Fries with that? Venus likes food alive

 

DRAWING BY DEBORAH DERR McCLINTOCK

 Q.  You just bought yourself a carnivorous Venus fly-trap, terror of the botanical world. Would it like a little hamburger? –R. McDonald

 

 A. "Clerks at grocery, hardware and department stores where they sell the plants will advise this, but it's all wrong," says Barry Meyers-Rice, editor of the "Carnivorous Plant Newsletter." Feed a Venus fly-trap hamburger, and it will die. It needs bugs, bugs, bugs, and there is far too much non-bug energy and protein in cow meat.

 

If you want to feed your plants, try flies, spiders, crickets or slugs. Maggots will work too. "Apparently you can buy them at stores selling fish bait. Disgusted?

 

Wait, it gets better! The maggots, I've been told, can usually escape, so first they must be pierced with a toothpick!" Bugs out of season? Try crickets from a pet store (people feed them to their lizards). If it's dormant winter, withhold all feed.

 

Dead bugs might seem easier, but these won't spark the plant's digestion, so you'll need to tickle the trigger hairs with a toothpick to get the juices flowing.

 

"My favorite trick is to pop a bug into the refrig briefly. This'll make it go dormant, easier to maneuver into Venus' maw. Then when the bug awakes, its scuttling will stimulate the trap's digestion phase. Mwa-haw-haw!"

 

Q. Why 40 days and 40 nights for Noah's flood, 40 thieves with Ali Baba, and the 40-day quarantine? ­M.T. Ararat

 

 A. The Bible contains many references to events that lasted 40 days, which is just an expression meaning a long period of time, says Richard Phillips in Numbers: Facts, Figures and Fiction. For Semitic peoples, 40 is frequently used as a convenient round number.

 

Originally, "quarantine" referred to the period during which ships arriving in 14th century Venice were held in case there were diseases on board. "The choice of 40 days was probably made more for Biblical rather than medical reasons."

 

Q. When you tell a lie, what body part is most apt to give you away, like Pinocchio's lengthening nose? –J. Kinnard

 

 A. Shifty eyes or looking away won't do it, in spite of what most people think, says psychologist Paul Ekman. Nor are twisting one's hair, biting the lips, or stroking the chin reliable indicators.

 

Most of us learn to control our facial expressions, covering up with a masking smile where needed, says Dennis Coon in Introduction to Psychology. But "even a good con artist may be too busy attending to his or her words and face to control certain bodily clues."

 

For example, if you typically "talk" with your hands, these gestures may cease when you're telling a lie. Or other gestures may leak out, such as slowly shaking your head while uttering, "Sure I'd love to try some of your homemade candied pig's feet."

 

Most damning, says Coon, are signs of strong emotion, including blinking, pupil dilation, irregular breathing, sweating, speech errors, and a loud-pitched voice. These are hard to self-censor. But like a polygraph, they're not totally reliable either, because strong emotion does not always mean the person's lying. "Remember, J., good liars can fool most people most of the time– and that's no lie."

 

Q. When might a buffalo be mistaken for an ant? –M. Lewis

 

 A. When anthropologist Colin Turnbull took his African Pygmy guide for his first trip ever out of the dense forest, Kenge peered far across the wide plain and asked: "What insects are those?" Told they were buffalo, Kenge roared with laughter, but as the two drove closer and the "insects" loomed larger, the mystified Kenge grew frightened. Having never learned about visual perspective, he didn't know about objects shrinking at a distance.

 

Missionaries also report that people who have never seen photos or drawings may initially be confused by them, says psychologist David G. Myers. Shown a painting of a familiar animal such as a tortoise, the inexperienced person may at first just not get it. "Our taken-for-granted perceptions of the world depend on our experience. We perceive the world not just as it is, but as we are."

 

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com.

 

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