Is the giant squid threatened with extinction?
Mitchell, South Dakota
No. It’s impossible to count such deep-dwelling creatures, but their number can be extrapolated from the number of sperm whales (the squid’s primary predator), the number of squid beaks found in the stomachs of stranded or hunted whales and other factors. By my calculations, millions of giant squid are living in the world’s oceans. This species will be around for a very long time.
curator of cephalopods, National Museum of Natural History, and author of Giant Squid: Searching for a Sea Monster
I have an old bill that says “Two dollars and two-thirds” and entitles the bearer to that amount in gold or silver. What might this bill be?
Jaycee LaRhonda Knight
It might be currency issued after 1766 by Maryland. Britain forbade its North American colonies to issue currency, but they issued “unofficial” paper money to facilitate trade. Fractional values reflect colonies’ efforts to calibrate their money to the international trade occurring in ports like Annapolis. It was theoretically redeemable in gold or silver because people trusted precious metals over paper notes. Of course, an expert would have to see the note to confirm its authenticity.
curator, numismatics, National Museum of American History
My house cat seems to yawn when happy. Do big cats do that, too?
John H. Weber
Upper Darby, Pennsylvania
Well, big cats yawn. But so do many other vertebrate species, as disparate as baboons and Siamese fighting fish. And no one knows why.
curator of big cats, National Zoo
Scientists sometimes write about meteors from Mars. How can they tell a meteor actually came from the red planet?
The best evidence is in the bubbles: Some Martian meteorites contain trapped gas bubbles whose concentrations of elements match those of the Martian atmosphere, as measured by the Viking missions. Age, composition and the amounts of certain isotopes also strongly suggest that certain meteorites came from Mars.
Andrew W. Beck
postdoctoral fellow in mineral sciences, National Museum of Natural History
What gives flowers their scent?
Bayside, New York
My friend W. Mark Whitten, a botanist at the University of Florida who works with orchid fragrances and pollination biology, says: Flowers are miniature chemical factories. The epidermal cells of the flower petals (and sometimes other parts) pump out a mix of volatile chemicals unique to each species. These chemicals advertise the presence of the flower and help guide pollinators, who are equipped with chemical detectors.
orchid collection specialist, Smithsonian Gardens
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