Twitter Weird Science Facts, Volume 18

Getting soooo close to having done a full year of Twitter weirdscifacts! Read below to learn the amazing ability that this seemingly ordinary European robin possesses.

erithacus_rubecula_with_cocked_head

326. (November 22).  Take a look at the crinoid, also known as the feather star.  Just take a look at the gif below, from video by Els Van Den Eijnden (and which I found via Southern Fried Science).

crinoid

327. (November 23). One of the oddest-named mathematical theorems: the hairy ball theorem.  This theorem may be crudely summarized as “you cannot comb a coconut.”  I’ve blogged about it in the past, in the context of optics.

328. (November 24). Father of modern chemistry, Lavoisier, was guillotined during the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution in 1794.  This is the man who identified and named both oxygen and hydrogen, yet he met his end at the hands of what is aptly summarized as mob justice.

329. (November 25). Lewis & Clark dismissed native reports about dangers of grizzly bears — until one chased them 80 yards before death.  This is one of those stories that emphasizes the importance of listening to experts — in this case, the native Americans! Lewis and Clark thought the bears would be no match for their rifles, but they soon changed their minds.

330. (November 26). St. Petersburg paradox: gambling game where the average winnings are infinite, but you’ll lose.  This is a curious effect that comes from the way averages are calculated.  The average winnings are infinite, but it would generally take an infinitely long time to realize those winnings — you would run out of money before you made your fortune.

331. (November 27). There is a fish that has and uses a built-in tripod.  When I think “tripod,” I think of the alien walkers from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.  Wells chose three-legged creatures precisely because a three legs is almost unheard of in Earth-bound life — but it does make an appearance in Bathypterois grallator.

The Martian tripods.  Image from a 1906 Belgian edition of The War of the Worlds.  (via Wikipedia)

The Martian tripods. Image from a 1906 Belgian edition of The War of the Worlds. (via Wikipedia)

332. (November 28). A single ultra-high-energy cosmic ray (particle) can have the energy of a 60 mph baseball!  We’re talking about one subatomic particle possessing the same energy as a strongly-pitched baseball!  The origin of such crazy particles is still not definitively known.

333. (November 29). Hermit crab vacancy chains — crabs line up and “swap up” shells with each other.  Crabs are not the sort of creatures that one thinks of as being social, but they have adapted this unique way of optimizing their shell usage.

334. (November 30). Pierre André Latreille: How a beetle saved an imprisoned entomologist from the guillotine.  The curious flip side of Lavoisier, mentioned above.  Latreille’s scientific knowledge saved his life.  The beetle he identified is shown below.

Necrobia ruficollis, via Wikipedia.

Necrobia ruficollis, via Wikipedia.

335. (December 1). World’s first polluted river was contaminated by Neolithic humans learning to smelt 7,000 years ago.  In addition to being a fascinating story, it is a sobering reminder that even a relatively small number of humans, using crude technology, can have a negative impact on the environment.

336. (December 2). European robins can literally see magnetic fields!  And I don’t mean “sense” magnetic fields, but literally see them with their eyes.  And, speaking of seeing strange things…

337. (December 3). Haidinger’s brush: many people are able to (weakly) sense the polarization of light!  An image of what the brush looks like is shown below.

haidingers_brush

338. (December 4). Longleaf pines undergo a growth spurt to “get above” brush fires.  The pines have evolved to grow rapidly when they are most vulnerable to fires, optimizing their survival chances.

339. (December 5). The archer fish hunts by spitting at insects, water pistol-style, to knock them into the water.  Watch the video below! This is an amazing animal adaptation, and one of my favorites.

340. (December 6). A teenage Michael Faraday (c. 1810) was inspired by a self-help book entitled, “Improvement of the Mind”!  Faraday, of course, was one of the greatest chemists and physicists of the 19th century.  He had no formal schooling, however, and started his path into science by reading heavily.  In addition to reading a chemistry book, he inspired himself with Improvement of the Mind; you can read it online.

That’s it for this edition of Twitter weirdscifacts — tune in soon for more!

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