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15 Shucking Amazing Facts About Oysters

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Oysters are slimy, yet delicious. Casanova purportedly ate 50 of them for breakfast daily—and he isn’t the only one who believed they had certain powers. Oysters are definitely key to healthy marine ecosystems and clean water. Here are 15 facts about these ugly yet amazing shellfish.

1. THEY'RE BETTER WATER FILTERS THAN BRITA BY FAR.

Every day, one oyster filters 50 gallons of water and a healthy one-acre reef around 24 million gallons—enough to fill 36 Olympic swimming pools. Here’s how that works. An oyster draws water in over its gills using cilia, or tiny hairs. Plankton and particles in the water are trapped in mucus in the gill, then transported to the oyster’s mouth. So, yeah, oysters basically eat their own snot but, at the same time, remove excess sediment, nutrients, and algae from the water. That keeps the water in good shape for other marine life.

2. THEY DEVELOP NEIGHBORHOOD COMMUNITIES.

A close-up image of a Gulf Coast oyster bed taken in 2007 for a federal ecosystem restoration initiative. Image credit: EPA via Wikipedia Commons // Public Domain 

Oysters form beds or reefs that provide important habitat for fish and other creatures, including sea anemones and barnacles, which in turn provide food for bigger fish such as striped bass, black drum, and croaker. That works out to 1.5 extra tons of seafood a year.

3. SPRING IS WHEN A YOUNG OYSTER LOOKS FOR LOVE.

Oysters spawn when water temperatures rise in spring. Females release millions of eggs and males even more sperm and some of these lucky gametes meet in the open water. Fertilized eggs develop into microscopic larvae, little more than tiny black specks, which feed on algae, drifting on currents and tides for three weeks. Then, if something else hasn’t eaten them, the larvae attach to a hard surface, most likely other oysters, and transform into a tiny oyster called a spat. In areas where reefs have declined, oyster larvae may never find a place to settle.

4. THEY HOLD BACK FIERCE WAVES. 

Oyster reefs provide an effective natural barrier to storm waves and sea level rise. They absorb as much as 76 to 93 percent of wave energy, which reduces erosion, flooding, and property damage from coastal storms. Oyster reefs are preferable to manmade rip-rap or bulkheads, which don’t provide other benefits, such as habitat, and cost a lot to maintain. According to a Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium report, 100 miles of oyster reefs could save up to $95 million on rip-rap or $150 million on bulkheads.

5. FORGET THE 'R' POLICY—OYSTERS ARE GOOD FOR YOU YEAR-ROUND.

Oysters are high in zinc, which is good for your immune system, and also provide calcium, vitamin C, omega 3 fatty acids, iron, and protein. Jason Hedlund, seafood coordinator for Whole Foods Markets, told mental_floss that oysters are low in cholesterol as well. “And that old rule about only eating oysters in months with an ‘R’ in them no longer applies, thanks to developments in food safety,” he added. 

6. IRRITATION LEADS TO BEAUTY AND VALUE.

Not an accurate representation of how pearls are found in oysters. Image credit: iStock

Closely related to the food oysters (family Ostreidae) are the pearl oysters (family Aviculidae). When any small irritant such as a grain of sand gets inside an oyster shell, the animal covers it with nacre, or mother-of-pearl, the substance that forms the inside lining of the shell. Over several years, as more layers are added, a pearl forms. The type, color and shape of a pearl depend on pigment in the nacre and the shape of the original irritant. Today, most pearls are cultured, or created in farmed oysters. Cultured pearls look just like natural ones but are considered less valuable.

7. BAD NEWS: OYSTER REEFS ARE GREATLY IMPERILED WORLDWIDE.

Oyster reefs are the single most imperiled marine habitat on Earth, with 85 to 90 percent of wild reefs lost. The main culprit is destructive fishing practices, including overharvesting, according to a report from The Nature Conservancy, along with habitat loss and declining water quality.

8. GOOD NEWS: REEF RESTORATION WORKS.

Fortunately, oyster reef restoration efforts are very successful. Some 80 restoration projects are currently underway around the U.S., including Nature Conservancy projects in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.  Monitoring of these projects has shown as much as 212 percent increases in oyster growth and 850 percent increases in other marine life on the reefs. NOAA is involved in oyster reef restoration in Chesapeake Bay, where native populations had plunged to 1 percent of historic levels.

