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Happy birthday, world's coolest savant

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Today, British autistic savant Daniel Tammet is 10,220 days, or 245,280 hours old (that's 28 years for you non-savants out there). He is blessed/cursed with the kind of savantism made famous by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man (formerly known as "idiot" savantism), but Daniel manages to sustain relatively normal social interaction with others. (He credits growing up in a family of nine children, and thus being forced to socialize, for his normalcy relative to other savants, of which there are only about 50 known in the world.)

A lot of savants can do things that no normal person can do, like tell you what day of the week August 18, 1876 was without consulting an almanac, in about five seconds (it was a Friday), multiply 27 to the power of four in his head (531,441) or memorize and recite long strings of numbers with ease. But there are a few things he can do that even most savants cannot. For instance, he once learned functional Icelandic in a week, and recited pi to several thousand places from memory (without errors -- it took more than five hours).

So how does he do it? As a recent profile of Daniel on 60 Minutes revealed, the answer may shed light on the abilities of all savants: he is a synesthetic. That is to say, he associates numbers with colors, just as composer Franz Liszt claimed to have associated music with color. (Hip-hop artist Pharrell Williams also claims to have synesthesia.)

Interesting note: one man who has done some crucial research in this area is Oxford professor of developmental psychopathology Simon Baron-Cohen, cousin of Borat star Sascha Baron-Cohen.

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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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