Cows are magnetic and 4 other weird science facts

“Eureka!” meaning “I have found it” is a word synonymous with surprising scientific discoveries and science is great at unearthing the strange, the wonderful and the downright weird. We’d like to share five of science’s strangest findings with you here, from beneath the sea to near-earth orbit. You’ll never see the world in quite the same way again… That’s a good thing, trust us.

Cows are magnetic

Well, technically they’re more like compass needles. Studying satellite imagery from Google Earth, researchers found that cattle (and deer) often align themselves with the Earth’s magnetic field lines between the north and south poles. They aren’t the only ones believed to sense magnetic fields: bacteria, molluscs and mole rats also display a magnetic ‘sixth sense’. But while magnetoreception has a clear advantage for migratory animals, it’s not obvious how it could benefit cows. One hypothesis is that it may help them to map their local surroundings.

Wounds filled with maggots heal faster

In deep wounds and ulcers, dead or dying tissue needs to be cut out at regular intervals to prevent infection – a process called debridement. Eating dead tissue but sparing healthy tissue, applying maggots to the wound can achieve more precise results than the surgeon’s knife in a shorter time. On top of that, maggot secretions have a wide range of benefits, from improving the flow of nutrients to healing tissues to raising the wound’s pH level to limit pathogenic bacteria growth.

Some jellyfish are immortal

The tiny Turritopsis dohrnii jellyfish has a remarkable life cycle: after reaching sexual maturity it can revert back to a juvenile state. There is no apparent limit to how many times it can do this, meaning it could theoretically live for ever. While most T dohrnii die in the conventional manner, in times of crisis they can transform into a polyp state, a process called transdifferentiation. This lets them reproduce asexually to start a new colony. Unique in the animal world, this has helped them spread to oceans across the world.


The strange lifcycle of the Turritopsis dohrnii jellyfish

We weigh less when the Moon is overhead

What we call weight is the downward force resulting from Earth’s gravitational pull on our mass. But Earth isn’t the only one pulling us towards it. The Moon also exerts a force on us, cancelling out some of Earth’s attraction when it is directly overhead. Being much smaller and also farther away from us, the Moon’s magnetic field is much weaker, meaning the effect is almost imperceptible: ie a 100-kilogram (220-pound) person would weigh just 0.5 grams (0.02 ounces) less. Conversely, when the Moon is on the opposite side of Earth to you, you weigh a fraction more.


How the Moon controls the Earth’s tides


Men can lactate too

Male mammals possess mammary glands and can produce milk, although this is rare. Certain disorders involving the pituitary gland, for example, cause it to produce prolactin, which stimulates milk production. The Dayak fruit bat is the only species in which male lactation is widespread. It’s unclear whether they actually breast feed or if milk production is a side-effect of a diet rich in phytoestrogens – plant molecules that mimic female hormones.


All males have mammary glands, but they rarely produce milk


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