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

WTF Fun Fact 13017 – The Dementor Wasp

The dementor wasp sounds like a character from Harry Potter. But somehow it’s much worse (mostly because it’s real). These wasps can turn their prey into “zombies” before eating them alive. Isn’t nature wonderful?

Dementor wasp tactics

The Ampulex dementor is actually named after the soul-sucking Harry Potter characters, so you know they must have made a big impression.

The wasps have a pretty unconventional and gruesome way of preparing their prey for mealtime. First, they inject venom into their favorite snacks, cockroaches. And while you might not have a lot of sympathy for roaches, they do die in a pretty awful way.

The venom from the dementor wasp leaves them without control over their own bodies. That usually has the effect of forcing them to run right into their tormentor’s nest so that they can be eaten alive. The World Wildlife Fund said it rendered the roaches “passive zombies” in the process.

How do roaches turn into zombies?

According to the Washington Post (cited below), the WWF report states:

“Cockroach wasp venom blocks receptors of the neurotransmitter octopamine, which is involved in the initiation of spontaneous movement. With this blocked, the cockroach is still capable of movement, but is unable to direct its own body. Once the cockroach has lost control, the wasp drags its stupefied prey by the antennae to a safe shelter to devour it.”

Sounds like the stuff of nightmares.

Luckily, the wasps seem confined to just one place in the world – Thailand – and are pretty recognizable with their red and black bodies (not that the venom is enough to turn any of us into a zombie).

What’s in a name?

The Post also described the dementor wasp naming process:

“The Museum für Naturkunde, a natural history museum in Berlin, asked 300 visitors to pick the wasp’s name from among four options: ‘Bicolor,’ after its red-black pattern; ‘Mon,’ after a local ethnic group where the wasp lives; ‘Plagiator,’ since it mimics, or ‘plagiarizes,’ ants; and ‘Dementor,’ described to visitors as ‘magical beings, which can consume a person’s soul, leaving their victims as an empty but functional body without personality and emotions.'”

Frankly, the other options were pretty lame, and we doubt anyone was surprised people chose the Harry Potter-themed name.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Say hello to the dementor wasp. It turns cockroaches into zombies” — Washington Post

WTF Fun Fact 13016 – Petting an Animal Reduces Stress

You’ve probably heard that petting an animal reduces stress. If you’re lucky, you’ve even experienced it firsthand. And if you have the pleasure of consistently getting some hands-on time with a furry companion (or even a pal’s pet), you may not always notice it, but you probably do have less cortisol in your system.

How does petting an animal reduce stress?

One of the most oft-cited studies about the animals reducing our stress comes from a study in the journal of the American Educational Research Assocation (AERA). It was a rigorous study that controlled for multiple other factors, such as overall health of the subjects. And it found that just 10 minutes of petting a cat or dog (many of which happened to come from a shelter and probably benefitted from some socialization) results in measurably smaller levels of cortisol, the hormone that regulates our flight-or-fight response.

The research was done on college students (who often get stressed out around midterms and finals). And one of the best parts was that even brief animal encounters could help reduce stress levels.

The researchers didn’t find the same effect when students viewed photos of pets or saw them in person – the real benefits came from physical contact.

Details of the study

The researchers collected saliva samples from 249 college students who participated in one of four types of animal encounters. (Cortisol levels can be measured using saliva.)

  • 73 students got to pet the cats and dogs
  • 62 watched other people pet the animals
  • 57 watched a slideshow of images of the same animals
  • 57 remained on the waitlist

Saliva samples were collected first thing in the morning and then two more samples were collected 15 and 25 minutes after the animal encounter.

Students with hands-on animal interactions had the lowest cortisol levels, though it didn’t necessarily last throughout the day. Still, even momentary stress relief can help regulate stress.

The researchers hope the knowledge that petting animals reduces stress will help colleges (and others) help people regulate stress before it causes more serious physical and psychological disorders.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Animal Visitation Program (AVP) Reduces Cortisol Levels of University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial” — AERA Open

WTF Fun Fact 12733 – The PAWSCARS

Each year, American Humane puts on its own award show to celebrate the “furry, winged, and scaled” members of television and film casts. It’s called the PAWSCARS™, and it celebrates animal actors past and present.