A study in the Journal of Applied Ecology reviewed literature on the increase in juvenile fish and mobile crustaceans in Crassostrea virginica reefs in the US and found increased production for 19 and 12 species, respectively, in the Gulf of Mexico and in the South and Mid-Atlantic.

9. WE CAN GET CREATIVE WITH REPAIRING THEIR HOMES.  

Marsh grass and oyster beds. Image credit: Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A variety of techniques work for oyster reef restoration, from shooting oyster shell from high-pressure hoses to placing bags of shells in the water. Some projects have built lines of shell and rock to stabilize the shoreline along with planting sea grass behind the reef to provide additional habitat. In areas without existing structure for "spat set" (a good location for young oysters, a.k.a. spat), seed oysters from hatcheries are used to establish new reefs.

10. OYSTERS DON'T HAVE FUN ON ACID.

As the oceans absorb more carbon dioxide, it changes the chemistry of the water. The world’s oceans have become 30 percent more acidic since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and that can kill oyster larvae and make it harder for oysters to form shells. 

11. HARVESTING OYSTERS THE RIGHT WAY DOESN'T HARM OTHER SPECIES.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch rates Eastern oysters from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Florida caught by dredge or tong as "Best Choices." The oyster harvest has no bycatch—other species of marine life caught along with the intended target. Seafood Watch recommendations “help you choose seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that have less impact on the environment,” according to the organization.

12. THERE ARE FIVE SPECIES IN U.S. WATERS.

A 1910 map of public oyster beds in Virginia's James River. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Oysters are found on the East, West, and Gulf Coasts of the US. Crassostrea virginica, the Eastern oyster, ranges from Canada to Key Biscayne, Florida, and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Ostreola conchaphila is native to the West Coast, where farmed reefs also contain the widely cultivated Pacific or Japanese oyster, Crassostrea gigas. Two more oysters are grown for specialty markets: the European Flat oysters (Ostrea edulis) and Kumamatos (Crassostrea sikamea).

13. ALL YOU NEED IS THE RIGHT KNIFE. OR BACON.

Raw, grilled, fried, wrapped in bacon, mixed into dressing, in soup, casserole or stew—oysters can be eaten just about any way you can think of. Whole Foods seafood coordinator Jason Hedlund calls them a hyper-local seafood, telling mental_floss, “Oysters reflect the bay they come from, almost like a terroir.” Anyone with the right knife and gloves can shuck their own oysters. Watch this video with George Hastings, a national oyster shucking champion (yes, there is such a thing). 

14. OIL IS LETHAL TO OYSTERS AT ALL STAGES OF LIFE.

Oyster production in the Gulf of Mexico declined each of the four years following the BP oil spill disaster. A report from the National Wildlife Federation, Five Years and Counting, states “…oyster eggs, sperm and larvae were exposed to oil and dispersants during the 2010 oil spill. [Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons] can be lethal to oyster gametes, embryos, larvae, juveniles and adults. They can also have sub-lethal effects, such as reduced reproductive success.” Unable to move away from such contamination, sedentary oysters are particularly susceptible.

15. SORRY, YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TO RELY ON YOUR CHARM.

There is little, if any, truth to the idea that oysters are an aphrodisiac. They contain phosphorus and iodine, which may increase human stamina, and zinc aids in production of testosterone. American and Italian researchers found that a type of mussel related to oysters contains two rare amino acids: D-aspartic acid and N-methyl-D-aspartate, which have been shown to increase sperm motility and stimulate testosterone in mice. But no studies have looked at whether that translates to increased libido. As one of the researchers, George Fisher, professor of chemistry at Barry University, told mental_floss, “To my knowledge, the old-wives tale of eating oysters to improve libido has no sustainable, scientific proof.”

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Atlanta Shelters Give Pups a Temporary Home for the Holidays
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The holidays are looking a little brighter for adoptable dogs from two animal shelters in Atlanta, Georgia. As ABC News reports, a new program called Home for the Pawlidays is providing temporary homes to longer-term residents of Fulton County Animal Services and DeKalb County Animal Services for the week of Thanksgiving.

