The largest living thing on Earth is invisible. Woolly mammoths are making a comeback. Art collector Charles Saatchi provides 10 hard-to-believe facts and incredible photos from our very weird world…
The largest living thing (Michael Fairchild)
This Baobab tree in Guyana is a contender for the world’s largest living entity. However, beneath the city of Oregon, USA you would find a mushroom that is three and a half miles in diameter. What started as a simple spore, too insignificant to be seen without a microscope, has been weaving its filaments through a forest, killing trees at their roots as it goes.
It has been growing there for 2,400 years. Had it blossomed above the surface, much of the city would be under a genuine mushroom cloud.
It seems that the dry climate is responsible for the mushroom’s enormous scale. However, scientists have pointed out that they do not think massive mushrooms similar to the Oregon giant are necessarily unique, but could be normal for a fungus in the right environment.
Fish island (Charles Saatchi)
North Sentinel Island lies in the Bay of Bengal, 28 square miles of lush forest and perfect beaches. It is populated by one of the few remaining ‘uncontactable peoples’ in the world. The Sentinelese remain a mystery; nobody knows their language, their culture, or even how many of them there are.
They resist all contact, firing a flurry of arrows at approaching boats. Surrounded by spectacular clear sapphire water and powdery white sand, this paradise made news in 2006, when the inhabitants murdered two fishermen who attempted to get too close to the island.
Ark Hotel, China (Charles Saatchi)
If you are looking for a hotel with a sea view, it would be hard to beat the Ark Hotel in China. It’s an enormous biosphere that floats deep below the surface of the sea, offering 150,000 square feet of living space and a close-up view of unusual oceanic life.
When the Ark is at sea level, the domed clam structure opens up to lay flat, offering lush gardens to wander through. Its structure is eco-friendly enough to use solar panels to provide heat and light, and it even has a rainwater collection and filtration system to remain, in part, self-sustaining.
Climber standing on high platform (Charles Saatchi)
Most people have one kind of phobia or another. Commonly, they include things like snakes and spiders, but among other disproportionate terrors are dentists, dogs, flying, thunder and lightning, the dark, speaking in public, and of course, a fear of heights. Usually, these phobias develop between the ages of 15 and 25.
According to one psychiatrist: "Lots of children have fears, but grow out of them, and we don’t label it a phobia at this stage. If the fear sticks with them in adulthood, it’s a phobia and this can continue throughout life."
A fear of heights, acrophobia as it formally known, is different; it usually develops after childhood. Apparently, this is due in large part to our sense of balance. Kevin Gournay, emeritus professor at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, says: "As you get older, your organ balance tends to deteriorate and you’re likely to feel more physically vulnerable."
Woolly mammoth (Charles Saatchi)
Bewilderingly, the world’s most advanced biotechnology laboratory is in South Korea, and they have already cloned 600 dogs for customers around the world. Each customer paid $100,000 to be ‘reunited’ with their beloved pet.
They are also aiming to repopulate endangered canines like Ethopian and American red wolves. Their progress is being followed closely in Russia, because it gave researchers hope that the woolly mammoth, last seen roaming Siberia 3,600 years ago, might have a chance at reappearing.
They are searching for a mammoth sample of high enough quality to clone from, with cells and DNA that are well preserved. If an intact mammoth genome could be found, hopes are that it would be inserted into elephant eggs in order to form a mammoth embryo. Biologists are scouring ever deeper into the extreme north of Siberia in search of genetic material.
Your belly button is as lush as a rainforest (Max Oppenheim)
Researchers recently identified 2,368 bacterial species within an average belly button, and about half of these were new to science. In fact, there are more lifeforms living on your skin than there are people on the planet.
Although the commonest bacteria types were present in around 70 percent of belly buttons tested, there was no single bacterial strain that was present in all of them.
Several species were found that have only ever been found in the ocean before; one microbe, in particular, had only ever been discovered living in the soil in Japan, where the subject had never been. The scientists were baffled as to why each person’s navel is so distinct. Sex, age, ethnicity and any number of other factors couldn’t help them predict which species live within which person.
Black and white spiral staircase (Charles Saatchi)
In a new study, it has been revealed that the colour of our dreams is correlated to our age and early childhood exposure to television. Among the participants in the study, the largest group to claim that their dreams were in monochrome were those that were over 55 years old, who only had access to black and white TVs in their youth.
For them, their dreams are still colourless today 25 per cent of the time. It would seem that up until the 1950s, most people dreamt in black and white, but that changed with the widespread growth of colour television. The attention and emotional engagement invested in watching TV before going to bed impacts on the way that dreams are formed; as soon as colour filled our pre-sleep experiences, it began to fill our dreamworld.
Turritopsis dohrni (Charles Saatchi)
Turritopsis dohrnii, better known as the immortal jellyfish, cheats death by reversing the ageing process. If it is injured, sick or getting too old, it returns to its polyp stage over a three-day period, transferring cells into a youthful state that will eventually grow into adulthood again.
Of course, man has always dreamt of immortality and a great deal of literature has been devoted to the lengths that people will go to try to achieve this wonder. It has transfixed many over time, including Qin She Heung, first Emperor of China who reigned around 220 BC. He ended up ingesting pills filled with mercury, believing they would make him live forever. Instead, they made sure he lived for only a few final minutes.
Diving in tank (Charles Saatchi)
Mankind has created more accurate maps of the surface of Mars than of our own ocean floors. About three quarters of the Earth is covered in water, but we have only managed to explore five per cent of what lies beneath the waves.
Much of the sea is so deep, if Everest was placed at the bottom, it wouldn’t reach the surface. In fact, the Mariana Trench, over 6.9 miles below the surface of the Pacific, remains largely a mystery. It’s far too deep for anything except a biosphere to see a fraction of it.
Man has been able to move around the ocean at a depth of 1000 metres, with a revolutionary new Exosuit, seen above. Only three subs have made the epic journey to the Pacific bottom. It’s just about at freezing point, and the pressure on a single fingernail would be equal to 1000 kilograms. We sometime forget just how vast our planet is, with much of it empty of human life despite our population reaching beyond seven billion.
Great white shark (Charles Saatchi)
Each year more people are killed trying to get a snack out of a vending machine than in shark attacks. Ironically, in the past few decades, four people have died in the UK after being crushed by falling tombstones. Let’s hope they weren’t there to grieve a victim of falling vending machines.
Other more deadly murderers than sharks are malaria-carrying mosquitoes, but, less obviously, also jellyfish, hippopotamuses, dogs, fire ants, horses, bees and even cows. They make the largest shark ever photographed, Big Blue here, at over six metres long, seem comparatively placid, despite the shark being able to sense a drop of blood 2.5 miles away.
The above facts and photos are taken from the book We Are Bananas by Charles Saatchi, which reveals some of the biggest secrets and strangest facts about Planet Earth and the people who live on it (Hardback, Palazzo, £16.99). Charles Saatchi is a businessman, art curator and collector.
Main image: Your belly button is as lush as a rainforest (Max Oppenheim)