There are some facts that can change a boring talk or awkward silence into a wonderful conversation. These facts that you can tell at a party will not only tickle your brain but will make everyone say, “Seriously?” or “I had no idea about this!” Did you know that curious children ask about 73 questions every day, or that sea horses are monogamous and travel with their mates with their tails linked together? Also, there is a reason why flight food tastes so bad. When at 30,000 feet, the sensitivity of our taste buds towards sweet and salty food drops by 30%.

1. About six centuries ago, nobody outside the Americas knew what a potato was.

There are about 5,000 varieties of potatoes grown around the world. First domesticated in southern Peru and extreme northwestern Bolivia between 5,000 to 8,000 BCE, the earliest archaeological evidence of the potato tuber was found in 2,500 BCE in central Peru. Now a staple food in many countries, the potato was a strange, sometimes fearful vegetable in the ancient times.

It was only about six centuries ago that its existence became known to people outside the American continent. In 1532, when a group of Spaniards led by Francisco Pizarro came to the Andean region, they noticed the round vegetables. After that and in only about three decades, Spanish farmers were not only growing potatoes but also exporting them to France and the Netherlands.

In fact, we get the word “potato” from the Spanish word “patata” which was the name used for the fruit in Spain. In 1596, the first scientific description of the potato appeared when Gaspard Bauhin, a Swiss naturalist, gave it the name Solanum tuberosum esculentum. In the latter half of the 16th century as a part of the Columbian exchange, the potato was introduced to Europe by the Spanish. From there, it spread across the world. (12)

2. The female North American opossum has 13 nipples.

The North American opossum, also called the “Virginia opossum” or just “possum,” is a nocturnal animal and commonly seen in North and Central America. The possums are about the size of a domestic cat. The female possums have a pouch like that of a kangaroo, and inside the pouch, they have 13 nipples, 12 of them arranged in a circle with one in the middle.

These 13 nipples play a major role in keeping the population of the marsupial from diminishing. When baby possums are born, to survive and feed itself, each baby possum must attach itself to a nipple. They remain anchored that way inside their mother’s pouch for about 50-55 days after their birth. If this doesn’t happen, they perish. At a time, a female possum can nurture 13 babies. Shortly after the litter becomes independent, the female will breed again. (12)

3. Tic Tacs are almost all sugar but are allowed to be labeled as “zero sugar” because the amount of sugar per serving is less than 0.5 grams.

The famous mints that are sold in over 100 countries, Tic Tacs, are not “zero sugar” as it is written in the ingredients on the box. The Food and Drug Administration’s labeling requirements permit that the nutrition facts on a food product can say “zero sugar” when the amount of sugar per serving (per mint) is less than 0.5 grams.

In 100 grams of Tic Tac mints, there are 91.3 grams of sugar. The average, small pack of Tic Tacs is 15-18g and contains around 38 mints. So, 100 grams will have around 205-220 mints. Each mint will have around 0.3-0.4 grams of sugar which is less than 0.5 grams. Also, each mint has less than two calories. So, the next time you have a small box of Tic Tacs when bored, remember that you are not consuming a mint that is sugar-free. (12)

4. According to some estimates, rainforests and other terrestrial plants produce only 30% of the Earth’s free oxygen. The remaining 70% is produced mainly by phytoplankton in marine environments.

We have always thought that the plants on land are largely responsible for producing the oxygen we breathe in this world. Rarely do we hear people discussing the role of marine plants in oxygen production. Free oxygen is produced by the light-driven splitting of water during oxygenic photosynthesis. There are several estimates about the role of plants in marine environments in producing free oxygen on Earth.

One estimate states that phytoplanktons like green algae, cyanobacteria etc. produce 70% of the free oxygen. That leaves the terrestrial plants producing only 30%. Some estimates state that it is higher than 70%, while other estimates say it is lower. Those that think it is lower only put the contribution of marine plants at around 45%. (source)

5The largest known bony fish in the world, the ocean sunfish, weighs about two tons and feasts on jellyfish. The female can produce about 300,000,000 eggs at a time.

Weighing generally between 247-1,000 kilograms, the ocean sunfish is found in tropical and temperate waters around the globe. A sunfish that was caught in 1910 weighed about 1,600 kilograms. About 15% of the sunfish’s diet consists of jellyfish and salps. They also consume small fishes, crustaceans, fish larvae, and squid. The silvery grey or sometimes white sunfish can have a fin-to-fin length of about 8.2 feet. They are laterally flat and have a tail-like structure at the back.

