The ancient origins of the Dog Days of Summer

According to popular folklore: “Dog Days bright and clear Indicate a happy year; But when accompanied by rain, For better times, our hopes are vain.” It sounds good…but what are the Dog Days of summer, exactly? And what do they have to do with dogs? The exact dates of the Dog Days can vary from source to source and probably they have changed over time. However, most sources agree that they occur in mid- to late summer, from July 3 to August 11. This is soon after the Summer Solstice…

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‘Imaginary Elephants’: the sculptures created by a 17th-century artist who had never seen an elephant.

We are in Japan. The Tōshōgu Shrine complex of Nikkō is popular for its architectural and sculptural beauty, including the Three Wise Monkeys and the “Sleeping Cat”. Another among its hundreds of sculptures is commonly referred to as “Sōzō-no-Zō”, literally the “Imaginary Elephants.” The sculpture is located on the gable of the Kamijinko (Upper Sacred Storehouse or God’s Storehouse), where a pair of strange-looking animals grin with crescent-shaped eyes. The sculpture on the left is green and white, while the other is black and both are complete with golden tusks.…

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Why do fireflies glow?

Fireflies, also known a lightning bugs, have been captivating humans for centuries with their enchanting lights on summer nights. Insects have a vivid history within folklore and mythology. Butterflies, bees, scarabs and other bugs have become symbolic markers of rebirth, purity, life and death, and the firefly is no exception. In ancient Amazonian mythology, their light came from the gods and provided hope and guidance while, in Japanese legend, two species of firefly, the Genji-hotaru and the Heike-hotaru, are associated with the ghosts of the Minamoto warriors and the Taira…

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‘Nemuri-Neko’: is the Sleeping Cat asleep, or just pretending?

We are in Japan. As we already know, Tōshōgu Shrine, the burial place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, is the most popular tourist attraction in Nikkō. Of course, It’s popular for its elaborate architecture, but also for its carved details, including the three wise monkeys and others. One of the most notable carvings is the Nemuri-neko, or the Sleeping Cat, at the entrance to the okumiya (rear shrine) where Tokugawa Ieyasu’s remains are housed. The carving is attributed to Hidari Jingorō, a legendary 17th-century artist who…

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The Folklore of Bees

In the middle of spring, outside, in addition to the greening of the earth, we notice a change in the local wildlife. Suddenly, squirrels are everywhere, birds are twittering away madly in the trees, worms are popping in the soil and, everywhere you look, life has returned. Among others, you’ll see bees buzzing around your garden, partaking of the rich pollen in your flowers. The plants are in full bloom at this time of the spring, and the bees take advantage, buzzing back and forth, carrying pollen from one blossom…

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The story of Dick Whittington and his faithful cat

Born in the 135Os, Dick Whittington was a poor boy even if, eventually, became a wealthy merchant and three-time Lord Mayor of London. According to legend, he made his fortune thanks to the extraordinary ratting abilities of his cat. The story of Dick Whittington and His Cat is the folk tale surrounding the real-life Richard Whittington (c. 1354–1423) and it is not just a fairy tale, but it is part of the folklore of London. Today, near the foot of Highgate Hill is the famous Whittington stone, which is supposed…

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Mao Mao, the feline car model that earns more than most humans

Mao Mao, a two-year-old British Shorthair from Chongqing, China, works as a professional cat model and earns between 5,000 yuan ($775) and 10,000 yuan (1,550) per appearance. Mao Mao’s rise to fame was somewhat of an accident: her owner, a man surnamed Zheng, works in the automotive industry, and during an auto show he had the brilliant idea of putting his pet cat into one of the cars. That immediately drew a crowd of people who couldn’t wait to take a photo of the cute feline and share it on…

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The annual Pidakala battle of Kairuppala

Every April, the people of Kairuppala, a village in Andhra Pradesh state, Southern India, engage in an epic cow dung cake (or Pidakala) battle that often leaves dozens injured. The reason? They believe the tradition brings them good health and prosperit, and, in addition, locals believe the battle brings rains to the village. According to the legend, Lord Veerabhadra Swamy, a fearsome form of the Hindu god Shiva, and the Goddess Bhadrakhali fell in love and decided to marry. In order to tease his beloved, Veerabhadra Swamy declared that he…

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Telling the Bees: the curious folklore of Rural England and not only

Many do not know that there was a time when almost every rural British family who kept bees followed a strange tradition: whenever there was a death in the family, someone had to go out to the hives and tell the bees of the terrible loss that had befallen the family. Failing to do so often resulted in further losses such as the bees leaving the hive, or not producing enough honey or even dying. The custom is best known in England, but has also been recorded in Ireland, Wales,…

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How the Pussy Willow got its name

Spring gets nearer, and a symbol of the season is the Pussy Willow. Salix discolor is its botanical name, and its fuzzy buds that emerge in spring are excellent for floral arrangements or stunning in a bunch by themselves. You can leave a bunch of pussy willow branches in water and they will form roots. You can then transplant these cuttings into your garden, they will grow into a new shrubs and you can take cuttings off them for many more years. But why is it that the pussy willow…

