Q: You can waste a lot of time watching internet videos of goats jumping. But how common is that four-legged behavior in real life?
— Chase Carter | Washington, D.C.
It’s as common as it is cute, says Craig Saffoe, curator of the Great Cats, Andean bears and Kids’ Farm areas at the National Zoo. Goats’ natural inclination is to jump and climb wherever their hoofs take them. Domesticated goats are incredibly sure-footed, probably a taxonomic evolutionary trait from when they lived in mountains. Just as with people, the kids tend to be more playful and jumpy than the grown-ups.
Q: What are the largest denominations of U.S. currency ever issued?
That’s the $100,000 question (and answer). In 1934, the federal government printed gold certificates in that amount, but the notes were only for use within the Federal Reserve System—not by private citizens, says Ellen Feingold, curator at the National Numismatic Collection. The largest denomination ever circulated as legal tender was the $10,000 bill. Before widespread access to banking systems and credit, it was used for big purchases like property. But it also became a target for counterfeiters and criminal enterprises hoping to keep large, illicit purchases anonymous. The Treasury and the Federal Reserve discontinued the note in 1969.
Q: Is climate change driving human migration from Central America?
— Betty Wood | Honolulu
Many migrants to Mexico and the United States are originally from countries in the Central American Dry Corridor, such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. This area has an intrinsically variable climate that alternates between flooding and drought, explains Scott Wing, research geologist and curator of paleobotany at the National Museum of Natural History. It is likely that climate change is making the rainfall even less regular and the temperatures even more extreme. As a result, rural farmers are struggling to grow their crops and food insecurity is spreading. Some migrants first try to find work in their nations’ cities but frequently encounter high rates of crime and poverty, so they continue their migration north.
Q: I’ve heard that the author William Faulkner had a great-grandfather who was a Confederate colonel in the Civil War (and something of a local legend). Can the family line be documented?
— Jean W. Hanson | Avon, Ohio
That’s right, says Nancy Bercaw, curator at the National Museum of American History’s Division of Political and Military History. William C. Falkner, who spelled his last name without the “u,” was born in Tennessee in 1825 (or 1826) and supported the South during the Civil War. At the time, officers for the Confederacy generally had to be elected and Falkner lost his position as colonel in the second year of the war. Furious, he resigned and joined his local militia. After the South lost, he dedicated himself to spreading the myth of the “Lost Cause” and exaggerated his own record. It worked: A memorial was constructed in Ripley, Mississippi, in his honor and his great-grandson grew up to idolize him, even writing characters based on him into some of his books.
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