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Facts About State Dinosaurs: Meet the 12+ Official State Dinos

Did you know that some states have adopted state dinosaurs as symbols representing their natural wonders? Most of us have heard of a state bird, which are technically extant dinosaurs (dino descendants). Often, states have an official fish, flower, flag, or tree. 

In some states, there are state symbols such as:

  • nicknames
  • bats
  • insects
  • snakes
  • boats
  • languages
  • spirits (alcohol)
  • mottos
  • songs
  • stones
  • shells
  • vegetables
  • fossils 

Notably, it’s just a sampling of all the official state symbols.

Also, some state legislatures have passed bills brought forward for state dinosaurs as well. Sometimes, state symbols are changed by vote, as was recently done with Mississippi’s state flag. 

Other times, lawmakers file bills designating new official emblems. In such cases, the process can educate students on the legislative process. In addition, the new symbols can or highlighting local culture and history.

Massachusetts Votes On Possible State Dinosaurs

Recently, a Massachusetts Democrat, Rep. Jack Lewis, offered a poll for designating a state dinosaur. After consulting with paleontologists and dinosaur enthusiasts, he arrived at two top picks.

“Twelve states have already designated an official “State Dinosaur,” and with your help, maybe Massachusetts will be next,” wrote Lewis.

Which dinosaur will claim the official title, millions of years after it went extinct? It’s up to the voters.

Contestant Number One: Podokesaurus holyokensis 

“The dinosaurs up for consideration are Podokesaurus holyokensis and Anchisaurus polyzelus. While they aren’t the largest dinosaurs to roam the planet, they begin to tell the story of how dinosaurs came to rule the Earth,” he continued.

Voters can choose between the “Swift-footed lizard of Holyoke” (Podokesaurus holyokensis) or the “Much sought after near lizard,” Anchisaurus polyzelus. In the former case, a Massachusetts park features genuine footprints made by Jurassic Period dinosaurs at Holyoke.

According to ABC27, the dinosaur was 3 to 6 feet (around 1 to 2 meters) in length. Although it could weigh 90 pounds, it ran up to 12 mph. In comparison, Anchisaurus could be over 6 feet long and about 60 to 75 pounds. 

By the looks of it, this guy was streamlined like some half greyhound, half-lizard! We’re also getting Roadrunner vibes.

Restoration of Podokesaurus holyokensis by FunkMonk via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0
Restoration of Podokesaurus holyokensis by  FunkMonk via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Mignon Talbot

In 1910, Geologist Mignon Talbot became one of the first women to find and describe a dinosaur: Podokesaurus holyokensis. Talbot discovered the first Podokesaurus fossil near Mount Holyoke. In 1916, a fire destroyed the only specimen in the science hall of Mount Holyoke College.

Contestant Number Two: Anchisaurus polyzelus

Meanwhile, excavation superintendent William Smith saved fossils of the “much sought after near lizard,” Anchisaurus polyzelus, in 1855 in Springfield. Smith found the fossils when workers were blasting a well at the Springfield Armory. At the time, the word “dinosaur” was only 13 years old. Thus, the specimen wasn’t recognized as a dinosaur until years later.

Anchisaurus by Nobu Tamura via Wikipedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0
Anchisaurus by Nobu Tamura via Wikipedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Related: Giant Lizards Called Argentine Tegus are Invading the American Southeast

State Dinosaurs in Twelve States and D.C. (And Counting)

Keep in mind, some fossils are also dinosaurs, so it appears some states have two official dinos in some cases. However, we’ll focus only on the official state dinosaurs.

Arizona – Sonorasaurus thompsoni, adopted in 1988

See more from the Pinal Geology Museum:

Arkansas – Arkansaurus fridayiadopted in 2017

See more from Exploring Arkansas:

California – Augustynolophus morrisiadopted in 2017

See more from Animals: The Definitive Guide:

Colorado – Stegosaurus armatusadopted in 1982

See more from igpcolorado:

Connecticut – Dilophosaurus, adopted in 2017

See more from Brian Engh Peleoart:

District of Columbia – Capitalsaurus, Adopted in 1998

The unique dinosaur may have been a 40-foot long carnivore. In 1998, a D.C. public school teacher and a group of fifth-graders successfully lobbied City Hall. They advocated for designating Capitalsaurus, the District of Columbia’s official dinosaur. However, the species remains mysterious until more fossils are discovered.

See more from E.D.G.E.:

Maryland – Astrodon johnstoni, adopted in 1998

See more from Maryland Milestones:

Missouri – Hypsibema missouriensis adopted in 2004

See more from Nine Network:

New Jersey – Hadrosaurus foulkii, adopted in 1991

See more from HoagL:

Oklahoma – Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, adopted in 2006

See more from the Museum of the Red River:

Texas – Paluxysaurus jonesi, Adopted in 2006

Paluxysaurus jonesi replaced Pleurocoelus, which was the state dinosaur beginning in 1997. A paleontologist disputed the Texas dinosaur’s true identity, causing a state member of Congress to file a resolution to correct the name.

Utah – Utahraptor ostrommaysorum, adopted in 2018

See more from Brigham Young University:

Wyoming – Triceratops horridus, adopted in 1994


Featured image: Restoration of Podokesaurus holyokensis by FunkMonk via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

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Facts About Human Hibernation: Our Ancestors May Have, Will We?

A preliminary study suggests our ancient ancestors entered hibernation. During the cold winter months, they took to hibernacula in caves and slept through the winter. Now, their fossilized remains have left behind clues showing they may have suffered considerably while hibernating.

This year, most of us might warm to the idea of hibernating through the winter. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we’re socially isolating and cooped up indoors. So, the concept of just sleeping until the pandemic subsides might sound ideal.  

However, judging by the scientists’ findings, hibernation was dangerous, leading to many health problems. Nevertheless, scientists are researching hibernation, suggesting that one day we might hibernate. In the future, hibernation could enable us to survive a new challenge: space travel.

Sima de los Huesos, the Chasm of Bones

The Sima de los Huesos is a cave in north-central Spain in the Atapuerca Mountains Translated; it means “the chasm or pit of bones.” The caves have revealed 28 individual hominid fossils now firmly dated to 430,000 years old. However, archaeologists found thousands of hominin skeletal remains.

Thus, it’s the largest and oldest collection of human remains in Europe discovered. Long before modern humans, Homo sapiens, evolved, early hominids such as Neanderthals and Homo heidelbergensis lived in the caves.

In March 2008, a jawbone dating to 1.2 million years ago was found in the area. The jawbone belonged to the species Homo antecessor, or the “pioneer man.” The species might have been a common ancestor of the Neanderthals and modern humans. 

See more about the archaeological site of Atapuerca from UNESCO below:

Hibernation in the Glacial Period

When our early ancestors inhabited the caves, it was during a glacial period. For months, they struggled to get through long, dark winters. Upon studying their remains, the researchers found signs they may have been able to survive through hibernation.

If primitive mammals and primates can hibernate, then perhaps the early hominids could also.

“The notion that humans can undergo a hypometabolic state analogous to hibernation may sound like science fiction, but the fact that hibernation is used by very primitive mammals and primates suggests that the genetic basis and physiology for such a hypometabolism could be preserved in many mammalian species including humans,” the researchers write.

During hibernation, mammals’ heart rate, breathing, and metabolic rate slow down. During this time, no water is required, and the body temperature is lower. By entering hibernation, mammals survive by expending the least amount of energy possible. Sleep continues without breaks to drink or look for food.

Evidence of Hibernation Preserved in Bones 

Although the early humanlike ancestors are long gone, their bones tell their story. After hiding out for months in the caves, abnormalities caused by disease and nutritional deficiencies left their mark.

Studying the bones required many techniques such as macrophotography, microscopy, histology, and CT scanning. 

Some of the health problems indicated:

  • renal rickets
  • brown tumors
  • osteitis fibrosa
  • rotten fence post 
  • beading of ribs 
  • secondary hyperparathyroidism
  • Chronic Kidney Disease
  • renal osteodystrophy 
  • Mineral and Bone Disorder 

In adolescents, there was evidence of annually intermittent puberty and healing due to “non-tolerated hibernation.” While they might have a growth spurt in the warmer months, their bodies didn’t fare well for the cold months.

Thus, it appears that hibernation proved challenging but allowed survival during an inhospitable glacial period. After hibernating, there was damage to bones and the onset of diseases due to poor nutrition and no sunlight exposure. Without the sun, there were vitamin D deficiencies.

