You have probably heard of the “Body Worlds” exhibit that travels from museum to museum around the world. If you haven’t, here’s the gist: Cadavers have been stripped of skin to reveal what goes on inside the human body. Some of the bodies are sliced paperthin and set under glass, others are made to highlight specific systems (i.e. cardiovascular, nervous, reproductive), which are filled with colored dyes so they can be easily traced and their complexity grasped. You don’t have to be a biologist to be impressed. And, for the reluctant, there’s nothing queasy or disgusting about it. It’s worth seeing.
Yesterday, I visited the sequel exhibit: “Animals Inside Out”. It’s the same concept, but applied to a crowd of species. The homo sapiens are accompanied by squid, fish, frogs, reindeer, horses, camels, giraffes, ostriches and a bull, among others. It’s amazing to see fish without scales and birds without feathers. It’s even more amazing to see the miles-long labyrinth of tubes and webbing, cast in fluorescent reds and blues, weaving through flesh and organs and whole bodies. Seeing nature laid so bare makes you appreciate the intricacies, the similarities, the elegant design of life.
I’m pretty easily taken with the incredible complexity, even the beauty of the whole thing. But what really sticks with me is the trivia. Here are a few of my favorite facts from the tour.
- Crocodiles, because of their powerful legs, can run faster than humans for short bursts, and ostriches can run at a sustained pace of 31 mph for up to 30 minutes. By comparison, a snail’s top speed is one mile a week.
- All mammals, big and small, average about one billion heartbeats over the course of their lives. A shrew’s heart pumps at 1000 beats a minute and has a lifespan of about four years. Humans are somewhat exceptional among mammals because we reach one billion heartbeats in about 30 years.
- One of the few differences between sheep and goats is in the tail muscles. Sheep can only move their tails horizontally. Goats can move left and right, and also vertically.
- An elephant has 394 muscles, and most mammals max out at about 600. Insects, however, have upwards of 1800 muscles.
- Horse stomachs have a “no-return valve” that makes it impossible for them to vomit.
- No part of the body is more than 1/5000 of an inch away from a blood capillary.
- Bactrian camels (two-humped) don’t store water in their humps. They store it in their blood and stomach for up to two weeks. In their humps they have about 40 pounds of fat that, if it were dispersed around their bodies, would cause them to overheat and die.
- Apes cannot straighten their knees.
- Elephants walk on their tip-toes, not the soles of their feet. Also, they don’t have ankles.
- In higher mammals like humans, there are 60,000 miles of blood vessels.