WTF Fun Fact 13413 – Drug Sniffing Squirrels

Here’s a headline that’ll make your eyebrows do a double-take: drug-sniffing squirrels in China are redefining the scope of law enforcement.

A fuzzy new force for good

These petite yet potent, law enforcement allies are as cute as they are formidable. Unlike the typical police dogs, we’re used to seeing sniff out illegal substances, these squirrels are a new addition to China’s crime-fighting team, bringing the notion of ‘community policing’ to a whole new level – or should we say, tree branch!

For those skeptical at the concept of a squirrel cracking down on crime, allow me to expound. Through a training regime crafted with surgical precision, China’s authorities have managed to harness the squirrels’ extraordinary sense of smell. Their olfactory prowess rivals that of dogs and, with their small size and agility, they can access locations that might prove challenging for their canine counterparts.

How do you train drug-sniffing squirrels?

What about the training, you ask? Well, it’s not your ordinary game of fetch. These tiny recruits undergo an intense program that would have even Rocky Balboa trembling. It starts off with simple scent recognition exercises, progressing to more complex tasks such as distinguishing between different drugs. Talk about high stakes hide-and-seek!

But there’s more to this bushy-tailed bunch than meets the eye. Unlike dogs, squirrels are inherently more cautious, making them perfect for covert operations. Their nimble bodies can slip into tight spots, making them invaluable in search-and-seize missions. The very inconspicuousness of squirrels allows them to operate under the radar, so drug traffickers are none the wiser.

Now, don’t get too carried away picturing these squirrels donning tiny police vests and racing off to chase down criminals. The reality, while just as intriguing, is a bit more down to earth. Primarily, these squirrels assist in identifying and locating substances hidden in inaccessible places. Nonetheless, their role is crucial to China’s ongoing war against drug trafficking.

Squirrely success

Moving on to the stats, China’s squirrel squadron started with six members in 2017, handpicked from infancy for their prospective roles in the force. After a year of intense training, these six squirrel soldiers successfully completed their mission in locating hidden substances. Their hard-earned success has sparked a potential revolution in law enforcement practices.

However, this strategy isn’t without its critics. There are questions regarding the ethics of using wildlife for law enforcement purposes. Yet, it’s hard to deny the tangible results these squirrels are producing. So, the debate continues. For now, though, these bushy-tailed heroes are keeping the streets safer, one nut at a time.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “A squad of drug-sniffing squirrels is training to join China’s police” — Washington Post

WTF Fun Fact 13319 – Solar Panel Production

As nations throughout the world work to decrease their carbon footprint and transition to renewable energy, solar panel production has increased significantly in recent years. China is one of the major players in the solar panel business thanks to its extensive production and inexpensive prices. Yet, the U.S. is making efforts to catch up and reclaim its position as a global leader in the manufacture of solar panels.

Dominance in solar panel production

China controls 80% of the global solar panel market and is now able to sell solar panels for far less than businesses in other nations. However, there has been increasing concern about China’s use of forced labor, particularly of the Uyghur population, in the production of their solar panels.

While it’s not clear how many solar panels produced in China use forced labor, given the scale of the industry and the reports of human rights abuses in the region, there have been calls for the solar industry to ensure that their supply chains are free from forced labor and other human rights abuses.

U.S. attempts to corner the solar supply chain

The United States is gradually catching up to China’s solar industry thanks to rules and incentives put in place to encourage domestic production and consumer uptake. For example, the US Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill (BIL) has set aside money for the procurement of raw materials, manufacturing, and utility-level adoption.

Additionally, American businesses are funding emerging technologies that might transform the manufacturing of solar panels so it no longer needs to rely on China for raw materials, such as polysilicon. Thin-film solar panels, for instance, which are being tested by some businesses and could bring down the price of solar panels and increase consumer access to them.

In 2021, the United States installed over 20 gigawatts of solar capacity (bringing the total installed capacity to 142.3 gigawatts), which accounted for 50% of new electricity.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Solar Panels Made in USA vs China: What’s Better?” — Go Green Solar

WTF Fun Fact 13247 – The Fish with a Unicorn Horn

Scientists in China have discovered a new species of fish with a unicorn horn. Named “Sinocyclocheilus longicornus,” the lives in pitch-black caves, has no scales, tiny eyes that are likely non-functional, and a unicorn-like horn sticking out of its head.

What’s the story behind the fish with the unicorn horn?

Scientists discovered the fish in a remote cave system in Guizhou Province in southwestern China. The discovery was made by a team of scientists led by Dr. Meng Wu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who specialize in studying subterranean life forms.

