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 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 13390 – Pet Appreciation Week

The first full week of June 2023 marks a special occasion for pet lovers around the world—it’s Pet Appreciation Week! This week-long celebration is dedicated to honoring the love, companionship, and joy that our furry friends bring into our lives. That means this week is a time to recognize the immeasurable value that pets bring to our well-being and to show our appreciation for their unwavering loyalty and affection.

Why do we celebrate Pet Appreciation Week?

During Pet Appreciation Week, people of all ages come together to express gratitude for their beloved pets. Whether you have a dog, cat, bird, fish, or any other furry, feathery, or scaly companion, this week is all about cherishing their presence and recognizing the positive impact they have on our lives.

Pets hold a special place in our hearts and homes. For example, they provide unconditional love, comfort, and support, offering a sense of companionship that can brighten even the dullest of days. And their playful antics, gentle purrs, wagging tails, and welcoming chirps can instantly lift our spirits and bring a smile to our faces.

This dedicated week encourages pet owners to reflect on the happiness and joy that their pets bring and to engage in activities that strengthen the bond between human and animal. It’s a time to shower our pets with extra love, attention, and care, as well as to raise awareness about responsible pet ownership.

How can you celebrate?

Throughout Pet Appreciation Week, there are various ways to celebrate and express gratitude towards our pets. Here are some ideas to make this week extra special:

  1. Quality Time: Set aside dedicated time to engage in activities that your pet enjoys. Take your dog for a long walk, play with your cat using their favorite toys, or spend time bonding with your bird or reptile in their habitat. The key is to focus on creating meaningful moments of connection.
  2. Healthy Treats: Surprise your pet with some delicious and nutritious treats. Consider making homemade pet-friendly snacks or explore the wide range of healthy treats available in pet stores. Remember to choose treats that are suitable for your pet’s dietary needs.
  3. Support Animal Shelters: Use this week as an opportunity to give back to animals in need. Volunteer at a local animal shelter, donate pet supplies, or consider adopting a rescue pet. By supporting shelters, you’re making a positive impact on the lives of animals and promoting responsible pet ownership.
  4. Pet Photography: Capture precious moments with your pet through photography. For example, snap some candid shots or arrange a professional photoshoot to create lasting memories. These photographs serve as beautiful reminders of the joy and love shared with your pet.
  5. Learn and Educate: Take the time to learn more about your pet’s specific needs, behavior, and health requirements. Expand your knowledge by reading books, attending workshops, or consulting with veterinarians or experienced pet owners. Share your newfound knowledge with others to promote responsible pet ownership in your community.

Love your pets!

Pet Appreciation Week is a reminder to cherish our furry friends, not only during this dedicated week but throughout the year. Pets bring immeasurable joy, comfort, and companionship, and they deserve our utmost appreciation. So, take this opportunity to celebrate the bond you share with your pet and make their week extra special with acts of love, care, and gratitude.

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Source: “Pet Appreciation Week” — National Today

WTF Fun Fact 13379 – Benefits of Listening to Birds

In the quest for improved mental health, one often overlooks the simple pleasures of nature. But a recent study published in Scientific Reports revealed the benefits of listening to birds and the profound impact birds can have on our mental health and well-being.

The benefits of listening to birds

Birds offer a unique connection to the natural world, proving to be a source of solace and rejuvenation. Birdsongs possess a remarkable ability to transport us to serene natural environments, even when we reside in bustling urban landscapes.

Research conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development found that listening to birdsongs, even through headphones, can alleviate negative emotions.

Interacting with birds on a regular basis has been strongly linked to better mental health. A study involving 1,300 participants, who documented their well-being multiple times a day using the Urban Mind smartphone app, revealed a significant positive association between seeing or hearing birds and improved mental well-being. Remarkably, these benefits persisted for hours after the encounter.

Even individuals diagnosed with depression displayed positive effects when exposed to birdsong and birdlife in their surroundings. This highlights the importance of preserving and protecting environments that sustain bird populations, as they can provide a natural remedy for mental health challenges.

No need for real birds

In a separate study, participants who listened to diverse birdsongs reported a decrease in depressive symptoms, anxiety, and paranoia. This effect was even observed with just two species of birdsongs, showcasing the potential of these therapeutic sounds.

In contrast, exposure to traffic noise had adverse effects on mental well-being. The study reinforces the significance of nature’s healing aspects and highlights the negative impact of urban environments on our psychological state.

