Best Facts of the Week - Page 11

Find out how Mao Zedong's campaign to kill grain-eating sparrows in 1958 contributed to the death by starvation of 30 million people

In 1958 the Chinese leader, Mao Zedong, declared war. He decided there were four things he had had enough of: Mosquitoes, flies, rats and sparrows.

He was informed by his scientists that one sparrow eats about 4.5kg of grain each year. They said that according to those calculations, for every million sparrows killed there would be grain (and therefore food) for 60,000 people.

With only that information and a stubborn unwillingness to listen to anything else, he launched the Great Sparrow Campaign in which all citizens were expected to participate and kill as many sparrows as possible.

On 13 December 1958 alone, 194,432 sparrows were killed! Hundreds of millions were killed during the duration of the campaign and the sparrow almost became extinct in China.

What the scientists failed to mention, was that sparrows eat insects like locusts, and that locusts do much more harm than sparrows can. With no sparrows in sight, the locusts did indeed move in and had free reign.

Suddenly Mao Zedong realized what an eco-system was and hurriedly imported sparrows from the Soviet Union, but it was too late. The overflow of insects contributed to the Great Chinese Famine (1958-1961) in which approximately 30 million people starved to death!


The Parrotfish eats dead coral, an then poops sand. This sand poop is also responsible for nearly all the white sand beaches in Hawaii

Sand comes in many different colors, sizes and even shapes if you look close enough. It would be hard to have it all the same with an estimated seven quintillion, five hundred quadrillion grains of sand in the world.

Many beaches around the world are known for their beautiful sand. Hawaii, for example, is consistently ranked among the top beaches in the world for its pristine, white sand. But this sand has an origin that might make you think twice about stepping onto one of those beaches.

The white sand of Hawaii is made up primarily of poop. That would be the poop of parrotfish. These fish bite off coral and grind it down into sand with their teeth. They don’t have stomachs, so it passes straight through them and out the other end as sand.

Larger parrotfish are like sand factories, producing as much as 840 pounds of sand per year. For Oahu’s snorkeling hot spot, Hanauma Bay where a few hundred parrotfish graze, that means hundreds of tons of fish-made sand per year.

Parrotfish aren’t the only creatures to poop sand, but they are the most proficient. Worms, sponges, and oysters also produce Pacific ocean sand.


The mantis shrimp's punch is so fast, it boils the water around it when delivered and can break aquarium glass.

When you think about the creatures with the most speed and strength in the world, the mantis shrimp probably doesn’t come to mind, but maybe it should. These creatures look more like miniature lobsters than shrimp. At 2-5 inches, they pack quite a punch.

Marine biologist Roy Caldwell learned this in 1975 when he was working at USC Berkley. When showing someone the shrimp, he tapped on the aquarium glass to provoke it. The shrimp was provoked, alright, breaking the glass and flooding the office.

These shrimp come in two varieties that scientists call “smashers” and “spearers”. Smashers crush hard prey such as snails while spearers pierce soft animals using spines on the end of their specialized limbs.

Smashers strike extremely fast. So fast, in fact, that a normal camera can’t pick it up with any detail. A high-speed camera revealed that they swing their “clubs” anywhere from 31 to 52 mph. At the time this was the fastest strike of any animal, in water or on land, but a few land insects have overtaken that. When you consider that it’s a lot easier to move through air than water, it’s hard not to marvel at the speed.

They move so fast that the surrounding water actually boils. This produces destructive bubbles that quickly collapse. While it may not seem like bubbles can do much, this process can destroy ship propellers, pumps and turbines.


Some awesome lists!

There are people out there that practice what was common before the 1970s: No shampooing!

Imagine a world with smelly, sweaty and greasy hair being the norm. That world actually wasn't that long ago.

Today, most of the population regularly cleans and shampoos their hair on a near daily basis.

Turns out, that only started being common in the 1970s and 1980s.

The ritual of constantly cleaning one's hair has spawned a new movement called “no poo” (they really should have though of a more appealing name).

The belief is that with washing your hair every day, the scalp is lacking necessary oils that are there naturally. Because of this, the body will ramp up the production of said oil to compensate, making it even more difficult to keep your hair looking fresh. Thus a vicious cycle begins.

So how does the “no poo” crowd stay clean? The most natural and effective way is with straight up water—no shampoo or chemicals needed.

If that doesn't cut it, some use dissolved baking soda followed by an acidic rinse with something like diluted vinegar. Other things like honey and coconut oils can also be used.

I think I'll stick with my Head and Shoulders, thanks!


A Russian geneticist experimented with domesticating silver foxes. They did not only start acting like dogs, but now some even have floppy ears and patterns on their fur!

Russian geneticist, Dmitry K. Belyaev, wanted to find out how wild animals originally became domesticated.

He believed animals were originally selected based on their tamability traits, and not based on physical features or strengths.

He wanted to test his theory and started an ongoing experiment that has been running for over 50 years!

He chose the silver fox, a species similar to dogs in its taxonomy, but also a species that has never before been domesticated.

During this experiment, breeding of the foxes were very closely monitored to ensure that absolutely no inbreeding occurred.

After forty years of intense selective breeding, the aggressive nature of wild foxes had completely disappeared from the domesticated foxes and they now display similar characteristics to dogs. They love human contact and will lick and sniff humans, but also have the independent traits of house cats.

What's most fascinating, though, is that they changed in appearance and no longer look like their wild family members!

Some of the domesticated foxes have floppy ears and even their fur color changed. Some of the foxes now have a star pattern on their faces like certain domesticated dog breeds.

The domesticated foxes also have shorter legs and broader and shorter muzzles than their wild counterparts.

The experimenters who have kept these foxes as pets say that they are amazingly good-natured animals and just as devoted as dogs.

Maybe silver foxes will become the next man's best friend?



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