You know the indexes that appear at the back of books? I write them. In the process, I learn some weird things. Here are a few examples…
The book: The Origin: Then and Now by David N. Reznick
The weird thing: A special mosquito population lurks in the subway tunnels of London. In the world above, most mosquitoes dine on bird blood, but birds are in short supply underground. Ordinary mosquitoes require a blood meal before laying eggs, but the subway mosquitoes have adapted and evolved. They remain blood-thirsty, needle-nosed suckers that enjoy a sip of human or rat when they can get it, but, for them, drinking blood is an option, not a necessity.
(I think Mosquitoes of the London Underground would be a great name for a band.)
The book: People of the Sturgeon: Wisconsin’s Love Affair with an Ancient Fish by Kathleen Schmitt Kline et al.
The weird things: 1) A large, white brassiere works as a sturgeon lure. Sturgeon are curious fish that will cruise over to take a look when something strange—like a bra—appears in the icy water; 2) Sturgeon have no bones. They have a stretchy spinal cord called a notochord, which has been used by children as a jump rope.
The book: Evolutionary Ecology of Parasites by Robert Poulin
The weird thing: The life cycle of Toxoplasma gondii requires two hosts: mice and cats. When the time comes to make the leap from mouse to cat, the parasite messes with the mouse’s brain chemistry and makes the smell of cats attractive instead of frightening. The infected mouse walks right into the jaws of death, and the parasite gets its cozy new host.
The book: Ringlingville USA by Jerry Apps
The weird thing: Upset by a change in caretakers, five elephants escaped from a circus train in Laramie, Wyoming. One of them evaded capture and roamed the western prairies for two weeks back in 1909.
The book: Tolkein’s Modern Middle Ages edited by Jane Chance and Alfred Siewers
The weird thing: We have lost some beautiful words that were once a part of everyday English. One of them is dustceawung, which means “contemplation of the dust.” For the Anglo-Saxons, all present images carried echoes of both the past and the future. When they wrote their poetry, they were practicing dustceawung.
(PS: Writing this, I discover that I’ve completely forgotten the special French word for sweeping away cobwebs. Sadly, I just didn’t use that word enough to keep it alive in my brain.)