Hey Matthew: When my cat had kittens two of them looked exactly like each other. Are they twins? Is this common? I don’t remember seeing identical twin cats before. — Crazy Cat Lady, El Cajon
Three endangered fishing-cat kittens were born in an Ohio zoo recently. Two males, one female. The males? Twins, yes, but all cats have “twin” births; that is, multiple babies in a single pregnancy. So, even if your particular fuzz balls aren’t identical, technically speaking, they’re twins by human-birth standards because most all cats have multiple births. Are the fishing-cat boys identical? Naw. But even if they look identical, you’d need a DNA test to confirm it. Even in humans, identical twins (born of the splitting of a single embryo) might have some small outward differences.
If you witnessed the birth, maybe you’d think that two babies in a single embryonic sac would be a dead giveaway. Not really. Yes, two babies in one placenta are very likely to be identical, but don’t count out singletons. If the fertilized egg split very early in the pregnancy, each baby is likely to have its own placenta. The later the split, the more likely they are to be sharing a room.
Identical twins in human populations occur at the rate of 3 per 1000 births. This holds true around the world, in whatever type of population has been studied. (Fraternal twins — no common embryo — happen slightly more often than 32 per 1000 human births.) Identical twinning in the cat world? Nobody knows. Apparently no one cares enough to keep those records. Too bad you don’t have a pet nine-banded armadillo. Then we’d know for sure. They have four monozygotic (“identical”) armadillo-ettes as a general rule. So, if you want a guaranteed oooooh-weeeee, cutie! set of babies, get yourself a ’dillo. Side note to dog owners: unless your lady dog was specifically bred in a controlled situation, your multiple babies might only be half-siblings. Not wildly unusual for a litter of pups to have two different fathers.
Heymatt: OK, “brownie points.” The chocolate dessert? The littlest elves? What do they get points for? — Anonymity be my name, via email
The elves don’t get points for much around here, but they’re sorta kinda linked to the term. “Brownie points” is a phrase from the U.S. early in the last century. British Lady Baden Powell established the Girl Scouts (or Girl Guides) and their younger counterparts, the Brownies. One of the keys to successful Girl Scoutism is to do little projects to accumulate points to get a merit badge. Not that the Brownies’ points were then called Brownie points, but it was a pretty good starting point for a soon-to-be-popular expression for doing little nonsense tasks for no particularly good reason.
Heymatt: Green apple flavored Jolly Ranchers always make me cough. It’s not just me, the Internets are full of people pondering why this is but no one has an answer. Can you or the elves find out why? — A candy fiend, via email
Yeah, the Internets is full of people pondering. All those thoughts that used to go through our heads and never get expressed now find happy homes in people’s blogs. Nowadays, we need never shut up! Whoopeee! And you’re right that Jolly Rancher green-apple coughers are wondering about it.
First, think of some other things that might make you cough, aside from illness. Swallowing the wrong way. Strong smells like gasoline or bleach. Pollen, dust. They’re all inhaled irritants. Your body wants to protect you with a cough reflex to get rid of the annoying (perhaps life-threatening) offender. Same thing is going on with your green-apple JRs. The brand is famous for it’s really strong flavors, so they load up on tasty ingredients (plus some preservatives, sweeteners, and the like). You pop the candy in your mouth, it starts to melt, and it releases all those dissolved and vaporized flavor/smell triggers that make you say, “Wow, what a knockout!” Suddenly your throat sends up a distress signal that it has detected something it reads as an irritating substance. Hack! Koff! Something’s gripped your airway! Some chemical component of the taste/smell ingredients irritates your throat. It doesn’t happen to everyone; not every flavor makes you react this way. So, it’s some individual reaction to some green-apple-specific ingredient. Jolly Rancher suckers are not dropping like flies, so clearly it’s not dangerous. Your particular throat just doesn’t like it. The Jolly Rancher isn’t so jolly about the situation, but for the sake of the mass appeal of the product, it’s rare and unavoidable. No point in overhauling a successful candy to remove a critical and harmless ingredient that aggravates a few people.