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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Early Trains Were Thought to Make Women’s Uteruses Fly Out

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Today, some of our biggest concerns about the dangers of transportation have to do with failing or clashing technologies—we’re afraid onboard GPS and other high-tech features will get mixed up, say, or even get hacked. A century and a half ago, though, our travel worries involved a lot less AI and much more spontaneous combustion and/or mutilation—imagined dangers that were just as scary, and (seemingly) just as real.

Cultural anthropologist Genevieve Bell explained to the Wall Street Journal TECH site that extreme, fearful reactions to new technology are age old, and have even picked up speed alongside our rate of innovation. Critics of early steam-spewing locomotives, for example, thought “that women’s bodies were not designed to go at 50 miles an hour,” and worried that “[female passengers’] uteruses would fly out of [their] bodies as they were accelerated to that speed”—which, for the record, they did and will not.* Others suspected that any human body might simply melt at high speeds.

CC Courtesy Pixabay

Bell attributes this kind of reaction in part to the “moral panic” that a society experiences when particularly revelatory technological advances show up—specifically, ones which interfere with or alter our relationships with time, space, and each other:

“Cars? Clearly the same. Television? Absolutely. The Internet? Yes. Mobile phones? Yes. Fountain pens? Not so much. They may have changed our relationships to other people, but they didn’t really change our relationships to time and space.” 

This society-wide panic often (unfairly) dotes on the threats an innovation might pose to women and children, and it didn’t end when we got over our locomotive fears. As automobiles gained traction in the early 1900s, they were seen by many as noisy, erratic “devil wagons” that women—thought to be prone to fainting, physical weakness, and out-of-the-blue bouts of hysteria—wouldn’t be able to control by themselves and shouldn’t be allowed to drive.

CC Courtesy Wikimedia // George Grantham Bain Collection

Nevertheless, women stuck up for their right to mobility. In 1909, 22-year-old Alice Ramsey managed to drive cross-country in a respectable 59 days and—having kept herself, her car, and her three female friends intact along the way—helped prove that women could be trusted behind the wheel.

Time’s also told us that, despite initial fears of the telephone’s possible downsides, chatting on the phone will not cause impropriety, possession, or electrocution in women. With any luck, it’ll turn out that the text-happy youngsters of today will still be able to speak in full sentences tomorrow.

[h/t: reddit user darinda777]

*It’s worth noting, though, that both men and women can risk straining or detaching certain soft connective tissues (such as those holding retinae or breasts in place) when they subject their bodies to truly rapid acceleration—so bungee jumpers be wary.

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Mythical Yetis are Actually Bears, According to DNA Analysis
Walkabout Films via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Walkabout Films via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

In 1959, the U.S. government advised hunters that they were permitted to kill a Yeti only in self-defense. The decree was prompted by findings from earlier expeditions—huge footprints, hides, and bones from a large, unidentified creature native to the Himalayas—which explorers thought could be from the mythical hominid that local Sherpas called the Yeti, or "wild man."

But now, researchers at the State University of New York in Buffalo and their colleagues have concluded that folklore about abominable snowmen in the Himalayas was just that. After testing evidence collected from the Tibetan Plateau and from museum collections, they found the biological root of the Yeti legends to be local bears.

In the new study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers analyzed 24 hair, bone, tooth, skin, and scat samples. Nine of the samples were purported to be from Yetis, while the rest were gathered recently from the Tibetan brown bear, Himalayan brown bear, and Himalayan black bear. The team assembled complete mitochondrial genomes for the Himalayan brown bear and black bear for the first time, then analyzed and compared all of the samples. Of the nine allegedly from Yetis, eight were actually from Asian bears. One was from a dog.

While these particular findings suggest that the Yeti stories probably emerged from humans' encounters with bears, the study provides valuable genetic data that could shed light on how the bears evolved. The mitochondrial genomes—which are based on the genetic information passed down only through females—could reveal when the rare subspecies and more common bear species last shared a maternal ancestor, and how genetically dissimilar they are today, Science notes.

