Named for their explosive defense mechanism, bombardier beetles forcefully expel an acrid, volatile fluid from their abdomens when threatened. The ejection of this fluid, a mixture of two chemicals that boil upon contact and vaporize into a jet of gas that can kill insects and small creatures, is accompanied by a loud cracking sound. What series of events led Charles Darwin to pop a bombardier beetle into his mouth, prompting the insect to discharge its caustic fluid and burn Darwin's tongue?
Back in the day
One of the most famous hoaxes in American history, the Cardiff Giant was a gypsum statue passed off as a petrified prehistoric man. It was the creation of businessman George Hull, who had the figure sculpted, artificially weathered, buried, and dug up. After charging fascinated onlookers to view the figure, Hull sold the giant, which was so popular that P.T. Barnum even had an unauthorized copy of it made. What much-repeated aphorism was coined in reference to those paying to see Barnum's giant?
Born on a day like today
Webster was an American lexicographer. After serving in the American Revolution, he published The Elementary Spelling Book, or "Blue-Backed Speller," which helped standardize American spelling and sold some 100 million copies. In 1807, he began work on his landmark American Dictionary of the English Language, which included definitions of 70,000 words—of which 12,000 had never appeared in a dictionary before. How many languages did he learn while compiling the dictionary?