WTF Fun Fact 13161 – Bats Give Birth Upside Down

Female bats give birth upside down and catch the baby in their wings.

Interesting facts about bats

We know bats sleep upside down, but we weren’t aware they did much else that way. And you can chalk that up to our clear lack of knowledge about anything bat-related. But thanks to Montana’s Public Radio station (cited below) and their show “Field Notes,” which is produced by the Montana Natural History Center, we now know a lot more!

For example, did you know bats only breed when it’s rainy? Or share the responsibility for nursing baby bats among colony members? Or that the “colony” is actually called a “harem”?!

It turns out that female bats are only fertile during the wet seasons. That’s January or February in the Southern Hemisphere, or March or April in the Northern Hemisphere.

They divide themselves up into harems, territorial groups with one central male bat. However, that bat doesn’t father all the bat babies. Female bats in the harem may mate with other male “harem leaders.” Interestingly, the bat experts note that “it’s very unlikely that they will mate with a non-harem male.” So any lone bats out there are out of luck.

Apparently, the smaller the bat is, the more likely he is to be successful in reproducing. That’s because the males don’t simply go around and mate with harem members at will – they have to work for it. Males have to attract females with a display of flying and hovering prowess. Big bats can’t hover as well.

According to Field Notes, “Smaller males are more successful fathers because they can maneuver more nimbly in the air. Not only can they hover well and display themselves to females, they can maneuver well during actual mating, which happens – you guessed it – upside down.”

How do bats give birth upside down?

Ok, so that’s already more upside-down time than we had imagined.

But what about birth?

Females have only one baby per pregnancy, and those babies gestate for three months. When they are ready to give birth, the mother bat hangs upside down by her feet (occasionally grasping a ceiling or branch with her hands as well). This might sound like a lot of work, but when a bat’s feet grasp something, they are actually at rest (unlike ours). So it would take more energy to be in any other position.

Eventually, the baby bat emerges feet-first and they can even grasp their mother’s fur to pull themselves out. That’s helpful!

The mother then uses her wings to ensure the baby doesn’t fall from whatever she’s hanging from.

Not only do mothers nurse babies upside down, but they even take them on hunting trips when they’re not in baby bat daycare (or small groups of young called “creches”).

The mother bats nurse their young until two weeks before they’re weaned. At this point, they may let other mother bats nurse their babies.

And a final interesting fact – female bats are favored by mothers and more likely to survive.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Bat Moms Do A Lot Of Hanging About” — Montana Public Radio

WTF Fun Fact 13159 – You Can Be Right-Eared or Left-Eared

Just as you can be right-handed or left-handed, you can be right- or left-eared and eyed. We not only favor one side, but it also works better. (Even those of us who are ambidextrous usually still favor one side.)

Gauging your earliness

When you talk on the phone, do you tend to hold it mostly to one ear? How about if you’re eavesdropping – do you press that same ear to the door?

According to KIND (cited below), a research study in 1998 at the University of Dresden used data from 300 students after asking subjects to “listen for a stopwatch on the table or a soft voice, listen at a door and make a phone call.”

62% of people were right-eared (and 84% of the total were left-handed). That means your dominant ear could be the opposite of what you might expect.

21% of the study subjects were left-eared while 17% showed no preference. So there’s a decent change you don’t have a dominant ear. However, if you hold a telephone up to your ear, you may be likely to have a preferential ear and it’s likely to be on the same side as your dominant hand (which you would typically use to hold a phone).

Laterality

A preference for a certain side of the body is known as laterality. And it can refer to eyes and even legs.

Next time you step off a curb (or even begin your stride) or move one eye closer to something you’re trying to read, pay attention to what side of your body it’s on. It may tell you something interesting (although not terrible insightful about your personality).

It may even be able to tell you something about your health. For example, studies have shown that some eye diseases are more likely to occur in the dominant eye.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Earliness: Understanding your better ear” — KIND

WTF Fun Fact 13149 – Spiders Recycle Their Webs

Not all spider webs are destroyed with a broom. In fact, spiders can recycle their webs by eating them!

How and why do spiders recycle their webs?

Some spider webs are built to last years while others only last a day or so. Of course, while those beautifully spun webs in the corner of your attic may have been built as a long-term home for the spider, in that case, their duration is influenced by how long humans allow them to stick around.

But for some neglected spider webs, they can be so enduring that a new generation of spiders might come to reside there.

More fragile webs may only last a day because spiders build them simply to catch food. Rain and pollen may affect their stickiness. In these cases, spiders will pack up a web for the day and build again the next. When this happens, spiders often eat their webs to recycle the amino acids that made up the silk protein used in web construction.

