The 20 most "WTF" science discoveries of 2021

Scientific revelations that will make you wonder, “WTF?” This series will count down the 20 strangest or most interesting scientific stories through December 2021.

The 2021 countdown
WTF

Evolutionary scientists debunk a Darwinian theory of spicy food

Think about it.

WTF

Why one delicious food can help save the planet

Impress and delight!

WTF

Neuroscientists uncover a sensory “gateway” in the brain

How does the unconscious become conscious?

WTF

How did the dinosaurs die? The answer is not what you think

Fire, brimstone, or a long, slow march to the grave?

WTF

Physicists are rethinking how we measure time

Time is all a matter of atoms.

WTF

In Japan’s Fukushima, boar-pig hybrids rule

Nature finds a way.

Science

Marsquakes reveal the ultra metal nature of the Red Planet's core

NASA Mars InSight researchers confirmed this year that Mars has a liquid metal core like Earth, which could be the source of Marsquakes that shake the Red Planet.

WTF

Astronomers discover an unexplainable chemical phenomenon at work in comets

A pair of papers published this year calls into question the current understanding of comet formation and the chemical processes governing them.

WTF

Humans share at least 93 percent of their DNA with two mysterious ancient peoples — study

We are not special.

WTF

Are dogs self-aware? Study shows a striking similarity to human cognition

I boop, therefore I am.

WTF

Scientists have a new theory explaining liquid water on Mars

The theory rests on a phenomenon well-documented on Earth.

WTF

Planet 9: Is Earth’s long-lost twin lurking in the outer Solar System?

Early drafts of the Solar System are messy.

WTF

A critical creature for human survival is rapidly declining

This is not good.

look sharp

165-million-year-old fossil reveals new dinosaur with armor fused to its bones

Meet the punk of the late Jurassic period.

come, again?

Scientists challenge hormone theory of why men need to wait for round two

How is this still a mystery?

but were they deadheads?

Geneticists reveal the evolutionary origins of Cannabis sativa

It’s not easy being green.

2020
levitation

'Anti-gravity' experiment defies physics using one simple trick

Is physics broken?

here kitty

The science behind catnip’s potent powers, explained

This trick of evolution will blow your mind.

Fossil Finds

An ancient case of mistaken identity reveals a strange amphibian

You won't be able to keep up with the twists and turns in this story.

glamor shot

3.2 billion-pixel space camera captures largest photo ever

Scientists have designed a camera capable of capturing 3.2 billion-pixel images, and they tried it out on some vegetables.

party sheep

This is a sheep's brain on ketamine

Drugged sheep could be the future of treatments for depression.

Science

Finally, scientists find the oldest sperm in the world

Old and massive.

oozing

Vaping coats the mouth in a "slime-cloak" — study

E-cigarettes can totally mess with the microbes in your mouth.

Medical Mishaps

Chloroquine: the miracle drug that never was

It was never meant to be.

pill box

Brain-boosting supplements may be laced with unapproved foreign drugs — study

These supplements may not be a smart choice.

Science

This ancient worm-like creature is an evolutionary miracle

It is pure fate that we do not share the Earth with them.

bear cat

Saber-tooth tigers may have been the size of grand pianos — study

Scientists have found a skull sample in Uruguay that changes what we think about saber-tooth tigers.

Complex Sex

This duck's semen holds a surprising clue to animal evolution

Sperm may be mallard ducks' superpower.

Shark Attack

Fossil teeth confirm our wildest fears about this ancient predator

Jaws has nothing on this fella.

treats

Mummified Ice Age puppy's final snack stuns scientists

Wooly rhino, anyone?

Fecal Findings

Researchers find one big surprise in this pizza-munching lizard

Hold your nose.

Cruel Intentions

This Australian spider evolved to kill us — here’s why

This will seriously freak you out.

2019
Science

The 25 most “WTF” science stories of 2019

Things got weird this year. Real weird.

Mind and Body

Scientists discover a “therapeutic gold mine” in one surprising place

Everyone hates it, but snot might solve many of our woes.

