Even though science has pushed our understanding of the living world to new heights, there are still some things that just plain baffle us. It seems that the more we uncover about life on this planet, the deeper the mysteries grow.
1 – Cows Always Face North Or South While Eating
Most people don’t give much thought to grazing cows, but when a team of scientists went through thousands of Google Earth’s satellite images of cows, they stumbled upon a detail that we have missed for millennia: Cows will stand along the Earth’s magnetic poles—facing north and south—whenever they’re grazing or resting. The pattern remained consistent regardless of wind or other factors, and nobody’s quite sure why.
While some animals are known to contain an internal compass, this is the first time it’s been found in a large mammal. Another weird thing is that the nearer they are to the poles, the less accurate they get with the orientation. Scientists don’t know if the phenomenon is related to navigation or some miscalculated attempt at warding off predators, though it appears that it may have a purpose because of the consistency with which it was observed among cows across six continents. The phenomenon may have an effect on agricultural production, as cows made to stay in an east-west orientation must be affected in some way, though nobody can say how.
2-Why Some Mammals Moved Back Into Water
We know that marine animals moved out of the water and developed limbs to crawl the Earth. It was the sensible thing to do, as the land regions contained a large amount of untapped resources ideal for successful evolution. But why some of those animals—like the immediate ancestors of whales and seals—moved back into the water remains unknown.
For one thing, it is evolutionarily much more difficult for land animals to move into the sea than vice versa, as learning how to swim for a walking animal takes a lot more energy. It’s something that has perplexed scientists for a long time. Sea mammals developed the far more efficient method of navigating by tails instead of paddling much later in the course of their evolution, which makes one wonder: Why go through all that trouble in the first place? It remains one of the biggest mysteries of evolution facing modern science.
3 -Alkaloids In Plants
Plants often produce substances that have a lot of cool—and sometimes terrifying—effects on the animals that consume them. Alkaloids, as they are called, are naturally occurring substances in plants as well as animals, one of the popular ones being morphine. About 7,000 different types of alkaloids have been identified in plants, and even though we have been able to study the chemicals extensively, we’re still not quite sure why they’re there to begin with.
These are strong substances that elicit a variety of responses when consumed by other animals. In the case of the poppy plant that produces morphine, some experts believe that it’s useful for keeping predators away, although how morphine, a substance that’s very effective at reducing pain, keeps predators away is anybody’s guess. Some believe that, instead of external reasons, they might be useful for regulating the metabolism of the plants themselves.
4 -The Voynich Manuscript
Ok, so in the Yale University library, there’s this mysterious document, right? And nobody can decode the writing, as it’s no writing system known to humans (we presume). The vellum on which the manuscript was written on was determined to be of 15th Century origin. Naturally, we conclude that the document was created at that time.
But not so fast, buddy. The manuscript, named after the book dealer who found this “undecipherable text” in 1912, has continued to stump Cryptologists to this day. With the advent of the Internet, professionals and amateurs exchange scores of information in an attempt to “crack the code” once and for all.
The major question is: where did the document come from? Are we able to trace its ownership and/or existence to one or more historical people? Not all who encounter the Voynich Manuscript are convinced that the document is authentic. Some believe that Voynich himself had knowledge enough to create a false document. But nobody could make up an entire language and system of writing not known to man, right?
Well, Dr. Marc Orkrand DID manage to create the Klingon language…
5 -Why Flowers Are Everywhere
Flowering plants form a class of plants called angiosperms, and as you may have noticed, they’re everywhere. What may come as a surprise, however, is that this was not always the case. Flowering plants took over other plant types in a quick time period about 400 million years ago, and as a result they constitute about 90 percent of all plant species today.
The problem worried Charles Darwin so much that he called it “an abominable mystery.” Rapid evolution of flowers shortly after their origins ran directly against his theories of slow evolution through natural selection. And there is nothing evolutionarily beneficial about flower-producing plants—for the nutrient cost of making flowers, the plant could invest in growth or other things that could put them higher on the evolutionary ladder. Because plants don’t leave any fossil records when they die, it has been difficult to determine how this hobo species came from nowhere and so quickly conquered everything else.
6 -Stone Spheres of Costa Rica
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the purpose of the Stone Spheres of Costa Rica continues to elude researchers. Locally known as Las Bolas, these perfectly round balls made from indigenous lava seemingly have no reason to be there. First re-discovered in various parts of the later 19th/early 20th century, all of the spheres pre-date the arrival of the Spanish. There’s speculation that many spheres were destroyed after the Spanish took over the area, leaving researchers with fewer clues than before.
Dr. Sam Lathrop was one of the earlier archaeologists who studied the spheres in situ, who theorized that the stones had some connection to religion and astronomy. (Anthro-speak for “I don’t know.) With much evidence gone due to the Spanish invasion of Costa Rica, will we ever find out?