Nature, including birdsong, has a profound effect on our mental well-being. The attention restoration theory suggests that spending time in nature improves concentration and reduces mental fatigue associated with urban stress.

Furthermore, researchers have linked spending time in green spaces to reduced stress, lower blood pressure, and lower cortisol levels. Engaging with nature also promotes physical activity, adding another layer of mental health benefits. Birdwatching, in particular, has been shown to enhance mental health, with individuals who savor the joy of each bird sighting reporting greater benefits.

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Source: “Why birds and their songs are good for our mental health” — Washington Post

WTF Fun Fact 13376 – Dawn Chorus

Even if you’ve never heard of the phenomenon known as the dawn chorus, you’ve likely heard the sound itself. As the sun rises in spring and summer, a symphony of sounds fills the air when birds engage in a vocal performance that serves various important purposes.

What is the bird’s dawn chorus?

The dawn chorus is a collective effort involving multiple bird species, each contributing its unique voice to the melodic tapestry. From the lilting trills of songbirds to the resonant calls of woodpeckers and the distinctive melodies of thrushes, the symphony represents a rich diversity of avian vocalizations. But they aren’t singing to us.

One of the primary functions of this natural symphony is territorial defense. Birds seize the opportunity to assert their ownership over specific territories. By filling the air with their songs, they establish clear acoustic boundaries that communicate to other birds that the area is already claimed. This territorial proclamation helps to minimize conflicts and maintain an orderly distribution of resources.

Another purpose of the dawn chorus is mate attraction. During the breeding season, male birds use their vocal prowess to woo potential mates. By singing prominently in the early morning hours, males not only showcase their physical fitness but also advertise their presence to females. The melodious performances serve as impressive displays of strength, stamina, and genetic quality, enticing potential partners and ensuring successful breeding opportunities.

Communicating through song

The dawn chorus also serves as a means of communication within bird communities. It allows individuals to stay in touch with their flock members, enhancing social cohesion and facilitating cooperative activities.

Birds utilize specific calls, songs, and vocalizations to convey messages about foraging locations, potential threats, and other important information. The intricate language of the dawn chorus helps birds maintain social bonds and promote the collective well-being of their group.

The composition and timing of the dawn chorus can vary significantly from region to region. Different bird species have their preferred time of day for vocalizing, resulting in a dynamic and ever-changing soundscape. In some areas, certain species may dominate the chorus, creating a distinct acoustic signature unique to the local ecosystem.

While the dawn chorus is most prominent during the breeding season, it can occur throughout the year, albeit with less intensity and diversity. Factors such as weather conditions, habitat characteristics, and the presence of migratory species can influence the overall dynamics of the chorus.

Scientists and bird enthusiasts continue to study the dawn chorus to unravel its secrets. By examining vocal patterns, deciphering communication codes, and exploring the impacts of environmental factors, researchers gain insights into the complex social dynamics and ecological significance of these morning concerts.

Such knowledge aids in conservation efforts, ensuring the preservation of habitats that support thriving bird populations and the continuation of this captivating phenomenon.

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Source: The Dawn Chorus | Bird Mating Season — RSPB

WTF Fun Fact 13368 – Horse Diving

Horse diving was a spectacle where trained horses would dive from high platforms into pools of water. Guided by riders, the horses leaped from platforms and landed in pools located below. The performances drew crowds of spectators, especially at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, where it became a popular attraction.

The origins of horse diving

Horse diving involved training horses to dive from 40 to 60 feet (12 to 18 meters) platforms. Trained riders guided the horses, ensuring their safety during the descent and upon entering the water.

Horse diving traces its roots back to the late 19th century. That’s when William “Doc” Carver, a former Wild West performer, had a vision of combining horsemanship with daring dives. Carver was instrumental in training horses to perform the dives and developing the techniques necessary to ensure their safety. He worked tirelessly to refine the training process and establish a rapport between horses and riders.

The Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey, became synonymous with horse diving. The iconic amusement pier offered a perfect stage for the daring spectacle.

A daring feat

The performances showcased not only the bravery of the animals but also the bond between the horses and their riders.

To ensure the safety of the horses, the pools were carefully designed with deep water and sufficient space for the horses to land safely. The performers, including the riders, were highly trained and dedicated individuals who understood the intricacies of the sport. While accidents and injuries did occur, the community took measures to prioritize the well-being of the animals and performers.

