From Berserk Llama Syndrome to Acoustic Pest Detection: This Week's Curios

Every day of the year, CEO Justin Kitch writes a quirky fact, known as the Daily Curio, intended to tickle the brains of lifelong learners everywhere. This is a weekly digest.

Last week's Curios covered berserk llama syndrome, towns sold on eBay, and the history of the Gregorian calendar.

Curio No. 983 | Thomas Edison's greatest invention you've never heard of
Thomas Edison is responsible for some of the most amazing inventions of modern times: the light bulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera, just to name a few. But for some reason, his self-proclaimed life's work, called the "food creator," never caught on. Painstakingly perfected over years in his famous Menlo Park workshop, the "Edison Food Creator" utilized then-cutting-edge molecular chemistry to combine the basic elements of air, water, and rare earths to form edible substances that mimicked real meat, vegetables and even wine... keep reading.

Curio No. 982 | A literal token of appreciation
If a member of the military ever shakes your hand while giving you a coin, be proud. Called challenge coins, these metal tokens the size of a silver dollar bear the crest of a particular military branch or unit. They are used to demonstrate thanks or gratitude--to other military members who go above the call of duty, or to civilians who provide assistance or make a sacrifice. The practice allegedly began during World War I, as a way for officers to boost morale among enlisted soldiers. Legend has it an American soldier used one of these original challenge coins to prove his nationality when he was captured by French troops and accused of being German... keep reading.

Curio No. 981 | Learning to see clearly... under water
Another way kids are amazing. In 1999 Anna Gislen, a biologist at the University of Lund, discovered kids can learn to see underwater. Gislen stumbled upon this fact while studying the Moken people of coastal Thailand. At that time, Moken children spent much of their day diving underwater to catch food for the tribe. They kids could see clearly underwater--an ability that the Moken lose before adulthood. By constricting their pupils to the smallest possible size (see photo below), they increased their vision's depth of field, compensating for the blurriness of the water. Biologists had long assumed this was a hereditary trait, but Gislen wondered if it was a learned trait instead... keep reading.

Curio No. 980 | Berserk llama syndrome
If you think llamas are just cute and furry farm animals, think again. Camelids--which include alpacas, llamas, camels, vicuñas and guanacos--can be very aggressive. Llama breeders and large animal vets are all-too-acquainted with "berserk llama syndrome," a.k.a. "BLS" or "novice handler syndrome." BLS usually results when a camelid baby, called a cria, is over-exposed to humans. This often happens when the baby is bottle fed (because of rejection or insufficient maternal milk supply). This causes the cria to imprint on the human, which is cute at first... keep reading.

Curio No. 979 | Want to buy a town? Try eBay
Lots of crazy things have been sold on eBay: airplanes, islands, Justin Bieber's hair clippings, and even a grilled cheese sandwich. Just last week, we learned about a plastic box that costs $7500 on eBay to rent for a week. But few auctions have garnered more attention than a 2007 listing by Bobby Cave. Cave, an insurance broker, listed an entire town--Albert, Texas--for $2.5 million. Cave bought Albert in 2003 as a fixer-upper project. The town used to be a pit-stop for stagecoaches crossing the Texas Hill Country. Former US president Lyndon Johnson even went to school there, back when it was called Martinsburg. But it became a ghost town sometime in the '90s or '00s--a perfect blank slate for an aspiring entrepreneur... keep reading.

Curio No. 978 | Hey Easter, thanks for our calendar
Happy Easter... and vernal equinox! You can thank Easter for why we use the Gregorian instead of the Julian calendar. Western civilization began using the Julian calendar in 46 BC, shortly after Julius Caesar conquered Egypt. It divided the year into 12 months and 365 days, with a leap day occurring every four years--making the average year 365.25 days long. Which sounds great, but that's 11 minutes and 14 seconds longer than the true length of the solar year. Doesn't sound like much, but over the next thousand years, it caused the calendar to be off by 187 hours, or 8 days. To the point that, during Pope Gregory XIII's reign in the late 16th century, the calendar's vernal equinox was over 10 days after the real vernal equinox... keep reading.

Curio No. 977 | How to hear the insects in your cereal
What's harder than finding a needle in a haystack? Finding a microscopic rice weevil larva in a giant silo of grain. Which is exactly what all cereal grain producers--wheat, oats, grain, barley, rice, and sorghum--must do to comply with strict standards set by the US Grain Inspection Administration. If inspectors find more than one weevil per kilogram of grain, they declare the entire store to be "infected" and forbid its sale. Costing the farmer thousands or even millions. But the farmer has no easy way to inspect their grain during storage. The insects can't be sifted or visually detected, since the larvae begin life inside a single grain, completely invisible.... keep reading.

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