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Ming the Clam: the 507-year-old clam that explained climate change

It wasn’t just any clam. Ming the Clam was 507 years old. For his whole life, he lived on the bottom of the Norwegian Sea and, while on earth the years passed, the world, inevitably, changed. Great empires rose and fell again into the dust, the Industrial Revolution transformed human society, and two world wars claimed millions of lives. In 2006, a team of British scientists was engaged in a mission of assessment off the coast of Iceland, within a study to discover the effects of climate change. Ming was…

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Jacu Bird Coffee: from bird poop to a one of the world’s rarest and most expensive coffee varieties

Jacu Bird Coffee is one of the world’s rarest (and most expensive) coffee varieties. It is made from coffee cherries ingested, digested and excreted by Jacu birds. At around 50 hectares, the Camocim Estate is one of the smallest coffee plantations in Brazil, but it still manages to rake it quite a nice profit thanks to a very unique type of coffee. It all started in the early 2000s, when Henrique Sloper de Araújo found that his precious plantations had been overrun by Jacu birds, an endangered, pheasant-like bird species,…

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Black Shuck: The mythic hellhound Of Medieval England

Black Shuck, Old Shuck, Old Shock or simply Shuck is the name given to a ghostly black dog which is said to roam the coastline and countryside of East Anglia, a traditional region of eastern England. Stories about the creature form part of the folklore of Norfolk, Suffolk, the Cambridgeshire fens and Essex. His name, Shuck, may derive from the Old English word “scucca” meaning “demon”, or possibly from the local dialect word “shucky” meaning “shaggy” or “hairy”. In any case, Black Shuck is one of many ghostly black dogs…

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Beddgelert: a place of legend in the heart of Wales.

We are in Beddgelert, North Wales, just south of Snowdon. Meaning literally the grave of Gelert, Beddgelert was once described as “a few dozen hard grey houses, huddled together in some majestic mountain scenery”. A short walk south of the village, following the footpath along the banks of the Glaslyn leads to its most famous historical feature, “Gelert’s Grave”. According to legend, the stone monument in the field marks the resting place of Gelert, the faithful hound of the medieval Welsh Prince Llewelyn the Great. The story, as written on…

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Groundhog Day, an American holiday with purely Europeans origins ~

Groundhog Day, on February 2, claim that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day sees its shadow due to clear weather, it will retreat to its den and winter will persist for six more weeks; but if it does not see its shadow because of cloudiness, spring will arrive early. The weather lore come from German-speaking areas where the badger (Dachs, in German) was the forecasting animal. This appears to be an enhanced version of the lore that clear weather on the Christian religious holiday of Candlemas…

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Wolf Moon: the first Full Moon of the year

In ancient times, it was common to track the changing seasons by following the lunar month rather than the solar year, which the 12 months in our modern calendar are based on. For millennia, people across Europe, as well as Native American tribes, named in fact the months after features they associated with the Northern Hemisphere seasons, and still today we use many of these ancient month names as Full Moon names. A common explanation is that Colonial Americans adopted many of the Native American names and incorporated them into…

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Indlovu, the premium Gin made from distilled elephant dung

It’s hard to believe that elephant dung could be the main ingredient of a booze, but that’s absolutely true: South African gin Indlovu is made with botanicals harvested from the pachyderm poop. Paula and Les Ansley, both former professors in different fields of biology, decided to moved from the UK to South Africa after retiring, and they found a way to contribute to conservation efforts in the region to support the local community. Neither of them had any idea that elephant dung would play such a big part in their…

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Kauai, the Hawaiian Island home to thousands of feral chicken

The island of Kauai, in the Hawaiian archipelago, is home to thousands of feral chicken that have developed a real relationship with the island’s human inhabitants. From the pristine beaches of Lumbahai, to airports, gas stations, even urban parking lots, they are everywhere on the Island. They roam freely, and have adapted to lead a a variety of lifestyles in their Hawaiian paradise, from eating garbage and cat food, to depending on tourists for food, or foraging on native arthropods. It’s because of this lifestyle variety that the chickens relationship…

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Chả rươi: Vietnam’s popular worm omelette

Chả rươi, or simply “sand worm omelet”, is a seasonal Vietnamese dish made with (unsightly) sea worms that some say give the dish a caviar-like taste. Every year, in late fall, street food stalls in northern Vietnam, particularly in Hanoi, serve a very special dish that looks very ordinary at first glance, but that actually contains a very peculiar ingredient… Actually, Chả rươi looks like a well-done egg dish mixed with various herbs, but owes its meaty texture and seafood taste to the ingredient that gives the delicatecy its name:…

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Gummatapura: the Indian village that ends Diwali with massive cow dung battle

The small Indian village of Gummatapura is famous all over the world for its unique way of ending the annual Diwali celebrations: a massive cow dung battle called “Gorehabba”. If Spain has La Tomatina, a famous battle with tomatoes, and Italy has the traditional Battle of Oranges during popular Ivrea’s Carnival, India has Gorehabba, a cow dung battle to end the important Diwali festivities. Diwali is literally the Festival of Lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world. Diwali, which for some also coincides with harvest…