Sinocyclocheilus longicornus is a type of cave fish, which means it has adapted to living in a dark, aquatic environment without any access to sunlight. Like other cave fish, Sinocyclocheilus longicornus has evolved certain physical traits to help it survive in this challenging habitat. For example, it lacks developed eyes and pigmentation, since these features are not necessary in a pitch-black cave.

However, it’s the “unicorn horn” made of bony tissue that’s stirring up curiosity. Scientists believe the fish use the horn for fighting or as a way to sense their environment.

Why is this discovery important?

The discovery of Sinocyclocheilus longicornus is just one example of the ongoing research into subterranean life forms and the unique adaptations that allow them to thrive in the dark, hidden corners of the world. As scientists continue to study these organisms, we may gain new insights into the evolution of life on Earth and the incredible resilience of living things in the face of extreme environmental conditions.

Furthermore, the discovery of a new species of cave fish is particularly exciting for scientists. It highlights how much we still have to discover about life on Earth. Despite centuries of exploration and research, there are still many corners of the planet that remain largely unexplored. This is particularly true of the deep, dark recesses of the world’s caves and other subterranean environments.

Finally, the discovery of Sinocyclocheilus longicornus serves as a reminder of the importance of protecting these unique and fragile ecosystems. Caves and other subterranean environments are home to a wealth of unique species that are found nowhere else on Earth. Mining, tourism, and other human activities can disrupt the delicate balance of these ecosystems. The result is irreparable harm to the species that live there.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Unicorn-like blind fish discovered in dark waters deep in Chinese cave” — Live 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 13128 – Panda Diplomacy

Pandas are native to China. Today, the country owns all living pandas. That’s because they’re extremely hard to breed (they simply won’t do it on their own) and any panda born outside the country becomes immediate property of China. However, the country does lease their pandas to zoos around the world in an act called panda diplomacy.

How did panda diplomacy come to be?

Between 1941 and 1984, China occasionally gifted pandas to other countries. But they stopped doing this and claimed ownership of the animals instead. Now, all pandas outside of China are technically leased (often for a decade) by the country.

Panda diplomacy is the act of gifting or leasing pandas as a gesture of goodwill.

The first panda “diplomat” came about after fashion designer Ruth Harkness took two pandas out of China and sold them to Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo and Baptist minister David Crockett Graham took and sold two to the Bronx Zoo. After that Madame Chiang Kai-shek, first lady of China and a diplomat in her own right, arranged for two more pandas to be sent to the San Diego Zoo.

However, the first act of panda diplomacy ended up buried in the news cycle since it happened during the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Continuing diplomacy

Between 1957 and 1983, China gifted 24 pandas to 9 nations as diplomatic gestures of friendship. And when Richard Nixon visited China in 1972, he secured two more pandas from Mao Zedong for The National Zoo in Washington DC. In the first year they were on display over 1 million people came to visit the animals.

Countries around the world clamored for a chance to host the animals. But as they become more endangered, China stopped giving them away and began leasing them. In 1984, China’s leader (Deng Xiaoping) leased the first pandas to Los Angeles for the 1984 Olympics. The cost was $50,000 a month.

In 1991, the country moved to long term leases of a decade and the cost is up to $1 million a year and a promise that any cubs born will be returned to China along with their parents.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Panda diplomacy” – Wikipedia

WTF Fun Fact 13084 – Moby Duck

You’ve no doubt heard of the book Moby Dick. But have you heard of the incident referred to as Moby Duck? Let’s just say that while it involves an ocean, whales aren’t the main character in this story.

What was Moby Duck?

In 1992, a shipment of children’s bath toys fell into the North Pacific Ocean on its way from China to the U.S. The accident dumped 28,000 rubber ducks into the water, where they were carried far and wide by the currents. They’ve been found on the shores of Alaska and even in Maine (which means they make it all the way to the Atlantic).

More than a decade after the incident, a journalist named Donovan Hohn decided to see if he could track the ducks, enlisting the help of citizen beach-goers and oceanographers alike.

“I figured I’d interview a few oceanographers, talk to a few beachcombers, read up on ocean currents and Arctic geography and then write an account of the incredible journey of the bath toys lost at sea,” he told NPR’s Dave Davies on Fresh Air in 2011 (cited below). “And all this I would do, I hoped, without leaving my desk.”

He detailed the journey in a book called Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them.

An environmental angle

While the idea of tracking the toys sounds cute on some level, Hohn also found out just how much plastic is on our oceans and the effects it has on the environment. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, so those ducks will be around for centuries. Or at least pieces of them will.

