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9 Deep Facts About the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is one of the most intriguing and interesting lakes in the world. Located at the lowest point on Earth, tourists from around the globe flock to this hypersaline phenomenon, which borders Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. Dive into these nine fascinating facts about the "Salt Sea."

1. IT WAS FORMED FROM A RIFT IN THE EARTH'S CRUST.

The Dead Sea came to be because the crust was stretched thanks to a rift being formed. Known as a rift valley, the surface sunk down where the crust was particularly thin. Scientists estimate the Dead Sea may be sinking more each year, so book your tickets ASAP.

2. IT’S LOCATED AT THE LOWEST POINT ON EARTH.

The surface of the Dead Sea is over 1300 feet below sea level, making it the lowest point on Earth's surface. In the deepest part, it’s more than 2300 feet below sea level. It’s located on the edge of the Judean Desert, a very hot region at the foot of the Ha-He'etekim cliff. It’s close to Jerusalem, and the connecting point between the desert and developed land in the Middle East.

3. IT MAY HAVE INCREDIBLE HEALING POWERS.

When doctors prescribe a visit to the Dead Sea for their patients as a source of healing, you know something special is going on. With up to 32 percent salt and extremely high mineral content, the water is said to help people with respiratory issues, joint problems like arthritis, and many chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis, acne, and cellulite. As you go farther into the water, this land-locked lake becomes saltier. The low UV rays from the sun and bromide in the air also contribute to natural healing.

4. IT’S ONE OF THE WORLD'S SALTIEST BODIES OF WATER.

Pete, on 14 May 2005, CC BY-SA 3.0

No need for flotation devices. Our bodies are more buoyant in the Dead Sea because of the high concentration of mineral salts that have dissolved. The Dead Sea is eight times saltier than the oceans and has the highest concentration of salt of any body of water in the world—so rather than swim, visitors literally float around. In fact, don’t even try to swim; it won't work.

5. IT’S BEEN A PLACE OF REFUGE SINCE BIBLICAL TIMES.

The Dead Sea is cited in the Hebrew Bible during the rule of King David as a place where he sought refuge. This famous sea is also mentioned in other biblical books throughout history. The first tourist to visit the Dead Sea was most likely Abraham. (Unfortunately there are no photos of Abraham slathering black mud on his skin or floating in the Dead Sea reading the newspaper to back this up.)

6. NO PLANTS OR ANIMALS CAN LIVE IN THE WATER.

No creatures can survive in the Dead Sea, which means no jumping dolphins, no swimming fish, and no seaweed to get stuck between your toes. The massive levels of salt prevent the existence of all life forms, except some bacteria discovered in recent years. Needless to say, don’t drink the water!

7. DEAD SEA MUD IS GREAT FOR YOUR SKIN.

HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images

Almost as famous as the sea itself are the images of tourists slathering mud on their bodies, letting it harden, and then rinsing it off in the sea (as much as you can rinse off dried mud with salt water). The deposits of black mud come directly from the seabed. The mud is beneficial to your skin as it is high in magnesium, sodium, potassium, and calcium. Looking to purchase this world-famous mud in North America? No problem. Dead Sea mud and minerals are available online through AHAVA.

8. IT’S THE BIGGEST FREE SPA ON EARTH.

With all that healing mud, the Dead Sea is quite literally the biggest natural free spa on earth. But should you feel the need to indulge in further spa treatments, there are multiple hotels to choose from in the area that offer rejuvenating spa services, including the famous Ein Gedi Hotel.

9. YES, THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS WERE FOUND HERE.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were found hidden in a cave in Qumran and contain some of the oldest copies ever discovered of the Hebrew Bible. They have been called the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century. Portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls now make the occasional tour at various museums so we can learn about their significant history.

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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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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.

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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.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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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.

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

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

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
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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.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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

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

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

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

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

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

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

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

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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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