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Armchair Field Trip: The International Spy Museum

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I warned you: If you gave me good advice about where to go in Washington, I'd take it. Tucker Steele tipped me off to the spy museum, which turned out to be the best museum ever -- where else can you crawl around in a ventilation shaft, pretending to be a Bond girl (or Bruce Willis, I guess) and eavesdropping on the other visitors? I was so entertained that I practically had to be pried out of the museum by security guards -- apparently, I hadn't yet mastered the art of sneaking into places I didn't belong -- but I brought home the Handbook of Practical Spying to study before my next attempt to infiltrate the premises. Here's what I've learned so far:

1. Historical tidbit: Dutch-born Mata Hari had a sexy image that belied her bleak career spying for the French against the Germans -- and then possibly vice versa -- during World War I. She was executed by a French firing squad in 1917. Mata Hari's head was then removed, mummified, and eventually put on display at the Museum of Anatomy, in Paris. In July 2000, officials discovered that someone had stolen Mata's head.

2. Literary recommendations: England has had its share of famous authors who were also secret agents. This tradition dates back to Christopher Marlowe, working for Britain's first secret service under Queen Elizabeth I. Other notable names are Daniel Defoe, who served as a spy in Scotland, and W. Somerset Maugham, considered by some the inventor of the modern spy story. More modern writer-spies include Graham Greene and, of course, Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond.

3. Career advice: Britain's domestic intelligence service, MI-5, suggests that new male applicants should ideally be no taller than 5 feet, 11 inches, and females no taller than 5 feet, 8 inches. "You should be able to blend into the background. We are looking for average height, build, and appearance," the most recent application form states. Under these guidelines, most of the actors who have played James Bond would be rejected.

Sweet -- I'm 5-foot-2. Now, where did I put my trenchcoat?

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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images
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Animals
Fisherman Catches Rare Blue Lobster, Donates It to Science
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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Live lobsters caught off the New England coast are typically brown, olive-green, or gray—which is why one New Hampshire fisherman was stunned when he snagged a blue one in mid-July.

As The Independent reports, Greg Ward, from Rye, New Hampshire, discovered the unusual lobster while examining his catch near the New Hampshire-Maine border. Ward initially thought the pale crustacean was an albino lobster, which some experts estimate to be a one-in-100-million discovery. However, a closer inspection revealed that the lobster's hard shell was blue and cream.

"This one was not all the way white and not all the way blue," Ward told The Portsmouth Herald. "I've never seen anything like it."

While not as rare as an albino lobster, blue lobsters are still a famously elusive catch: It's said that the odds of their occurrence are an estimated one in two million, although nobody knows the exact numbers.

Instead of eating the blue lobster, Ward decided to donate it to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye. There, it will be studied and displayed in a lobster tank with other unusually colored critters, including a second blue lobster, a bright orange lobster, and a calico-spotted lobster.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy Murdoch University
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Animals
Australian Scientists Discover First New Species of Sunfish in 125 Years
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Courtesy Murdoch University

Scientists have pinpointed a whole new species of the largest bony fish in the world, the massive sunfish, as we learned from Smithsonian magazine. It's the first new species of sunfish proposed in more than 125 years.

As the researchers report in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, the genetic differences between the newly named hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) and its other sunfish brethren was confirmed by data on 27 different samples of the species collected over the course of three years. Since sunfish are so massive—the biggest can weigh as much as 5000 pounds—they pose a challenge to preserve and store, even for museums with large research collections. Lead author Marianne Nyegaard of Murdoch University in Australia traveled thousands of miles to find and collected genetic data on sunfish stranded on beaches. At one point, she was asked if she would be bringing her own crane to collect one.

Nyegaard also went back through scientific literature dating back to the 1500s, sorting through descriptions of sea monsters and mermen to see if any of the documentation sounded like observations of the hoodwinker. "We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time," she said in a press statement. "Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the 'hoodwinker.'"

Japanese researchers first detected genetic differences between previously known sunfish and a new, unknown species 10 years ago, and this confirms the existence of a whole different type from species like the Mola mola or Mola ramsayi.

Mola tecta looks a little different from other sunfish, with a more slender body. As it grows, it doesn't develop the protruding snout or bumps that other sunfish exhibit. Similarly to the others, though, it can reach a length of 8 feet or more. 

Based on the stomach contents of some of the specimens studied, the hoodwinker likely feeds on salps, a jellyfish-like creature that it probably chomps on (yes, sunfish have teeth) during deep dives. The species has been found near New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and southern Chile.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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