7 Tooth Fairy Traditions From Around the World

iStock
iStock

August 22 is National Tooth Fairy Day, and while plenty of Americans surely celebrated the day by employing the fairy (or fairies) and her generous cash giving, the rest of the world has their own tooth-centric traditions in place to honor anyone or anything responsible for whisking their teeth away.

1. THE UNITED STATES AND BEYOND

A little girl with money she received for losing a tooth.
iStock

In America (and other primarily English-speaking countries), the tooth fairy is typically employed in a relatively simple transaction that sounds bizarre when explained to the uninitiated: In order to help ease the trauma of losing baby teeth, American kids are paid off for their toofers—lose a tooth, put it under your pillow, go to sleep. At some point, a fairy will arrive to exchange the tooth for some cash. In 2017, the going rate was an average of $5.70 per tooth. See? Losing teeth really isn’t so bad. (You can read a history of the American Tooth Fairy here.)

2. INDIA, CHINA, JAPAN, KOREA, AND VIETNAM

Putting a tooth under a pillow sounds soft and sweet, but it also sounds boring. What about tossing those teeth around? In some Asian countries, that’s just what they do. Historically, kids who lose teeth from their lower jaw will throw their teeth onto their roof, while upper jaw teeth go on the floor or even under it (the idea is the new tooth will be pulled towards the old tooth). That’s not all, though, because as the tooth-losing kiddo tosses their teeth, they sometimes yell out a wish that the missing tooth be replaced by the tooth of a mouse. Mice (and other rodents) have teeth that continually grow, which sounds like a wise request when one goes missing.

3. SPAIN

A statue of Raton Perez.
A statue of Raton Perez.
Jlordovas, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

One of Spain’s (and other Hispanic cultures, including Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia) most beloved myths centers on Ratoncito Perez, a.k.a. Raton Perez, a.k.a. Perez Mouse, a.k.a. El Raton de Los Dientes, who is just what he sounds like—a mouse who collects teeth. Like the tooth fairy, Perez gets the teeth only after they’ve been lost and put under a child’s pillow. Perez will then replace it with a gift—not always money—and leave it to be found by a happy child in the morning. Some Argentinean kids switch it up by sticking their teeth in a glass of water before bed. When Perez shows up—surely parched from all his teeth-collecting—he’ll drink up the water, grab the tooth, and leave his gift in the empty glass. Want to learn more? Visit the Ratoncito Pérez museum in Madrid.

4. IRAQ, JORDAN, AND EGYPT

Asian countries aren’t the only place you’ll find kids throwing their teeth up in the air—in some Middle Eastern countries, kids are encouraged to toss their teeth up toward the sky. It’s possible that the tossed teeth tradition dates all the way back to the 13th century.

4. SOUTH AFRICA

Slippers next to a bed.
iStock

South Africans don’t use pillows as tooth holsters. Instead, their baby teeth go into slippers.

6. FRANCE

Mice aren’t just big business around Spain; the French also abandon their teeth to their very own mouse: “La Bonne Petite Souris.” As is so often the case, the tiny mouse will procure teeth left under pillows, replacing them with either cash or sweets (bad idea, Petite Souris).

7. MONGOLIA

A dog eating out of a dish.
iStock

Throughout Central Asia, it's traditional to put the tooth into some fat and feed it to a dog (don't try this at home). This is done because they want the grown up tooth to be as strong as the dog's teeth. If there's no dog? Bury it by a tree so that the new tooth has strong roots.

This story originally ran in 2014.

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

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