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Everyday Mysteries…Solved!

Bactrian camel, Druid Hill Park, Baltimore, MD. 1906. Detroit Publishing Co. Prints and Photographs Division.

This delightful guest piece is by Jennifer Harbster, head of the Library’s science reference section. She chooses some of her favorite questions submitted to Everyday Mysteries. It’s adapted from the Library of Congress Magazine’s March-April 2020 issue.

Can it rain frogs, fish and other objects?

There have been reports of raining frogs and fish dating back to ancient civilization. Of course, it doesn’t “rain” frogs or fish in the sense that it rains water — no one has ever seen frogs or fish vaporize into the air before a rainfall. However, strong winds, such as those in a tornado or hurricane, are powerful enough lift up a school of fish or frogs and “rain” them elsewhere.

Why do geese fly in a V?

Scientists have determined that the V-shaped formation that geese use when migrating serves two important purposes: Energy conservation and visual assurance.

Who invented the toothbrush and when was it invented?

The toothbrush as we know it today was not invented until 1938. However, early forms of the toothbrush have been in existence since 3000 B.C. Ancient civilizations rubbed a “chew stick,” which was a thin twig with a frayed end, against the teeth.

How does a touchscreen work?

By using your finger to disrupt an electrical current.

What causes flowers to have different colors?

Anthocyanins and carotenoids are the main sources of flower coloration, but there are other factors that can affect how colors present themselves. The amount of light flowers receive while they grow, the temperature of the environment around them, even the pH level of the soil in which they grow can affect their coloration.

How much water does a camel’s hump hold?

None. A camel’s hump does not hold water at all — it actually stores fat.

Why is it hot in the summer and cold in the winter?

It is all about the tilt of the Earth’s axis. Many people believe that the temperature changes because the Earth is closer to the sun in summer and farther from the sun in winter. In fact, in the Western Hemisphere the Earth is farthest from the sun in July and is closest to the sun in January.

How high can a nine-banded armadillo jump into the air?

Of the 20 species of armadillo that exist throughout the Americas, the nine-banded armadillo (dasypus novemcinctus) is the only one found in the United States. When startled, it can jump straight upward about 3 to 4 feet into the air. Another interesting fact: armadillos can hold their breath for six minutes or more.

Why and how do cats purr?

No one knows for sure why a domestic cat purrs, but many people interpret the sound as one of contentment. Our understanding of how a domestic cat purrs is becoming more complete; most scientists agree that the larynx (voice box), laryngeal muscles and a neural oscillator are involved.

What is the strongest muscle in the human body?

There is no one answer for this question since there are different ways to measure strength. There is absolute strength (maximum force), dynamic strength (repeated motions), elastic strength (exert force quickly) and strength endurance (withstand fatigue).

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