While the ducks may photodegrade (due to sunlight), they simply fall apart into smaller pieces of plastic we can’t see. But that plastic still ends up inside wildlife and ocean garbage patches.

“We know that in the marine food web, there is an alarmingly elevated contaminant burden in species at the top of the food web,” Hohn said. “What role plastic plays in that is an ongoing area of study.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “‘Moby-Duck’: When 28,800 Bath Toys Are Lost At Sea” — NPR

WTF Fun Fact 13076 – Heilan Horse Culture Museum

The Heilan Horse Culture Museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to living horses. It’s also part palace for some of the world’s most beautiful horses from around the world.

What is the Heilan Horse Culture Museum?

Located in Jiangyin City, China, outside of Shanghai, the museum shows off 43 breeds of horses from 30 different countries. Horses come from China, Germany, Turkmenistan, and Spain, for example. The roughly 300 horses live in glamorous marble stables – and are even a few zebras on site.

According to Atlas Obscura (cited below): “The horses on display are “dressed” for the occasion. Some of their manes are braided, or styled in ripples or waves. The horses live in proper stables, but are displayed in luxurious marble pens to greet visitors. The palatial museum is decorated with chandeliers, carpeted grand staircases, amazing statues, gold ceilings, and a shopping mall.”

Visiting the horse museum

The museum is located half an hour north of Shanghai as part of an effort by Chinese menswear company Heilan Group to build a “Luxury Town” for tourists.

In 2015, the museum’s Heilan Equestrian Club broke the Guinness World Record for the largest horse dressage, which included “30 black horses, 30 white horses, and a riding team of all women.”

The museum was built in 2009 and offers not only performances and competitions by training. Iin fact, it was the first comprehensive training facility in China, according to Atlas Obscura.

The museum didn’t open to the public until 2016. It also includes many caretakers for the horses, including on-site veterinarians. Visitors can not only see the well cared for horses, but learn about the development of the species and how horses have played a role in human civilization.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Heilan Horse Culture Museum” — Atlas Obscura

WTF Fun Fact 12989 – The History of Mums

Chrysanthemums, more commonly referred to as simply “mums,” are native to a few different north Asian and European regions. But when it comes to the flowers we know today, the history of mums begins in China. And it started thousands of years ago.

The interesting history of mums

Chrysanthemums have been cultivated in China for over 3000 years. Some of the earliest texts we have mention mum being grown as a flowering herb. That means their cultivation probably goes back much further, though we can’t be sure just how far.

Even Confucius’ 6th/5th-century BCE writings refer to “the chrysanthemum with its yellow glory.” A powerful flower, they were also known as “the golden flower.” This indicates that most early mums were yellow.

According to the UK’s National Chrysanthemum Society, the present-day mums we know began as a cross between two Chinese forms called chrysanthemum Indicum and chrysanthemum Sinese. They also note that “it was not until about AD350 that anything approaching a definite variety was involved. This was a bloom of small incurved form and at that time was recognised as the only good type of chrysanthemum, an opinion still shared by many at the present day. However, the Chinese were very reluctant to let the chrysanthemum leave their country but in AD386 it did arrive in Japan and it is to the Japanese that much is owed for the development of this wonderfully versatile flower.”

Spreading love for chrysanthemums

Mums then became very popular in Japan. And “in the ninth century AD Emperor Uda founded the Imperial Gardens where various types of chrysanthemums were steadily developed.” They kept their cultivation methods a secret, and it wasn’t until the 19th century that mums made it out of the East and into continental Europe, then to Britain.

At the same time, the chrysanthemum was proclaimed the national flower of Japan.

Despite mum cultivation being a later hobby in Europe, earlier botanist-travelers knew about the flower. Still, it wasn’t until 1827 that “seed was successfully produced in Europe by a retired French officer, Captain Bernet.” Many people had tried, but he was the first to succeed.

The history of mums intertwined with other flowers

If you get your mums mixed up with other similar flowers, don’t feel bad. They’ve been bred into many forms. Sometimes people bred them for hardiness in new climatic zones, other times they bred them for size, color, or leaf shape.

Mums were introduced in America in 1841, where they took on different meanings in different places (for example, Texas’ “homecoming mums”). In other countries, they are considered funeral flowers.

Over the last century and a half mums have been further bred to be hardy in different types of weather and soil, which is why you can find a few different varieties at your local garden center today,

But despite their ubiquity in America in the fall, they as a testament to Chinese horticulture.  WTF fun facts

Source: “History of the Chrysanthemum” — National Chrysanthemum Society (UK)