Torpor, Brumation, and Estivation

Every year, warm-blooded mammals like bears get through the winters through long periods of extended torpor. During this time, it’s like a long winter nap rather than true hibernation. Usually, bears can respond if disturbed and occasionally takes breaks to drink or eat. On the other hand, hibernating mammals may only awake sporadically until warmer weather arrives.

Nevertheless, if the period of torpor lasts longer than 24 hours, it’s generally considered hibernation. 

Torpor

Some animals involuntarily go into torpor when the weather turns cold. These periods may last only a few minutes or for hours. Animals like birds, raccoons, skunks, and rodents can survive the winter through torpor. Bears are also considered to enter a state of torpor, though most people think of them as champion hibernators.

When animals awake from torpor, they may need to shake to get the muscles working again.

Below, a hummingbird sleeps in a state of torpor via Barticuno:

Brumation

Some cold-blooded animals brumate during the winter. Unlike hibernators, these animals rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. So, they go into brumation and wake up depending on the outside temperatures. If it gets warmer, they will wake up for a break, regardless of the time of year.

Examples of species that brumate include many frogs, snakes, turtles, and reptiles like the Argentine Tegu and bearded dragons.

Today, reptiles like the Tegu are spreading throughout the American south, brumating in the colder months.

Estivation or Aestivation

What makes estivation, also called aestivation, different? It’s a survival strategy for conserving energy and water during hot and dry months. Thus, the period of dormancy tends to happen in the summertime. By going into estivation, animals can stay cool and prevent drying out, called desiccation.

Diverse animals take advantage of estivation, including some examples of:

  • Crocodiles
  • Snails
  • Fish
  • Frogs
  • Crabs
  • Moths
  • Ants
  • Beetles
  • Salamanders
  • Mosquitos
  • Tortoises
  • Dwarf Lemurs
  • Hedgehogs

As with torpor, animals estivate can wake up faster than if they were hibernating. Sometimes, they can reverse their short nap in only a few minutes.

Should Humans Revisit the Whole Hibernation Idea?

Through hibernation, torpor, brumation, and estivation, animals can survive. Now, it appears our ancient ancestors may have done the same.

Now, scientists must answer the question: Why did our ancient ancestors, which may have hibernated, die out? What allowed Homo sapiens the evolutionary advantage, though we can’t hibernate today? Maybe it’s time we revisit the whole concept?

For example, if we begin journeys into space, hibernation could prove a key advantage. Today, scientists are studying animals like bears to see how they do it. One day, it’s possible they may apply what they learn to induce humans into a state of hibernation.

By hibernating, humans could travel to new worlds.

See more about possible human hibernation during space travel from WIRED:


Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube/WIRED

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Conspiracy Theories that Continue to Dredge Up the Titanic

This time, we’re looking at facts about a Titanic conspiracy theory.

One hundred and eight years after the Titanic sank, it remains the most famous maritime disaster ever. After all this time, conspiracy theories and ideas about what caused the wreck remain ongoing.

One particularly wild but compelling conspiracy theory: The Titanic never actually sank on April 15, 1912. Now, there is no dispute that a ship did sink, killing some 1,500 passengers. At least everyone can agree on that part.

However, as the conspiracy theory goes, the real ship’s identity was the slightly older Olympic. Why? A name swap was made so that the builders could collect a tidy insurance payoff.

The Worl’s Largest Luxury Liner in 1910: The Olympic

The Olympic and the Britannic were the sister ships of the Titanic. White Star Line, in competition with Cunard Line’s Mauretania, began building massive British luxury liners. These ships promised more comfort and luxury and focused less on the Mauretania’s impressive speed.

Thus, on October 20, 1910, the Olympic launched for the sea. From there, it remained in service from 1911 to 1935. It was the world’s largest and most luxurious liner, able to carry 2,300 passengers. At the helm was Captain Edward J. Smith, the same man who would go to a watery grave aboard Titanic.

In September 1911, the ship was on its fifth commercial voyage when it collided with the military vessel HMS Hawke. Both ships sustained serious damages. Thankfully, the Olympic was able to limp back to port for repairs. After that, the liner required extensive repairs, returning to service in November 1911.

See a simulation of the crash below from Blue Star Line:

Surviving Traces of the Olympic 

When the Titanic sank in 1912, the Olympic required additional safety improvements. (And lifeboats!) By April 1913 was it ready for another transatlantic voyage.

Over the next two decades, the ship became known as “Old Reliable.” In 1918, it survived an act of war, sinking a German U-boat by ramming it. Previously, in 1915, a German U-boat sank Cunard Line’s ship, the Lusitania, prompting the United States to enter World War I.

Unfortunately, a year before retirement, the Olympic sank another vessel by accident. On May 15, 1934, the liner ran into a lightship off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, killing seven crewmen. After that, the ship became scrap metal. However, hotels in England repurposed many of the ship’s fixtures.

Some of the Olympic’s furnishing and fixtures remain in the White Swan Hotel in Alnwick, Northumberland. They give an eery look at what the Titanic likely resembled. 

See some of them in the video from WaterWorld below:

Titanic: Largest Movable Human-made Object in the World

When the Titanic’s hull was positioned in the River Lagan, Belfast, on May 31, 1911, it was the world’s largest moveable human-made object. Watertight bulkheads operated by a switch on the bridge inspired Shipbuilder magazine to dub the ship “practically unsinkable.”

Almost a year later, on April 10, 1912, the Titanic set off on its maiden voyage in Southampton, England.

As we know, the bulkheads were fatally flawed, allowing water to enter the ship’s compartments as it sank. Since the ship was thought unsinkable, the planners included lifeboats for only one-third of the passengers.

Notably, financier J.P. Morgan planned to be on the maiden voyage but canceled at the last minute due to “business matters.” However, accounts also suggest he was ill at the time.

Fire and Ice Sink the Titanic

Upon departure, a small coal fire was discovered in one of the Titanic’s bunkers. The captain and chief engineer deemed the fire inconsequential and ordered the fire stokers to control it while at sea.

Today, this coal fire is the subject of a documentary. Instead of being a minor inconvenience, it’s though the fire may have weakened the ship’s hull after all.

As the documentary suggests, the Titanic was recklessly speeding in icy waters to burn off the coal fire. Thus, it struck the fateful iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland.

See about the documentary from CBS Evening News:

Titanic or Olympic?

Now to the strange conspiracy theory: White Star Line swapped the ships, and the Olympic was the ship that went down. As you’ll recall, the Olympic was badly damaged when it struck the HMS Hawke on its fifth voyage on September 20, 1911.  

After a trial, White Star Line was found responsible for the extensive damages. Therefore, the ship was an enormous liability for the company and not eligible for any insurance coverage.

So, the theory posits the company swapped the ships’ names, and the Titanic became the new name for the Olympic. The intent: to allow the Olympic, masquerading as the newer Titanic, to have a convenient accident. Thus, the White Star Line could collect insurance as if it was the brand new Titanic.

Before that could happen, an unintended catastrophic accident arrived in the shape of an iceberg.

A Nefarious Plot That Ran Into an Iceberg

When the Titanic struck the iceberg, we all know what happened next. The ship was lost, and 1,500 people died, including Captain Smith, who was on the bridge during the 1911 Olympic accident.

Surely this couldn’t have been the idea? Well, from there, the conspiracies grow much darker:

According to Popular Mechanics:

“Other conspiracy theorists claim a more nefarious reasoning for the sinking: J.P Morgan was behind the switch, eager to use an inferior ship to drown his enemies onboard.”

Perhaps, that’s why the Titanic wasn’t allowed a public inspection before its maiden voyage? So that nobody could discover its true identity? That’s one theory…

Connecting the Dots

According to another theory, we can find evidence of a ship-swapping very easily. Just examine the portholes on the vintage photos of the two ships.

On Reddit, a popular thread examines the old photographs of the Titanic and Olympic. By counting the portholes on the top row near the white railing, it appears the Olympic had a series of oddly spaced portholes. However, the Titanic’s portholes were evenly spaced. Strangely, by the time the Titanic set off for its maiden voyage, the portholes matched the Olympic. Aha! The ships had been switched.

The Olympic before and after the Titanic
The Olympic before and after the Titanic, images via Reddit (captions added)

Holes in the Porthole Theory

As compelling as the photographic evidence may seem, Titanic researchers Steve Hall and Bruce Beveridge debunk the idea:

“The Olympic,” they write, “like the Titanic, was fitted originally with the same 14-porthole arrangement on the port side of her forecastle, but two additional portholes were later fitted; they were there in March 1912.”