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23# The curious story of the Swedish Yule goat

In Sweden there is a town that every year celebrates the start of the Christmas season by putting up a giant straw statue of a goat. Then folks wait (and sometimes bet) on whether the goat will make it to Christmas. The reason? The town of Gävle has another, very different, tradition: every year someone tries to burn down the goat! But, above all…why a goat? For hundreds of years, folks in northern Europe had big festivals in December called Yule, traditions that became part of regular Christmas celebrations in…

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18# Animals in the story of Christmas

Animals play a prominent role a Christmas, regardless of whether or not religious beliefs are behind it. The story of Rudolph, the red nosed reinder, is probably the most popular example of an animal that has become a Christmas icon. However, there are many animals are central to the story of Christmas and, as with all things Christmas we turn back to ancient history to find out the tradition behind it. According to Viking tradition, the northern Germans and Scandinavians celebrated Yule, a pagan religious festival heralding the arrival of…

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Viareggio: a statue for Ettore, the cat friend of fishermen

Ettore was abandoned in a cardboard box along the pier in Viareggio, Italy. It was 1997, and from that moment on this special cat has no longer had a home or a human owner, but countless different homes and friends. Especially the local fishermen, who went back and forth every day along the pier, becoming his family. The leftovers of the fish constituted the dinner of little Ettore, who patiently awaited his daily ration every day. It was a cat that entered the hearts not only of fishermen, who saw…

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8# The legend of Christmas Robin

The little red-breasted, cheerful robins, often called also the Christmas robins, indicate the season of sun and spring. This rather ordinary bird holds such tremendous importance to Christmas that probably everybody know its legend. Robins are known in fact for having shared the holy stable of Bethlehem, with Jesus’ family, when the other animals chose not to respond to Mary’s constant appeals. Now these colorful birds are regarded as the traditional symbol of UK and can often be found on greeting cards and gift wrappers. They also use robin decorations…

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How to seduce a turkey: a bizarre sex experiments of the 1960s

Two men lurking over the pen. Meanwhile a large, male turkey walked in a circle, readying his mating dance, waiting for the right moment. The moment arrived and, clueless and giddy, the animal excitedly fluffed his feathers and approached his object of desire: the severed head of a taxidermied, female turkey, mounted on a stick. It was the early 1960s, and Dr. Martin Schein and Dr. Edward Hale were working hard at Pennsylvania State University to find out what makes domestic turkeys literally…interested in sex. They began with a taxidermically…

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Ken’s roasted sweet potato stand in Sapporo, Japan

In warm weather, the beautiful rolling hills of Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido burst with flowers while, in cold weather, they literally glisten with snow. In any case, a loyal and friendly sentinel stands guard in the island’s major city, Sapporo. This is Ken-kun, the proprietor of the Inu no Yakiimoyasan sweet potato stand, a steadfast salesman that greets visitors and welcomes them to sample his signature roasted sweet potatoes, even though a sign outside the stand reminds visitors that he can’t give you change…because he’s a dog. The stand…

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Stamford bull run: a custom demised after 700 years of cruelty

If you are lucky enough to own a castle you want to enjoy the fine views on your lands from your windows. And that, according to legend, is just what William Plantagenet de Warenne, 5th Earl of Surrey (1166-1240), was doing one day at the turn of the 12th century. As story goes, looking over the meadow stretched before him outside the town of Stamford he saw two bulls fighting over a cow. Local butchers then came with their dogs to part the animals, enraging them further and causing one…

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Phet and Ploy: the most expensive cat wedding in the world!

On this day, October 5, 1996, a beautiful bride wore a pink satin dress and arrived by helicopter. And the groom, dressed in a pink tuxedo with precious lacy cuffs, also came in style, with a Rolls-Royce. Not an ordinary affair…as the couple were cats. In details, “Diamond Eye” cats, as they are popularly known. The couple was carried in to the ceremony by their owner Vicharn Jarat-archa who ran a cosmetics business. He had found Phet, the groom, earlier in the year at a spot along the Thai-Burma border.…

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Torre Argentina – the Roman Cat Sanctuary

As you probably know cats in Rome are very popular and they have always found shelter amongst the ancient city ruins. They are also protagonists of numerous postcards depicting them sitting on stumps of old Roman columns, cat napping on the foot of an emperor’s statue, or just lounging near the Colosseum. And, in addition, in Rome stray cats have an ancient temple-complex all to themselves. Known as Largo di Torre Argentina, this archaeological wonder was excavated as part of Mussolini’s rebuilding efforts in 1929, revealing four Republican victory-temples that…

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The unsolved mystery of Ding Wuling, China’s mosquito-free village

Surrounded by lush vegetation and dotted with ponds and pools of water, the Chinese village of Ding Wuling should be a paradise for mosquitoes, especially during the summertime. However, the tiny annoying bloodsuckers allegedly haven’t been seen here in almost a century… Located in the hills of China’s Fujian province, 700 meters above sea level, the village of Ding Wuling is home to the hakka minority, a people with a very rich history and culture evidenced by the unique architecture of their stone houses. But in recent years, culture, history…

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