It’s an impressive feat since webs can consist of 65 feet of silk!

Not all spiders ingest their silk though. And some use it to wrap their eggs sacs. But considering how much energy it takes to weave a web, it’s not all that surprising that spiders recycle webs by eating them in some cases.

Spider web building

Spider web silk is made out of protein chains. And some of it is as strong as kevlar (though obviously it’s not as tightly woven, so we hardly notice when batting them away). In fact, scientists are studying it in the hopes of making future body armor!

Spiders typically start building webs by pulling silk from a gland in their fourth leg. The fourth leg on the opposite side contains even more silk glands. Then, in order to begin, the spider (depending on the species) can shoot it out to attach to an object or wait for a breeze to carry it to the base from which it will start building.

From there, the spider will typically create a number of attachment lines. Then they decide which are the strongest and begin weaving from there. Different spiders have different web patterns. In fact, they’re so distinct that experts can look at the structure of a web and tell you precisely which type of spider built it.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Why do spiders eat their own webs?” — Discover Wildlife

WTF Fun Fact 13133 – Is Aging a Disease?

Is aging a disease? Well, it depends on how you look at it. It’s a natural process, so in that case, the answer is no. And yet The World Health Organization (WHO) added “aging” as a disease to the 11th edition of their International Classification of Diseases in June of 2018.

Is it fair to say aging is a disease?

In many ways, it may seem silly to call gaining a disease since it’s both universal and natural for all living creatures. However, some types of aging can be seen as pathological because they are sped up and therefore abnormal. (One example is the deterioration of the skin due to UV exposure, which can lead to rapid aging and cancer.)

Aging is also a risk factor for many diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

But to call aging a disease would be to classify us all as constantly in a state of disease. But you can also argue that aging serves no purpose and then it seems less natural.

What’s in a disease?

Disease is seen as a deviation from the normal (at its most basic). In this sense, aging is completely normal. It may also be desirable since it tends to come with the accumulation of wisdom. However, it’s simply to argue that not every old person brings wisdom into old age.

Those who want to classify aging as a disease don’t necessarily want to valorize the youthful (after all, they have no control over their age) and will someday be old. However, calling aging a disease allows researchers to investigate its causes and, potentially, actions that might stop bodily and cognitive decline that are the hallmarks of aging.

When people die of old age, autopsies show a series of degradations in their bodies that could potentially be stopped. They are the body’s typical reaction to the passage of years, but they represent abnormal cellular functions that lead to the body growing more frail and senile. Those aren’t judgment calls but facts.

But should aging fall outside the scope of medicine? Should doctors stay away from treatments that can help reverse the effects of aging? If it’s not a disease, then technically they should not treat the symptoms.

Aging is harmful to the body no matter how you look at it. And the more we look into it, the more we see there are specific causes related to the body wearing down with age. Should we do nothing about them? If we were to reject age as a disease, then only a few researchers would be able to study it with age-related research funding. Later, only the rich would have access to aging treatments because insurance companies wouldn’t cover aging treatments. That might leave us with a civilization comprised only of the rich.  WTF fun facts

Source: “It is time to classify biological aging as a disease” — Frontiers in Genetics

WTF Fun Fact 13123 – Aquamation

Alkaline hydrolysis, also known as aquamation or water cremation may be the next frontier in the death industry. Researchers say it’s one of the most sustainable options for treating human remains.

What is aquamation?

In 2021, aquamation became a subject of interest after the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who requested that his remains be disposed of in this eco-conscious manner. Now, it’s a popular choice in the “green burial” movement.

The goal of aquamation is to avoid the use of non-biodegradable materials and promote the natural decomposition of the body. During the process, the body is liquified under pressure. Then, the bones are dried and turned to ashes in an oven. It reduces the need for ostentatious caskets and the greenhouse gases produced by traditional cremation by fire. It also cuts energy use.

Smithsonian Magazine (cited below) explains in more detail:

“During alkaline hydrolysis, a human body is sealed in a long, stainless-steel chamber, while a heated solution of 95 percent water and 5 percent sodium hydroxide passes over and around it…The process dissolves the bonds in the body’s tissues and eventually yields a sterile, liquid combination of amino acids, peptides, salts, sugars and soaps, which is disposed of down the drain at the alkaline hydrolysis facility. The body’s bones are then ground to a fine powder and returned to the deceased person’s survivors, just as the bones that remain after flame cremation are returned to families as ash.”

