Apart from being a brilliant comedy with Will Farrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal, the term “stranger than fiction,” describes the irony that reality is much more weird and bizarre than any fictional world dreamed up in the mind of a writer.
Science is a funny old thing, often far more imaginative and peculiar than anything a science fiction writer could conceive of in his or her wildest musings. Here’s a list of some of the more unusual scientific observations I’ve come across. If you have any you’d like to add, please let me know.
In no particular order of weirdness…
- Planarians are tiny worm-like creatures. A single planarian can be cut up into thirty odd slices, and, hey, presto, you’ve got thirty planarian worms. But, be careful, their throats also doubles as an anus, so they’re definitely stranger than fiction.
- Bombardier beetles squirt out acids reaching over 100 degrees Celsius, and are capable of firing several times a second with astounding accuracy. Take that you xenomorphic wannabes and alien Predators.
- Sea squirts are worse than any zombie you’ve seen running across the silver screen. These creatures have the bizarre reputation of eating their own brains. Admittedly, their brains are not particularly well developed, but after guiding the young sea squirt to a suitable anchoring point, the sea squirt digests its own cerebral ganglion. Bet you never saw that on The Walking Dead
- You aren’t an individual. We tend to think of ourselves in the singular, as though we were a single organism, but we’re actually a walking, talking ecosystem, with 10x as much bacteria and microbes as there are body cells. It may not be that flattering to think of yourself as a living petri dish, but without these microbes we would die.
- Forget about binge drinking on Earth, there’s a billion, billion, billion liters of alcohol in space, just waiting to make its way into the alien equivalent of Budweiser
- Coal-fired power stations release more radiation than nuclear power stations, contrary to what you may have seen on the Simpsons
- Fleas jump with 20x the acceleration of a Space Shuttle launch
- The oldest living organism on Earth is 8 million year old bacteria revived from beneath a glacier
- The most dangerous animal on Earth, responsible for far more deaths than sharks, lions or tigers, is the malaria parasite carried by the mosquito, killing almost 3,000 children a day.
- Sand tiger sharks endure survival of the fittest in the womb, fighting and devouring each other before they’re born
- Sorry Wolverine, but ounce for ounce, bone is five times stronger than steel
- EVERYTHING about quantum physics and relativity
If you know of any other strange and unusual facts, concepts that are more radical than anything dreamed up in Science Fiction, please add a comment below, as I’d love to hear about them.
2012.02.29 – Professor O. R. Pagan of the West Chester University of Pennsylvania let me know that the record for cutting up a planarian into slices that go on to form other living planarians is 279 times!!! I suspect even that number is only limited by the ability to slice up such a small creature. Remarkable critters! If only it was that easy to clone my work colleagues, it would would make recruitment so much easier.