Mind and Body

Mutants among us: "Natural short sleepers" reveal the genetics of sleep

Understanding why some people need just 4 to 6 hours sleep a night could lead to better sleep for everyone.

Mind and Body

The science-backed guide to intermittent fasting, 2019's most popular diet

In 2019, Inverse asked the experts what intermittent fasting actually does to your body.

Science

Ancient humans procreated with at least four other species

In 2019, the human family tree got a little more complicated.

Mind and Body

Peeing at night could cost the United States' economy billions 

Midnight nature calls cause unwelcome disruptions to sleep -- but the costs may be even higher. 

Mind and Body

How a "fussy eater" went blind from a junk food diet  

This rare, devastating condition is usually only seen in war zones.

Mind and Body

Pfizer study argues Viagra may improve an unexpected type of performance 

Viagra's parent company tried to expand its empire from the bedroom to the office in 2019.

Mind and Body

How Medieval Christians built the modern nuclear family

A centuries-old cultural shift still influences families -- and you -- today.

Mind and Body

Almost all near-death experiences have these visions in common -- study

Deceased relatives and dark tunnels are just the beginning. 

Mind and Body

'Cats' is undeniably creepy, and there's a psychological reason for it

They're sexy. They're creepy. They live in the uncanny valley.

Mind and Body

Scientific breakthrough may push an aphrodisiac mushroom into the mainstream

The fungus can be found protruding from the corpse of a dead caterpillar.

Mind and Body

Study reveals what happens to the brain on LSD

The psychedelic experience has a lot in common with sensory overload.

Mind and Body

How copulating rabbits helped reveal the evolutionary roots of female orgasms

A rabbit called Frank and his female partners co-wrote a new chapter in the history of orgasms. 

Science

How a 24-year-old mystery was solved by a shark tooth

This summer, a crack team of scientists used advanced DNA technology to solve a shark-attack cold case.

Mind and Body

Six-fingered people exemplify why an extra digit means a better hand

Some polydactyly people have "superior" abilities.

2018
Mind and Body

Snapchat Dysmorphia: Plastic Surgeons Are Concerned About Effect of Filters

The latest cosmetic ideal is a dangerous one to pursue.

Science

Ancient Mummy Mistaken for a Hawk Was Actually a Human Baby

Look again.

Mind and Body

Having Big Genitals Drove a Species Extinct

In defense of being average.

Mind and Body

There's a High Concentration of Psychopaths in Washington, D.C.

"Psychopaths prefer both opportunities for power and the anonymity that a city can offer."

Science

A 5-Foot Tapeworm Grew Inside a Man Because He Ate Too Much Raw Salmon

There's a picture to prove it.

Science

A Woman Died From "Apitherapy," a Bee Acupuncture Treatment

Here's why the Gwyneth Paltrow-approved procedure is such a bad idea.

Science

The Mystery of Wombats' Cube-Shaped Poop Has Finally Been Solved

"I was very, very skeptical because I didn’t think that poop could be square."

Science

Ancient White Stuff in Egyptian Tomb Turned Out to Be World's Oldest Cheese

Bust out the crackers!

Mind and Body

UK Woman Had Contact Lens Lodged in Her Eye for 28 Years

She mistakenly though it had fallen out.

Science

Mona Lisa's Enigmatic Smile Explained by a Common Medical Condition

There's more to the famous portrait than meets the eye.

Science

Scientists Killed the Kilogram in 2018, Long Live the Kilogram

It's been reborn as something much better: the kilogram.

Science

Giant Hogweed Burned the Heck Out of Americans in 2018

An enormous ornamental plant seared the flesh of its victims.

Science

WTF, Condom Challenge: Teens Started Snorting Condoms and Doctors Got Mad

Remember the Condom Challenge? That was this year.

Mind and Body

Viagra: Erectile Dysfunction Drug Prevents Colon Polyps in Mouse Study

A pleasant surprise.

Mind and Body

The Great Laurel vs. Yanny Divide Didn't Have to Happen, Says Linguist

All that fuss for nothing.

Science

Here's an Ear Growing on an Arm Thanks to the US Army

It gave a wounded soldier a second chance.