Some of the most intriguing facts can be so unbelievable that they sound fake. It's hard to believe there are mammals that manage to stay alive without stomachs, or that some animals breathe out of their butts instead of hibernating during winter. Some surprising historical facts completely change how we envision the past, adding metaphorical and even physical color to our preconceived notions of ancient culture.
What do phallic carvings have to do with warding off evil? Why were Victorian women putting their lives at risk just by getting dressed each morning? Was the Great Chicago Fire really the most disastrous event that day? How did women develop a face-altering disorder just from riding bicycles? This list features answers to these questions, along with more factoids that sound too weird to be true!
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Turtles Breathe Out Of Their Butts To Survive Winter Under Frozen Water
Animals often go to great lengths to survive the winter. Birds fly thousands of miles south looking for warmer weather; bears and some reptiles store up fat and body heat to hibernate during the colder months; other critters grow thick furs or fluffier feathers to serve as winter coats - and turtles breathe through their butts.
North American pond turtles spend more than half of their lives without air underwater, so it's no surprise the species has adapted some interesting coping strategies for surviving changing climates. These aquatic turtles dwell in frigid conditions during the winter months, forcing them to lower their body temperatures and significantly slow their metabolisms for survival.
This technique, called brumation, makes breathing much less important, as the hardy reptiles need smaller amounts of oxygen to survive. Still, they do need a little air to keep them moving in the winter months. So, they use a technique called cloacal respiration - a process that filters oxygen directly from the water through their butts and into their lungs.
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The Persian King Cambyses II showed up to battle with a risky plan when setting his sights on conquering Egypt in 525 BCE. He knew that animals were uncommonly important in Egyptian culture. So, the Persian war leader showed up for battle with his soldiers - supported by a front line of cats, dogs, birds, and other animals the Egyptians believed sacred. Cambyses was betting the animals would keep his enemies from fighting, and he was right.
Egyptians believed that the gods favored animal life as much as human life, and that they required respect. As such, most Egyptians were vegetarians or pescatarians. Cats were especially significant in the culture because they were associated with the goddess Bastet (sometimes called Bast), who was known for being both nurturing and vengeful. Killing a cat was punished by execution, and many feline pets were mummified before being buried with elaborate jewels.
When Psamtik III and his Egyptian army proved harder to defeat than Cambyses originally expected, he switched tactics. He ordered his men to paint the face of Bastet on their armor and ushered the animals to the front lines of battle. Seeing their goddess on the shields of their enemies, along with the animals they held sacred, ultimately forced the Egyptians to surrender.
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Their duck-like bills, webbed feet, venomous ankle spurs, and flat tails aren't the only physical characteristics that make platypuses unique animals. On top of these odd traits, the monotreme mammals are also missing a major organ: their stomachs.
Researchers determined platypuses lost the genes that create stomach acid, digestive enzymes, and the gastric proton pump, causing them to also lose their stomachs over a long evolutionary process. This phenomenon most likely occurred because the animals have diets that do not require these particular acids and enzymes for digestion. According to scientists, this evolution is most likely irreversible.
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Surgical Gloves Were Invented For Love, Not Hygiene
When renowned surgeon William Stewart Halsted first asked the Goodyear Rubber Company to make a thin pair of rubber gloves in the winter of 1889-1890, he had no intention of using them to protect his patients against infection. Instead, he only wanted to protect his love interest's gentle hands from the harsh chemicals she was exposed to as his assistant in the operating room.
Despite being one of America's most prominent advocates for Joseph Lister's antiseptic surgical protocols, the John Hopkins doctor saw little advantage to wearing rubber gloves beyond protecting his nurse Caroline Hampton's skin from mercuric chloride. She evidently appreciated the gesture, because the two were quickly engaged and married shortly after Halsted presented her with his invention.
While the gloves grew in popularity among surgeons for their ability to protect their own skin, it wasn't until much later that they were recognized for their hygienic properties during operations.
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'Bicycle Face' Was Allegedly A Made-Up Affliction To Keep Women From Becoming Too Independent
Medical articles and journals in the 1890s expressed extreme concern for a condition called "bicycle face." This ailment that cyclists supposedly developed brought about bulging eyes, under-eye shadows, a tense jaw, drawn lips, flushness, and an expression of fatigue.
Some doctors believed it to be temporary, while others warned that the unbecoming expression caused by riding bicycles was permanent. Almost all agreed that the disorder affected women much more than it affected men.
The public began taking this affliction more seriously around the same time feminism was taking root in the US. Bicycles provided more travel options for Victorian women and required that their clothing become less restrictive so they could engage in physical activity. Unsurprisingly, bicycles grew in popularity among women during the suffrage movement as they fought for freedom and equality.
Although male doctors continued warning women against the dangers of learning to ride, a female doctor in 1897 had the final say. Dr. Sarah Hackett Stevenson assured the Phrenological Journal editors that cycling promoted a healthy lifestyle and that "bicycle face" only occurred in beginners who were just learning how to balance themselves and manage their endurance. As the riders became more confident, the concerned expressions faded.
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The 'Unkillable Soldier' Survived Being Shot Throughout His Body And Still Said 'Frankly, I Had Enjoyed The War'
General Adrian Carton de Wiart loved war so much that he fought in three major conflicts over six decades, despite being shot through the skull as well as in the abdomen, arm, face, hand, hip, and ear.
He first volunteered to serve with the British in South Africa during the second Boer War in 1899. Being an underage boy from Brussels, he had to lie about being a British subject and obtaining his father's consent. He was shot in the stomach and groin during the conflict, but that didn't stop him from showing up for duty again during World War I.
By 1914, Carton de Wiart was a British subject fighting against the Dervish State. He was shot in the arm and face there, losing his left eye and a portion of his ear. Comrades commented that the "unkillable soldier" was probably happy to lose an eye because the injury moved him back to Europe (where more fighting happened) once he had healed. He returned to duty in 1915, only to have his hand shattered by German artillery and eventually amputated the following year.
After spending some time in Poland during the interwar years, he decided he was ready for battle again when World War II began. His aircraft was shot down over the Mediterranean in 1941, and he was captured as an Italian prisoner of war after swimming to shore. Despite his previous injuries and age (he was in his 60s at this point), he still managed to escape the POW camp for eight days.
Years later, he noted in his autobiography: "Frankly, I had enjoyed the war."