WTF Fun Fact 13338 – Monkey in the Mirror

It’s not until we’re around 2 years old that we figure out what the mirror is showing us. And not all animals can recognize their own reflections. But if you train a rhesus monkey in the mirror, it will the first thing it’ll do is check out its genitals.

The monkey in the mirror

A 2015 study found that rhesus monkeys are capable of recognizing themselves in mirrors and engaging in self-exploration behaviors, but only after some training. The research helps shed light on the cognitive abilities of non-human primates and their level of self-awareness.

The researchers trained a group of rhesus monkeys to touch a red dot on their faces after seeing it in a mirror. This task is commonly used to test an animal’s ability to recognize itself in a mirror and is considered a measure of self-awareness. It’s called the “standard mark test.”

It took several weeks of training for rhesus monkeys to pass the standard mark test. But, eventually, they were able to recognize themselves in the mirror and understand that the reflection was a representation of their own bodies.

The first thing the monkeys did after that? Umm. Let’s just say they engaged in a range of self-exploration behaviors.” And they started with their own genitals.

Monkey see

The rhesus monkeys didn’t spend all their time “down there” though. They eventually moved on to the nose and mouth, behavior similar to what has been observed in chimpanzees and orangutans.

The act of inspecting their own genitals may seem amusing, but it actually provides insight into the cognitive abilities of non-human primates. The ability to recognize oneself in a mirror is considered a measure of self-awareness. And that’s a crucial component of consciousness.

Self-awareness allows animals to engage in complex social behaviors, such as empathy, cooperation, and deception.

Rhesus monkeys’ ability to recognize themselves in mirrors and engage in self-exploration is significant because it suggests that they have a level of self-awareness that we previously thought unique to humans.

The study also has implications for our understanding of animal welfare. Animals that are self-aware are more likely to experience emotions, including pain, fear, and stress. This means that they may be more susceptible to negative welfare impacts, such as confinement and isolation.

If we understand the cognitive abilities of non-human primates, we can work towards improving their welfare.

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Source: “Monkeys Learn to Recognize Themselves in a Mirror – And Promptly Check Out Their Butts” — Discover Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13333 – Dead Bird Drones

In a somewhat morbid turn of events, scientists are reportedly making dead bird drones. Researchers at the University of New Mexico are using taxidermy techniques to preserve dead birds in order to outfit them with drone components, such as motors, propellers, and sensors.

Why dead bird drones?

Drones have long been modeled on birds and their flight mechanics. In this sense, it’s no surprise that engineers would try to improve drone design using birds so their machines can navigate through difficult terrain and adapt to changing conditions with ease. But the zombie bird thing gives us pause.

However, the project is still in its early stages. the researchers are experimenting with different types of birds to see which ones make the best drones. So far, they have tested the concept using quails and doves.

They’ve found that bird drones can fly and maneuver in ways that traditional drones cannot. For example, bird drones are able to fly close to the ground and through narrow gaps. This could eventually be useful for tasks such as search and rescue or inspecting infrastructure.

Isn’t this morbid?

While the concept of turning dead birds into drones may seem macabre, the researchers behind the project believe that it could have important implications for the future of drone technology. For example, bird-like drones are more energy-efficient than traditional drones.

“If we learn how these birds manage … energy between themselves, we can apply (that) into the future aviation industry to save more energy and save more fuel,” said Dr. Mostafa Hassanalian, a mechanical engineering professor who is leading the project at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro.

Bird drones can also be less obtrusive than traditional drones, which may be noisy and disruptive. Since they’re quieter, bird drones could even be used for wildlife monitoring or scientific research without disturbing the animals being studied.

Of course, there are still many challenges to overcome, including the ethical considerations of taking an animal (even a dead one) and turning it into a tool.

Right now, the taxidermied prototype the engineers have built can only fly for 20 minutes.

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Source: “Scientists Turned Dead Birds Into Zombie Drones to Spy on Humans” — Popular Mechanics

WTF Fun Fact 13326 – Sloth Poop

How much do you know about sloth poop? Did you know that sloths only defecate once a week?

What’s interesting about sloth poop?

Because they only poop once a week, sloths can lose up to one-third of their body weight in a single bowel movement.

While most animals poop once or a few times a day, sloths are infrequent poopers. That’s because sloths have a unique digestive system that processes food very slowly. In fact, it can take up to a month for a sloth to digest a single meal. That’s why they don’t need to eat as often as other animals.

The sloth’s digestive tract is designed to extract as many nutrients as possible from food. That means there’s relatively very little leftover to produce waste. Waste is stored in a special sac in the lower part of the sloth’s large intestine. This builds up over time until the sloth is finally ready to poop.

When a sloth has the urge to go, it makes a trip down from the trees to the ground. Because they’re slow-moving, this is a dangerous trip that makes them vulnerable to predators on the ground. But the urge to go is so strong that sloths take the risk.

Once they reach the ground, sloths dig a small hole to “make their deposit.” The feces of a sloth is a valuable source of nutrients for the ecosystem. It’s important to other animals like moths and beetles that feed on it.

Other infrequent poopers

Armadillos are primarily insectivores, meaning they mostly eat insects such as beetles, termites, and ants. And because insects are high in protein and nutrients, armadillos don’t need to eat as frequently as other animals, so their digestive systems have adapted accordingly.

The slow metabolism of the armadillo and its unique digestive system also give the animal the ability to conserve water. This is an important adaptation for living in hot and dry environments. By holding onto their waste for longer periods of time, the animals are able to absorb more water from their food. This reduces the amount of water they need to drink.

