This group of seven mammals has a distinction that sets them apart
Q. Are you familiar with the “Baby Tooth Survey” and the role it played in banning above-ground nuclear weapons testing? A. In the late 1950s, medical doctor Louise Reiss believed that nuclear weapons testing in the United States was harmful to those in nearby areas, says Dan Lewis on his “Now I Know” website. Since the tests produced radioactive strontium-90 (Sr-90), chemically similar to calcium, Reiss wanted to determine whether people were absorbing Sr-90 in their bones. Her “outside-the-box idea” was to test baby teeth, the most available bone out there.
Thus began the “Baby Tooth Survey,” where for over a dozen years, Reiss and others collected nearly 300,000 baby teeth from St. Louis area children, who each received a button with the words, “I Gave My Tooth to Science.” The findings: Sr-90 was being absorbed into the bodies of those exposed, so that “children born after 1963 had 50 times more Sr-90 than those born before nuclear testing began.”
“In 1963, with the knowledge of the first Baby Tooth Survey now available, the United States agreed to and ratified the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,” joining other signatories in declaring an end to nuclear weapons testing above ground. Q. Are you a fan of the game of Hangman? What do you think is the hardest word to guess in the game? And how many of these challenging ones do you know, three of which date back to 1275 or earlier: “gyve,” “ilka,” “yclept,” “jinx” and “klutz”? A. Based on the 15 million rounds of Hangman one computer played, the hardest word to guess is “jazz,” says Anu Garg on his “A.Word.A.Day” website. “The English language has more than a thousand fourletter words that have the letter A in second place,” but after that easy vowel guess, “it’s all downhill.”
Now to the list: “Gyve” (jyv) means “a shackle” or “to restrain,” with its earliest documented use 1275. “Ilka,” from Old English “yic” + “a,” gives us “each” or “every.” And dating back to 950 is “yclept” (i-KLEPT), defined as “called” or “named.”
“Jinx” (1911) refers to “one believed to bring bad luck,” and “klutz” (1968) from Yiddish “klots” (wooden block) suggests “a clumsy or stupid person.”
BTW, Garg says, “these words may also come in handy in another popular word game.” Q. What distinction do these mammal species have in common: African lions, spotted hyenas, African elephants, orcas, lemurs (2 species) and bonobos? A. “Of the 76 non-human animal species that exhibit leadership, only seven have females that take charge during conflict, foraging or travel,” says Chelsea Whyte in “New Scientist” magazine. Biologist Jennifer Smith and her colleagues found that the females possessed at least one of the following traits: they are physically stronger than males, are long-lived or spend most of their life in one area, and form strong social bonds with other females.
A few examples: Though African lions are hailed as “kings of the jungle,” they actually form female-led prides. Not only do lionesses stay their whole lives where they were born but they also “cooperate on hunts, defend their territory from other prides, and defend cubs against adult males.” And female spotted hyenas are physically larger than males, take command during conflicts and, adds Smith, are “on the front lines in battles.”
Both ring-tailed and blackand-white ruffed female lemurs keep peace within the colony and take the lead in interventions with other colonies. Though adult females are comparable in size to males, they generally win in a one-on-one confrontation. Finally, the ocean-dwelling female orcas live well into their 90’s, remaining in their birth place, “so the pod matriarch has valuable knowledge of the location of salmon-filled waters.”
As the study of animal behavior continues, a few other mammals may join this select group, Whyte says.