Choosing a “green burial”

While you may not have heard of water cremation, there are dozens of American companies that build machines for it. It’s legal in at least 26 states as well as throughout the world.

The process itself has been around for a long time, but it’s still not mainstream. However, it’s likely you’ll hear more about it as nearly every industry strives to become more sustainable.

There are states that still ban the practice because of concerns over the effects of residue in the water supply. It appears not to have any negative effect on water, but regulating it is still a challenge since aquamation’s use is still relatively rare.

According to the Berkeley Planning Journal, the chemicals and materials buried along with bodies in conventional American burials “include approximately 30 million board feet of hardwoods, 2,700 tons of copper and bronze, 104,272 tons of steel, and 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete.” Fire cremations in America “release an estimated annual 360,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as well as toxic materials like mercury.”

Smithsonian notes that “Alkaline hydrolysis consumes approximately 10 percent of the energy required to cremate a body in flame, its equipment runs on electricity rather than fossil fuels, and it emits no greenhouse gases.”

Once people get over the suspicions that come with novel new burial practices, experts believe the industry will grow.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Could Water Cremation Become the New American Way of Death?” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13122 – The Benefits of Recreational Fear

It turns out fear isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, recreational fear – the kind of fear you experience on purpose by going to haunted houses or watching horror flicks – can be good for your brain.

Seeking out recreational fear

We know some fear can create a stress response in the body that can be harmful. But our body’s ability to feel fear is, overall, a good thing. It tells us to get away from danger and keeps us alive.

But what about the people who seek out fear?

Even a game of peek-a-boo as a baby starts to prime our bodies for being caught off guard. And it can be exhilarating. When we get a little older, we may tell ghost stories around the campfire. In many ways, we seek out fear. As adults, we may go on roller coasters, see slasher or suspense films, or participate in risky activities like mountain biking or skydiving.

But why do we go after this feeling?

According to Smithsonian Magazine (cited below), “One hypothesis is that recreational fear is a form of play behavior, which is widespread in the animal kingdom and ubiquitous among humans. When an organism plays, it learns important skills and develops strategies for survival.”

The benefits of fear

By seeking out recreational fear, we put ourselves in a situation that has little risk. And perhaps scaring ourselves in a controlled situation can help us cope with real fear later on.

You can learn a lot about yourself by the way you react to fear. It’s just that not many of us like to acknowledge that feeling or explore it.

Researchers at the Recreational Fear Lab, a research center at Aarhus University, Denmark are looking into the science of fear and trying to learn more about our responses to stress. One thing they’re looking at is the relationship between fear and enjoyment. After all, some people really seem to go after scary experiences in order to hit a “sweet spot” between boring and terrifying.

The question of what makes recreational fear appealing to some is still up for debate. But researchers suspect that “even though fear itself may be unpleasant, recreational fear is not only fun—it may be good for us.”

One suggestion is to not be so afraid of fear, especially when you can control the parameters.

“With research findings such as these in mind, we should maybe think twice about shielding kids and young people too zealously from playful forms of fear.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “Can Experiencing Horror Help Your Brain?” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13121 – Nightmare Disorder

Chances are you’ve had at least one nightmare before – and perhaps even one bad enough to wake you up from your slumber. While nightmares are common, nightmare disorder is (luckily) not.

What is nightmare disorder?

According to the Mayo Clinic (cited below), “Nightmare disorder is when nightmares happen often, cause distress, disrupt sleep, cause problems with daytime functioning or create fear of going to sleep.”

Sounds stressful!

For those with the disorder, the bad dreams ten to occur in the second half of the sleep cycle. And while they’re brief, they’re bad enough to wake you up and cause enough anxiety to prevent you from getting back to sleep. You may even experience a slowly unfolding nightmare that gets worse as it continues or one that causes you to suffer from palpitations.

This disorder is only diagnosed in people who have frequent enough nightmares that it interferes with their normal days due to distress or lack of sleep. In children, it can lead to a fear of the dark or behavioral problems.

Music for nightmares

According to Smithsonian Magazine, there is new hope for sufferers of nightmare disorder, who may number somewhere between 10 million in the U.S. alone.

A study showed those people might be able to take charge of their dreams and change their tone using music.

“Sounds played during sleep may reduce the frequency of nightmares and promote positive emotions that can help lead to a better slumber. Existing therapies coach sleepers to imagine and rehearse alternate happy endings to their nightmares before bed, a practice known to significantly reduce bad dreams. Now, Swiss scientists aim to supercharge this idea by associating those happy endings with an audio cue that will trigger them during sleep. When nightmare disorder sufferers listened to a piano chord while they practiced imagining a good dream, then heard that same chord while they were in REM sleep, bad dreams were frequently kept at bay.”

