Odd but interesting facts for children, to broaden their knowledge of the world
The Elephant (Elephantidae of the family pachyderm)
Although it’s not widely known, the elephant, for all its bulk is a very light animal. This accounts for the reputation of being able to move almost silently in the forest.
The reason for this is that, though it sounds unlikely, the elephant is hollow, a living balloon. That explains its inflated, puffy appearance. It also tells us why Dumbo, changed from a normal elephant only in having giant ears, was able to fly by flapping those appendages. The empty interior also explains the legs, which appear more constructed of stuffing than would a racehorse brought to that size.
The elephant, being a herbivore, eats massive quantities of leafy matter, which results in lots of gas in their digestive tract. This gas is diverted to the body, its pressure regulated by the elephant’s gasomotus organ, located below the liver.
When lifting heavy loads the elephant diverts more gas to the body, lightening the animal, and allowing it to almost float the load it’s carrying. When putting down such a great load the excess gas is vented, which is not a pleasant experience for those nearby, as anyone who has visited the elephant house at the zoo can attest.
For many years, scientists were baffled by the fact that people could find no trace of dead elephants, causing them to speculate on the existence of the fabled “elephant’s graveyard.” But now we know, that with death, the beast’s gasomotus can no longer perform its function, so the creature simply deflates to a flat sheet on the jungle floor, which is quickly cleaned up by the ever-present elephant ant. Not even bones remain, because like any balloon, there are no bones.
Eggs Are Actually Called Neggs
Although we commonly buy the product of the female fowl we call chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus), and find the package labeled “eggs” the true name was originally, Negg. Over the years people saying, “I’d like a dozen neggs,” and “I’d like ham and neggs,” for breakfast slurred the sounds into a single all inclusive sound, which, for reasons too lengthy and filled with technical terms to define here, reduced to “A dozen eggs, please.”
The history of words, called Etymology, has many fascinating byways such as this.
Spaghetti Grows in Our Garden.
Although little known outside the agricultural sector, many of the pasta products we treasure are actually a product of the fruit of the Spagattie plant (Pastamotous Glutionous Major), thought to originate in China, though now cultivated throughout the world and prized for its many varieties (though, sadly, these days the artificial pasta industry has all but crowded out the true product).
In its natural state the spagetti plant bears a long cucumber-like fruit, a mottled green in color when growing, but a beautiful and shiny umber when fully ripe. They are harvested in the fall, typically, after an eighteen week growing period.
The fruits are first allowed to dry a bit, and to ferment—to stabilize the natural tendency toward gumminess that would make the individual strands difficult to separate. This drying was originally done by the sun, but modern processors perform the initial drying, called, batching, in large, many-shelved ovens, in batches of as many as three tons at once. Placing the fruit as closely as possible, without contact with another fruit (which would result in cracking and breakage of the individual strands) is a balance between maximizing either profit or quality. The necessary hand placement and attention to detail is the reason the natural product is being replaced by the less costly, but inferior artificial pasta.
Once dried the pods are carefully opened. The strands are removed and separated, and placed on a conveyor belt, where they are moved through drying ovens and trimming stations where the strands are cut to the same length in order to fit neatly into the packaging. Excess pasta, or trims, as they are called in the industry, are sold to commercial canneries where pre-made products such as spaghetti and meatballs are produced.
Careful breeding has generated many other related plants, such as macaroni—which acquires its distinctive curved shape after chopping to length and drying—and such decorative varieties as bow-ties.
The original plant, the grandfather of today’s pasta, so to speak—as it was before the intensive breeding program that resulted in the Spagattie plant—may be found in your local market, and may be grown in your own garden. Ask your parents to make a spaghetti squash for dinner tonight.
Although you may use shampoo to clean your hair, you are probably not aware that the all but forgotten product, Poo, was the hair-cleaning product of choice until the early part of the twentieth century. Poo, a vegetable product, is extremely mild, and gentle on the hair, and was prized because it didn’t have the drying effect of the lye-soap commonly in use at the time. It does have a strong, extremely unpleasant taste, however, with the result that when people got a trace of it in their mouth they called it by name, Poo.
With the advent of chemical detergents, such as tri-sodium phosphate, it was hoped a product could be developed that would provide the gentle cleaning action of poo, combined with the strength of modern chemistry.
The solution eluded researchers until Howard Buskin developed his now famous formula for artificial poo, which he called, Chemipoo.
Though the product tested well, the name was unfortunate. The test users reacted negatively to the idea of a chemical hair cleaner, so Mr. Buskin decided to keep the origin of the product secret by labeled it, Crowning Glory Poo.