Thus, the disparities are due to portholes later added, say the researchers. 

Questionable Insurance Payoff Plot

Similarly, historian Mark Chirnside addresses the likelihood that J.P. Morgan wanted to collect an insurance payoff:

“…the Titanic’ cost $7,500,000′ – and was insured ‘for $5,000,000, I understand.'” This is backed up by the IMM’s American Vice-President, Philip A. S. Franklin, who confirmed that the insurance policy was $5 million.

 

“Were there a conspiracy, one would expect that the insurance policy would have been changed to cover the entire value of the ship,” Chirnside writes. “As it was, White Star could only expect to recoup two-thirds of the ship’s value.”

Nevertheless, J.P. Morgan died not long after the Titanic sank on March 31, 1913, at age 75. He passed away due to ailing health at a hotel in Rome, Italy.

Pointing to Plates 

Other irregularities making the Titanic conspiracy doubtful: The builders improved and enlarged the Titanic’s café and restaurant. So, it was unique in more ways than peculiar porthole arrangements. For verification, one could look at what’s left of the Olympic in the White Swan Hotel today.

Also, builders added reinforced steel plates to the Olympic after the collision with the HMS Hawke.

Notably, those steel plates were still there in ship inspections through the 30s. The British Board of trade found no such plates when they investigated the Titanic.

Consequently, the evidence for the conspiracy theories is dismissed by experts and historians. Regardless, J.P. Morgan died one of the world’s wealthiest Americans, leaving behind a massive fortune.

See more facts about J.P. Morgan below from Alux.com:


Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube and image via Reddit

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Humans Aren’t That Special and Other Facts about Humans

This time, we’re looking at just a few facts about humans and the human experience. Overall, the human body is an incredible biological system. As people often like to note, we have the most highly developed brain. However, you may not know it the way some people act.

Organized into nine major organ systems that work together with tissues, a healthy person’s body runs in mysterious and astonishing complexity. However, some facts about humans and our bodies remain uncommon knowledge or quite strange. We’ll look at just a few examples.

Facts about Humans: We’re Animals 

As grandiose as people tend to be, humans are also animals made of the same matter as other animals. As such, we’re part of the food chain and connected with all other living things. Notably, we share our DNA with all other organisms that ever existed.

Today, our species is doing more to upset the delicate food chain than any other. One way to turn this around is by understanding that we can’t live without nature and diverse natural wildlife and plants. Remember, we’re truly made of the same stuff and interdependent.

One way that humans are unique is we walk bipedally, mostly on two legs. Other than that and our well-developed brain, we’re not particularly special. Even the fact that we have non-visible bioluminescence isn’t special. Recently, we learned that a platypus can glow under a blacklight.

In fact, scientists are discovering that other animals can do things that we long thought were unique to people. For example, a species of fish was recently found domesticating another species.

For a long time, we thought humans were “all that” since we have things like speech, language, consciousness, tool use, art, music, material culture, commerce, agriculture, and non‑reproductive sex. However, as we look at other species more, we learn they can be capable of many of these traits. For instance, as many as 1% of all animals use tools.

Even your neighborhood crows can use tools.

Humans Excel at Long-Winded Stories

According to the author and geneticist Adam Rutherford, humans are unique in this way:

“What humans uniquely do is that we accumulate culture and build on it. Many animals learn, but only we teach,” wrote Rutherford.

If that’s true, humans can teach each other that preserving wild nature is vital to our existence. Fortunately, leaders like Sir David Attenborough and Dame Jane Goodall are doing just that.

Therefore, humans are particularly great at telling long-winded stories. However, nobody said they had to be true –hence our current political climate.

Humans Aren’t the Top of the Totem Pole

In 2013, a group of French researchers used food supply data to determine how humans rank in the food chain. The results could be “deflating” if you have long believed we’re at the top of nature’s totem pole. 

To rank as an apex predator, one would have to consume only the meat of other predators. Therefore, since humans are omnivores, eating many plants and animals, our ranking is much lower than one might think:

From Smithsonian Magazine:

“On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the score of a primary producer (a plant) and 5 being a pure apex predator (a animal that only eats meat and has few or no predators of its own, like a tiger, crocodile or boa constrictor), they found that based on diet, humans score a 2.21—roughly equal to an anchovy or pig. Their findings confirm common sense: We’re omnivores, eating a mix of plants and animals, rather than top-level predators that only consume meat.”

That’s right. Humans’ place on the food chain is next to anchovies, a slender silvery fish and sometimes-pizza topping, and pigs. It’s one of those facts about humans most would probably like to ignore.

Below, see a list of the top ten animals in the food chain from ViralB:

We’re All Airheads 

The next time you hear someone refer to another as an “airhead,” consider the following facts about humans:

Amazingly, each person requires trillions of cells grouped into 200 different types. However, those cells are made up of many more atoms. One estimate is that every adult has around 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (7 octillion) atoms.

Thus, we need at least seven octillion atoms, but the space between them is vast. For instance, the nucleus inside each atom is surrounded by so much space; it’s comparable to a fly inside a cathedral. Thus, the surrounding atoms never touch one another.

Without all that space, we would fit into a cube less than 1/500th of a centimeter on each side! In that case, we would be similar to neutron stars, so compressed that a teaspoon of one can weigh a billion tons. For comparison, that would be like squeezing the Sun into the space of a small city.

Although there is lots of space, scientists are learning more about what’s inside that area. In the same way, they’re just beginning to learn about what’s out there deep in outer space. Now, we know it’s not as dark out there as we previously thought, although we don’t know why.

See more about atoms and the not-so-empty space between them from Veritasium:

 

People Never Truly Touch Anything

Fortunately, atoms in our bodies never touch each other. However, ghostly and mysterious particles called dark matter might regularly pass through our bodies. Dark matter could make up five-sixths of all matter in the universe. Annually, scientists believe dark matter may collide with each person’s body 100,000 times.

Nevertheless, our atoms remain quite repulsed by each other. Like two opposing magnets, they push away from their neighbors. Strangely, even when you touch an object, you cannot touch the atoms inside. Thus, a tiny space is always there between your body and your smartphone or any other object.

Remember, whenever you hug your loved ones, you’re not truly touching them, at least not in the atomic sense. Weird, huh?

Astoundingly, the electromagnetic force between atoms is a billion billion billion billion times stronger than gravity. Consequently, even a very small weak magnet can counter the gravitational force of the planet Earth.

Now, for some strange facts about the human body, see this fascinating video from Bright Side:


Featured image by geralt  via PixabayPixabay License

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Giant Lizards Called Argentine Tegus are Invading the American Southeast

Argentine tegus, four-foot dog-sized reptiles resembling spotted wingless dragons, are invading the southeastern United States. The Argentine black and white tegu, Salvator merianae, can weigh over 10 pounds, has few predators, and multiplies quickly. 

In some cases, they may reach almost five feet in length, the largest species of tegu in the world. Thus, they are also called the Argentine Giant Tegu.

While they may not pose a big threat to humans or common household pets, they can bite and whip with their tails. In some cases, they have been known to chase people aggressively.

A much bigger threat is posed to native ground-nesting birds and tortoises since they love to eat eggs. Of course, they’ll also eat almost anything, including vegetables, fruits, and insects. Therefore, they are omnivores like us.

Today, it looks like these invasive, adaptable dragons may spread further into the southern states. Each one can live up to 20 years and can make a popular, intelligent pet. However, owners should never release them into the wild. Instead, they should remain in captivity or be surrendered to a program like the Florida Exotic Pet Amnesty Program.

Origin of the Argentine Black and White Tegu

As you probably guessed, Argentine tegus are from South America. There, they live over a vast range extending from southern Argentina to northern Brazil. They are found in Brazil, Paraguay, eastern Uruguay, and northern Argentina. 

Tegus are among the smartest lizards and highly opportunistic, with strong teeth and jaws. Although they spend most of their time on dry land, they swim well and enter fresh and marine environments. Often, they are found near forested areas near grassy habitats or disturbed agricultural and roadside areas.

Argentine tegus aren’t picky about what they eat or where they live. Thus, you can find them happily living in untouched nature or around human structures and activities.

How They Got to the Southeast United States

The most likely reason these tegus are strolling about the states is that pet owners released them. Note: They can also stand on two legs and sprint like a mini-Tyrannosaurus Rex.

