WTF Fun Fact 13224 – Full Moons in February

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

How can there be no full moons in February?

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

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

February does not have a full moon in a year when there are two full moons in January and none in March. This occurs approximately once every 19 years, as part of the Metonic cycle, which is a pattern of full and new moons repeating approximately every 19 years.

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

What’s the significance of a full moon?

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

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

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

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

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

 WTF fun facts

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

WTF Fun Fact 13219 – DNA Sculptures

An artist named Heather Dewey-Hagborg has created DNA sculptures using genetic material from random items discarded by strangers.

How are DNA sculptures created?

Dewey-Hagborg first collects discarded DNA samples. These come from cigarette butts or hair. She then uses the DNA left on the items to generate 3D-printed portraits. In theory, these sculptures should reflect the physical attributes of the person from whom the DNA was taken.

The process starts with extracting the DNA from the sample. She then amplifies specific regions of the genome that are associated with physical characteristics, like hair color or facial structure. The amplified DNA is then sequenced to determine the individual’s genetic information. This information is used to create 3D models of the person’s face. Those models are then 3D printed for her art installations.

The artist bases the final sculptures of the sculpture on genetic information. But it also relies on assumptions about how genes influence physical appearance. So, in some sense, they are speculative. You likely wouldn’t be able to track down a person based on a sculpture.

In an interview in Interalia Magazine (cited below), Dewey-Hagborg explained her process. “I walked around picking up people genetic material and analysing it, making portraits, to show the coming risks of genetic surveillance. That as our DNA is increasingly legible (fast, easy, cheap to sequence) we are facing new cultural consequences.”

As for her goal:

“My goal, if I have one, is to inspire audiences to critically engage with science and technology in their lives. To be aware of structures around them, of things present or soon coming, and to think and talk about them with others; to discuss what should or shouldn’t be.  I hope that my work invites viewers into a visceral encounter with the near future.”

Genetics and art

By using DNA as a medium, Dewey-Hagborg tries to raise questions about the role of genetics in shaping our identities. Her work also has implications for thinking about advances in biotechnology for privacy and individuality.

Dewey-Hagborg has displayed her work at the World Economic Forum. She has also sold work to the Centre Pompidou, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Wellcome Collection, the Exploratorium. She has a Ph.D. in Electronic Arts from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  WTF fun facts

Source: “A visceral encounter with the near future” — Interalia Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13216 – There’s Enough Iron in the Body to Make a Nail

The average human body contains enough iron to make a 3-inch nail. Well, a healthy body anyway. Some of us probably don’t get enough iron.

Is there really enough iron in the body to make a nail?

Humans require iron for many essential bodily functions. Iron is an essential mineral that helps transport oxygen throughout the body and is found in many foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, and beans. It is also found in food additives and dietary supplements, and is added to infant formula as well.

It’s important to note that iron deficiency is a common problem and can lead to anemia, fatigue, and impaired cognitive functioning. The World Health Organization recommends that people consume 10-20 milligrams of iron per day to maintain optimal health.

The average male body contains approximately 4.5 grams of iron, while the average female body contains approximately 3.5 grams. This means that the total amount of iron found in the human body is enough to make a 3-inch nail. Note: nails generally weigh between 2 to 3 grams.

Of course, no one is going to siphon the iron of your body and smelt it into a nail – hopefully.

What’s the significance of this concept?

Nails are often used as a metaphor for hard work. In that sense, it’s no surprise that the idea of making a 3-inch nail from the iron in the human body is a concept that fascinates people.

Iron can also be used to represent the ability to persevere and overcome difficult challenges. It conjures up images of fortitude and determination, courage, ad the will to succeed. Additionally, iron can also be used as a metaphor for protection. often a symbol of armor or a shield.

The metaphor of making a 3-inch nail from the iron stored in the body also speaks to our strength and resilience of the human body. It emphasizes the importance of how the iron in our bodies is used to help us do hard work.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “There Is Enough of This Metal in the Body To Make a Nail” — Soma Blog

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