The world is a fascinating place.
Just when you think you’ve got a pretty solid grip on reality, you’ll read about how giraffes eat, and your whole perspective will change.
And we’re not kidding about the giraffes, by the way.
1. Carrots became orange fairly recently.
You can actually find purple, white, yellow, and red carrots, and they’ve each got their own flavor. What’s more, the orange carrots we know and love (or at least tolerate) are quite new.
Dutch farmers in the 1500s began favoring darker carrots because the lighter carrots were sometimes bitter, and darker colors were believed to have medicinal properties. The Dutch eventually prized orange carrots over other varieties, possibly as a way of paying tribute to William of Orange, but probably not.
This is a popular rumor, but there’s not much evidence to support it. In any case, the new carrots were a hit, because they didn’t stain cookware (a persistent problem with other colors).
2. Giraffes feed on acacia trees in a very specific way.
Wait, that’s not the fascinating part. Trust us, this is actually one of the more interesting examples of evolution and behavioral adaptation in action.
Giraffes love to eat the leaves of acacia trees, but this is harmful to the trees (being eaten generally isn’t a good way to start your day). Through many generations, acacia trees developed thorns. Giraffes, in turn, developed long, prehensile tongues, which they can use to strip off the delicious leaves without getting stuck by the bigger thorns.
Acacia trees escalated this evolutionary war by developing toxic tannins that taste awful to giraffes. These tannins aren’t always in the leaves, however. The trees must produce them. When a giraffe begins eating acacia, the tree will produce the toxin, and it will also release a chemical signal to nearby acacia trees, warning them to start producing the tannins.
Giraffes caught on, though, and they now approach the trees from upwind in order to “sneak up” on the trees. Nature is really cool.
3. Nintendo isn’t a new company; it was founded in 1889.
While we know Nintendo as a video game company, the Japanese business originally made playing cards for a game called “Hanafuda.”
By the 1960s, Nintendo was making electronic toys, including a “Love Tester,” a simple device that let people test whether they were romantically compatible (no, it didn’t work). Nintendo actually tried to set up light gun shooting galleries in the 1970s—if you can picture playing Duck Hunt in an abandoned bowling alley, you get the basic idea—but that didn’t interest consumers.
In the late 1970s, Nintendo hired Shigeru Miyamoto, who designed Donkey Kong in 1981. Mario, by the way, has a mustache and overalls simply because that was the only way that Miyamoto could make the character look human given the technical limitations of the time.
One more quick Mario fact: Originally he wasn’t named Mario. Miyamoto called his character Mr. Video and planned to use the same character in every game he ever made. Why? “Well, I thought the way [Alfred] Hitchcock cropped up in all the films he directed was really cool,” Miyamoto said.
4. Violets turn off your sense of smell.
Ever notice how violets always smell sweet, fresh, and strong? That’s partially because the plant stops you from smelling it for more than a few moments at a time.
The scent of a violet comes from ionone, a chemical that binds to human scent receptors. Sniff for very long, and the ionone will temporarily shut off your sense of smell. Every time you smell the scent, it’s essentially the first time you’ve ever smelled it—and because ionone seems to disappear temporarily, it’s never overpowering.
5. Ketchup defies one of Newton’s laws.
It gets thinner when you shake it; that makes ketchup a non-Newtonian fluid. These fluids defy Newton’s Law of Viscosity, and tomato ketchup is actually nearly solid until you start moving it around.
So, why does this happen? Scientists actually aren’t sure, but they’ve got some pretty decent theories, and they’ve been testing non-Newtonian fluids to try to get a definitive answer.
6. Opossums are immune to snake bites and bee stings.
These marsupials have toxin-neutralizing factors in their blood, which is important given that they eat snakes regularly. And we’re just getting started with the opossum facts, by the way. One of the oldest mammals, opossums have remained largely unchanged for thousands of years. They’re often considered unintelligent, but they beat rats and cats in maze tests, much to the amazement of researchers (we apologize for the pun). They’re also incredible predators: A single opossum might eat 4,000 ticks in a week. And they’re mostly immune to rabies.
What about “playing possum?” Yes, that’s a real behavior—corner an opossum, and it’s likely to fall to the ground and emit a foul-smelling odor. But opossums don’t consciously decide to play dead; their systems are simply overwhelmed, and they may keep “playing” for hours at a time.
7. If taxpayers really want to save money, they should stop printing it.
Or stop minting pennies and nickels, at least. The metals used to make those coins are more valuable than the coins themselves. Minting pennies and nickels cost $105 million in 2013, according to the Washington Post. Producing a dollar’s worth of nickels costs $1.88, whereas a dollar’s worth of pennies costs $1.83. There are economic benefits to having those small denominations in circulation, however, and the United States Mint easily makes up the difference when printing dollar bills: A dollar costs a mere $0.23 to print.
But per-dollar costs have skyrocketed since 2005, prompting a debate among lawmakers. In 2013, President Obama suggested dropping the penny.
Any time we’re spending money on something people don’t actually use, that’s an example of things we should probably change, Obama said. It wouldn’t be an unprecedented move; Canada stopped producing its own pennies back in 2012. Still there currently aren’t any plans to ditch the penny in the United States.
8. Now a few facts to mess with your perception of time.
Oxford University is old—really old. Most historians agree that teaching had begun at Oxford in 1096, which means that when Oxford was established, the Aztec civilization hadn’t yet formed (the Aztecs founded their city of Tenochtitlan around 1325).
Want something a little stranger? The last widow of an American Civil soldier died in 2008. Maudie White Hopkins wasn’t alive during the war—she married a Confederate veteran when he was 86 and she was only 19—but she was still an incredible link to history. She didn’t speak of her first marriage for years, later explaining that she “didn’t want people to gossip about it.”
If that doesn’t blow your mind, let’s take things back to the prehistoric era. The first plants that we could classify as trees lived 350 million years ago; the first sharks lived 400 million years ago. Yes, that means that sharks are, technically, older than trees.
9. Your body has more bacterial cells than human cells.
The exact number will vary from person to person; some sources claim that your body has about 10 times as many bacterial microbes. However, nobody can really count them, so that’s merely an estimate.
What’s perhaps more amazing is that humans are born almost bacteria free. The birthing process gives them many of their mothers’ bacteria, which is probably why babies delivered via C-section have a higher risk of developing some allergies. There’s even some evidence that certain antibiotics can cause asthma.
As you probably know, not all bacteria are bad, and scientists try to avoid calling certain species “good” or “bad.” Many can be beneficial or harmful depending on where they are (and who they’re inside, since bacteria can have different effects depending on your biology). Store-bought probiotics, by the way, don’t seem to be effective at treating digestive conditions, and some might even be harmful.