WTF Fun Fact 13212 – The Cat Righting Reflex

Have you ever wondered why cats always land on their feet? It’s because of something called the cat righting reflex.

What’s the cat righting reflex?

Normally, if you see a cat fall, you’re probably panicking and not trying to pay attention to the physics of the whole situation mid-air. But if you slow down footage of a cat falling (which we hope you don’t set them up for at home!), you’ll see that cats have the ability to reorient themselves in midair to ensure they land feet first.

The cat righting reflex is that innate ability, and it’s made possible by a specialized collar bone (or clavicle) This clavicle is highly flexible, allowing a cat to rotate its body 180 degrees while in the air.

So, when a cat falls, it first extends its legs. Then it rotates its head to face the ground. As it falls, it will then begin to rotate its spine, using its flexible collarbone to control the rotation.

Finally, as a cat reaches the ground, its hind legs will extend to absorb the impact.

And if you’ve seen a cat take a fall, you know its front legs are ready to push off and run away pretty much immediately.

Do cats *always* land on their feet?

While cats can survive falls from great heights, nothing works 100% of the time.

Not all cats can use their righting reflex with the same success. Some may not have the same flexibility or strength as others, especially if they are old or injured. And sometimes the cat righting reflex is not always “right.” They do get hurt…or worse.

Overall, the righting reflex has been an important survival mechanism for cats. It allows them to escape predators and avoid injuries when falling from things they’ve climbed.

Cats are also able to use their righting reflex to perform acrobatic feats, such as jumping through hoops, or climbing up and down vertical surfaces. That’s because their reflexes are typically really fast and precise, allowing them to make rapid adjustments to their body position.

Are cats the only animals with a righting reflex?

The righting reflex is not unique to cats. Other animals, such as squirrels and certain species of primates, also have this ability.

But cats are particularly known for this reflex because they have a very low center of gravity and a flexible spine. This allows them to maintain control of their bodies better than most creatures.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Why Do Cats Land on Their Feet?” — Live Science

WTF Fun Fact 13211 – Grey Cat Genes

Grey cat genes are an interesting thing. For example, did you know that most grey cats get their coloring from a “diluted” form of the black fur gene?

It’s kind of like the difference between a tortoiseshell cat and a “dilute tortie.”

Fascinating facts about grey cat genes

The melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) gene is responsible for black fur in cats. This gene controls the production of eumelanin in the hair shafts. In cats, there are two versions of this gene. So, an “active” version produces black or brown fur. A “diluted” version results in a grey or “blue” coat color.

The “diluted” version of the MC1R gene is caused by a specific genetic mutation. This mutation turns off the production of eumelanin in the hair shafts.

Grey cats can also have other colors in their fur, such as white, orange, or other shades of grey, and this depends on the specific genetic variations that are present. As you might have guessed, the color of a cat’s coat is determined by the interaction of multiple genes and environmental factors. The genetics of coat color can get pretty complex.

Cat fur color doesn’t tell us a lot

Grey cat fur can come in different shades and patterns. Some grey cats may have a light, silver-gray coat, while others may have a darker, charcoal-gray coat. Some grey cats may have a solid-colored coat, while others may have tabby markings or other patterns.

If you have a grey cat, you can’t necessarily tell what breed they are just by their fur color. But you can likely narrow it down if the cat is entirely grey.

The color and pattern of a cat’s coat can also be influenced by other genetic factors, such as the presence of white spotting or the agouti gene.

Grey domestic cats could be a mix of different breeds, which leads to variations in size, shape, and overall appearance. So, while grey cats share the common characteristic of having a grey coat due to the diluted form of the MC1R gene, each one still has other characteristics to be considered.

Feline parentage

Did you know a female cat is known as a molly (unless she is a purebred, then she is called a Dam). Female cats are called queens when they are pregnant or still feeding babies. Males are called “toms” or “tomcats” (and purebred fathers are Sires).

According to The Cat Fancier’s Association (cited below), there are some general rules about cat genetics.

For example, male kittens always obtain both color genes from their mothers. “The male offspring in a litter will always be either the color of the dam (or one of the colors in the case of parti-colors) or the dilute form of the dam’s color.”

On the other hand, “Female kittens take one color gene from each parent. The color of the female kittens in a litter will always be either a combination of the sire’s and dam’s colors, or the dilute form of those colors.”

We also didn’t realize that “Only the immediate parents determine the color/pattern of a kitten” or that “A kitten’s pattern can be inherited from either parent.”

There’s always something interesting to know about cats, even if it’s technical!  WTF fun facts

Source: “Basic Feline Genetics” — Cat Fancier’s Association

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

WTF Fun Fact 13201 – The Power of Looking at Cute Animals

Have you ever fallen down the rabbit hole (no pun intended) of looking at cute animals on the internet or social media? It’s hard to look away!

Well, it turns out, looking at them could be good for you.

There is evidence to suggest that your cute cat meme fixation can boost both focus and concentration. Studies have also found that looking at pictures of baby animals can improve attention and task performance.

The benefits of looking at cute animals

There is some evidence to suggest that looking at cute animals can boost both focus and concentration.

Researchers published a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. It found that looking at pictures of baby animals can improve attention and task performance. In fact, participants who viewed images of cute animals performed better on tasks requiring attention and fine motor skills. At least compared to those who viewed images of adult animals or inanimate objects.

Another study conducted by researchers at Hiroshima University in Japan found that looking at pictures of cute animals can increase activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for attention, problem-solving, and decision-making.

