Factoid #16: Tarantula Hairs??

Mexcian Redknee Tarantula (courtesy WIkipedia)

Mexcian Redknee Tarantula (courtesy WIkipedia)

You know they bite.

But did you know that tarantulas can also get you with their tiny hairs? It’s called “urticulating.” They can either loose them defensively–kind of like a porcupine with its quills–or rub them off on you. These hairs contain tiny amounts of venom which can’t, of course, kill you (just as the tarantula’s bite can’t kill you, unless you’re a mouse–but you knew that, right?), but can be very painful and irritating.

BUT DID YOU ALSO KNOW that some in the medical community are investigating the use of tarantula venom for treating muscular dystrophy? Apparently they’ve identified a peptide in the venom that, when artificially produced, can improve muscle activity. At least in mice. So stay tuned about human health advances, and meanwhile…be nice to spiders.

Because you never know. Those urticulating hairs of theirs might just be worth harvesting someday.

Thanks to my baker-colleague Ben for sending this weird topic my way.


Factoid #15

THIS JUST IN! Shocking news for us Northwesterners: The Douglas Fir is not–I repeat NOT–an actual fir tree.

I know. We’ve been living a lie.

For those of you not privileged to live anywhere west of the Cascade Mountains and north of the Bay Area, these trees are EVERYWHERE. Tall, dark and handsome. And everyone calls ’em fir trees (unless we’re like, “oh, look at that eagle in that pine tree–” but that’s a whole other issue).

courtesy Wikipedia

courtesy Wikipedia

Turns out the good ol’ Doug Fir isn’t even in the genus Abies. Nope, it’s a Pseudotsuga. All I can make of that name is that it’s a “kinda-sorta tsuga”–whatever a tsuga is.  The species is menziesii (so says Dr. Wikipedia), named after naturalist Archibald Menzies. Dr. Wiki says he was a “rival” to naturalist David Douglas, so I bet ol’ Archie felt pretty smug when he got that species name. Joke’s on him, though–no one calls ’em Menzie-firs!

Factoid #14


Courtesy Author Lynn Kelley, WANAcommons

Ever wondered why your kitchen counter is called that? Not the kitchen part–duh–but, a counter? What’s up with that? What gets counted in the kitchen, except maybe calories?

Turns out the word is a holdout from back in the 1100s in England. The guys in charge of the royal budget, the Chancellors of the Exchequer, “used a sort of checkerboard with markers to calculate the movement of money around,” says the Christian Science Monitor, citing coin expert Kenneth Bressett. That “counter” later was used to refer to the high, flat surface itself, even without the checkerboard, money-accounting top. (We really ought to call ’em “accounters,” huh?)

So…can anyone explain to me why the British now call counters “benches”??

Factoid #13

Florida’s highest waterfall is only 75 feet! But get this: it’s really more like 30 feet, from above your head to the ground…or where the ground should be. Because for the remaining 45 feet or so, it falls straight down into a sinkhole and disappears!

So if I were Florida, I think I’d mention the waterfall’s amazing disappearing part before I bragged about its height.  Just sayin’, Florida.


Factoid #12

The government of Bhutan has a “happiness index.” You know–like most governments keep track of things like unemployment, or poverty? Bhutan keeps measurements of how happy people say they are.

OK. Geography first: where the heck is Bhutan? It’s in south Asia, kind of underneath where the Himalayan mountains are, north and west of Thailand, north and east of India. Does that help?

Second: Bhutan is POOR. By our standards, I mean. Folks ain’t got much dough. But if they have a government that cares enough to keep track of their happiness, I’d say they’re richer than we are, in some ways.

What do you think? If the US measured happiness, where do you think we’d stack up? Which countries do you think are “happier” than us? Who would we be “happier” than? And…what in the world would we be measuring to find out our happiness?

Factoid #11

Whoa–bunnies can get fertile just by being around each other!!

OK, that sounded weird. But you know how dogs and cats and horses and all those other critters have their “season” where they can mate and get pregnant? Those “seasons” come on a kind of schedule, like every three months or every six months or whatever. With humans it’s every 28 days, right? (Were you paying attention in Health class?)

But with bunnies, all they have to do is hang out with the opposite sex for a day or two, and they become fertile–boom, just like that.

Explains where the phrase “breed like rabbits” comes from, huh?

Factoid #10

You’ve probably heard that British people have different words for things than Americans do, even though we all speak English. Even in the Harry Potter series, they say “mate” for friend, and “have a go at” when they mean “pick on someone.” Some of the most confusing ones come from really basic nouns, like a kitchen counter: in England, it’s a “bench.” So if someone tells you, “Hey, don’t sit on the bench”–well, isn’t that kind of weird? What are benches for, after all? Another one is a car’s trunk: that’s a “boot.” NO CLUE why.

I learned this from living in New Zealand for a year, where they speak a British-style English (although with a VERY different accent, and plenty of slang of their own–don’t get me started!).

Factoid #9

“Flush.” What a toilet does–yeah. But this word has several other meanings. You might have known that to flush can mean turning red, like blushing. You may even have heard the slang “feeling flush,” as in, having pockets full of money. That might be related to holding a “flush” in your poker hand, which is a pretty good thing, I’m told. (Not a huge poker expert.)  BUT did you know that “flush” can also mean level with, or even, as in “when you fold the paper, make sure that the two ends are competely flush before putting it into the envelope”?

That kind of “flush” is a term used by carpenters. And here’s something I just learned yesterday: the opposite of that kind of “flush” is “proud.”  “If you glue that box wrong, one edge will be proud.” Don’t you love that this meaning of  “proud” means sticking out where it shouldn’t be? I think that’s cool.

I learned that from my friend Bruce, who makes lovely things out of wood.

Factoid #8

In honor of JK Rowling’s first post-Harry Potter novel, here are three factoids:

1. The Harry Potter series sold 450 million books. That’s 450,000,000.

2. JK Rowling has (according to the London Times) a personal fortune of 900 million dollars. That’s 900,000,000. (Quick, do the math! How much is that per book??)

3. Of all her books, JK Rowling feels that Book VI, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was the most rushed, and might have used a bit more editing.

These factoids come from the October 1, 2012 edition of The New Yorker–and from my friend Lorna, who gave me her copy since I’m too cheap to subscribe.


Factoid #7

You can eat acorns!!!

OK, maybe you already knew that. Maybe you even knew that many woodland Native American peoples lived off acorns as one of their main winter staples, well into the 20th century.

But did you know that plain old acorns, before they are properly processed, taste like earwax???

You have to go through a long process of pouring boiling water over the peeled acorns to drain away that puckery bitterness, then dry them and pound them into a kind of rough flour. Then you can cook them, like corn grits, or the slow kind of oatmeal, into mush.

I learned this from Into The Forest, by Jean Hegland, a fascinating book about two teenage sisters who have to survive on their own in the California woods after the rest of society disintegrates around them. It’s a pretty “dark” book, so I’m not reviewing it for this blog. But you might want to read it by the time you’re high school age.

And meanwhile…enjoy those acorns!