First, they made it to the Florida Everglades, like many other reptile pets such as pythons. After a decade, the reptiles spread to Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, St. Lucie, and Charlotte counties.

Once they made it to these wetlands, the giant lizards began happily eating whatever they could find, including endangered birds and reptiles like sea turtles’ and native gopher tortoise eggs and hatchlings.

Also, they eat American alligator and crocodile eggs, consuming entire nests in one sitting.

When these tegus nest, they can lay over 30 eggs, and then the mother guards them. Thus, their population can grow quickly, even though hunters can legally kill them humanely. As non-native species, they are not protected by state laws, but hunters require a permit on public lands.

A female tegu can begin to lay eggs when she’s only twelve inches long, generally the second year of brumation. She lays her many eggs in a nest that can be aboveground or in a burrow.

See more about the invasion of the Everglades from Great Big Story below:

Related: Mourning Geckos: Reptiles That Reproduce Without Males

A Tegu Went Down to Georgia, South Carolina, and More

Now, the tegus are spreading to Georgia and South Carolina. Fortunately, wildlife officials are trying to stop them.

In Georgia, wildlife officials are trying to eradicate the tegus from Toombs and western Tattnall counties. Using traps, they have to trap each tegu painstakingly. However, they encourage residents to dispatch tegus humanely.

Georgia officials have asked people to avoid leaving pet foods outside, as it can attract the lizard.  Volunteers in the state trap the tegus and give them to people who want them as pets.

Meanwhile, in South Carolina, the tegus have made it to at least four counties. According to National Geographic, there have been sightings in Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas. In Alabama, legislators enacted a ban on importing the animal.

Amy Yackel Adams, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, says the tegus could spread to the entire southeast portion of the United States. Currently, there’s no official estimate of how many currently live in the U.S.

It’s possible U.S. poultry farmers may be impacted as the lizards are known to sneak into chicken coops in Venezuela. There, they are known as el lobo pollero, “the chicken wolf.”

Cute Babies Have a Bright Green Head

Baby Argentine tegus have a bright green head and back. Their bright coloration and spots, inquisitive nature, and relatively docile personalities make them attractive pets. On the other hand, they grow enormous and need lots of space, food, and attention.

Like many reptiles, the tegu can drop its tail and regrow it, though it may not grow back to the same length.

As noted, they can live for two decades so they are a lifetime commitment. Sadly, this is why so many likely ended up in the wild.

Baby Argentine tegu
Baby Argentine tegu, Image via YouTube
Adult Argentine tegu
Adult Argentine tegu, image via Youtube

At adult size, they require an enclosure at least eight feet by four feet. Thus, they require far more space than their juvenile size suggests. One would require a large reptile room for an ideal environment. Consequently, few breeders produce them for pets.

As a pet, these large reptiles can deliver a severe bite. Fortunately, some experts say they tend to be mellow compared to the less-expensive similar-looking Columbian tegu. They are intelligent, curious, and seem to enjoy some interactions with their trusted humans.

On the other hand, these tegus can have periods of grumpy behavior as they become adolescents. Notably, behavior can change fast if pets are taken outside in natural light.

See more about the Argentine Tegu as a pet from Clint’s Reptiles:

Brumation During Cold Months

The Argentine tegu is capable of surviving cool temperatures with a brumation period, similar to hibernation. When temperatures drop, they seek underground burrows and move very little without eating. Rather than creating a burrow, they steal other animals’ homes like gopher tortoises or burrowing owls.

During brumation, their metabolism slows to the extent that they don’t require food for long periods. However, the tegus still must occasionally find water. 

Through brumation, tegus can survive colder temperatures than some other reptiles. Plus, they can elevate their body temperatures by as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit above the surrounding ambient temperature.

In Florida, the tegus emerge from their burrows as early as February.

Like other invasive species like the Asian Giant Hornet, wildlife officials have their hands full trying to stop their invasions. Similar and even bigger reptiles called Asian and Nile monitors are also invading the Sunshine State, first seen in 1990. 

See more about the African Nile monitor lizard invasion in Florida via WPTV:

Are Argentine Tegus Here to Stay?

The Argentine black and white tegu may be here to stay, despite wildlife officials’ best efforts. In Argentina, they have remained plentiful, though the country can export two million tegu skins annually. Skins are used for leather, and the reptiles are also a food source for rural and native people.

Wildlife officials trapped around 900 Argentina tegus in South Florida in 2020. Nevertheless, they remain plentiful, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. In Georgia, numbers are so far much smaller at only six, down from twelve last year.

If you spot one of these reptiles, contact your local wildlife officials to report the sighting. Although they are fascinating creatures, they pose a real threat to our irreplaceable native wildlife.

See a wild tegu chase from Brave Wilderness:

 


Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube

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Facts about Chess, ‘The Queen’s Gambit,’ and the Real-life Inspiration

Chess is having a great year after the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit” made the subject mesmerizing. It became Netflix’s most-watched scripted limited series in November 2020, with 62 million viewers.

Chess, the two-player strategy board game, has been around in some form since ancient times. Today, thanks in part to the series, it’s more popular than ever. As more people stay at home due to the pandemic, there is also more time to play board games.

Chess Set Sales Are Skyrocketing

According to The Guardian, chess sets are chess clocks like those featured in the Netflix series, are selling like crazy. 

“The online retailer eBay said US sales of chess sets have soared by 60% since last year as more people spend time at home. And since the release of The Queen’s Gambit, sales of chess sets and accessories shot up by nearly 215%.

 

Wooden chess sets are the most popular, and vintage sets are also in demand. Sales of chess clocks and timers have risen 45% since last month and score pads by 300%.”

Amid the COVID-19 lockdown, playing chess is a welcome pastime.

Meanwhile, internet chess sites are also seeing a dramatic spike in players. At Chess.com, they have seen over 24,000 new members since October 2020. 

International grandmaster Maurice Ashley says that chess has become a veritable frenzy:

“The frenzy around it is crazy … All of a sudden, it’s an incredible awareness and excitement around the game, and a lot of the same people are now taking up chess and starting to play. So it’s really had a pretty surprising, wonderful, electrifying effect on the fanbase, particularly of non-players.”

Actress Anya Taylor-Joy 

A big part of the appeal of The Queen’s Gambit is actress Anya Taylor-Joy.

Anya Taylor-Joy was born in the United States in Miami but was raised to age six in Argentina, speaking Spanish. She is the youngest of six siblings. Then, she learned English at age eight after moving to London. However, she refused to speak English for two years, hoping her family would return to Argentina.

Sarah Doukas, a talent scout who discovered model Kate Moss, spotted Taylor-Joy at age 17 on the street. She was practicing walking in her mother’s heels as she walked her dog beside the English department store Harrod’s. 

While walking, she noticed a car following her, and she thought she was about to be kidnapped. Then someone said, “If you stop, you won’t regret it.” Inside was Doukas, who handed her a business card and advised her not to talk to strangers again.

As a successful model and then actress, it’s notable that kids bullied Taylor-Joy in school due to her widely-set eyes, causing her to drop out. From there, she moved to New York to focus on becoming an actress.

See facts about Anya Taylor-Joy from Star Fun Facts:

Thousands Have Played A Chess Bot Named Beth Harmon

By the end of November, over 100,000 players in America played a bot named Beth Harmon on Chess.com. Harmon is the fictional chess genius in The Queen’s Gambit, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. 

The actress gave voice to a Gelfling princess name Brea in the canceled Netflix show: the Dark Crystal, Age of Resistance.

See the bot below from ChessNetwork:

Fictional Beth Harmon Based On Real-Life Bobby Fischer

The real-life inspiration for the fictional character of Beth Harmon is an American chess prodigy and Brooklynite, Bobby Fischer. 

He has been called one of the greatest chess players in history. Fischer is himself subject of the 2015 film, Pawn Sacrifice. In the movie, Tobey Maguire stars as Fischer and focuses on his early years as a chess champion. Later in life, Fischer became a controversial figure, as we’ll see next.

See the trailer for Pawn Sacrifice below:

Bobby Fischer Versus Beth Harmon

As a boy, Fischer started playing at age six and played professionally at age eight. By age 15, he became the world’s youngest international grandmaster. Both Harmon and Fischer become teenage chess prodigies.

During the Cold War in the 1960s, teenage Fischer taught himself, Russian, to learn about his chess rivals. Russia held the world title as home of the world chess masters for 35 years.

