I work on viruses and the strangest thing I have learned has been about bats which spread viruses like rabies and Ebola. Scientists have found that, unlike most mammals which have a body temperature of 37C, a bat’s body temperature is 40C. When we are infected our body produces a fever which helps kill the virus. So having such a high body temperature helps protect the bat from becoming infected itself but it can still spread the virus on to other animals. Unfortunately for us, the viruses spread by bats can handle higher temperatures than our body can produce which is why so many of them make us so sick.
But bats also eat mosquitoes which spread lots of viruses so you win some you loss some!
I once worked on an evaluation of a nationwide campaign to reduce stigma against mental health in children and young people. We found that after the campaign, children were significantly LESS likely to seek support for mental health problems – the exact opposite of what the campaign had been aiming for! So that was a pretty weird finding. We decided to go back and speak to some of the children that had been exposed to the campaign to find out why this was the case. Turns out that the campaign had some adverse effects – some people (very sadly) had used the campaign as a way to make fun of people with mental health problems. It was great that we were able to find this out, as we could feed this back to Time to Change who then could make sure that teachers monitored student’s conversations about mental health more closely.
There is a mutation in flies that causes the larvae (maggots, they form a pupa and then an adult fly!) to crawl into the cornmeal food at the bottom of their tubes, stand upright on their “tails” and die. How crazy and random is that!? I love genetics.
Genuinely, the strangest/hardest thing I’ve learned is that eventually you can ask a question and nobody has a good answer for it (or good evidence for it). It’s unsettling to think ‘why does no one know this’, and then incredibly difficult to think ‘how can we get the evidence’. I still tend to think ‘surely someone must know this’. There’s a whole host of strange little facts I’ve picked up along the way, but a recent surprise: mustard gas was the original chemotherapy and many modern chemotherapies were originally invented as synthetic dyes (for fabric).
Working a lot with data and computers – the strangest thing is that even though we use them so regularly and become very familiar with them, they still have a habit of breaking on you without you really knowing why – and switching them off and on again solves 90% of the issues!
Great question, I think one of the weirdest facts I learnt is that you are born with more bones than you will have as an adult. A baby has around 300 bones at both, but this total decreases to 206 bones by adulthood! What is your strangest fact?