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. (1, 2)
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. (1, 2)
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. (1, 2)
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)
5. The 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)