In 1972, Fischer went on to take the crown of reigning world champion Boris Spassky in a chess game called “the match of the century.” Thus, he was the first American to win the World Chess Championship since its inception in 1866. 

Although Harmon is now inspiring women everywhere to take up chess, Fischer once said he could beat any woman, even if they had “knight odds,” meaning a headstart. Since he isn’t alive today, it’s impossible to know what he would think of The Queen’s Gambit.

In real life, actress Anya Taylor-Joy and Bobby Fischer both dropped out of school to pursue their dreams. For Taylor-Joy, that meant pursuing an acting career in New York. For Fischer, that meant pursuing a chess career in New York.

The Ballad of Bobby Fischer

Due to the popularity of The Queen’s Gambit, there could be a sequel. However, if it takes after Fischer’s life, the storyline could be tragic. According to GQ:

“Fischer died in Iceland in 2008 aged 64 from kidney failure after refusing medical treatment. Some believe he is the greatest chess player in history. Certainly, he is the most enigmatic. During his later years, he was bedeviled with psychological problems. There is a theory that chess drove him mad. Others say it helped keep him sane.”

Nevertheless, Fischer was a pop culture phenomenon and the subject of a song, “The Ballad of Bobby Fischer.”

Winning Against Spassky After 20 Years

Mike Wallace profiled Bobby Fischer, who was then only 29 years old and training for the Cold War showdown against Russian Boris Spassky. 

According to History.com, Fischer viewed the match as a political showdown at the time.

“Fischer had already accused the Soviets of rigging the tournament system and didn’t mince words in his feelings about them, saying the match was “really the free world against the lying, cheating, hypocritical Russians … They always suggest that the world’s leaders should fight it out hand to hand. And that is the kind of thing we are doing.”

Indeed, Henry Kissinger, the national security assistant for President Nixon, may have persuaded Fischer to play. “America wants you to go over there to beat the Russians,” he reportedly told Fischer.

 The prize was $156,250, then the highest prize for any head-to-head sport except for Boxing, according to Wallace. However, by 1975, Fischer forfeited his title after refusing to play Soviet Anatoly Karpov in Manila.  

He would not go after the competition’s governing body failed to meet all his demands. Afterward, he would not play publicly again for 20 years. 

The Controversial Rematch and Final Years

Then, in 1992, he challenged Spassky to a rematch, which he won. Unfortunately, the rematch defied UN sanctions on the former Yugoslavia. As a result, Fischer became a fugitive from his native United States and eventually moved to Iceland, where he became a citizen in 2004.

After he died in 2008, Reuters reported that Fischer, who was Jewish, “often made anti-Semitic remarks and said after the September 11 attacks he wanted to see his the United States wiped out.”

Amazingly, his old rival Boris Spassky visited his grave in Iceland, where he bent and dusted away the snow.

“Do you think the spot next to him is available,” he joked to reporters afterward, adding, “We will see what happens.”

Although they may have been rivals, Spassky had apparently come to see Fischer with deep respect after all.

See the interview from 60 Minutes below:


Featured image: Bobby Fisher by Anefo via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0) with Beth Harmon via Queen’s Gambit trailer, screenshot via YouTube

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Mammals That Glow Under a Blacklight

This time, we’re taking a look at mammals that glow under blacklight, exhibiting bioluminescence. These mammals can fluoresceabsorbing light in one color or wavelength and emitting it in another.

Of these rare mammals that glow, there are colors in every shade of the rainbow. However, scientists don’t know why or how they do it.

If you had to guess which mammals glow under a blacklight, what would you say? Well, it seems only fitting that one of the strangest mammals in the world has recently discovered to glow: the platypus. 

Add it to the long list of traits, which makes the platypus incredibly strange. It’s venomous, egg-laying, and has a bill like a duck. Now, we can also confirm it glows blue-green under UV light.

Let’s take a closer look at the bioluminescent mammals that glow known so far. They are all small, furry creatures that shine with incredibly bright colors under ultraviolet light.

Hot Pink Flying Squirrels Discovered by Chance

Researchers from Northland College, WI, and Colorado State University released a study into bioluminescent platypuses in October 2020. The discovery came by chance. Professor Jonathan Martin played around with a UV flashlight behind his house one night and discovered a bright pink flying squirrel at a birdfeeder.  

“Perhaps the stars aligned that night because a flying squirrel glided right through the view of his blacklight,” explained student Allie Kohler. “He came to school the next day saying, ‘there’s hot pink glow-in-the-dark flying squirrels in my back yard!'” (see video below)

From there, the researchers went to a museum in Chicago to examine preserved flying squirrels. To their amazement, the specimens all glowed bright fluorescent pink under UV light. However, non-flying squirrels didn’t glow.

Nobody Knows Why the Platypus Glows

While they were at it, another professor, Erik Olson, suggested trying out the UV light on something totally different for comparison.

“Like, what about platypuses? That’s kind of as far from flying squirrels as you can get,” said Olson.

Sure enough, the platypus specimens glowed but in a different color: blue-green. As fascinating as the find is, the researchers don’t know why these animals glow.

For one, they don’t know if platypuses see the glow themselves. For another, there seems to be no clear purpose. One idea is that it helps them to hide from predators that are sensitive to UV light.

Related: The Rare and Not-So-Rare Fascinating World of the Chimera

Mammals That Glow from Three Lineages

After discovering the glowing platypus and flying squirrels, the researchers noted research from the 80s. In 1985, other researchers found out that opossums, which are marsupials, glow in a rainbow of colors.

Below, you can see a short-tailed opossum glowing red under a blacklight.

 

A Missing, Glowing Link?

Opossums are marsupials with a pouch to temporarily hold their babies. However, the platypus is an egg-laying mammal in the monotreme group, while the flying squirrel is in the placental mammal group. Interestingly, a flying squirrel is more closely related to primates (like ourselves) than to marsupials like the opossum.

Nevertheless, these three mammal lineages all share the strange bioluminescent trait. However, they don’t share the same diet and have different ecosystems. These creatures share one trait in common: they tend to hunt at night or in low light conditions. Therefore, they might fluoresce to communicate or for better night-time perception.

One wildlife biologist from Virginia Tech, Corinne Diggins, suggests the fluorescent colors could be a way to attract mates.

“Maybe a brightly pink fluorescent belly on a male flying squirrel makes a female swoon,” Diggins says.

As Kohler points out, since they all share this trait, it’s a possible sign it passed down through evolution. However, the mechanism that causes the fluorescence remains, for now, a mystery.

See more from Ph.D. ecology student Allie Kohler from Colorado State University:

A Call to Save the Platypus from Extinction

Today, Australian scientists are calling to list the platypus as a vulnerable species. Over the last 30 years, the aquatic habitat the species requires has shrunk by more than a fifth. Climate change has ravaged Australia, bring devastating droughts. Other problems include dam building, clearing land for farming, and lower oxygen levels in waterways.

Hopefully, the platypus can avoid extinction as it’s one of the worlds’ most incredible mammals: one of the very few mammals that glow.

More about the platypus from CNA:


Featured image: Screenshots via YouTube/ Allie Kohler from Colorado State University

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Facts about Strange Solar-Powered Animals

In this post, we’ll look at the strange world of solar-powered animals. These creatures somehow learned to harness the power of the sun and live like a part plant, part animal.

Plants are autotrophs, which harness the sun’s power to provide most of the food they need to grow. Through photosynthesis, they can take sunlight and carbon dioxide and change it into sugar for food. Fortunately, the process releases oxygen, essential for (most) life on Earth.

In this world where “going green” is more important than ever, wouldn’t it be great if animals could do it too? As it turns out, a few of them can – living in symbiotic relationships with algae in their bodies. Inside the algae, organelles called chloroplasts contain green chlorophyll, lending a green color.

Let’s take a look at some rare solar-powered animals, which unsurprisingly tend to look green. (but not always)

Solar-powered animals That Change the Planet

It has long been known that many reef-building corals contain photosynthetic algae, called zooxanthellae. Thus, these tiny photosynthetic invertebrate animals create structures that can be seen from space. Reefs are the largest structures of biological origin on Earth.

Since corals remain in one place most of their lives, they function similar to a stationary plant. In this case, it’s called being sessile. However, they differ from plants in that they don’t make their own food. Inside the coral’s bodies, microscopic zooxanthellae live in mutually beneficial symbiosis.

