Skip to content

The (mini) Whippet #156: Do not panic!

McKinley Valentine — 4 min read

On this page


A brief one this fortnight:

'Articles' icon

Sharks smell in stereo

You know how humans can tell what direction sounds are coming from because our ears hear sounds a split second apart, so they can triangulate distance between the two? And it's automatic, you just 'know' that the sound is coming from a certain direction. Whereas with smell, it's hard to pinpoint. To get a bearing on it, you have to physically point your face in different directions and Marco-Polo it.

Sharks smell like humans hear: they detect the scent particles at very slightly different times, and use the timing distance to estimate. It's not fully scientific, but we could guess sharks don't have to math this out, they just 'know' what direction a smell comes from. [Nature]

The skull of a winghead shark (type of hammerhead).

Surprisingly, hammerheads are actually more maneuverable than normal pointy-head sharks, with the flat skull acting like a wing. Their typical prey is quick-moving fish, the things regular sharks can't catch. (A video on the superior hammerhead skullshape.)


from Strange Tales #95 (April 1962)

A 3-page comic written by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, larger images here.

(The original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series was broadcast in 1978, if you were having thoughts along those lines.)

A scifi plot as old as time: "what if the real monster is... US?!?"


What's with the pronunciation of "iron"?

I have a non-rhotic* accent so I say it "eye-yun", but people with rhotic accents don't say "eye-ron", they say "eye-urn" as though the word was spelled iorn not iron.

* non-rhotic = accents where you don't pronounce the R unless it's followed by a vowel, eg English, Australian, Boston, etc.

Well... despite the fact that it has a fancy name ("metathesis"), we don't really know why it happens. Metathesis just means "idk, sometimes we start swapping letters around and the swapped version catches on". Bird used to be pronounced "brid" for example, horse as "hros", and third as "thrid" (which makes more sense given the number's "three"). But while the spelling of bird and third changed to reflect the new pronunciation, iron's never did.

This stackexchange answer gives some contemporary examples of metathesis: interduce for introduce, foilage for foliage, perscription for prescription, relevant for revelant. All of which probably sound very clunky and uneducated to you, but an Old English speaker would think you sounded clunky and uneducated when you called the yellow-and-black stinging guy a "wasp" instead of a "waps".

I couldn't pronounce celery as a kid ("cerely"), I guess that was the same thing.

(Wikipedia has a bunch of examples from other languages, it's super common, eg the Czech for "milk" is "mléko".)

(This was originally a digression off the Unsolicited Advice, but I thought it deserved its own subheading.)

Unsolicited Advice

Advice for my anaemic pals

(mildly interesting biology facts for my high-ferritin pals)


  • Humans don't have any way of clearing out excess iron
    ("too much stored iron" is one of the negative consequences of eating a lot of red meat; it can be addressed by donating blood regularly. Since men typically a) eat more red meat and b) don't menstruate, they generally see more health benefits from blood donation)
  • To make up for that, we have a metaphorical safety valve that stops us absorbing a tonne of iron in a row – namely a protein called hepcidin
  • When you consume a large amount of iron, your hepcidin levels spike, preventing you from absorbing more iron for the next couple days
  • Therefore, when you take iron every day (and especially if you break your dosage up across the day), you're not really absorbing much from the subsequent doses.
  • In this study, they compared a group of anaemic women taking 100mg of iron every day to a group taking 200mg every second day. The group taking it every second day ended up with higher ferritin scores, and they didn't experience worse gastrointestinal side effects. That's probably because it's the body's garbage ability to absorb iron supplements that makes you feel sick, so you feel less sick if you take it when your hepcidin isn't elevated.
  • It's also worth noting the doses – 1oomg and 200mg. A lot of the iron supplements they sell at the chemist are like... 6mg. If you haven't had much luck supplementing iron, it might be because you were taking a laughably low dose. You gotta look for the more medical-y, high-dose ones.
  • Iron also absorbs badly if you take it within a couple of hours of tea/coffee (even decaf)
  • ...probably easier to just get iron infusions if you have nationalised healthcare
tl;dr Don't take iron supplements every day, and definitely not multiple times per day. Take a double dose every second day. You will absorb more and side-effects will be the same.

[Souce: 'Iron absorption from supplements is greater with alternate day than with consecutive day dosing in iron-deficient anemic women']


Thanks for reading!

If you've been forwarded this email, you can sign up for free here.


Sign in or become a Whippet subscriber (free or paid) to add your thoughts.
Just enter your email below to get a log in link.