Life is Gross

True or False? Whale poop is used to make perfume. — NEW!

True. Ambergris is a fatty substance produced in the digestive tract of sperm whales. Scientists think ambergris helps whales pass non-digestible objects such as the hard beaks of giant squids. (Sperm whales love to eat giant squid, and squid beaks have been found inside lumps of ambergris.)

When first excreted, ambergris is a thick, black liquid that floats on the ocean’s surface smelling exactly like what it is—whale poop. After being exposed to sun and salt water for years, ambergris is transformed into a gray, waxy substance with a musky-sweet smell that’s perfect for making perfume. Ambergris has been found floating throughout the world’s warm water oceans.

Because ambergris is rare and expensive, today’s perfumes are usually made with synthetic chemicals. However, this unique material is still referred to as “floating gold.” A few years ago, an Australian couple found a 32-pound lump of ambergris on the beach. It was worth $300,000!

True or False? When you sneeze, tiny droplets shoot out of your nose and mouth at 25 miles per hour.

False. When you blow your nose, the droplets shoot into the air at 100 miles per hour! Blowing your snot across the room is one of the main ways that colds spread from one person to another. That’s why parents remind, okay pester, kids to cover their mouths when they sneeze. In the old days, kids were told to cover up with their hands. Fortunately, someone realized that this maneuver merely got snot all over a person’s fingers. So nowadays, you’re told to cover your mouth with the crook of your arm.

Check out the following link to see a baby panda sneezing at a zoo:

True or False? Some of the earliest experiments on digestion were possible because a man was shot in the stomach.

True. In 1822, a Canadian trapper named Alexis St. Martin was accidentally shot with a musket at close range. The bullet blew a hole in St. Martin’s side breaking a few ribs and taking out chunks of muscle. Everyone assumed he wouldn’t survive, but somehow the brave trapper pulled through. Oddly, the wound did not heal properly and a thin opening called a fistula was left between St. Martin’s stomach and his side.

The doctor who saved St. Martin’s life saw an opportunity to do research into the digestive process. Over a period of eleven years, Dr. William Beaumont did more than 200 experiments on his patient. He dangled pieces of food on string in St. Martin’s stomach and pulled them out at various stages of digestion. He also put a hand lens inside his patient to watch firsthand how the stomach did its thing. And what do you think the food smelled like once it had been in the stomach for a while? If you said vomit, you’re correct.

True or False? Frog saliva is a secret ingredient in eggs Benedict.

False. I suspect that most of you thought this one was true because it sounded too bizarre to be false. (I had to throw in a few curve balls or you’d be able to guess the answer for every question in the book.) Nevertheless, since you just read about coffee that was harvested from civet poop, it seemed fitting that I included a dish from the other end of an animal.

Bird’s nest soup is an Asian delicacy that’s been around for centuries. This edible nest is made from the saliva of bird called the White-nest Swiftlet. During mating season, the male swiftlet’s salivary glands enlarge and produce sticky, rope-like saliva that dries when exposed to air. The dads-to-be labor for five weeks to make cup-shaped homes for their chicks that are the size of a human ear. Because the swiftlet makes its nest in caves high above the ground, harvesting this delicacy is dangerous work, and many people are injured or killed in the process each year.

After the nests are harvested, they are cleaned and shipped to Hong Kong before being exported to other parts of the world. China is the largest consumer of bird’s nest soup. Bird’s nest soup is very expensive because of demand and the difficulty obtaining the nests. A bowl of this delicacy costs about $60.

True or False? The reason some dogs roll in poop or dead animals is because they love to smell bad.

False. Dogs don’t know what it means to smell good or bad. They do know what it means to smell, however, because like most animals, they use their sense of smell to face life’s challenges. Since dogs are technically predators, they express many behaviors that were necessary for survival before they became man’s best friend—that’s when they realized they could get food just by being cute rather than hunting for it. In the “old days,” dogs had to sneak up on their prey to get dinner. However, in the world of checks and balances, their prey had defenses that enabled them to run away when the dog got too close. In addition to having eyes on the sides of their head (to see a larger portion of the world around them), prey are always alert to the smells of an advancing predator. So if a dog smells like a dead worm or rabbit poop instead of a dog, he may be in a better position to surprise his prey and go to bed with a full tummy. Even though modern pups don’t need to smell bad to survive (actually, we might like them more if they smelled good) some of them have not given up on this primitive behavior.

True or False? You swallow a quart of mucus every day.

True. The image of a big bowl filled with snot is pretty gross, but that’s what ends up in your stomach everyday. However, most people aren’t aware of this unique snack food because mucus is swallowed without giving it a second thought. The big question, of course, is why this happens in the first place.

The nose and sinus cavities continually produce mucus to trap the mold, viruses, bacteria, and various types of debris that are inhaled with each breath. Have you ever seen animated movies that show writhing dinosaurs getting trapped in tar pits? Well, that’s what happens to most of the foreign matter that enters your nasal passages.

The lining of your nose and sinuses are covered with tiny hair-like projections called cilia that beat in unison (imagine the “wave” at a football game) to slowly move the mucus to the back of your mouth. The cilia beat 16 times per second, but they are so tiny that the mucus in your body still moves at a snail’s pace until it’s launched for a rapid joy ride to the stomach.  Any germs that could make you sick are then destroyed by the stomach’s acidic environment.

© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.

For more articles and lots of other cool stuff,
please visit Dr. B’s website