The genomic analysis showed that Tibetan brown bears share a close ancestry with North American and Eurasian brown bears. But the Himalayan brown bears branched off from their common ancestral tree about 650,000 years ago, when glaciers expanded over the Tibetan Plateau—which may have separated those bears from the larger gene pool. Understanding how the subspecies evolved could illuminate the environmental history of the region, said Charlotte Lindqvist, an associate professor of biological sciences at SUNY Buffalo and the study's lead scientist, in a statement. The genetic data may assist conservation of these vulnerable and endangered animals.

Lindqvist said that their technique could also be a useful tool for exploring the roots of folklore about large cryptids—as well as real beasts.

"Our findings strongly suggest that the biological underpinnings of the Yeti legend can be found in local bears," she said. "Our study demonstrates that genetics should be able to unravel other, similar mysteries."

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7 Myths About Bats
iStock
iStock

Though in China bats are said to bring good luck, and ancient Egyptians believed they could cure an array of diseases, our feelings about bats are often negative. Perhaps these rumors started because bats are so mysterious—with their nocturnal flying and dank, dark habitats, they’re hard to study! But the world’s only flying mammal isn’t nearly as bad as our fears make it out to be. Keep reading for seven misconceptions, as well as explanations of what really goes on in the batcave.

1. BATS ARE TOTALLY BLIND.

Though we love to talk about things being "blind as a bat," bigger bats can see up to three times better than humans, according to Rob Mies, executive director of the Organization for Bat Conservation. Bat vision varies across species, but none are actually blind. In addition to working peepers, bats also use echolocation (emitting sound to navigate)—which means they probably have a better idea of where they’re going than many of us.

2. BATS ARE FLYING RATS.

Bats belong to the order Chiroptera, not Rodentia; they’re actually more closely related to primates than they are to rodents. They also don’t share behavior with rodents. For example, bats don’t chew on wood, metal, or plastic, and usually aren’t nuisances. In fact, bats eat pests, which brings us to ...

3. BATS ARE ANNOYING PESTS.

Bat flying in a forest at night
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Quite the opposite! According to National Geographic, bats can eat up to a thousand insects in an evening. Their bug-eating prowess is so notable it carries economic importance. A recent study showed that bats provide “nontoxic pest-control services totalling $3.7 billion to $53 billion per year”! Bats also pollinate plants and distribute seeds, and their droppings—called guano—are used as fertilizer.

4. BATS WANT TO DRINK YOUR BLOOD.

Only three of the roughly 1200 existing bat species are vampire bats, and none of them live in the United States or Canada. Vampire bats don’t even really drink blood—Mies says the feeding process is more like that of a mosquito. While mosquitos will take blood from humans, though, vampire bats primarily feed on cattle. Fun fact: a medication called draculin is currently being developed from bats’ saliva, which has unique anti-blood-clotting properties.

5. BATS WILL FLY INTO YOUR HAIR AND BUILD A NEST.

An old myth claims that bats fly into hair, get stuck, and build nests. While it’s possible this rumor started to deter young women from going out at night, bats do sometimes swoop around people’s heads. The reason isn’t because they’re shopping for a new home, however: our bodies attract insects, and bats are after their next snack. So don’t worry—your spectacular updo is safe.

6. IN FACT, BATS DON'T NEST AT ALL.

Unlike birds or rodents, bats don’t build nests. Instead, they find shelter inside existing structures. Caves, trees, walls, and ceilings are favorites, as are rafters of buildings. They don’t always hang upside down, either. According to Dr. Thomas Kunz from Boston University, bats are frequently horizontal when roosting in small crevices, not vertical.

7. BATS WILL ATTACK YOU AND GIVE YOU RABIES.

Three bats hanging upside down on a branch
iStock

Nope. Shari Clark, president of the Florida Bat Conservancy, says that statistically bats contract rabies much less frequently than other mammals. And if they do get rabies, it manifests differently than in raccoons or foxes. Rabies-infected bats become paralyzed and can’t fly or roost. This means that as long as you stay away from bats on the ground that are behaving weirdly, you’re pretty much in the clear. Phew.

All photos courtesy of iStock.

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