As times changed and public perception evolved, concerns about animal welfare emerged. The popularity of horse diving gradually declined throughout the 20th century, and the last performance took place in the 1970s. Although no longer a prominent attraction, it left a lasting legacy, reminding us of the audacity and daring spirit that characterized a bygone era of entertainment.

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Source: “Remembering When Horse Diving Was an Actual Thing” — Atlas Obscura

WTF Fun Fact 13366 – Flying Chickens

Contrary to popular belief, chickens can fly. Flying chickens aren’t a common sight, but they do possess the necessary physical adaptations for brief bursts of flight.

What’s the deal with flying chickens?

Chickens are not known for sustained or long-distance flight. However, their wings, consisting of flight feathers, primary feathers, and secondary feathers, are able to provide lift and control during short flights. Strong pectoral muscles aid in wing flapping, facilitating takeoff and maintaining altitude.

Chickens achieve flight by utilizing their wings and pectoral muscles. Flapping their wings generates the necessary lift to become airborne. However, their relatively large body size and heavy frame make any sustained flight nearly impossible.

When chickens fly

Chickens can only achieve short flights, covering distances of a few meters at a time. These flights are often initiated as a response to perceived threats, to navigate obstacles, or to reach higher roosting positions. Flight abilities are more pronounced in certain chicken breeds and younger chickens due to their agility and muscle strength.

The longest recorded flight of a chicken lasted for approximately 13 seconds. While brief compared to other bird species, it is a remarkable feat considering chickens’ general reputation as ground-dwelling birds.

Flight serves various purposes for chickens beyond locomotion. It aids in escaping predators, reaching elevated perches or roosts for safety, exploring new environments, and accessing food sources that may be out of reach on the ground.

Domesticated chickens often have reduced flight capabilities due to selective breeding for specific traits. Firstly, domesticated chicken breeds have been selectively bred over generations for specific traits, such as meat production or egg-laying abilities. This breeding process has resulted in larger body sizes and heavier frames, making sustained flight challenging. Additionally, the typical living environments for domesticated chickens, such as coops or enclosures, often lack the open spaces and elevated perches that would naturally encourage flight. Consequently, chickens tend to rely more on their remarkable ground-dwelling and foraging abilities, which are better suited to their domesticated lifestyles.

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Source: “Can Chickens Fly? (How & Why)” — Farm Animal Report

WTF Fun Fact 13345 – The Australian Emu War

You may have learned about quite a few deadly conflicts in school, but have you ever heard about the Australian Emu War? Also called the Great Emu War in Western Australia, it was exactly what it sounds like – a war against emus. As in the animals.

The origins of the Australian Emu War

The Great Emu War occurred in Western Australia in 1932. It was a conflict between Australian farmers and a large population of emus. Emus are flightless birds native to Australia, in case you didn’t know.

This war was no joke. An uncontrolled emu population began to encroach on farmlands, damaging crops, and creating economic problems for the farmers. In response, the farmers requested military assistance to deal with the emu infestation.

According to Atlas Obscura (cited below):

“Western Australian farmers had been facing hard times with their crops following the Great Depression, and their difficulties increased tenfold with the arrival of some 20,000 emus migrating inland during their breeding season. The birds had been protected as a native species until 1922, but now that they were classified as ‘vermin,’ all bets were off.”

The Australian government actually deployed soldiers armed with machine guns to combat the emus. , They saw the animals as a threat to agriculture. However, emus are also fast and agile. That makes them difficult to eradicate with weapons.

A war of futility

One might think the mismatch was the result of humans having the advantage of deadly weapons. But it was really the emus who had the upper hand.

To top it off, emus don’t want to fight. So when they hear gunfire, they run. That makes them much harder to target. It also had the effect of separating the battalions into smaller and smaller groups to go after the scattering emus. That’s just bad military planning.

In the end, the army realized that using precision weapons was ineffective and called off the operation. The emus won.

The Emu War has become symbolic of human struggles against the forces of nature and the limitations of technology in dealing with wildlife. It was no doubt a humbling experience for the military.

Eventually, the government turned to other – less violent – measures. They erected fences to protect farmlands from emu intrusion.

So, it turns out violence wasn’t the answer.

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Source: “In 1932, Australia Started an ‘Emu War’—And Lost” — Atlas Obscura

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