Rumor Flies

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Rumor Flies comically addresses the origins, evolution, and veracity of your favorite rumors, myths, and misconceptions. Tune in for more research, stories, and unsolicited commentary! Participation encouraged.

Filtering by Tag: nature

Snap Judgment #20: Moogenetic North

#980: When Grazing or Resting, cows tend to align their bodies with the magnetic north and south poles.


Verdict: Likely

So this was based on a study that originally aimed to prove humans have internal compasses for setting up encampments, since naked mole rats tend to sleep in the southern end of their tiny underground mole homes. Using Google Earth, the researches viewed various tent encampments and checked how they were aligned. I think this may be a flawed study since many campers have actual campers and could be aligning their tents on much less of a hunch than body magnets. Apparently the researchers lost interest in the human subjects and instead ADD’d their way over to a few cow pastures and noticed something interesting: the cows showed a tendency to align themselves along north/south.

The study shifted to cows, resulting in observation (via Google Earth again) of over 8,500 cows in nearly 300 pastures. The trend was starting to be clear. The researches also shifted to another large mammal, the dear, and found the same tendencies in the animals. Many other animals use the earth’s magnetism for navigational purposes, but these are mainly of the flying variety (birds, bats, some insects). The researchers have not found a clear reason yet as to why cows and deer would have this ability for grazing and resting.


Now, here is my theory: warmth. As many people have heard, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Many others also know that getting the sun in your eyes while driving sucks. I think that, magnetism or not, the simple reason for this alignment is a) to avoid getting the sun directly in their eyes and b) to increase the surface area of their bodies that catches the warmth of the sun. This is based off of no research, but if you know any cow researchers, please send them my way.



Snap Judgment #17: Those Trees had it Coming!

SNAPPLE FACT #705: Every ton of recycled paper saves about 17 trees

Awww yeeee getting fancy with the gifs now. Also,  source video.  

Awww yeeee getting fancy with the gifs now. Also, source video. 

Verdict: True

Recycling: We've all known about it since we were kids (for the most part, I assume). Recycling paper is often particularly harped on because 1. It's relatively easy to do compared to glass or cardboard, and 2. Because of the association with trees. Trees are the arguably the biggest, easiest to identify symbol of nature, and the imagery of trees being chopped down and bulldozed en masse by "evil companies" is a very tried and true tactic for building support for ecological causes (think: "Save the Rainforests" or FernGully). So a claim like this is naturally going to engender a few reactions. 

Well, it's true! We have a few sources and some interesting other stats to accompany them. According to The University of Southern Indiana, the average household throws away 13,000 separate pieces of paper each year (mostly through packages and junk mail) and the average American uses seen trees a year in paper, wood, and other tree-based products. According to Recycling Revolution, the 17 trees you can save from recycling can absorb up to "250 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year," while, "burning that same ton of paper would create 1500 pounds of carbon dioxide." According to the EPA, recycling one ton of paper would "save enough energy to power the average American home for six months, save 7,000 gallons of water, save 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, [and] reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one metric ton of carbon equivalent (MTCE)."

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I started looking into the arguments of how the paper industry planting/using trees factors in, but that argument got pretty political emotional very quickly so I haven't found any great sources that show the net cost/benefit for that. If you have any info we'd love to see it! Otherwise we may have to revisit this...

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Snap Judgment #14: Will Headbang for Food

#437: The woodpecker can hammer wood up to 16 times per second

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Verdict: True

So this one isn't as crazy insofar as checking true vs. false, because it's pretty easily verifiable; however, that isn't why I gravitated towards it. Reason 1: I really wanted to make a Woody Woodpecker reference, as seen above. Reason 2: Woodpeckers are really cool and I was kind of curious how they don't damage their brain (and general face area). Turns out, it was really interesting! 

According to Gizmodo, woodpeckers basically have giant sponge heads. The beat, their muscles, their bones, even a third inner eyelid - all these contribute to shock absorption (combined with the angle, or lack thereof, of their strikes). Because they can absorb it without damage, "a male woodpecker will peck between 500-600 times a day, 18-22 times per second — twice that during courtship season — with deceleration forces of about 1200 g." The deceleration is another key component here as it makes it so the energy from the impact is released over a longer period of time. There are all sorts of industry and safety applications from this research, from potential redesigns of football helmets to shielding spacecraft from orbital debris or other possible impacts.

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According to Mental Floss, 99.7% of the impact is absorbed by the woodpecker's body, with the remaining .03% impacting the brain in the form of heat energy. The prevailing theory is that they deal with it via short breaks - hence why you don't hear them go consistently for long durations. They take a break, let the brain cool down, then get back to smashing their face in to find food, to build a nest, to attract a mate, or even to simply mark their territory. They also slightly shift the impact point between brain and skull as they work while maintaining the linear striking motion, so the angle is maintained but they don't keep striking the same spots over and over again. 

Basically, woodpeckers are the best metal heads (you knew this was coming). They can thrash around for hours a day and keep on truckin'. They're basically concussion-proofed birds, so as we mentioned earlier, the scientific research opportunities are pretty substantial.