Therefore, corals are solar-powered animals.

Safely protected, the tiny algae take advantage of the coral’s metabolic waste products, removing them. In return, the coral receives oxygen and the products of the algae’s photosynthesis.  

Due to climate change, corals respond to warmer water and acidity by expelling dying algal cells. It’s a process called “bleaching.” Unfortunately, bleaching eventually kills the reef and is a major concern for the Earth’s oceanic food chain.

More about corals and their symbiotic relationship with algae from Bozeman Science:

Leaf Sheep: Solar-powered Bovines of the Sea?

One doesn’t generally think of a sea slug as adorable, but Costasiella kuroshimael, the “Leaf Sheep,” truly is. Although it’s called a sheep, it looks to us like some kind of cartoon cow, with tiny beady eyes. Plus, it has horn-like rhinophores and pink nose-like spots that add to the cartoon look.

Found at the Great Barrier Reef, Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines, these solar-powered animals mostly go unnoticed. For one thing, they are incredibly tiny, at only a maximum of one centimeter long. Otherwise, they are covered in green leaf-like appendages that make them look like an artichoke. 

As Leaf Sheep feed on algae, they can steal the chloroplasts to use in these leaf-like parts. The process is called kleptoplasty, from the Greek for thief and chloroplasts. Thief or not, these creatures are ridiculously cute up close!

See more about the Leaf Sheep below from Ben G Thomas:

Eastern Emerald Elysia 

Along the coast of the eastern United States, solar-powered animals are slowly creeping along. However, we bet you’ve never seen one, or wouldn’t know if you had. Why? The Eastern Emerald Elysia sea slug, Elysia chlorotica, exactly resembles a leaf, with no resemblance to a bovine. 

Interestingly, the leaf appearance is not just a disguise since the creatures function pretty much like a leaf. Most of the time, they don’t consume food but absorb sunlight to meet all their energy needs.

Like the Leaf Sheep, this creature uses kleptoplasty. Thus, its digestive system can sort out the chloroplasts from algae and moves them to its skin. 

Even more impressive, the slug borrows genes from the algae, which allows it to produce proteins needed to maintain the chloroplasts. Then, the Elysia can go for months relying on the power of the sun. 

See the Eastern Emerald Elysia in action from Strange Animals:

Related: The Rare and Not-So-Rare Fascinating World of the Chimera

Solar-powered Pea Aphids

In the strange world of aphids, Pea Aphids are notable for producing their own carotenoids that work similarly to photosynthesis. All animals aside from this aphid have to obtain carotenoids like beta-Carotene from plants. Somehow, the tiny bugs acquired to skill to make their own.

Notably, the aphids are not truly photosynthetic. However, the carotenoids capture sunlight and produce electrons that aid the production of energy. Thus, pea aphids can use this skill to create adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The greener the aphid, the more ATP they tend to produce.

You might recall from a biology class, ATP is the same molecule that plants create through photosynthesis. Humans also make ATP inside the mitochondria of the cells.

See more about the Pea Aphids and more from SciShow:

Related: A Practically Immortal Animal Is Spreading Across the Planet

Solar Spotted Salamander

This one is perhaps the strangest of all, but the beautiful spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, is the only known solar-powered vertebrate. Although they don’t appear green, they contain chlorophyll-containing single-celled alga all over their bodies.

When spotted salamanders breed, the algae can be seen in the fertilized eggs. From there, the algae remains a part of the salamander’s body. 

Living in symbiosis, single-celled alga, Oophila amblystomatis, may provide oxygen and carbohydrate to the salamander cells.

In most similar situations, an animal’s immune system would attack the foreign cells, but not in this case. Somehow, the salamander’s cells have either turn off their internal immune system. Otherwise, the alga somehow bypasses the immune system.

Before this discovery, it was known that corals similarly co-exist with photosynthetic organisms. However, this is the first time a vertebrate is known to do the same.

See more about the Spotted Salamander from Ben G Thomas:

Could Humans Become Photosynthetic?

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that humans could harness photosynthesis to provide enough energy. Even if we could grow chloroplasts in our skin, we tend to need much more power than a stationary plant. 

This is probably why the Audrey II monster plant in the movie “Little Shop of Horrors” required more than sunlight – much more!

Moreover, consider the energy needs of plants. While a typical tree requires 200 calories a day, a human requires more like 2000. Also, there would be little time for anything other than sitting mostly naked in the sun. Of course, this might be great while on vacation at the beach, but not great otherwise.

Humans have large brains requiring high energy, and the ability to walk around makes that even higher. Thus, the sugars created through photosynthesis would not be enough. Plus, we’d still have to consume food to get the proteins we need at the very least.

So, sadly, humans will probably never be solar-powered animals. As Kermit says, it’s not easy being green.

See more about humans and photosynthesis from Reactions:


Featured image: Elysia chlorotica by Karen N. Pelletreau et al via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0), with screenshots of aphids via YouTube, and spotted salamander via YouTube

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The World of Rare, Weird, and Even Cute Venomous Mammals

This time, we’re looking at facts about rare venomous mammals.

When dinosaurs disappeared some 65 million years ago, it gave the mammals the opening to diversify across the planet. Today, there are around 4,500 species of mammals living in every environment on Earth. However, very few mammals are known to be venomous. We’ll look at the six we know of.

Humans are mammals from the subgroup called primates. Although humans are not technically venomous mammals, we sure know some people who seem to spew venom. Among this category of spiteful or malicious verbal venom, we can list many a politician, that’s for sure. 

Venomous versus Poisonous

For the purpose of this article, we’re focusing on venomous mammals as in the ability to produce venom, a toxic substance injected into an enemy. Usually, venom is injected through biting or stinging. Thus, it differs from poison, a toxic substance that can be passively absorbed or ingested. For example, many bees are venomous but not poisonous because they actively inject toxins with their stinger. 

A few animals can be both venomous and poisonous, but it’s rare. For example, the psychedelic looking blue-ringed octopus falls into this category. If you eat one, you might die from tetrodotoxin poison. Plus, it can also inject venom 1,000 times more potent than cyanide with its beak.

Our Closest Venomous Mammal Relative

Among mammals, human’s closet venomous relative is the slow loris, a nocturnal primate from Asia. Although a slow loris looks ridiculously cute, it turns out that it packs a venomous punch. When a slow loris is threatened, it can bite with flesh-rotting venom.

If Monty Python Were Real

Primate conservationist Dr. Anna Nekaris compares the slow loris to a real-life unlikely Monty Python monster.

“If the killer bunnies on Monty Python were a real animal, they would be slow lorises — but they would be attacking each other.” 

slow loris
A female Pygmy Slow Loris (Nycticebus pygmaeus) clinging strongly to a human arm by Jellrancher via Wikimedia Commons,  Public Domain

A new study by lead author Nkaris reveals the slow loris most often uses its venom against other slow lorises. When threatened, the venomous mammal quickly raises its arms above its head. Then, it licks the venomous oil glands on its arms. 

After licking the venom, it collects in the grooves on the slow loris’s canine teeth. Thus, it’s bite becomes venomous and extremely dangerous.

“The result of their bite is really, really horrendous,” says Dr. Nekaris. “It causes necrosis, so animals may lose an eye, a scalp, or half their face.”

Since the slow loris is so cute, it’s unfortunately captured for the illegal pet trade. However, potential owners may think twice, considering the potential for a nasty bite.

After an extensive field study, Dr. Nakaris believes the slow loris uses the venom to settle territorial disputes with other lorises. Thus, it joins another small list of venomous animals that do the same: ghost shrimp, cone snails, and male platypuses.

See the slow loris from the Dodo:

Related: Mourning Geckos: Reptiles That Reproduce Without Males

Venomous Mammals Called  Platypuses 

The platypus is one of the strangest mammals on Earth from eastern Australia. For one thing, they look like a cross between a water rat and a duck. In fact, the Aboriginal Dreamtime story about the creatures suggests that’s how the platypus came to be.

The platypus is an extremely rare egg-laying mammal in the monotreme group with the spiny anteater. Strangely, it has no stomach, as its gullet connects directly to the intestines. Using the sensitive duck-like bill, the platypus can detect electric currents to hone in on prey.

However, it does share some characteristics with other mammals: hair, milk, three middle ear bones, sweat glands, and a neocortex in the brain. Otherwise, the ways its legs are positioned are more like reptiles. So, too, is the trait of having one orifice for excretion and reproduction.

