What's the Difference Between a Possum and an Opossum?

iStock.com/erniedecker
iStock.com/erniedecker

In the mid-17th century, a creature of curious proportions was caught in Virginia and brought to the Royal Society in London for observation. The furry animal had a pointed snout, sharp teeth, and, most remarkably, a pouch in its belly. Unsure how else to describe it, those who saw it described it a cross between a fox and an ape.

This bizarre animal turned out to be the only marsupial native to the U.S. and Canada. Now, we know them as opossums—derived from the Algonquian word aposoum, meaning “white dog” or “white beast." (Despite the vicious-sounding nomenclature, opossums are rarely dangerous. They’re actually a boon to gardeners because they eat pests like beetles and slugs, and also help control tick populations.)

So where do possums fit into this narrative? You may occasionally refer to the pink-nosed animal trotting along the road as a possum, which is an acceptable truncated version of opossum. However, the word without the o refers to something very different outside of North America.

While possum is sometimes a synonym of opossum, it can also refer to a completely different species that lives in New Guinea, Australia, Indonesia, and elsewhere in the Pacific. Though possums and opossums have a lot in common—including the fact that they’re nocturnal, omnivorous, tree-dwelling marsupials that are known to play dead, or “play possum,” when threatened—they look quite different. Here’s what an Australian brushtail possum looks like (while the above photo is the more familiar opossum):

A brushtail possum
iStock.com/DerekJWalker

As for the pronunciation, it’s a common misconception that the first o in opossum is silent. Merriam-Webster, Grammarly, and Dictionary.com all note that the word is pronounced uh-possum, with the first vowel voiced. However, if you’re opting for the shortened version, possum, then it’s fine to omit the o sound. Unless you’re speaking with an Australian, it’s likely you’ll be understood either way.

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What Is the Difference Between Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke

YuriS/iStock via Getty Images
YuriS/iStock via Getty Images

When temperatures begin to climb, many of us can find ourselves growing physically uncomfortable. Indoors or out, warm weather can make us lethargic, sweaty, and nostalgic for winter. There are differences, though, between heat exhaustion—a precursor to more serious symptoms—and heatstroke. So what are they? And how can you treat them?

Heat exhaustion happens when the body begins to overheat as a result of exposure to excessive temperatures or high humidity. (Humidity affects the body's ability to cool off, because sweat cannot evaporate as easily in humid weather.) Sufferers may sweat profusely, feel lightheaded or dizzy, and have a weak or rapid pulse. Skin may become cool and moist. Nausea and headache are also common. With heat exhaustion, it’s necessary to move to a cooler place and drink plenty of fluids, though medical attention is not often required.

If those steps aren't taken, though, heatstroke can set in. This is much more serious and involves the body reaching a dangerous core temperature of 104°F or higher. People experiencing heatstroke may appear disoriented or confused, with flushed skin and rapid breathing. They may also lose consciousness. While heat exhaustion can be treated and monitored at home until symptoms resolve, heatstroke is a medical emergency that requires prompt attention by a health professional. Until help arrives, heatstroke should be treated with cool cloths or a bath, but sufferers should not be given anything to drink.

Although young children and those over the age of 65 are most susceptible to heat-related health issues, anyone can find themselves having a reaction to warm temperatures. If you’re outside, it’s best to drink plenty of fluids, wear light-fitting clothing, and avoid being out in the afternoons when it’s warmest. Because sunburn can compromise the body’s ability to cool itself, wearing sunscreen is also a good idea.

While it’s not always possible to avoid hot or humid weather, monitoring your body for symptoms and returning to a cool space out of the sun when necessary is the best way to stay healthy. If you have older relatives who live alone, it’s also a good idea to check on them when temperatures rise to make sure they’re doing well.

[h/t WWMT]

Why Are There 10 Hot Dogs to a Pack But Only 8 Buns?

tacar/iStock via Getty Images
tacar/iStock via Getty Images

Watching competitive eating champion Joey Chestnut cram dozens of hot dogs down his throat would make anyone crave a grilled log of processed meat this summer. But shopping for hot dogs can be a confusing experience. The dogs are typically sold in packs of 10, but the buns are sold in packs of eight. What's behind this strange dog and bun inequality?

According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council—yes, there is a National Hot Dog and Sausage Council—there’s a good reason for the discrepancy. For starters, distributors of hot dogs are almost always different from manufacturers of baked goods like rolls. The hot dogs are sold in packs of 10 because producers of meat (or meat-like) products selected that quantity when hot dogs started to sell at retail grocery stores in the 1940s. Oscar Mayer, which led the charge into direct-to-consumer hot dog packaging, sold hot dogs by the pound in accordance with how meat is typically priced. Having 10 dogs that weighed 1.6 ounces each seemed like the ideal distribution of weight.

Bakeries, meanwhile, have standards of their own. Buns and sandwich rolls are usually sold eight to a pack because the baking trays for the elongated buns are typically sized to fit that number. Two sets of four buns come off the tray, which is the reason why buns are often still attached to one another when you open a bag.

These standards were created independently of one another: Bakeries weren’t too preoccupied with hot dogs when they were settling on a four-roll tray standard, and hot dog manufacturers weren’t thinking about how difficult it would be for bakeries to break from their conveyor system to offer 10 buns to a pack.

It can be frustrating if you buy just one or two packages of each, but if you’re hosting a big enough party, the uneven number doesn’t matter. You just need to buy five packages of buns and four packages of hot dogs to have 40 matching pairs. No complicated calculations required.

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