The initiative was organized by Atlanta's LifeLine Animal Project, a local group dedicated to providing healthcare and homes to shelter dogs. The dogs that were chosen for the project may be older, have special health needs, or other issues that make it more difficult to find them forever homes.

But from November 18 to 25, the dogs are getting to spend time away from the shelter and in the homes of loving foster families.

“We were thinking, everyone gets a break from work, and they should get a break from the shelter,” LifeLine’s public relations director Karen Hirsch told ABC News.

Some caretakers have already fallen in love with their four-legged house guests. Foster Heather Koth told ABC that she hadn’t been considering adoption, but after meeting Missy the shelter dog, she now plans to foster her until she has a permanent home or possibly adopt the dog herself.

And for the dogs that can’t be kept by their temporary owners, just a week of quality playtime and sleeping in a real bed can make a huge impact. You can check out photos of the pets who are benefiting from the program this week below.

[h/t ABC News]

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25 Things You Didn't Know About Turkeys
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Most of us probably associate turkey with a sumptuous Thanksgiving spread, but there’s a lot more to the big bird than how delicious it is alongside your grandma’s famous cranberry sauce. Here are a few bits of knowledge you can drop over the dinner table—when you’re not fighting with your family over white meat or dark meat, that is.

1. THE NORTH AMERICAN WILD TURKEY POPULATION WAS ALMOST WIPED OUT.

Wild turkey
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Wild turkeys once roamed the continent en masse, but by the early 20th century, the entire U.S. population had been whittled down to a mere 30,000 due to hunting and the destruction of their woodland habitats. In the 1940s, many of the remaining birds were relocated to parts of the U.S. with recovering woodlands so the turkeys could repopulate. Despite these efforts, by 1973, there were still just 1.5 million wild turkeys in North America. Today, that number is up to about 6 million.

2. TURKEY APPENDAGES ARE LIKE MOOD RINGS.

Wild turkey
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The dangly appendage that hangs from the turkey’s forehead to the beak is called a snood. The piece that hangs from the chin is the wattle. These fleshy flaps can change color according to the turkey’s physical and mental health—when a male turkey (called a tom, of course) is trying to attract a mate, the snood and wattle turn bright red. If the turkey is scared, the appendages take on a blue tint. And if the turkey is ailing, they become very pale.

3. TURKEYS CAN FLY.

Wild turkey in flight
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Well, domestic turkeys that are bred to be your Thanksgiving centerpiece can’t. They’re too heavy. But wild turkeys can, reportedly at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. Though they don’t go very far—usually less than 100 yards—wild turkeys are among the five largest flying birds in the world. They’re in good company: Others on the list include the swan and the albatross.

4. THEY CAN ALSO SWIM.

Wild turkey drinking water
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Turkeys don’t swim often, it seems, but they can, by tucking their wings in, spreading their tails, and kicking. In 1831, John James Audubon wrote, “I have been told by a friend that a person residing in Philadelphia had a hearty laugh on hearing that I had described the Wild Turkey as swimming for some distance, when it had accidentally fallen into the water. But be assured, kind reader, almost every species of land-bird is capable of swimming on such occasions, and you may easily satisfy yourself as to the accuracy of my statement by throwing a Turkey, a Common Fowl, or any other bird into the water.”

5. TURKEY POOP CAN TELL YOU A LOT.

A handler picking up turkey poop at the White House Turkey Pardon in 2013.

The next time you happen across turkey poop—which happens all the time, we know—take a closer look at it. If the droppings are shaped like a “J,” they were left there by a male turkey. Spiral-shaped poo? The culprit is female.

The citizens of Pilot Rock, Oregon, probably don’t much care about the shape of the stuff, but more about the quantity of it. Earlier this year, Pilot Rock turned to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) for help combating a flock of 50 to 70 wild turkeys that would periodically invade the town, destroy gardens, perch in trees, and poop on pickup trucks. The ODFW offered several solutions, but as far as we know the turkeys still rule the roost at Pilot Rock.