On the heels of its hind feet, a male platypus has a calcaneus spur that can inject venom. Females lose their spurs during development. During the mating season, a male produces more venom. Thus, scientists believe it uses the stinger to compete with other males for a mate.

If a human is stung, it’s not life-threatening but can be excruciatingly painful and swell up. As you might expect from this weird animal, the platypus venom is unlike anything else, a cocktail of toxins. Scientists note the unique defensin-like proteins seem designed for lasting pain if not killing rival males.

See the platypus venom spine from WildCiencias:

Related: The Rare and Not-So-Rare Fascinating World of the Chimera

The Venomous Shrew

Another of the rare venomous mammals, the shrew’s potential for venom is comparatively well-known. Why? Because calling someone a “venomous shrew” is an occasionally-heard insult while calling someone a venomous platypus or slow loris is not.

A now all-but-forgotten 1959 horror movie, “The Killer Shrews,” was about giant shrews from an experiment gone wrong. The monsters terrified an island with its sharp teeth and poisonous saliva. Notably, the next venomous mammal we’ll look at, the solenodon appears like a giant shrew.

See a clip of “The Killer Shrews” below:

Venom for Hunting Prey

The tiny North American short-tailed shrew does, in fact, have venomous salivary glands in its lower jaw. Using the venom, a shrew can paralyze its prey with its grooved lower incisors.

Once paralyzed, the prey remains alive but immobilized and may be stored for future feeding by the shrew. Therefore, shrews, solenodons, and European moles are the only mammals that use venom for hunting prey.

One of the components of shrew venom, an active peptide called soricidin, is named after the shrew family Soricidae. The biochemist who discovered soricidin patented it for use in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. 

Interestingly, the paralytic properties could potentially make it useful in treating a wide range of health problems. Among them are migraines, neuromuscular diseases, and wrinkles. Thus, venomous mammals can prove beneficial to humans in a number of ways.

“Imagine having a choice of shrew spit or Botox to achieve a more youthful look,” wrote Chemical & Engineering News in 2004.

If bitten by a shrew, the bite is painful and may swell like the platypus sting. However, you are at no risk of being dragged off to the shrew’s hole for later consumption. 

Below, see a death match between a tiny shrew and a snake from National Geographic:

Solenodons: Shrews on Steroids?

If a shrew grew to a foot long rather than four inches with an elongated flexible nose and multicolored fur, it would be a solenodon. Today, the two venomous mammal species are only found on the islands of Cuba and Hispaniola.

Like shrews, they hunt worms and other invertebrates but also eat plants, fruits, and anything else it can kill. Also, like shrews, they can inject venom with their grooved lower incisors. Thus, the Greek word for these animals is “grooved tooth.”

Although they can use their snouts for hunting insects effectively, they are otherwise clumsy and have poor vision. Thus, they are easy prey for predators like introduced cats. 

If cornered, they may grunt like a pig or cry similar to a bird. However, they are said to smell more like a goat with a musty odor.

Unfortunately, solenodons are highly endangered and hunted for food in Haiti. Conservationists are trying to save it as one of the strangest and most ancient of all mammals. Indeed, it has been around since the time of the dinosaurs.

See more from the Zoological Society of London:

Venomous Vampire Bats

Of all the venomous mammals, the blood-sucking vampire bat is probably the best-known. Vampire bats are a mainstay of horror movies, appearing in far more movies than giant shrews ever will. However, the real bats reside in Mexico and Central and South America.

Unlike other bats or any other mammals, they feed exclusively on other animals’ blood like pigs, horses, cows, and birds. Fortunately, they rarely bite people, and when they bite, the animal may not even be aware of it. Unfortunately, they can transmit deadly abies and other infections when they bite. 

Honing in on the sound of the animal’s breathing, they can return to feed again and again. If they don’t have blood for two days in a row, they can die, though another bat may feed them. Unlike other bats, they can walk, hop, and move quite quickly on the ground on their modified thumbs.

See more in the video from NPR’s Skunk Bear:

The Surprising World of Vampire Bats

Recently, scientists discovered that these bats self-isolate when they fall ill. Thus, they seem to avoid spreading infections by socially distancing. Last year, scientists discovered a new class of blood pressure-regulating peptides in the bat’s venom. Now, they think venom could lead to a range of treatments for hypertension, heart failure, kidney diseases, and burns.

Although bats were blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic, vampire bat saliva could lead to a pandemic treatment. These bats seem quite scary, but they are very social with each other, known to adopt orphaned babies if a mother bat dies. Strangely, they can be very tame and friendly toward humans.

Vampire bats are venomous, but the venom doesn’t serve the usual purpose of causing pain or harm. Instead, a cocktail of proteins is delivered in the saliva to prevent the blood from coagulating. 

More about Vampire bats from Nat Geo WILD:

Honorable Mentions

We’ve looked at most of the world’s rare venomous mammals. An honorable mention goes to the hedgehog. In the wild, they are known to lick on poisonous toads, spreading the poison to their spines. Thus, they aren’t venomous yet can render themselves effectively venomous. Strangely, they will experiment with other found substances to apply to their spines. (See video below)

Similarly, maned rats from East Africa are known to use poisonous plants as a defense. After rubbing a poison tree sap on its hair, it can discourage animals that attempt to eat it. 

These two creatures deserve an honorable mention for their seemingly ingenious use of found poisons to defend themselves.


Featured image: Solenodon via YouTube and slow loris via YouTube

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Facts About the Hot Toys of the Last Decade

In this post, we’ll look at the hot toys from the last decade.

With the holidays upon us again, many parent’s minds turn to gifts. What will the kids want this year? Each year, toy manufacturers dream of securing the coveted title of the most popular toy. 

Once the year’s hot toy is declared, parents rush to secure it, often resulting in demand exceeding supply. Soon, these toys are selling for outrageous sums on the secondary market. It’s all part of the now-traditional holiday craze.

For the prime example, who can forget 1996, the year Tickle Me Elmo hysteria was in the news? Demand for the red interactive Mupet was so intense it resulted in the trampling of a Fredericton Walmart employee. 

Before the incident, more than 300 people lined up outside the store for five hours. According to AP News, assistant manager Randy Hitchcock said he hadn’t “seen such a toy craze since the days of the Cabbage Patch Kids” from 1983. Meanwhile, desperate parents who couldn’t find Elmo paid up to $1,500 on the internet to get one.

Humorously, a video showing Elmo with the fur reveals that underneath the hype was a kind of disturbing collection of plastic and various parts. Now, remember, this is what parents were willing to do anything to get their hands on.

Who wants to tickle this?

Nevertheless, every year since Elmo, Americans have come to expect a shortlist of the hot toys of the year. Now, let’s take a look at some of the top toys from the last decade. What will it be this year? Chances are, it’s not Elmo, but another famous brightly-colored animatronic creature.

2010: The iPad Takes Over

In 2010, the so-called hot toy of the year wasn’t a traditional toy at all. That year, Apple introduced a touchscreen tablet called the iPad. It was the late Steve Job’s last major innovation before his death the following year.

Ever since then, these hand-held devices have remained common in homes everywhere. However, the first iPad went obsolete fast after the 2nd generation came out in 2011. Today, Apple has released over 104 different models.

In 2010, Apple sold an astonishing 15 million iPads. It worked essentially like an oversize smartphone capable of playing games, movies, and around 140,000 apps. Since the screen was interactive, it paved the way for new video game experiences like playing air hockey with your finger.

However, the first iPad wasn’t a cheap toy, starting at $499. Interestingly, the apps cost about $10 each when the iPad first came out. Now, most are available for free on Mac or the iOs operating system.

See more about the iPad over the last decade from 91Tech:

2011: LeapPad Explorer

Following the iPad’s year, a niche quickly opened up for a touchscreen tablet made for kids. Thus, the company LeapFrog introduced the Explorer, durable enough to give to little kids age 4 to 9. By then, kids were readily using touchscreens and a stylus already!

Unlike the iPad, the Explorer was just the right size for tiny hands and much less costly to replace at $100. Consequently, it was the perfect way to lure kids away from Mom and Dad’s iPad!

Indeed, they could make their own home movies using the camera and microphone. Today, these videos are like finding a time capsule back in time!

Furthermore, the LeapPad Explorer offered educational games, music, and books. Thus, less guilt for parents since these games helped kids learn for hours. Plus, you could use cartridges or download new apps.

