What are the weirdest questions you have been asked about an organism?

This was many years ago, when I was pretty young (maybe early teens) and exploring a museum in California (?) because I was visiting the state at the time.
A father and son (maybe about 6 to 8 years old) walked up to me and asked, “Can you help us settle an argument? Are ants animals or insects?” I was only able to reply that they were both before they walked off, I’d imagine to get out of the way of my incoming too-long explanation. I don’t blame them!

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I’ve heard this question and its variant (“What good is it?”) often in the context of species conservation efforts, probably so often I no longer think it’s weird. For many people, especially those involved in agriculture, an organism is either useful, harmful, or neutral. Why would you devote money and effort to trying to save a fish that’s too small to eat? They aren’t interested in biodiversity, only how some species affects their life or business. I’d guess the majority of humans on the planet have this view to some degree, if they think about it at all.

I knew a conservation biologist who allegedly (I never heard it myself) would respond to the question “What good is it?” with “What good are you?” Probably not the most helpful response.

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I like that response :smile:

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Me three (but quietly)

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I had a good friend ask “I know rats have bones… but do mice have bones?” He was perplexed about how mice fit through such tiny holes.

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I love this one! After watching a mouse flow through a small hole, seems a legitimate question.

A friend was once asked “Do penguins always bury their dead?” - the implication being that it was common knowledge that they sometimes bury their dead. Having seen quite a few dead, and always unburied, penguins, I can confidently confirm that the answer is “no”.

I can relate. I was recently listening to a chef complain to some biologists that pandas are useless and nobody would miss them if they disappeared tomorrow. I was tempted to ask whether the pandas would notice if he disappeared tomorrow, but some provocations are better just ignored. It’s been a long time since it was edgy to dump on pandas.

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I work as a museum educator so I’ve probably suppressed more than I can count.

Both of these were grown adults, one of which had kids of their own. I don’t fault children for not knowing something.

Are you referencing that theory that we (humans) evolved from birds?

Does the salt circle around your tent work for bears too, or is that just snakes?

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https://bouldersbeachpenguins.com/what-happens-to-dead-penguins/

Thanks for the prompt.

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Thanks for sharing the link, Diana! I’m curious to know where this idea has come from. A search on Google Scholar for "death ritual" Spheniscidae comes up blank (putting penguin brings up the publisher, and human death rituals, so not useful). It would be a sufficiently interesting phenomenon, and penguins so well studied at many colonies for decades, that I would expect there to be a lot written about it in the scientific literature if it were true.

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It feels ‘urban legend’
I have asked the Two Oceans Aquarium
https://www.aquarium.co.za/animals/penguins

Apologies I see the previous link was commercial with good intentions.

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I have a carefully worded answer from the Aquarium

Yes, in certain circumstances ‘penguins do bury their dead’

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Such a common question that it probably doesn’t qualify as weird, but so nonsensical if you know much about evolution and ecology: “What is the purpose of What’sIts?” Usually asked in an environmental biology class. At least this version of “What is it good for?” provided an opening to answer, “To produce baby What’sIts that will grow up to make more baby What’sIts.” Blank stares. Then I’d explain, or try to, that evolutionarily, this is the “purpose” of any living thing. (I would also explain that we humans may have other purposes, like teaching people about biology. Sigh.)

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I used to collect dead birds (with a licence!) to prepare as museum specimens. One day I pulled into a gas station to park and walk back to collect a freshly dead roadkill Red-headed Woodpecker. When I returned carrying the bird, a young man from the gas station came over to ask what I was doing. I explained. Young man asked, “Are you going to save it?” Odd phrasing, I thought, as I explained that a museum specimen could last for centuries if properly cared for. "No. Are you going to save it. “Do you mean, am I going to make it alive again?” Yes. Ah, no, I couldn’t do that.

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To be honest, I am usually the one asking the weird questions.
I have been called variations of “intellectually hindered” as a result.

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Was at a trivia quiz some years ago and this question cam up. “What animal kills the most people in Africa?”. At the quiz show, the correct answer apparently was the hippopotamus, but I still maintain that my answer was correct. I said malaria mosquito.

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A long time ago, I was on a trip through the Rocky Mountains. I was stopped on the side of the road somewhere on the Ice fields Parkway, photographing a Mountain Goat that was standing on the concrete barrier at one of the pull-outs. Another car pulled up and an older couple got out to share in the rare chance to see the animal up close. As I walked back to my car, the woman asked “Where did it come from?”.

I guess to a human, it might have looked like a somewhat inaccessible spot but…it’s a mountain goat. At the time, I think I just sort of blinked stupidly and gazed abstractly at the mountains all around us.

Weeks later, I was telling a buddy the story, and his after-the-fact suggestion of a response was:
“When a Mommy goat and a Daddy goat love each other very much, they give each other a ‘special hug’…”

I hope a similar circumstance comes up in the future so I can use that.

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If the article had stopped at burying the dead, I could have swallowed it. But going on to talk about penguins getting a sense of closure, beginning the healing process and creating a space for moving forward individually and as a community, it is obviously bullshit. Who has interviewed the penguins?

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Disappointing website name.
Boulders Beach is where our land-based penguin colony is.

https://www.sanparks.org/parks/table-mountain/what-to-do/attractions/boulders-penguin-colony

As a teacher, I always answer “We don’t know yet.” Then I tell them stories of the “Gastric Brooding Frog” in Australia which could have led to important drugs for acid reflux management (Google Rheobatrachus). And the suite of useful biotechnology tools that have come from polar regions (Google “Enzymes from Marine Polar Regions”). As a person comes to know nature they won’t need a “use” to consider biodiversity and conservation of species important, but I think it’s helpful to approach people one step beyond where they are… not ten.

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TBH my guess would have been Homo sapiens.

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