5 Things Getting Bigger When No One’s Looking
You turn around and see something behind you. Later, you turn around again, and it’s bigger now. This means either it’s following you, or it has physically grown in size. Both these possibilities are terrifying.
The second possibility may actually be the scarier one. Especially when it’s something that definitely should not be growing, something like...
We’ve all joked about Australia being home to giant spiders, and scientists finally got around to assessing whether the problem is getting worse. University of Sydney researchers examined a bunch of golden orb weaving spiders — that’s the species pictured above — with the hypothesis that spiders in cities are growing larger. Measuring spiders is a surprisingly complex process. They took measurements of the spiders’ tibias (yes, spiders have tibias), and weighed the spiders’ ovaries (yes, spiders have ovaries). They needed to determine both whether individual specimens were large and whether the species has grown overall.
Their hypothesis proved half-right. Yes, urban spiders are getting bigger. Many other studies in other parts of the world back this up, while other ones don’t show any change. But also, scientists predicted that microhabitats in the city with little vegetation might lead to unhealthy spiders, but nope: So long as a city has plenty of hard surfaces overall, spiders there become uniformly bigger, all over. The issue seems to be that spiders thrive on heat. This is one of their many superpowers.
Bigger spiders help cities, since bigger spiders can gobble more bugs. They also serve as more food for birds. Of course, any change in the food web can spark unpredictable consequences, and spiders eating too many bugs or feeding too many birds could be disastrous, but a thorough analysis of the side effects leads the scientists to conclude that, yes, giant spiders are good news, everyone. Hooray for spiders. They’re like little kittens but are better since they have twice as many legs.
One part of your body grows for your entire life. We’re not talking about fat — many parts of your body grow when you eat more, but one part grows regardless. We’re not talking about nails and hair, either. Those aren’t organs growing; those are dead cells continuously pushed out. Your ears and nose, meanwhile, may look like they get longer when you age, but that’s a change in the structure of collagen rather than the organs growing in size.
We have one single confirmed example of an organ that grows, forever. It’s the lens of your eye. Each lens grows by 1.38 milligrams a year, and while that sounds like nothing, we have to take into account just how small lenses are to begin with. Between early adulthood and when you die, you can expect each lens to double in size.
This isn’t why vision degrades as you age — your lens will grow even if your vision stays perfect. That leaves us to speculate on the lens growth’s effects. Maybe big lenses allow old people to see through walls, which is why several unseen old people are looking at you this very moment.
As sea levels rise, countries all over the world have to reckon with losing some land. This loss will range from an inconvenience to apocalyptic. Naturally, this loss is not balanced from a gain in land anywhere, as that’s impossible. They’re not making any new land, as the old real estate slogan goes — other than a few nutty nations building artificial islands, and when the sea rises, those islands will be the first to go.
Finland is an exception. Finland gains 7 square kilometers (3 square miles) a year. No, it’s not because they’re so militant about combatting climate change that they’ve somehow convinced the sea to recede. They’re instead experiencing a phenomenon called post-glacial rebound. Finland used to be weighed down by ice, miles thick. The ice melted (not thanks to recent climate change; this happened 10,000 years ago), and the land has been bouncing back ever since. Finland rises about a centimeter every year and will keep doing this for, oh, around another 10,000 years.
While this has advantages, it also angers some people. Recordings as old as those from the 15th century describe furious Finns who set up shop on the coast and then found new land springing up, setting them farther away from the water. Back then, they assumed the problem was the ocean was falling, possibly because someone had pulled a plug out of the sea floor to drain it all.
Breasts are getting bigger, reported bra manufacturers around a decade ago. In 1980, the average bra was a 34B. By 2013, it had risen to 34DDD or 34E. We reached an era in which comedies and songs dropped punchlines about “double D” breasts as though talking of some idealized colossi, and women meanwhile rolled their eyes, muttering, “That’s below average, actually.”
Scientists greeted this announcement with skepticism. Why should we believe any study from bra makers, given that they released the results with the sole goal of getting people to think about buying new underwear? Isn’t it suspicious that they claim cup size has risen but band size hasn’t risen at all? And what if people’s breasts haven’t changed but they’ve just learned to buy better-fitting bras? These British university scientists researched data from thousands of people worldwide and concluded there’s no evidence of breasts getting bigger overall — if you look at the whole world, because there isn’t enough data covering the whole world to show any trends.
If you instead look just at the U.S. and U.K., countries with troves of data, yes, breasts have been growing. Going by bust circumference, the easiest of several metrics, the average white woman’s breast has increased at a steady annual rate for 50 years. The study looked at one race because if they looked at the countries overall, the average would rise due to demographic changes alone (e.g., the rise in the Hispanic population). The reason for the bigger breasts that she scientists observed? It’s the overall rise in obesity. Like we said earlier, many parts or your body grow when you eat more.
You might go up to one of those people experiencing the overall rise in obesity and call them a zoo animal, if you want to provoke violence today. Indeed, not only are some zoo animals large — they’re getting bigger, in a way that perplexes those in charge of them.
Lots of species of wild animals get larger. Sometimes, evolution favors size and even obesity. Pets are also getting larger and getting obese, because owners overfeed them. Zoo animals are a more complicated story. Zoo animals receive a controlled diet, which can go years without changing. Zoo animals perform set and scheduled exercise. There is no clear reason zoo animals should be getting obese. You might say it’s scientifically impossible.
Still, zoo animals are getting fatter, compared to similar zoo animals from generations ago. Consider, for example, some carefully monitored California chimps, weighed over the course of decades. After discounting such factors as the prevalence of vending machines (since chimps never carry exact change), the researchers had to turn to stranger explanations. Maybe the animals are under the influence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or maybe they’ve been infected with some obesity-causing virus. Maybe that’s also why we’re getting fatter, rather than the traditional explanation of overeating. Let’s celebrate this possibility — with a snack.