The reproductive habits of the ocean sunfish are not well-known except for a few facts like they produce about 300 million eggs at a time which is more than any known vertebrate. The eggs are externally fertilized by sperm after being released into the water. The ocean sunfish grows really quickly, growing millions of times its original size at birth. Sea lions, sharks, and killer whales prey on these fishes. They cannot survive for long in captivity, and their average lifespan in the oceans has not determined yet. (source)

6. A solar day on the planet Mercury is longer than its year.

Mercury, the closest known planet to the Sun in the solar system, is a planet of extremes. Its days and nights are extremely long compared to the days and nights on Earth. To complete one orbit around the Sun, Mercury takes 88 (87.969 to be precise) Earth days. That means that a year on Mercury is about 88 Earth days. However, to complete one rotation around its axis, the planet takes 58. 646 Earth days, which is one sidereal day.

This means that the planet has a spin-orbit resonance of 3:2. That means the planet makes three rotations for two orbits. The Sun does not return to the same place in 24 hours, like the Earth. It takes 176 Earth days for the Sun to set, rise, and come back to the same place in Mercury’s sky because of the spin-orbit resonance. So technically, one solar day on Mercury is equal to 176 Earth solar days.

Mercury, when at its closest during its orbit around the sun, is at a distance of about 46 million kilometers, closer than any other known planet. Its farthest distance from the Sun during its orbit is about 70 million kilometers. Its average orbital velocity is 47.362 kilometers per second. (source)

7. Whittier, a city in the US state of Alaska has a population of around 214. Nearly all of them live in a single building.

About 93 kilometers southeast of Anchorage is the city of Whittier. In 2016, it was estimated that 214 people live in the city. It has a total area of 51 square kilometers. The striking feature of this town is that almost the whole of its population lives in one building called “Begich Towers.” It is a 14-story tower that contains 150 two- and three-bedroom apartments and some bachelor efficiency units. It was built in 1957.

The building also contains other basic services a town needs like a post office, a general store, a hospital, the Whittier Police Department, a laundry, a Methodist church, a conference room, a small hotel, the mayor’s office, a play area with an indoor pool, etc. This building has earned Whittier a nickname of the “town under one roof.”

The Begich Towers was first named the “Hodge Building” after Colonel William Walter Hodge who was the Commander of the 83rd Engineer Regiment of the Alcan Highway. It was meant to be the headquarters of the US Army Corps of Engineers. In 1972, the building was renamed in the memory of Congressman Nick Begich who had disappeared in the area. (12)

8. Chickens that have red earlobes tend to produce brown eggs, and chickens that have white earlobes tend to produce white eggs.

Although it is not always the rule, the color of a chicken’s ear lobe and feathers determines the color of the egg. There is really no difference in the value of nutrition provided by the brown and the white eggs or even in the hardness of the shell. The brown eggs cost more because the chickens that produce them are generally heavier than the white-feathered ones and consume more food leading to higher production costs which are then passed on to the consumer.

There is one breed of chickens with red feathers and red earlobes called “Araucana” that produces eggs in different colors that are rarely seen. The eggs can be pink, blue, green, or even lavender in color! (source)

9. The sound of the bald eagle used in the movies is, in fact, the sound of a red-tailed hawk. The sound of bald eagles was not considered impressive enough.

The lead actor in a movie is riding through a dense jungle and there it is, the sound we think to be of the screeching, bald eagle. If the movie shows a bald eagle flying, the red-tailed hawk’s sound is what you hear. The sound of the bald eagle is like a cackling laugh which is not the effect most movie makers are aiming for and not impressive at all. The red-tailed hawk’s sound, on the other hand, is the famous screeching noise. The bald eagle has been the official emblem of the United States since 1787.

Strangely, the bald eagle and the red-tailed hawks are regarded to be mortal enemies. When in 2017, a bald eagle adopted a red-tailed hawk, it made news and left wildlife enthusiasts surprised. (12)

10. Around 65-85% of white cats born with two blue eyes are deaf. If a cat is born with just one blue eye, only the hearing on that side is apt to be impaired.

White cats tend to have a condition called “congenital sensorineural deafness.” According to the ASPCA Complete Guide for Cats, “17 to 22 percent of white cats with non-blue eyes are deaf; 40 percent of ‘odd-eyed’ white cats with one blue eye are deaf, and 65 to 85 percent of blue-eyed white cats are deaf.” This congenital deafness in cats is caused due to the degeneration of the inner ear after they are born.

Deafness is more common in white cats with blue irises than the ones with yellow or green irises. The cats that are odd-eyed, with one blue eye and another eye of a different color, are likely to be deaf on the side of the blue eye. Not all white cats with blue eyes are deaf. There are those that are white due to an extreme form of white spotting and may not be deaf. (source)

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