6. TURKEY PROBABLY WASN'T ON THE PILGRIMS' MENU.

A recreation of the Pilgrims' first settlement
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Thanks to historical records, we know for sure that the Wampanoag brought deer, and the English brought fowl—likely ducks and geese.

7. BEN FRANKLIN DIDN'T REALLY WANT THE TURKEY TO BE OUR NATIONAL BIRD.

A drawing of Ben Franklin.
Getty / Hulton Archive / Handout

You may have heard that at least one of our Founding Fathers lobbied hard to make the turkey our national symbol instead of the noble bald eagle. That’s not quite true, but in a letter to his daughter, he did expound on the character of each, which may be where the rumor got started:

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

“With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country…

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

8. ANOTHER TURKEY FAN: ALEXANDER HAMILTON.

Portrait of Alexander Hamilton
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Yep, A. Ham liked turkey. In fact, he thought eating turkey was practically a god-given right, and once remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day."

9. TEDDY ROOSEVELT BELIEVED THE BIRDS WERE CUNNING PREY.

Teddy Roosevelt on a hunting trip in Africa.
Getty / Hulton Archive / Stringer

Ol’ TR may have been accustomed to hunting big game, but wild turkeys held a special place in his heart. He believed they were every bit as challenging to hunt as deer. In his 1893 book Hunting Trips of a Ranchman and the Wilderness Hunter, he wrote, “The wild turkey really deserves a place beside the deer; to kill a wary old gobbler with the small-bore rifle, by fair still-hunting, is a triumph for the best sportsman.”

10. WILD TURKEYS HAVE BETTER VISION THAN YOU DO.

Close up of wild turkey's head
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Their fantastic vision is probably one reason Teddy Roosevelt found turkeys such a challenge to hunt. They can detect motion from many yards away, have vision three times greater than 20/20, and have peripheral vision of about 270 degrees. Ours, comparatively, is only 180. And although turkeys can’t see in 3D, they can see UVA light, which helps them better identify predators, prey, mates, and food.

11. THE TOP TURKEY-PRODUCING STATE MAY SURPRISE YOU.

Domesticated turkeys on a farm
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You may know Minnesota for producing Prince, the Mall of America, and Target. But we also have the Land of 10,000 Lakes to thank for our Thanksgiving turkeys. According to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, approximately 46-48 million turkeys are produced in Minnesota every year. In fact, it’s where the turkey that receives a presidential pardon hails from every year. Speaking of which ...

12. THE PRESIDENTIAL TURKEY PARDON MAY DATE BACK TO ABE LINCOLN.

President Barack Obama pardons a turkey in 2011.
Getty / Mark Wilson / Staff

Officially, the tradition of the sitting president of the United States pardoning his Thanksgiving turkey dates back to John F. Kennedy, who decided to let his gift from the National Turkey Federation off the hook. But he wasn't the first president to let a turkey go free: When Abraham Lincoln’s son Tad befriended one of the birds intended for Christmas dinner in 1863, kind-hearted Abe granted it a stay of execution.

13. THE FIRST TV DINNER MEAL: THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS

Thanksgiving TV dinner
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In 1953, Swanson ended up with 10 train cars full of frozen turkeys—260 tons of them—when an overzealous buyer ordered too many turkeys for the holidays. Salesman Gerry Thomas solved the problem by ordering 5,000 aluminum trays and setting up an assembly line of workers to scoop dressing, peas, and sweet potatoes into the compartments. Slices of turkey rounded out the meal, which Swanson sold for 98 cents. The idea was a hit: The following year, 10 million turkey TV dinners were sold.

14. NATIONAL TURKEY LOVERS’ MONTH ISN’T WHEN YOU THINK.

Grilled meats on a silver tray
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Everyone eats turkey in November and December, so there’s not a lot of need for extra poultry promotion during those months. If you want to celebrate National Turkey Lovers’ Month, you’ll have to do it in June with some turkey brats and burgers on the grill.

15. THE TURKEY YOU’LL BE EATING IS PROBABLY ABOUT 18 WEEKS OLD.

Roasted turkey on a platter
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That’s how long it typically takes the birds to grow to maturity, which is when they’re usually slaughtered.

