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E.O. Wilson - Lord of the Ants

Did you know you can watch full episodes of NOVA, PBS's science show, for free on YouTube? Yeah, it was news to me too. There are about twenty episodes up at the moment, including Lord of the Ants, an hour-long documentary about E.O. Wilson, an ant biologist with a surprisingly controversial career.

I found this program totally engrossing, despite the slightly wooden narration by Harrison Ford. It's great to see Wilson digging around in the dirt, allowing himself to be stung by fire ants...at the ripe old age of 80. He explains ants' chemical communication, how they work in different ecological niches, what happens inside the colony, and other interesting ant-stuff. Kick off your shoes (check for ants first), and check it out below.

Representative quote: "He is a towering example of a specialist, a world authority. Nobody in the world has ever known as much as Ed Wilson about ants." -Sir David Attenborough.

Or, watch it a bit bigger at YouTube. If you prefer QuickTime or Windows Media, PBS has the show online as well (but broken into chunks).

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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science
Belly Flop Physics 101: The Science Behind the Sting
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Belly flops are the least-dignified—yet most painful—way of making a serious splash at the pool. Rarely do they result in serious physical injury, but if you’re wondering why an elegant swan dive feels better for your body than falling stomach-first into the water, you can learn the laws of physics that turn your soft torso a tender pink by watching the SciShow’s video below.

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