American Humane has long played a role in ensuring the health and safety of animals on entertainment sets. According to their website:

“Since 1877, American Humane has been at the forefront of every major advance in protecting animals from abuse and neglect. Today we’re also leading the way in understanding human-animal interaction and its role in society. American Humane advocates for the American values of caring, compassion and hope. Our programs enrich our communities, prevent abuse of animals, and embrace the power of the human-animal bond. American Humane works in association with the American film and TV industry to help ensure the well-being of animal actors and promote the human-animal bond. They are on the set to protect animal actors. American Humane also celebrates the achievements of extraordinary dogs across the country with its annual American Humane Hero Dog Awards™. In addition, the organization enlists and works with many celebrities who speak on behalf of the voiceless that American Humane aims to protect.”

Their Hollywood initiative also includes the annual award show, which we really think should be televised since we would totally watch that (and we’re sure other animal lovers would too!).

Interestingly, the ASPCA also has Pawscers Awards, but these go to adoptable animals throughout the country, not to animal actors.

American Humane’s PAWSCER awards got the most press in 2016, when fans voted on their all-time favorite animal movies. The winners included

Favorite Animal Buddy Movie of All Time: “Turner and Hooch”

Favorite Animal Drama of All Time: “Seabiscuit”

Favorite Animal Family Movie of All Time: “Old Yeller”

Frankly, we want to know what people were thinking when they chose Old Yeller, which has a pretty devastating ending and scarred generations of children. But to each their own – the people have spoken.

American Humane’s explanation was that “Disney’s timeless classic from 1957 is credited as one of the first films to demonstrate the importance of the human-animal bond, the inextricable link between people, pets and the world we share.”

Overall, the PAWSCERS are designed to honor “some of America’s most treasured institutions.” And while we haven’t heard much about the awards in the last few years, we think it’s time to add more animal award shows to the television line up!

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Pawscers Awards” – The American Humane Society

WTF Fun Fact 12427 – A Wooly Plummet

In 2005, Turkish newspapers reported an incident in which over 400 sheep died. It happened when one fell off a 50-foot cliff – and the rest followed!

That’s what they mean when they say, “don’t be a sheep.”

There were over a thousand sheep on the cliff that day, with each family in the small Van province of Turkey owning about 20 apiece. However, 1,100 animals survived the plunge because the hundreds of sheep that jumped first cushioned their fall.

At the time, the entire flock of sheep was estimated to be worth anywhere from $55,000 to $100,000.

According to the BBC, one villager told the Aksam daily newspaper: “Every family had an average of 20 sheep. But now only a few families have sheep left. It’s going to be hard for us.” – WTF Fun Facts

Source: “Turkish sheep die in ‘mass jump'” — BBC News

WTF Fun Fact 12395 – Cat Allergies

Three main types of allergies plague our feline friends – food allergies, skin allergies (from flea bites, for example), and environmental allergies.

Environmental allergies can refer to anything in a cat’s environment, such as dust, pollen, or humans. Dogs can be allergic to humans as well.

According to Raelynn Farnsworth of Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, “It’s rare, but dogs can be allergic to cat dander and people dander and vice versa. For everything.”

In cats, the allergy shows up as miliary dermatitis, which results in tiny scabs, usually around their head and neck. It can also result in missing spots of hair.

Cats can also develop asthma if exposed to allergens for too long. So if your cat is sneezing or coughing, it’s essential to see a vet. And you probably shouldn’t worry too much since they’re likely allergic to something else in their environment besides you.

People don’t have as much dander as animals since we frequently bathe. Our pets are more likely to be allergic to something like perfume or beauty/skincare products we use, especially if they contain preservatives (as most do).

– WTF Fun Facts

Source: Can Your Pet Be Allergic to Humans? — Understanding Animal Research