This is called imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT), and it’s a cognitive-behavioral technique that only takes about 5 or 10 minutes a day.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Nightmare Disorder” — Mayo Clinic

WTF Fun Fact 13119 – Greenland’s Ecosystem Surprise

Evidence from the oldest DNA ever analyzed indicates that northern Greenland used to be a lush wonderland where mastodons, reindeer, geese, and hares once lived among a wide array of trees and other greenery. Greenland’s ecosystem surprise was reported in the journal Science in December 2022.

Why is ancient Greenland’s ecosystem such a surprise?

Today, Greenland’s ecosystem is far less varied thanks to its extreme Arctic climate. While you will find moss, lichen, small trees, and bushes in the tundra, it’s still largely considered an Arctic desert.

According to Eske Willerslev, a paleogeneticist at the University of Cambridge and a co-author of the study,

“No one would have predicted an ecosystem like this. Some species you find further south in Greenland, but a number you don’t find in the Arctic at all. It’s an ecosystem with no analog in the present day.”

Ancient DNA

According to Science (cited below), the insights into Greenland’s ancient past “come from the oldest DNA ever recovered: 2-million-year-old snippets of genetic material from more than 100 kinds of animals and plants, extracted from buried sediments.”

So not only is the information about Greenland’s ecosystem special, but the ability to use short and partially decayed DNA from millions of years ago is an exciting development.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, “Beyond evidence of reindeer, geese and one mastodon, [the researchers] also found signs of marine species, including horseshoe crabs and green algae. In this era of the island’s geologic history, temperatures were around 18 to 31 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they are in Greenland today.”

Needless to say, scientists are excited about the finds.

I wouldn’t have, in a million years, expected to find mastodons in northern Greenland,” said Love Dalen, a paleogeneticist at Stockholm University in Sweden.

“It feels almost magical to be able to infer such a complete picture of an ancient ecosystem from tiny fragments of preserved DNA,” said Beth Shapiro, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Lost world in northern Greenland conjured from DNA in ancient soil” — Science

WTF Fun Fact 13116 – Pigeons Can Tell the Difference Between Monet and Picasso

If you try hard enough, anything is possible. But it turns out training pigeons to discriminate between a Picasso and a Monet isn’t actually all that hard. Pigeons can tell the difference between the two artists with relatively little effort (at least relative to what we would have imagined).

Pigeons and Picasso and Monet

In 1995, researchers Shigeru Watanabe, Junko Sakamoto, and Masumi Wakita published a paper called “Pigeons’ discrimination of paintings by Monet and Picasso” in the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. In it, they showed:

“Pigeons successfully learned to discriminate color slides of paintings by Monet and Picasso. Following this training, they discriminated novel paintings by Monet and Picasso that had never been presented during the discrimination training. Furthermore, they showed generalization from Monet’s to Cezanne’s and Renoir’s paintings or from Picasso’s to Braque’s and Matisse’s paintings. These results suggest that pigeons’ behavior can be controlled by complex visual stimuli in ways that suggest categorization. Upside-down images of Monet’s paintings disrupted the discrimination, whereas inverted images of Picasso’s did not. This result may indicate that the pigeons’ behavior was controlled by objects depicted in impressionists’ paintings but was not controlled by objects in cubists’ paintings.”

Birds and bees

Later on, in 2013, behavioral scientists showed that honeybees could also discriminate between paintings by the two artists.

Perhaps more hilariously, a 2010 article in the journal Animal Cognition showed that “Pigeons can discriminate “good” and “bad” paintings by children.” Imagine a pigeon letting your child know their art is “bad.”

Wonder how it was done? In the words of the researcher:

“In this study, I investigated whether pigeons could be trained to discriminate between paintings that had been judged by humans as either ‘bad’ or ‘good’. To do this, adult human observers first classified several children’s paintings as either ‘good’ (beautiful) or ‘bad’ (ugly). Using operant conditioning procedures, pigeons were then reinforced for pecking at ‘good’ paintings. After the pigeons learned the discrimination task, they were presented with novel pictures of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ children’s paintings to test whether they had successfully learned to discriminate between these two stimulus categories. The results showed that pigeons could discriminate novel ‘good’ and ‘bad’ paintings.”

Who knew nature had such art critics?!  WTF fun facts

Source: “Pigeons’ discrimination of paintings by Monet and Picasso” — Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior