From Marmosets to Musical Taste: 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 marmoset students, wasps in figs, and why your genes might be to blame for your ridiculous drunken behavior.

Curio No. 1151 | Curious marmosets
Apparently humans aren't the only "curious" animals. Marmosets--super cute little monkeys--can learn how to complete new tasks by watching filmed instructors just like humans. In a study, published in Biology Letters, researchers challenged a group of marmoset monkeys to learn how to open an artificial fruit. Their only resource? A laptop screen, perched next to the fruit, showing a fellow marmoset completing the task. Most of the marmosets weren't up for the job. But a handful succeeded, 11 to be exact... keep reading.

Curio No. 1150 | Waiter, there's a dead wasp in my fig
Here are four facts about figs that will blow your mind. One: figs are a flower not a fruit. The fig flower blooms inward on itself, sealed inside the flower's ovary. In order for a fig plant to reproduce, its flowers (the figs) must be pollinated. Two: each fig species (over 700) has a dedicated species of fig wasp--a miniscule insect that has evolved for the sole purpose of pollinating each species of fig. It's what biologists call codependent evolution and this relationship goes back over 60 million years. Female fig wasps have evolved to search for their specific fig species, burrow inside the unripe fig, and lay their eggs while simultaneously pollinating the fig "flower"... keep reading.

Curio No. 1149 | Music to someone's ears, at least
What makes "good" music? You may think it has to do with properties like consonance, dissonance, scales, and intervals. But a new study suggests culture is the true driving force behind musical tastes. The researchers came to this conclusion by comparing the musical tastes of three groups: Americans, Bolivians, and Tsimane, an isolated tribal people from the Amazon. (You may remember the Tsimane from Curio #974.) Each group was asked to rate the pleasantness of two sound clips. The first clip represented a consonant tone, defined in Western music as the perfect fifth. (You may recognize this as the dominant chord from every Ramones song, ever.) A fifth has a frequency ratio of 3:2, which is why Western music theorists think it's special. The second clip represented a dissonant tone. We don't have a name for it in Western notation, but in audio terms, the two notes had a frequency ratio of 16:15. As you would imagine, the American listeners preferred clip #1. The Tsimane showed no preference for either clip.... keep reading.

Curio No. 1148 | Landscapes are people, New Zealand rules
If you've seen the Lord of the Rings movies, you know New Zealand's natural beauty is in a category of its own. It's also in a legal category of its own. In 2014, New Zealand congress passed a law granting Te Urewera National Park "all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person." That's right: in New Zealand, land can be a person! And since Te Urewera National Park can't complain if its human rights are being violated, the New Zealand government then created a board of trustees to speak on its behalf. The Te Urewera Act is a compromise between New Zealanders of European ancestry and the country's indigenous Māori people. For the Māori, land is an extension of the people who historically lived on it... keep reading.

Curio No. 1147 | Shareholders unite!
Nowadays most companies preach the idea that the shareholder comes first. And with good reason: it only takes one disgruntled ultra-rich hedge fund manager to wreak havoc in the board room of even massive corporations like Apple, PepsiCo, and Yahoo. But companies might not be so beholden to their shareholders if it weren't for a single investor named Benjamin Graham. In 1926, Graham undertook one of the first known instances of "shareholder activism" in the United States. His target was Northern Pipeline Co., one of the 34 companies broken out of the Standard Oil monopoly in 1911. Graham owned some Northern Pipeline shares and was curious to learn more about the company's financial holdings. But he found their financial report lacking in details, so he started poking around. What he found was astonishing: Northern Pipeline stock traded at $65 share, but it held additional assets unrelated to its business worth another $95 per share... keep reading.

Curio No. 1146 | The kilogram is shrinking
The world is getting lighter. By about 50 micrograms, or millionths of a gram. For that, we have a little metal cylinder called the "international prototype kilogram" to blame. Affectionately called the Big K, the cylinder has been the global standard for the kilogram since 1889. The Big K rarely sees the light of day much; its handlers carefully ensure no outside weathering forces disturb its perfect mass. It is stored in three glass bell jars, which kept in a safe at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris. But when the Big K was taken out for a routine check-up in 1989, scientists discovered it weighed less. They have no idea why. They don't even know for sure if it's the Big K or the weights they compare it to which have changed mass.... keep reading.

Curio No. 1145 | The drunk jerk gene
Can't hold your liquor? Your inability to stay civil (or upright) after a couple of drinks may be genetic, and not related to your past exposures to alcohol. That's according to a new study by researchers at the University of Helsinki. They found carriers of the HTR2B Q20 gene mutation are more likely to be impulsive when drinking. People with that genetic mutation exhibited more yelling fits, physical fights, and DUIs--regardless of the person's past alcoholic patterns. The HTR2B receptor is one of several that regulates serotonin, which has long been thought to control our feelings of well-being and happiness. But some biologists suspect the HTR2B receptor also affects impulsiveness, as this study seems to support... keep reading.

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