Why is yawning contagious?

There is no doubt that yawning is contagious. I mean, imagine someone with their mouth wide open, squinting eyes, taking a long breath in, then a short one out. Are you yawning yet? Almost anything that reminds us of yawning, like reading about it, seeing a video of it, will cause us to yawn. Just thinking about yawning can be enough. It’s actually quite hard to write about yawning because you start yawning all the time. During the research and writing of this post I yawned 34 times. I counted. Ok, make that 35 times.

How do organisms glow? And why?

Summer is just around the corner and soon fireflies will start buzzing and flashing all through the night. Fireflies are winged beetles that produce light in a range of colours (depending on the species). Glow worms, as seen in the above picture,  also produce light. They’re not actually worms but fly larvae and live in caves. But, in fact, there aren’t that many more terrestrial animals that emit light. Bioluminescence is much more common in the sea, although, strangely, no freshwater animals use it. But how is this light produced? And why?

Why you shouldn’t eat a polar bear

Polar bears are cute, especially if they’re still cubs. Knut, a polar bear born in captivity in a zoo in Berlin, was a media sensation. However, they are quite dangerous. Polar bears are big (adults can weigh up to 700 kg), fast (can sprint up to 40 km/h), aggressive, very protective of their young and can kill you with one lazy swipe of their furry paw. Polar explorers are very aware of the dangers of polar bear and bringing a rifle on an expedition is mandatory. So why should you not eat a polar bear? Well, actually, I’m exaggerating, you …

Continue reading

The great bustard rests tonight

The great bustard is possibly the second heaviest flying animal (the heaviest is the kori bustard, also part of the Otididae family). Adult males weigh, on average, between 10 and 16 kilograms but can reach 20kg. They are common in Europe (it’s the national bird of Hungary) and Asia. They exhibit high sexual dimorphism, that is, males and females are quite different. Females only weigh about 5kg and their wingspan is about a half to a third of that of males. The European ones tend to stay put during the winter months, but the Asian ones migrate south, traveling up …

Continue reading

Where do cashews come from and why are they so expensive?

I quite like cashew nuts, they’re tasty even if they’re not drowned in large quantities of salt. However, they’re kind of expensive, at my local supermarket they cost 3-4 times more than peanuts. Why? Where do cashews come from? The fruit pictured above is a cashew apple, hanging at the bottom of it is a cashew nut. The nut is, botanically, the seed of the fruit and each apple will only produce one. Each nut has to be manually collected from each fruit and then set to dry.

The hippo’s closest relative is the… dolphin?

The hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal after elephants and rhinos. They are semi-acquatic and spend most of the day immersed in shallow pools of water or rivers which keeps them cool. When it’s less hot, during the night, they leave the water to feed. Hippos also produce natural sunscreen that is secreted though their skin that absorbs light in the UV range and also acts as a bacteria inhibitor.

The Carboniferous Period – Coal and Giant Insects

Trees evolved the ability to grow bark at the beginning of the carboniferous period (360 million years ago) but fungi took 50 million years to evolve the ability to digest it. As a result, most of the coal we have today was formed in this period.

Conan the Bacterium – The world’s most resistant organism?

Deinococcus radiodurans is nicknamed “Conan the Bacterium” because, like Robert E. Howard’s Cimmerian hero, it can withstand and survive more than you would expect it to. It was first discovered in 1956 by Arthur W. Anderson at the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station. He was trying to sterilise meat by irradiating it with gamma radiation. He thought that if he could kill all the bacteria present, the meat would not spoil. However, our tiny little friend Conan survived and the meat eventually spoiled.

Kangaroos have three vaginas! and more weird Australian animals facts

How weird are platypuses? Why does Saudi Arabia import camels from Australia? Why do kangaroos have pouches? How scary are bulldog ants? Platypus When European naturalists first encountered the platypus, they thought it was an elaborate hoax. It had the bill of a duck, the feet of an otter and the tail of a beaver. But it was even weirder than that. The platypus is one of the few mammals (together with the rest of the monotremes, which include 4 species of echidnas) that don’t give birth. They lay eggs instead. That’s right, eggs. You can imagine the explorers’ confusion. …

Continue reading