16. THERE WAS ALMOST A TURKEY SIDEKICK IN POCAHONTAS.

Loren Javier via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

At one point, Disney thought Pocahontas needed a little comic relief, so they hired John Candy to voice a wisecracking woodland fowl named Red Feather. Sadly, Candy passed away while the logistics were being worked out, so animators dropped the turkey entirely and opted for a clever raccoon named Meeko.

17. NOT ALL TURKEYS GOBBLE.

Close up shot of a wild turkey
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If you hear a turkey making the distinctive noise we all associate with them, then you’re hearing a male communicating with his lady friends up to a mile away. Females make a clicking sound instead of a gobble.

18. IF YOU DON’T EAT TURKEY AT THANKSGIVING, YOU’RE IN THE MINORITY.

A black and white photo of a family gathering around the table as the mother brings in a turkey.
Getty / Evans / Stringer

According to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving.

19. TURKEY CRAVINGS CAUSED A SPIKE IN KFC SALES IN JAPAN.

A large Kentucky Fried Chicken sign
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When KFC opened its first stores in Japan in the 1970s, the company was surprised to find that sales soared during the holidays. The phenomenon stymied executives since most of Japan celebrates neither Thanksgiving nor Christmas. It was later discovered that foreigners craving holiday turkey had decided that KFC’s chicken was the next best thing. After the company figured this out, they played up the association with their “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” campaign—“Kentucky for Christmas.” It worked on tourists and locals alike, and today, Christmas Eve is still the highest-selling day for KFC Japan.

20. THERE IS PROPER TURKEY TERMINOLOGY.

A flock of turkeys on a farm with one staring directly into the camera.
Getty / Cate Gillon / Staff

You probably know that a group of turkeys is a flock, but they can also properly be called a “rafter.” And should you want to call baby turkeys something a little more precise, you can call them “poults.”

21. THE MAYA USED TURKEYS AS SACRIFICIAL OFFERINGS.

A Maya tripod plate featuring a bird
Los Angeles County Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Archaeologists have found vases dating from 250-800 CE that have turkeys depicted on them. According to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee art historian Andrea Stone, "turkeys were quintessential animals for feasting and for sacrificial offerings." The Maya even crafted tamales shaped like the birds.

22. DURING THE ‘70S, YOU COULD CALL JULIA CHILD FOR TURKEY ADVICE ON THANKSGIVING.

Julia Child in her kitchen in 1978
Lynn Gilbert via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Even when she was at peak popularity, the famous chef refused to remove her phone number from public listings. According to friends, complete strangers would call Child on Thanksgiving to ask for advice on cooking the perfect turkey. Julia always answered the phone, and typically told callers whatever they needed to hear to get them to relax and enjoy the holiday. She even told some amateur cooks that turkey was best served cold anyway.

23. BIG BIRD IS A TURKEY.

Big Bird and Elmo at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Getty / Matthew Peyton / Stringer

Well, according to Sesame Street, he’s actually a canary—but his plumage makes him a turkey. The good people at American Plume & Fancy Feather provide Sesame Street with several thousand turkey feathers per costume to make sure Big Bird looks soft and fluffy.

24. THE BIRD IS NAMED AFTER THE COUNTRY.

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey
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But the whole thing was a mistake. Centuries ago, the English began to import a rather tasty bird, now known as a helmeted guinea fowl, from Madagascar. But they didn’t know it was from Africa. Because it was imported to Europe from merchants in Turkey, the English believed the birds were also Turkish.

Later, when the Spanish arrived in the New World, they discovered Meleagris gallopavo—the wild turkey. It was delicious, so they started importing it back to Europe. Europeans thought it tasted like the “turkey” guinea fowl they had been enjoying, so they called it the same thing.

25. WHAT, EXACTLY, IS DARK MEAT?

Roasted turkey legs on a piece of butcher paper
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It’s just a different type of muscle than white meat. White meat is the result of glycogen, which doesn't need much oxygen from the blood because the muscles it fuels only require short bursts of energy. Dark meat, however, is found on wings, thighs, and drumsticks—muscles that are used for long periods of time and require more sustainable energy. It’s made dark by the proteins that convert fat into energy.

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