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Be Amazing: Glow in the Dark

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Whether you're looking to become invisible, swallow a sword, quit smoking, find Atlantis, get out of jury duty, buy the Moon, sink a battleship, perform your own surgeries, or become a ninja, our new book Be Amazing covers all the essential life skills! This week, we'll be excerpting a few lessons from the book.

YOU WILL NEED

"¢ 1 hand (your own, preferably attached)
"¢ 1 set of fingernails
"¢ 1 powerful photon counter (check your local university research laboratory)
"¢ Photons (don't sweat it, you've already got those)

Do It Because: IT'S ALREADY THERE

Some kids want to be princesses or mermaids. But we always thought it'd be fun to be a firefly. (Not the "hey, your tush is blinking on and off" part, mind you, more just the general glowing.) Turns out, we've always been closer to our dream than we realized. In 2005, researchers at Japan's Hamamatsu Photonics Central Research Laboratory revealed that humans already do glow in the dark. Our hands, feet, and foreheads all shine, thanks to photons—tiny, energized packets of light emitted by our skin. According to a Discovery News article on the study, researchers say that fingernails release the most photons, possibly because the material they're made of can function like a prism, scattering light far and wide. So how's it work? The researchers aren't entirely sure. However, using some hand models and a photon counter, they figured out that warm temperatures, increased oxygen, and mineral oil all increase the photon output—making it likely that the glow is caused by chemiluminescence (a fancy word that simply means "light caused by chemical reactions"). Coincidentally, this is same process that makes those firefly fannies flicker.

Use It To: ATTRACT POTENTIAL MATES, ENTERTAIN YOUR FRIENDS. . . AND HELP OUT YOUR DOCTOR

Besides grade-school wish fulfillment and some serious potential for party tricks, there are actually some practical benefits to this knowledge. Both the Japanese researchers and a second team in Germany say that disease and illness may affect the glow. The Japanese say that sick people emit a dimmer light, while German studies on multiple sclerosis patients revealed that the disease seemed to change the rhythm at which the photon light pulsed. The teams hope that one day their discovery could be used to help doctors diagnose specific disorders in a less invasive way.

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Animals
7 Fun Facts for Elephant Appreciation Day
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Happy Elephant Appreciation Day! Celebrate the occasion with some facts about everyone's favorite gentle giant. 

1. ELEPHANTS CAN RECOGNIZE OTHER ELEPHANT CARCASSES.

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The University of Sussex's Karen McComb told National Geographic that elephants "become excited and agitated if they come across a dead elephant," and, in particular, will investigate skulls and tusks. McComb teamed up with researchers at the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya to study the behavior, showing wild elephants a range of objects that included skulls. They found that the elephants examined skulls—and tusks in particular—of their own kind twice as long as other skulls, and examined tusks six times as long as they did pieces of wood. They were even able to recognize elephant skulls with the tusks removed, but didn't show preference for certain elephant skulls over others, which suggests they didn't know which skulls belonged to their own relatives. "Animals that are intensely social in life may be most likely to display an interest in their dead," McComb told National Geographic. "But what goes on in their minds while they are doing this is a total mystery."

2. THEY'RE SCARED OF BEES.

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Forget about mice scaring off elephants: When farmers need to keep elephants away from their crops, they should use bees. Researchers in Kenya discovered that even the recorded sound of buzzing bees was enough to make elephants retreat—and cause them to emit a low-frequency sound, inaudible to humans, that warns other elephants of the bees' presence.

"It's impossible to cover Africa in electric fences," Lucy King, author of the paper, told The Huffington Post. "The infrastructure doesn't exist in many places and it would restrict animals' movement." But something like a bee fence—hives strung on strong wires a certain distance apart that would move when elephants walked into them, disturbing the hives—"could be a better way to direct elephants away from farmers' crops," she said.

3. THEY MIGHT UNDERSTAND POINTING.

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Humans often use pointing as a way to nonverbally get a message across, though not many other animals grasp the concept. But according to a two-month study of 11 tame African elephants, these pachyderms might be able to: When presented with two identical buckets and pointed in the direction of the one containing food, elephants picked up on the cue fairly consistently: Elephants had a success rate of 67.5 percent (1-year-old humans have a success rate of 72.7 percent). But an earlier study of Asian elephants indicated that they don’t notice pointing gestures, which is a bit of a mystery.

4. ONE ELEPHANT CAN "TALK." 

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Koshik, an elephant in a South Korean zoo, developed the ability to imitate the sounds of five words he's heard from his trainer—annyeong (hello), anja (sit down), aniya (no), nuwo (lie down), and joa (good)—by sticking his trunk in his mouth. The scientists who first noticed Koshik’s ability speculate that he learned to “talk” because he was lonely.

5. THEY'RE DIGITIGRADES.

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It's Latin for "finger walking," and what it means is that elephants walk on their toes (there are five of them, as well a sixth false toe). According to the book Mammal Anatomy: An Illustrated Guidemost of the animals' weight "rests on a broad pad of elastic tissue behind the toes" which "acts as a shock absorber and prevents the skeleton from jolting too much when the animals walk. It also allows elephants to move surprisingly quietly despite their size."

6. AN ELEPHANT PREGNANCY LASTS ABOUT TWO YEARS.

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If you thought being pregnant for nine months was a long time, be glad you're not an elephant, which can be pregnant for up to 680 days, according to the BBC. All that time in the oven has a benefit, though: Elephant calves are born with highly-developed brains, capable of learning their herd's complex social structures and ready to put their trunks to use.

7. NINETY-SIX ELEPHANTS ARE KILLED IN AFRICA EVERY DAY.

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Unfortunately, elephant poaching remains a very big problem: An estimated 35,000 elephants are killed annually, their tusks sold illegally in the ivory market. Do the math, and that comes out to nearly 96 elephants every day. Find out what you can do to help elephants and stop poaching at 96Elephants.org.

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Animals
The Real Story Behind Frida, The Rescue Dog in Mexico Gaining Viral Fame

On Tuesday, September 19, a deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked the center of Mexico. Three days later, rescue workers are still searching for survivors, and among the humans digging through the rubble is a four-legged helper named Frida.

Frida the rescue dog, named after Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, has offered a ray of positivity to people around the world following the devastating news that’s come out of Mexico this week. As a starring member of the Mexican Navy’s Canine Unit, it’s her job to sniff out people trapped by natural disasters, all while wearing goggles, booties, and a harness to keep her safe from debris. The 7-year-old lab has detected 52 people throughout her career, 12 of whom were found alive and successfully rescued, according the Los Angeles Times.

Since the Mexican Navy shared a collage of the rescue dog last week on Twitter, Frida has been declared a hero by the internet. She’s been featured on numerous websites and was the subject of one tweet that has received more than 50,000 likes. But while Frida is doing important, life-saving work that’s every bit worthy of praise, some of the information surrounding her is inaccurate.

Several outlets have misreported that the rescue dog has saved 52 lives following Mexico's earthquake, while in reality 52 is the total number of people she has located, dead or alive.

Fortunately the viral confusion doesn’t make her story any less inspiring. Frida is an invaluable member of her team, often crawling into spaces that humans can’t reach. Like the rest of the rescue workers responding to this week’s earthquake, Frida is a hero to the victims and their loved ones.

For a closer look at how she’s able to pull off such incredible work, check her out in the canine training video below.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

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