigation Zone, backed by a $3.5 million investment for Fiscal Year 2023. This investment aims to expand and accelerate rat reduction efforts across Harlem, encompassing Community Boards 9, 10, and 11. The funding will assist in employing new staff, purchasing equipment, and implementing innovative rat mitigation techniques.

Corradi’s strategic plan to combat the rat crisis includes cutting off rats’ food sources and deploying new technologies for detection and extermination. These efforts will harness the expertise of various city agencies like the Department of Health, Parks and Recreation, Housing Authority, Department of Education, Sanitation, and Small Business Services.

The rat mitigation strategy is more than just a quality-of-life issue. It symbolizes the fight against systemic challenges that have long affected New Yorkers, especially in low-income communities and communities of color. The plan aims to provide equitable quality of life experiences for all New Yorkers.

Collaborative Approach and Public Involvement

The strategy emphasizes the importance of each New Yorker playing their part in creating a rat-free city. This includes keeping homes clean, securing trash, destroying potential rat habitats, and adhering to common-sense tips. The city plans to offer Harlem-specific rat academies, teaching residents how to prevent rat infestations on their properties.

In support of the initiative, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City received a donation of over 1,000 Tomcat rodent control products. These will be used across various city locations, aiding the fight against rodent infestations.

Long-Term Vision for the Rat Czar

The appointment of a rat czar marks a new era in New York City’s approach to pest control. The long-term goal is to produce a cleaner, more livable city for future generations. This effort represents a bold and creative approach to tackle one of the city’s most persistent problems.

Kathleen Corradi brings a wealth of experience in community engagement, program development, and facility operations. Her background in science and expertise in rodent mitigation positions her to lead this challenging and crucial initiative effectively.

The Adams administration has shown its commitment to addressing quality-of-life issues through various initiatives, including the ‘Get Stuff Clean’ program. The rat czar appointment further emphasizes this commitment, aiming to make New York City a cleaner and healthier place for its residents.

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Source: “Mayor Adams Anoints Kathleen Corradi as NYC’s First-Ever ‘Rat Czar'” — NYC.gov

WTF Fun Fact 13630 – Mysterious Humming Noise in Ireland

In Omagh, Co Tyrone, a mysterious humming noise has left residents tossing and turning.

Since late October, the persistent humming sound has been the soundtrack to many sleepless nights across this Northern Irish town. The curious case of the nocturnal hum has not only disturbed the peace but sparked widespread intrigue and a variety of theories.

The Mysterious Humming Noise

Local residents describe the sound as a “sustained, persistent buzz or hum,” often accompanied by a tangible vibration. It’s a noise that doesn’t discriminate, affecting various parts of Omagh and its diverse population. Alliance councillor Stephen Donnelly, although not personally plagued by the hum, acknowledges the widespread discomfort it has caused. He reports that the council is on the hunt for both the cause and a solution, reaching out for specialized equipment and expertise to aid in their quest.

The intensity of the disturbance is not to be understated. For a “significant number of people,” the quality of sleep and, consequently, life has plummeted. As the hum chooses the night to make its presence known, the darkness brings with it the dread of another restless experience for the townsfolk.

The Sound of Speculation

The source of the hum remains as elusive as a whisper in the wind. While some suspect the nocturnal drone of generators, the lack of concrete evidence leaves room for speculation. The council’s environmental health officers are grappling with the challenge, their task complicated by the vast area over which the hum has cast its acoustic shadow. They’re considering bringing in a specialist company to detect the elusive source.

Councillor Donnelly urges caution against fanciful speculation, despite the colorful array of theories populating local gossip. From extraterrestrial visits to paranormal activities, the hum has inspired a spectrum of supernatural and outlandish explanations. Yet, Donnelly remains confident that the hum’s origins, when finally uncovered, will likely be rooted in the mundane rather than the fantastical.

It’s not just Omagh that’s abuzz about the hum; the story has echoed across the globe, reaching as far as Australia. This international spotlight has turned a local nuisance into a global conversation piece. It seems the world is just as curious about the hum as the residents of Omagh are desperate for a solution.

The Search Continues for the Source of the Hum

As the investigation continues, the people of Omagh await a resolution with bated breath. The council is committed to solving the mystery, hopeful that the introduction of advanced technology will bring answers and relief. Until then, the hum remains Omagh’s unsolved nocturne, a nightly enigma that has turned sleep into a sought-after treasure.

In the meantime, residents hold onto hope that the hum will soon be silenced and that their nights will once again be filled with the sound of silence.

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Source: “Source of mystery humming sound in Omagh ‘difficult to pinpoint,’ council says” — The Irish Times