This group of seven mam­mals has a dis­tinc­tion that sets them apart

The Woolwich Observer - - LIVING HERE - WEIRD NOTES

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.

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