Why Do Bugs Die on Their Backs and More Questions From Readers | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian
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Why Do Bugs Die on Their Backs and More Questions From Readers

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Why do bugs always seem to die on their backs?
Leslie Yates
Riverside, California

This is a matter of physics. As the bug nears death, normal blood flow ceases, causing the legs to contract inwardly. Without the support of the legs, the body becomes top-heavy, and usually falls upside-down.
Gary F. Hevel
entomologist, Natural History Museum

What is the origin of applause?
Franklyn Gubitz
East Nassau, New York

We don’t know exactly when and why applause, or at least making noise with the hands to express approval or enjoyment, became nearly universal among humans. Chimpanzees also clap their hands to express excitement and other emotions, suggesting that it may have been part of the behavioral repertoire of the common ancestor of modern humans and chimpanzees.
Briana Pobiner
paleoanthropologist, Human Origins Program, Natural History Museum

Do radiotelescopes listen to the universe or see the universe?
Lawrence Bricker
Silver Spring, Maryland

Radiotelescopes focus and detect radio waves, which are a form of light, not sound. The only difference between visible light and radio waves is wavelength—about 0.00005 centimeters for the former and about 1 centimeter for the latter. So radiotelescopes “see” what your eyes could see if they were sensitive to the longer wavelength as well as much larger, given that radiotelescopes range up to 100 meters in diameter.
Mark Reid
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Not one to hide from the bitter truth, our host, Eric Schulze dishes up the answer.

If the Titanic had dropped its anchor before hitting the iceberg, would that have mitigated the disaster?
D. R. Cardinale
Avondale, Louisiana

Not at all. The water at the collision site was 12,500 feet deep—far too deep for the anchor chain. Once the chain was completely played out, the end likely would have flown out of the chain locker and plummeted to the bottom. And even if the end of the chain held fast, the anchor would have hung uselessly in the deep, with nothing to grasp nearby.
Paul F. Johnston
curator of maritime history, American History Museum

Do mammals besides humans gray with age?
Margaret Kraght
Glendora, California

Some do. Domestic animals, notably dogs and horses, can become quite grizzled on their muzzles. Some wild animals also turn gray, and it typically seems to indicate not just maturity, but also power in the males of some species, such as the silverback in a band of gorillas or a California sea lion bull with his platinum-colored sagittal crest.
Marie Magnuson
great cats animal keeper, National Zoo

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