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Source: “Sloths Only Poop Once a Week — But They Make It a Good One” — How Stuff Works

WTF Fun Fact 13317 – The History of the Easter Bunny

The Easter Bunny is a beloved symbol of Easter. But where did this tradition come from? Well, the history of bunnies (or hares) symbolizing spring religious observances can be traced back to pre-Christian times. Ancient civilizations celebrated the spring equinox and the return of fertility and new life and hares played a central role. Of course, that’s not the same as the history of the Easter Bunny.

The importance of the hare

According to Smithsonian Magazine (cited below), the hare was a symbol of new life in ancient Egypt and was associated with the goddess of fertility and motherhood, Eostre. But it may have dated back even further. As the note:

“In European traditions, the Easter bunny is known as the Easter hare. The symbolism of the hare has had many tantalizing ritual and religious roles down through the years.
Hares were given ritual burials alongside humans during the Neolithic age in Europe. Archaeologists have interpreted this as a religious ritual, with hares representing rebirth.
Over a thousand years later, during the Iron Age, ritual burials for hares were common, and in 51 B.C.E., Julius Caesar mentioned that in Britain, hares were not eaten due to their religious significance.”

The veneration of hares is practically prehistoric!

The history of the Easter Bunny

The Easter Bunny as we know it today is thought to have originated in Germany in the 16th century. The first recorded mention of the Easter Bunny was in a book by Georg Franck von Franckenau. He was a physician in Frankfurt who wrote about the Easter Hare bringing eggs for children to find.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, German immigrants brought the Easter Bunny tradition to the United States. The first edible Easter bunnies, made of pastry and sugar, were produced in Germany during the early 19th century. After that, the tradition of giving chocolate bunnies as Easter gifts spread throughout Europe and North America.

Today, the Easter Bunny is a central part of many Easter celebrations. In many countries, people still hold Easter egg hunts where children search for colored eggs that have been hidden around a park or other public space.

The tradition of the Easter Bunny continues to be a fun and beloved part of Easter celebrations around the world.

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Source: “The Ancient Origins of the Easter Bunny” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13307 – Project Pigeon

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

Using animals in technology

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

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

What was Project Pigeon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

WTF Fun Fact 13305 – Caesar’s Giraffe

What do you know about Caesar’s giraffe? Well, in ancient Rome, wealthy people collected exotic animals as possessions. Of course, the Roman Emperors has the most diverse menageries since they could afford them. For example, Julius Caesar was known for his love of giraffes.

What do we know about Caesar’s giraffe?

According to historian Cassius Dio, Caesar was the first emperor to bring a giraffe to Rome. He reportedly received the animal as a gift from the king of Egypt in 46 BC. Caesar kept his giraffe in a special enclosure in his palace, where it was fed a diet of hay and acacia leaves.

Caesar was not the only Roman emperor to keep giraffes as pets. His successor, Augustus Caesar, was also known to have a menagerie of exotic animals, including several giraffes. In fact, the giraffe became a popular symbol of Roman power and wealth as a result. It was frequently depicted in art and literature of the time.

Understanding “new” animals

Despite their popularity, giraffes were not well understood by the ancient Romans. Some believed that they were a hybrid of a camel and a leopard.

The reason for this confusion was likely the animal’s unique physical appearance. Its long neck, spotted coat, and tall legs made the giraffe unlike any other animal that the Romans had seen before. In other words, they had no frame of reference to compare it to. As a result, they tried to make sense of it by likening it to animals that they were more familiar with.

The Roman historian Pliny the Elder wrote about giraffes in his Natural History. He described them as “the tallest of all quadrupeds” and noted that they were “spotted like a leopard, with the head of a camel.”

Cassius Dio noted, “This animal is like a camel in all respects except that its legs are not all of the same length, the hind legs being the shorter. Its skin is spotted like a leopard, and for this reason, it bears the joint name of both animals.”

Yep, they basically called it a “cameleopard.”

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Source: “When Julius Caesar brought the first giraffe to Europe, the perplexed Romans called it a ‘cameleopard'” — The Vintage News

WTF Fun Fact 13301 – Cat Whiskers are Sense Organs

Cat whiskers are not just ordinary hairs. Also known as vibrissae, they are thicker, longer, and more deeply embedded in the skin than regular fur. They are also richly supplied with nerve endings and blood vessels, allowing cats to use them as specialized sense organs. Cat whiskers can also be present on the front legs, above the eyes, and on the back of the hind legs. These whiskers play an important role in helping cats navigate and sense their environment.

Whiskers galore

Cats can have whiskers on their legs, specifically on the front legs. These whiskers are called carpal whiskers or wrist whiskers and are located on the underside of the wrists. They also help cats navigate their environment and detect potential prey or obstacles.

Cats even have whiskers above the eyes, on the cheeks, and on the back of the hind legs. These whiskers are known as supraorbital, genal, and tarsal whiskers, respectively. These whiskers are less prominent than the ones on a cat’s face, but they still play a role in helping the cat to sense its surroundings.

More facts about cat whiskers

Cat whiskers are not all the same length. They vary in length and thickness depending on their location on the cat’s body.

Cats can also move their whiskers independently of their body movements. This allows them to sense their surroundings in a very precise way.

No doubt you’ve seen cats climb into some small and unlikely places. Well, whiskers can help cats determine if they can fit through tight spaces. If their whiskers can fit through a gap, then they know their entire body can fit through as well.

And did you know that when cats are hunting, they will point their whiskers forward to help them focus on their prey. On the other hand, if a cat is feeling threatened or fearful, it will flatten its whiskers against its face, making them appear smaller and less noticeable to potential predators.

Who knew there was so much more to know about cat whiskers?

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Source: “Why Do Cats Have Whiskers?” — PetMD

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.

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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.

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Source: “Hyrax” — Encyclopedia Britannica