The product became highly popular, until it was revealed as a sham, and identified as a re-labeled version of Chemipoo.
Driven by the poo lobby in congress, Mr. Busken was required by law to label his product as a sham poo. Because of the popularity and quality of the product, however, this proved not to be a handicap. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Golden Ball Tree (Rutilus Ball Nemus)
One of the true oddities of nature is the golden ball tree, a rare and useful species that grows the world over.
In aspect, the tree is the straightest growing tree on planet Earth. Tall and majestic it gathers metal salts within the core of the tree, as it grows, using the magnetic field it induces around them as the template for its unusually straight trunk growth.
Then, as the tree attains maturity, those salts condense to provide the strong yet flexible core that also makes the tree far less vulnerable to wind damage then are most trees.
GBT trees, as they are known in the trade, have a long life span, but it’s what happens when the tree dies that makes it of most use to humanity. As the tree slowly rots around that metal core, what remains is a tall shaft of metal, capped with a gold colored ball.
These trees are so rare and so majestic in aspect, that we often convert them to flagpoles, and build edifices like schools and government buildings next to them.
Unfortunately, cultivation of the GBT seems to be beyond our present capabilities. One reason is that they are solitary, by nature, because of their nutritional needs. Still, because of a concentration of metals in the soil, they occasionally, grow in clusters of two and three trees. One of the largest concentrations of such trees in a single forest can be found in the Washington DC area, and is the reason the area was chosen as its nation’s capital city.
The Bellybuttom Fairy
The Bellybutton Fairy is one of the least known and hardest to see. But still, they are the most important of the fairies. Only Dewdrop fairies, who place dew on the grass and flowers each night, are more numerous. The task of the Bellybutton fairy—the thing that sets them apart—is that they are responsible for human growth from birth to adulthood. Without them there would be no adults, and the human race would perish.
During our growing years, each child is visited, daily, by one of the bellybutton fairies, though never when it can be observed. Mostly, they come at night. When that’s not possible, they slip in during a time when the baby is unobserved. It’s thought by many that they are able to change both shape and coloration to avoid detection—much like some lizards and fish—though there is no direct evidence to support that theory. We do know, however, that when a child is placed where the fairy cannot visit the child does not grow. And even though they might be removed from that sealed environment at some future time, and have growth resume, that child will never reach normal height.
With hidden cameras great patience, and a bit of luck, scientists have been able to catch the fairies in action, and the sequence is always the same:
On arrival, when the fairy is satisfied that it is unobserved, it loosens the child’s clothing to gain access to their navel. Then, placing two fingers on either side of the baby’s navel, they gently spread the opening. Science cannot explain what happens next, because humans cannot reproduce the effect, but after a moment the opening created by the fairy abruptly spreads and a small rolled up tube pops from inside the navel.
The fairy then unrolls the tube, which appears hollow, and fastens its mouth to the end to blow two quick breaths before rerolling the tube and tucking it back inside the child. Then it dresses the child and is away to the next child.
Learning of this fairy was a boon to science because it explained a lot. Because fairy size varies, and since the same fairy may not visit the same child, from night-to-night, the size of the two breaths given varies, too. A child who is visited primarily by larger fairies will be larger than one visited primarily by smaller ones. Growth spurts are easily explained by the child being visited by a series of larger fairies for a time, as periods of slow growth are caused by the opposite.
It was also noted that girls are only visited by female fairies, and boys by males. Since female fairies are almost always smaller than the males, this explains why human girls are usually smaller than boys.
Please note that while we would normally include a picture of the fairy, this was not done for two reasons. First is that the only pictures that scientists were able to capture were done in nearly total darkness, and so are of poor quality. A second reason is that Belly Button fairies are physically adapted to their task, so their mouth is extended and tiny, to fit the tiny belly-button tubes of children, giving them an almost insect appearance that might frighten a child who reads this article without an adult who might explain and calm them. We hope you will understand.
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When my own children were young, I presented them with twisted encyclopedia definitions for fun, and to encourage them to never simply accept what they’re told without question. The spaghetti definition was inspired by a segment on the TV program, That Was the Week That Was, where spaghetti was shown growing on bushes, then harvested. I changed the story a bit because there was a spaghetti squash in the refrigerator waiting to be prepared for dinner.
I told the story in the afternoon and as you might expect it was greeted with derision. You can imagine my son’s expression when we sliced that spaghetti squash and the stands popped out.
I suppose it explains my children’s tendency to twitch and suffer occasional bouts of gibbering, though.
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