See the 2011 LeapPad below from The Toy Spy:

2012: The Return of Furby

By 2012, the LeapPad2 remained popular. Also, the Nintendo Wii U was hot, the first new game console from a major gaming industry company in six years. With a starting price of $299.99, this hand-held gaming device sold more than 3 million units in 2012.

However, another iconic toy, first introduced in the fall of 1998, came back in 2012. It was the Furby, the strange talking interactive furry owl-like creature for age six and up. Furby was the first successful domestically-aimed robot. It also spoke its own language, Furbish, until it gradually learned to speak English.

Fourteen years later, the 2012 edition was $54, a bit pricey for a toy that could irritate the daylights out of you? But, the new Furby had more personality, expressive LCD eyes, smartphone app compatibility, and less predictable behavior. 

Amazingly, Hasbro sold over 1.8 million Furbies in 1998 alone. In three years, over 40 million were sold. In 1998, Furby cost less, around $35. However, the demand was so high they sold for hundreds on the secondary market. Today, vintage collector Furbies are worth hundreds of dollars.

Notably, Furby was once accused of being a spy by US Intelligence. The NSA banned the toy in 1999 on its premises over concerns it was possibly a Chinese-manufactured spy. Later, Tiger Electronics issued a statement that “Furby is not a spy!”

See the 2012 Furby from Tx TechDad:

2013: Flutterby Flying Fairy Doll

In 2013, Furby remained popular, while a toy called the Flutterby Flying Fairy Doll by Spin Master was one of the year’s hot toys. Strangely, a toy very similar in concept, the Sky Dancer by Galoob, was recalled in 2000. The company recalled 8.9 million Sky Dancers after 150 reported injuries to kids and adults.

Although the Sky Dancers could shoot off unpredictably, the Flutterby was supposed to be guided by your hand in flight. The lightweight fairy could stray but wasn’t likely to cause injury or damage itself when it fell. Nevertheless, it required 6 AA batteries in the base to charge up and fly for a few minutes.

Today, the Flying Fairy dolls remain popular with advanced features like light and automatic sensing.

See the Flutterby Flying Fairy Doll below from Gearshift Productions:

2014: The Hot Toys Are All Frozen

Disney’s Frozen animated musical movie was introduced in 2013, going on to box-office success. The Oscar-winning song by Snow Queen Elsa, “Let It Go,” could not be escaped, whether you liked it or not.

As a lesson about accepting the things that make us different, the song became an “Anthem of Acceptance,” per NPR

Dolls and figures from the movie were the hot toys of 2014, including a light-up singing Snow Queen Elsa doll that sang in English and Spanish. Olaf, the animated snowman, castle sets, and other figures sold out everywhere.

See Elsa sing her heart out (again) from Barie Video World:

2015: The Droid We Were Searching For

One of the most popular toy franchises of all time, Star Wars was back in 2015 with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” From 1977 to 2005, audiences came to love the comic droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO. Then, Disney introduced a new rolly-polly droid, BB-8. The round, orange, and white droid somehow stole the show amid all the special effects.

Thus, BB-8 was one of the hot toys of 2015, selling out when it hit toy shelves. This toy was app-enabled and could be paired with your smartphone or tablet. Unlike anything seen before, the droid rolled with a removable magnetic head.

Like Furby, BB-8 was interactive, responding to voice commands with expressive sounds and motions. By 2016, the makers at Sphero introduced a Force Band device. Then, users could control BB-8 with a wave of their hand. Even better, in 2017, they introduced an app-enabled R2-D2.

See more from Sphero, makers of the rolling toy:

Related: Star Wars Facts – 36 Interesting Facts About Star Wars

2016: Hatching a New Hot Toy

In 2016, a new hot toy from Spin Master hatched onto the scene in October 2016, looking quite familiar. Hatchimals, interactive robotic furry animals that looked much like Furby, could “hatch” from colorful spotted plastic eggs. More accurately, Hatchimals seemed a cross between a Furby and a Tamagotchi, the small digital pet.

Upon hatching, the Hatchimal could then learn to walk, talk, and play games through five stages of life: egg, hatching, baby, toddler, and kid. However, it never became an adult. Color-changing eyes indicated emotions, hunger, and the need to burp. 

Also, like Furby, the toy became an overnight hit, selling out as the demand far exceeded supply worldwide. Parents were shelling out more than three times the retail price of $59.99 to get one for the holidays. 

Industry analysts estimated that over two million Hatchimals were sold in 2016. Interestingly, you didn’t know what your Hatchimal would look like until it left the egg, but that made for a fun surprise. Another surprise: some parents reported Hatchimals they thought were uttering vulgar phrases.

See a Hatchimal unboxing below from Waterjet Channels:

2017: Interactive Toys for Your Fingers

Following in the footsteps of Furby, 2017’s hot toy was called a Fingerling Baby Monkey. Small enough to fit on your finger, these interactive monkeys could respond to sound, touch, and motion. Sensors on the head could sense its position, causing the animated monkey to respond with sounds. 

Priced at $14.99, the 5-inch-tall Fingerlings were affordable. However, the demand was so high; they sold for much as $70 on the secondary market. The month before Christmas, eBay reported that one Fingerling was sold every minute. Following the monkeys, WowWee introduced sloths, unicorns, and glitter monkeys.

See the Fingerings from WowWee:

Fingerlings were hailed as the Hatchimals of 2017, but new smaller, more affordable Hatchimals called Colleggtibles were also popular. 

Like Hatchimals, a toy called L.O.L Surprise hid the toy inside a plastic sphere. Thus, half the fun was opening it to reveal one of 50 surprise toys like dolls and accessories. Indeed, thousands of unboxing videos of these toys remain popular today –each a bit of free marketing for the manufacturer.

See more about L.O.L. Surprise from Tech Insider:

2018: Bigger, Softer Monkeys That Hug

Fingerlings were a breakthrough toy in 2017. Then, the following year, they introduced Fingerlings that no longer fit on your finger. With Fingerlings HUGS, they grew to 24 inches with a plush body. Thus, they were huge in comparison but soft with long arms for cuddling instead of hard plastic.

You could also record your voice and listen as your Fingerling repeated what you said–but in their voice. Along with the monkeys, WowWee introduced large-sized sloths, unicorns, lions, and narwhals. Like the smaller versions, they could be rocked to sleep, blow kisses, and make funny noises (like farts!) when you move them.

See the Fingerlings HUGS from WowWee:

Related: Looking At Some Amazing Facts About Pokemon

2019: A Toy That Blooms from a Flowerpot

After Hatchimals the L.O.L. Surprise dolls, toy manufacturers jumped on the ever-popular unboxing trend. Kids loved the surprise of getting a collectible toy with an element of surprise. Thus, they introduced blind-box toys with more creative reveals. In 2019, the Skyrocket Blume Doll was one of the year’s hits.

When you buy the toy, it looks like a plastic flowerpot. Using the included watering can, a doll seems to grow from the dirt magically. Slow-rise foam grows to reveal a big head of hair. Sometimes, the hair looks like hair, but some toys feature hair that looks like crystals, cake, or other things. After it grows, the hair is removable and interchangeable with other Blume dolls.

When you have revealed the dolls, the flowerpot serves as a custom playset to decorate with stickers and accessories.

See the 2019 hot toys, Skyrocket Blume Doll from The Toy Buzz:

2020: The Year of The Child?

In 2020, the hot toys of the year will almost certainly be any featuring “The Child” from Disney+’s popular The Mandalorian streaming television series. Based on the Star Wars movies, the Child is more commonly called “Baby Yoda.” Today, even while avoiding stores due to the pandemic, you can’t avoid seeing Baby Yoda merchandise everywhere.

A Hasbro animatronic version of “The Child” will certainly be one of the hit toys for 2020. Reportedly the animatronic toy for ages 4 and up makes baby noises like in the series. Also, it can attempt to use the Force, requiring a nap to recharge afterward.

Suppose you can’t find the animatronic version –no worries. There seem to a million Baby Yoda items covering just about any product you can imagine. However, it’s interesting that almost nobody calls the toy by its proper name. 

Jon Favreau, the creator and head writer of the series, explained the Child is not Yoda, but the same species. Further, The Mandalorian timeline takes place after Return of the Jedi, in which Yoda passes away to become a Force Ghost. Nevertheless, the moniker “Baby Yoda” isn’t likely to pass away -ever.

See more about The Child from Good Morning America:


Featured image: Screenshots via YouTube