What Makes Flamingos Pink?: A Colorful Collection of Q & A's for the Unquenchably Curious

What Makes Flamingos Pink?: A Colorful Collection of Q & A's for the Unquenchably Curious

by Bill McLain


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060000240
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/08/2002
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 888,200
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

The Internet's legendary "Answer Whiz," Bill McLain was Xerox Corporation's official Webmaster. Responsible for the e-mails sent to the company Website, McLain and his team responded to an astounding 750-1,000 questions daily. While most of the e-mails he received were Xerox-related, every day scores of curious fact-seekers wrote with questions ranging from the bizarre to the useful to the downright comical. McLain collected the most memorable of these questions, along with his equally memorable answers, in What Makes Flamingoes Pink? and in its predecessor, Do Fish Drink Water? He lives in Santa Clara, California.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Animal Kingdom

Do all bears hibernate?
(Bear with me on this one.)

To be perfectly accurate, no bear hibernates. When an animal hibernates, it is near death and may appear to be dead. Its body temperature drops to near 32°F, it breathes just a few times a minute, and its heartbeat is so slow as to be almost imperceptible. If the animal is exposed to warmth, a few hours may pass before it awakens and is alert. Animals that hibernate include bats, hedgehogs, ground squirrels, and marmots.

Although most people say that bears hibernate, hibernation is not the proper term in the case of bears, because during their sleep there is little change in their body temperature, respiration, or metabolic rate. A better term would be "deep winter sleep" (the scientific term is "dormancy"). If left alone they can sleep in the same position for months, yet they awaken quite easily if disturbed.

The reason for hibernation and deep winter sleep is the same. During winter, food is scarce, and it's often difficult for some animals to maintain their normal body temperature. To protect themselves, many animals pass the time away by hibernating or sleeping. They store body fat when food is plentiful, then live off the stored fat when hibernating or sleeping. By sleeping for long periods of time, they keep activity to a minimum and also control their temperature and metabolism so that no growth occurs.

A bear may decide to sleep in a hollow tree, a cave, a pile of brush, or a den that it has dug. Sometimes the bear adds dried leaves and grass to its bed for additional insulation against the harsh cold ofwinter.

Not all bears sleep all winter. If bears live in an environment with a good year-round food supply, they don't need to go into a deep winter sleep. Tropical bears such as sun bears, sloth bears, and spectacled bears never go into a winter sleep.

The male polar bear never goes into dormancy, but the female does only if she is pregnant.

If a bear is accustomed to dormancy but is kept in a zoo where food is always available, it will not go into dormancy regardless of how cold it may get.


The Australian koala bear is not a bear at all but a marsupial related to the kangaroo. The bearcat, a nickname for the Southeast Asian binturongs, is not a bear either. They are related to a little-known group of animals that includes civets, genets, and linsangs.

People seem to love bears in spite of their size and ferocity, especially the fictional bears Baloo, Fozzie Bear, Paddington Bear, Yogi Bear, and Winnie the Pooh. The most famous live bear was Smokey.

Polar bears have white fur but black skin. Each hair is actually a clear hollow tube designed to funnel the sun's rays to the bear's skin, thereby keeping it warm. Because the rays bounce off the fur, the polar bear appears to be white.

The sloth bear lives on a diet of termites. However, like humans, bears have a sweet tooth. They often break open beehives and will continue eating honey even though their nose has been stung many times.

When a bear is dormant, it does not eliminate its waste but recycles it by turning the toxic compounds into protein. Researchers are trying to discover how bears do this because the bears' method could lead to methods of treating kidney failure in humans.

Did you know?

Although bears are meat eaters and often ferocious, they have their gentle side too. In 1995 four unwanted kittens were dumped near a wildlife rehabilitation center in Grant's Pass, 0regon. Although employees trapped three of the kittens and took care of them, they could not catch the fourth.

By late summer the kitten was starving. Seeing a 560-pound grizzly bear devouring food in the compound, the kitten squeezed through a hole in the fence and approached the grizzly.

Everyone was terrified that the poor stray kitten was going to be the grizzly's next meal. The bear looked at the kitten, pulled a piece of chicken from its dinner, and tossed it aside for the kitten.

The bear, named Griz, never harmed the kitten. In fact they became close friends and ate, slept, and played together. The employees named the kitten "Cat."

At last report, Griz and Cat were still the best of friends. They probably still are today.

Is it true that a dinosaur larger than
Tyrannosaurus rex was recently found?
(A head-to-head match.)

In 1995 scientists in Argentina discovered a meat-eating dinosaur they named Giganotosaurus. They claimed that it was as big as or bigger than the North American Tyrannosaurus. However, their claim is still being disputed. Although Giganotosaurus had a larger skull, it had a smaller brain, making it less intelligent. It has a longer upper leg bone but a shorter lower leg bone, so both dinosaurs were about the same height.

However, the non-meat-eating dinosaurs were considerably larger. In fact, of all the known dinosaurs, which one is the biggest depends on how you measure a dinosaur's size.

A dinosaur named Argentinosaurus was recently discovered in Argentina (hence the name). It was 70 feet high, 120 feet long, and weighed around 220,000 pounds. In other words, it was as tall as a seven-story building, almost the width of a football field, and weighed around 110 tons.