According to the Association for Psychological Science (cited below), “Led by researcher Hiroshi Nittono, the team conducted three experiments with 132 university students and concluded that cute images may facilitate improved performance on detail-oriented tasks that require concentration.”

We’ve long known that humans are attracted to looking at things that look juvenile. “Baby schema” includes things like a large head and protruding, large eyes – and they just seem “cuter” to us. Baby humans and baby animals often have these characteristics.

But now there’s proof that cute things might make our brains operate a bit better. Nittono and colleagues wrote in their paper:

“This study shows that viewing cute things improves subsequent performance in tasks that require behavioral carefulness, possibly by narrowing the breadth of attentional focus.”

Puppy power

Additionally, looking at cute animals can also release oxytocin, a hormone that is associated with feelings of love and bonding, which can lead to increased feelings of positive emotion and well-being.

It’s worth noting that these studies are still in the early stages, and more research is needed to understand the full extent of the effects of looking at cute animals on focus and concentration.

Of course, looking at cute animals is great and all, but is not a replacement for getting professional help if you have serious attention and focus issues.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “The Power of Puppies: Looking at Cute Images Can Improve Focus” — Association for Psychological Science

WTF Fun Fact 13200 – A Group of Pugs is Called a Grumble

A group of pugs is called a grumble. Whatever you think of pugs, there’s something cute and silly about the grouping name. It’s certainly better than a “murder” of crows, right? Now those are some animals who got a raw deal.

Why a group of pugs is called a grumble

You can actually use “grumble” or “a grumbling” to refer to a group of pugs. But why?

Pugs are known for the snorting sound they make because of the shape of their nose. We suppose that sounds like a grumble.

But it’s more likely that the breed’s characteristic deep, throaty barking sounds are the grumble being referred to.

Pugs have a distinct, low-pitched bark that sounds like a growl or a grumble. Pugs are known for being very vocal and expressive.

It’s worth noting that a group of any dog breed is called a kennel, pack, or litter but different animals have different colloquial names, like a pride of lions.

How did we get pugs?

Pugs are actually an ancient breed of dogs that originate in China. They were known as “lo-sze” and were kept by the Emperors of China as lapdogs and companions.

They were also used as guard dogs and were highly valued for their loyalty and affectionate nature. Pugs were kept in the imperial palace and were considered a symbol of royalty and prestige.

Pugs were first brought to Europe in the 16th century by traders and soon became popular among the European nobility. They were particularly popular in Holland and England, where they were bred to have a shorter snout and a cocked tail.

The breed was further refined in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the modern Pug we know today was developed. Pugs were officially recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1885.

Pugs are known for their distinctive wrinkles, short snout, and compact size, which makes them well-suited for living in small spaces. They also have friendly and playful personalities.

Pug problems

Pugs are a brachycephalic (short-nosed) breed. As a result, they’re prone to a number of health problems due to their unique facial structure.

For example, their short snout and small trachea can make it difficult for them to breathe, leading to respiratory issues or heat stroke in hot weather. In addition, they’re bulging eyes make them more likely to develop injuries, infections, and eyelid and cornea issues.

Pugs are also prone to skin fold dermatitis since the wrinkles on their faces can trap moisture and bacteria, leading to skin irritation and infection. Hip dysplasia and obesity are other risks in pugs due to their breeding.

That’s certainly something to grumble about!

However, proper care and regular vet checkups can help prevent or manage these health issues and ensure a good quality of life for a pug.  WTF fun facts

Source: “A Group of Pugs is Called…” — National Purebred Dog Day

WTF Fun Fact 13188 – Geckos Turn Off Sticky Feet

People have long wondered how geckos manage to stick to the sides of structures without falling off. The short answer is that they have sticky feet. But did you know geckos turn off sticky feet when they need to run faster?

How do geckos turn off sticky feet?

Geckos use toe hairs to turn the stickiness of their feet on and off. Oregon State University (OSU) discovered the details of this mechanism in 2014. They published their results in an article that appears in the Journal of Applied Physics.

The researchers noted that the geckos’ “adhesion system mechanism” has long been a curiosity. According to Science Daily (cited below):

“‘Since the time of the ancient Greeks, people have wondered how geckos are able to stick to walls — even Archimedes is known to have pondered this problem,’ said Alex Greaney, co-author and an assistant professor of engineering at OSU. ‘It was only very recently, in 2000, that Kellar Autumn and colleagues proved unequivocally that geckos stick using van der Waals forces.'”

Geckos have a system of hairs called “seta” on their toes. The seta can bend when they come into contact with rough surfaces in order to provide points of contact that keep the sticky surface of the gecko’s toe pads from adhering. Those hairs provide millions of points of contact to allow the creatures to maneuver over terrain without sticking.

Other insects and spiders also have this adhesion system. That’s why they can stick sideways to walls, seeming to defy gravity.

The stickiness system

Greany told Science Direct: “Understanding the subtleties of the process for switching stickiness on and off is groundbreaking. By using mathematical modeling, we’ve found a simple, but ingenious, mechanism allows the gecko to switch back and forth between being sticky or not. Geckos’ feet are by default nonsticky, and this stickiness is activated through application of a small shear force. Gecko adhesion can be thought of as the opposite of friction.”

The stickiness of geckos’ feet has long fascinated scientists seeking to produce material for use in adhesives. The ability of geckos to turn off sticky feet is yet another piece of the materials science puzzle that may come in handy someday in fields like construction and robotics.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Geckos use toe hairs to turn stickiness on and off” — ScienceDaily