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7 Practical Uses for Tattoos

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ThinkStock

Ink! Not just for sailors and sideshow freaks anymore! Tattooing has become a legitimate art form. And, like art, something magical happens when design and function meet. Consider seven ways tattoos are more than they appear (and two where they’re just confusing!).

1. Corneal Tattoos

Heidi Lassiter

There is a small percent of body modification enthusiasts who seek to have their corneas tattooed to some fabulous, mesmerizing color. That sort of corneal tattoo (which is rapidly becoming illegal in many states) is done by a tattoo artist, who should in no way be confused with a surgeon specializing in ophthalmology operating in a sterile setting. Ophthalmologists do perform a similar surgery, except with more conservative goals. If you suffer discoloration or scarring of the iris due to trauma or disease, corneal tattooing can disguise the scar. It does nothing to improve vision, however, and it is recommended only for patients who are already blind or near blind in that eye.

2. Radiation alignment tattoos

Melanie Cook

It’s usually not much of a tattoo. Just a few dots, sometimes even just one. It may be put somewhere you don’t like, such as your breast or near your prostate. You won’t have much say in the matter, because whatever argument you have, cancer has a better one. These permanent dots are placed by radiologists to help them align lasers. This ensures that cancer-fighting radiation is delivered to the right spot, every time. And to many cancer survivors, the dots serve as a tiny reminder of the fight of their lives.

3. Medic Alert Tattoos

Lindsay Pullen

If you’re allergic to penicillin, you probably will continue to be for the rest of your life. And it’s the kind of thing people need to know about, especially if the car accident you were just in makes you unable to tell them. Medic alert bracelets and necklaces are the traditional sign that your body needs special consideration in an emergency. If that information is tattooed on your body, you can’t forget to put in on or accidently drop it in the toilet. But there is one caveat. Don’t get too creative. First responders are trained to look at particular places such as the wrist and throat for medic alerts. They won’t always find it on your bicep, your back, or printed in graceful flowing script down the side of your ribcage.

4. Reconstructive Disguise Tattoos

Along the same lines of corneal tattooing is disguise tattooing. It’s not reconstruction, but rather the illusion of reconstruction.In cases like thinning hair and breast cancer, sometimes the illusion a skilled artist can create is preferable to an awkward reconstruction. Of course, some breast cancer survivors choose something a little grander when it comes to post-mastectomy tattoos. 

5. Temporary Kid IDs

The ID Company

Kids are slippery. I make my small daughter wear my business card in her shoe when we go to crowded places. I have a friend who puts a bracelet on her kid with beads that show her cell number, and another who just Sharpies pertinent information on her child’s leg when needed. None of these ideas are super great; the first two are easily lost and the last one is just weird. Temporary ID tattoos are a much tidier solution, allowing you to tag your child efficiently before releasing them into the wild.

6. Rulers

Hacked Gadgets

If you’re a craftsman or artisan, an accurate measurement tattoo is a great way to combine your passion with practicality. There aren’t many things you’re sure to use for the rest of your life. Your arm and standard units of measurement are likely two of them.

7. Mummy Tattoos

British Museum 

Sometimes a tattoo can be of use to you even if it isn’t on your body. Especially if you’re an archeologist, anthropologist, or any number of a great many careers ending in “ologist.” Mummies found all over the world, in completely different eras and civilizations, bare tattoos that serve as snapshots of their culture. Famous iceman Otzi probably practiced some form of acupuncture. People in Egypt have been tattooing Christian angels on their body since at least 700 A.D. And 1600 years ago Peru might have been host to a rare female-dominated society

Bonus: Two Tattoos that Are NOT Useful

DNR Tattoos

via

It is fair to hope that the clear black letters “DNR” tattooed across your chest will be enough to communicate your desire to not be resuscitated by artificial means. Many people get this tattoo with that intention. The problem is medical staff and first responders are not allowed to take it as a legal designation.  Does it mean “Do Not Resuscitate” or is it the initials of your beloved father close to your heart? Has your health improved substantially since you got the tattoo? Have you changed your mind? At best it will motivate responders to search out if you have a legal DNR document filed under your name, but it will not stop them from charging up the defibrillator. 

Blood Type Tattoos

fifciaa

Blood is an incredibly prejudiced substance, and will kill a patient if transfused into other blood that doesn’t match or accept it. A soldier’s dog tags ID his blood type, ostensibly so that he can be treated quickly for trauma. So it sort of make sense that tattooing your own blood type on your body would expedite any trip to the emergency room that might lie in your future. But don’t bother: Modern doctors will never give a patient blood without doing their own type test first—not even a dog-tagged man in a battle zone. Besides, in emergency situations, most first responders only carry plasma, which is safely blood neutral.

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Cost Plus World Market

Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

man-shaped tea infuser
Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

Buy on Amazon.

2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

Buy on ThinkGeek.

4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

Buy on Amazon.

5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

Buy on Amazon.

6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

Buy on Amazon.

7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
Cost Plus World Market

This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

Buy at Cost Plus World Market.

8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

Buy on Amazon.

9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

Buy on Amazon.

10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

Buy on Amazon.

11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

Buy on Amazon.

12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

Buy on Amazon.

13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

Buy on Amazon.

14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

Buy on Amazon.

15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

Buy on Amazon.

16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

Buy on Amazon.

17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

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