In 1994 scientists in southeastern Oklahoma found the bones of another huge dinosaur. They named it Sauroposeidon, which means "earthquake god lizard." It was 60 feet high, weighed 60 tons, and was 150 feet long, partly because it had the longest neck of any known dinosaur.

One standard measurement used to define a dinosaur's size is length, which is measured from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail. Because Sauroposeidon was 30 feet longer than Argentinosaurus...

What Makes Flamingos Pink?. Copyright © by Bill McLain. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

1Animal Kingdom
Do all bears hibernate?1
Is it true that a dinosaur larger than Tyrannosaurus rex was recently found?4
Do spiders and other insects ever sleep?7
What is the fastest snake in the world?10
Are zebras white with black stripes or black with white stripes?12
Why don't squirrels fall when they run across a telephone wire?15
What makes flamingos pink?18
How many innocent people have been executed by law in the United States since 1900?23
What was the largest bank robbery in U.S. history?26
What are the differences among first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree murder?29
Is it true that there was a man who loved his girlfriend so much that when she died he dug up her grave and kept her corpse in his home?31
Who was the famous bandit who wore a metal bucket on his head?34
Who was Dr. H. H. Holmes?37
How did the custom of kissing originate?42
Why is a wedding ring worn on the third finger of the left hand?45
How long has the running of the bulls been held and how many people have died?48
Why is there a crescent moon on outhouse doors?50
Why are barns always painted red?53
Why is the shamrock associated with Saint Patrick?55
Which ship disaster resulted in the greatest loss of life?60
What does SOS stand for?63
What volcanic eruption killed the most people in the twentieth century?66
What is the largest earthquake ever recorded in the continental United States?69
What was the deadliest fire in U.S. history?72
How many aircraft crashes have occurred in scheduled airline flights in the past fifty years?75
5Far Out
What was the world's largest typewriter?80
Who was the model for the Gerber baby?83
Who was Prester John?85
Who was the first Ronald McDonald?88
Have scientists actually been able to teleport an object from one location to another location?91
Is it true that fleas have been trained to perform circus acts?94
Why is salt a good food preservative?98
Where was sourdough bread invented?101
How are the hulls removed from sunflower seeds?104
What is the difference between Cajun and Creole?106
What are the different types of caviar and why is caviar so expensive?109
Why is coffee often referred to as "Joe"?111
7The Human Body
Is it true that we use only 10 percent of our brain at any given time?117
Is it true that a full moon makes people act strangely?120
What makes your fingers and toes become pruney after you have been in the bathtub for a while?123
Why do your palms sweat when you are nervous?125
Why do we have eyebrows?128
Why does it feel good when you stretch?130
Who invented the zipper?135
Why are soda cans cylindrical?138
Who invented the bumper sticker?140
Who invented Gatorade?143
Who invented chewing gum?146
Who invented plastic?149
Where did the term "You've been 86'ed" come from?154
How many geese are in a gaggle?157
What is the origin of the word "quack," meaning a fake or unethical doctor?160
What is the origin of the word "cocktail" for a mixed drink?163
What is the origin of the word "shrink" when used as a name for a psychologist?165
Where did the term "chickenpox" come from?168
What is the origin of the term "Oscar" for the Academy Awards?173
Why don't television sets have a Channel 1?176
What are the job definitions for all the credits you see at the end of a movie?179
Who said, "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges!"182
Where can you find the original words for Taps?184
What is the name of the dog in the Maytag commercials?187
Why are there C and D batteries, but no A and B batteries?192
If you could hollow out a sphere in the exact center of the earth large enough to hold a person, would that person feel gravity?195
Has a tenth planet been discovered recently in our solar system?198
How are seedless watermelons produced?200
Is it true that glass is a liquid?203
In movies, why does a wheel appear to be rotating backward when the wagon or car is moving forward?206
12Sports and Games
How did they pick the name Yahtzee for the dice game?211
Why do golf balls have dimples?214
Why do they pitch baseball overhand and softball underhand?216
What are the meanings behind the rings on the Olympic flag ... both number and colors?219
Who invented Frisbee?222
What does "seeded" mean in tennis?224
13Transportation and Travel
Why do diesel truck drivers leave their truck engines running when parked?229
If all the trains in the country were put end to end, how long would the line be?231
What is the fastest propeller-driven plane in the world?234
What was the China Clipper?237
What makes sled dogs run?239
Who holds the record for walking the farthest?242
14United States
How many people died during the flu epidemic of 1918?247
Is it true that President Zachary Taylor was poisoned?250
Which state has the most shoreline?253
Why does the Great Seal of the United States have seven white stripes and six red stripes, when it's the opposite on the flag?256
Is it true that a man built a castle with stones weighing up to 25 tons with no mechanical equipment or help from anyone?258
How long was the Pony Express in operation?261
What are the differences among sleet, freezing rain, and hail?266
Did a rainmaker ever actually cause a flood in San Diego?269
What is ball lightning?272
What is the heat index?274
What was the "year without a summer"?277
Why is a rainbow curved?280
Is it true that the only man-made object on earth that you can see from outer space is the Great Wall of China?285
What are the seven seas?288
Who was Hannibal and why was he crossing the Alps with elephants?290
What is the story of Rome, Romulus, and Remus?293
What language is spoken the most in the world?296
Where are the Spice Islands?298
Exploring the Internet303

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