21 Weird Ways the World Changes in Autumn
Why leaves change color, autumn babies are smarter, and half the world enjoys mating season in unexpected ways every fall.
Squirrels get smarter
During the gray squirrel’s fall caching season, when the critters bury nuts and seeds in hundreds of scattered caches to serve as emergency winter larders, a typical squirrel shows a 15 percent increase in the size of its hippocampus—the memory and emotion center of the brain—compared to the rest of the year.
Fall babies are better students
If you’re not a squirrel, don’t fret. Human children born in autumn (September through December) are more likely to excel in school than those born at other times of the year, according to a UK Department of Education report. Here’s what else your birth month can predict about your health and life.
Fall babies are more likely to live longer
Adam Voorhies for Reader's Digest
Meanwhile, children born between September and November are more likely to live to be 100 than those born at other times of year, according to a University of Chicago study of 1,500 centenarians. One theory suggests that exposure to seasonal infections (especially in summer) early in life can have a long-lasting effect on health.
Autumn is good for the economy
At least, in foliage-blessed states like New Hampshire and Vermont. “Leaf peeping,” the slang term for fall leaf tourism, is reportedly a $3 billion dollar business in New England, where millions of out-of-state visitors flock to take in the changing colors. You might want to plan your own trip—this is why fall is the cheapest and best time to travel.
Fall leaf colors are actually present year-round
The gorgeous red, orange, and yellow pigments in fall foliage are actually there all year, just under the surface. Sunlight helps fuel plant cells containing a chemical called chlorophyll, which gives leaves its vivid green color while working to turn light into energy. When sunlight diminishes in fall, chlorophyll breaks down, letting the plant’s hidden red, yellow, and orange hues shine. Bring those bright hues indoors with these expert tips on how to decorate your home for fall.
Global warming could affect fall foliage
Relish the fall colors while you can. Scientists think that the rich reds, oranges, and yellows of fall may be one of the many casualties of global warming. Leaves change color in part because of cues taken from dropping temperatures. As temperatures remain warmer through fall and winter nights, they could delay the beloved fall color shift; One 2013 study found that fall colors now arrive five days later than they did 23 years earlier. To see the leaves at their prime, try these 11 best road trips for seeing stunning fall foliage.
Sex drive spikes in the fall
Testosterone levels in both men and women spike higher in autumn than at any other time of year, several studies found. As a result, sex drive increases and men find women even more attractive than during summer months. Do humans have a “mating season” like other animals? One thing is for sure: September is the most popular birth month of the year (here’s why.)
So does love
iStock/Eva Katalin Kondoros
Love is in the air on Facebook, too. An analysis of Facebook data found that more people change their relationship statuses from “single” to “in a relationship” or “engaged” in autumn than the yearly average, while more break-ups occurred in summer. It’s Facebook Official: Fall is for lovers.
Animals get libidinous in the fall too
Other animals have an even more obvious reaction to the fall mating season. The male Siberian hamster’s testes swell 17 times larger on short autumn days than long summer ones, preparing for mating season in the most awkward way possible.
Monarch butterflies peace out
Monarch butterflies, meanwhile, make autumn a migratory season, flying South from America to the relative warmth of Mexico and parts of California. Traveling at speeds of between 12 and 25 miles per hour (that’s just shy of Usain Bolt’s average 27.8 mph footspeed), they are the only insect that migrates up to 2,500 miles for nicer weather.
But don’t overlook the Arctic tern
Not to be outdone, the white and cuddly Arctic tern demonstrates an annual round-trip migration of 44,000 zigzagging miles between Greenland and the Antarctic—the world’s longest yearly commute for any species.
Autumn used to be called “harvest”
Until about 1500, autumn was just called “harvest.” The full moon closest to the autumn equinox is known as a harvest moon. Before cities electrified, the bright night of the harvest moon was essential for farmers harvesting their late-year crops.
Christmas trees owe their color to their needles
How do Christmas trees stay green in the coldest, darkest months? Thank the needles. Coniferous needles are compact, watertight, and generally harder for weather and insects to destroy. By slowing everything down, pine trees can photosynthesize year-round, keeping the chlorophyll at work and keeping the needles permanently green.
The aurora borealis is more likely to occur this time of year
Hungry for more mystical, colorful phenomenon? Turn your eyes North to the aurora borealis. Also known as the Northern Lights, these geomagnetic storms occur when charged solar particles squeeze through our atmosphere’s defenses and collide with gaseous particles in Earth’s sky. Thanks to longer, clearer nights, this free light show occurs twice as often during fall and winter months. Check out these 38 stunning photos of fall across America.
The autumnal equinox is pretty darn neat
The Autumn Equinox (which occurred on September 22, 2016) is one of two days a year when the sun is exactly in line with Earth’s celestial equator (think, the equator projected onto the sky). As a result, Earth receives exactly 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. The trick to remembering this is in the name: The word “equinox” comes from the Latin meaning “equal night.” Check out these other 13 cool facts about the fall equinox.
Lower levels of vitamin D can mess with your weight
Researchers think that lower levels of vitamin D (due to shorter days and less contact with sunshine) is in part responsible for autumn and winter weight gain. A lack of vitamin D is thought to reduce fat breakdown and trigger fat storage, leading to an average weight gain of two to four pounds each year in autumn and winter. Get the rest of your nutrients from these 27 foods that taste better in the fall.
Daylight saving time in the fall is good for us
Our bodies love to “fall back.” On November 6th, daylight savings time ends, giving us an extra hour of sleep. According to a New England Journal of Medicine report, Americans’ rate of heart attacks has been known to fall on the Monday following the end of daylight savings time in November, while the rate of both heart attacks and car accidents tends to rise on the Monday following the start of DST in Spring. Check out these other mind-blowing facts about daylight saving time.
“Autumn” movies aren’t Oscar-worthy
No film with “autumn” in its title has ever won an Oscar. The Virgin Spring (1960), Summer of ’42 (1971), and The Lion in Winter (1968) provide the other seasons one statue apiece.
Dia de Muertos is fascinating
One of the oldest autumn festivals is Mexico’s Dia de Muertos (November 1st and 2nd), a celebration of departed loved ones and the cycle of life that Mesoamerican cultures may have observed thousands of years before Christmas. Here are 10 fascinating things you never learned about Dia de Muertos.
More pumpkins, please!
Pumpkins, perhaps the most iconic image of autumn, are grown on six of the seven continents (sorry, Antarctica). Their name comes from the Greek word pepon, roughly meaning “large melon.” The word traded hands from French (pompon) to British (pumpion) before colonial Americans dubbed it pumpkin. The colonials went one step further: the phrase “pumpkin-head,” referring to a dork with short hair cut all around, is recorded in America as early as 1781. From pumpkin picking to making leaf art, here are 28 fun activities you need to do before autumn ends.
Some places never get to see autumn
Autumn is a fact of life for most of us, but in tropical climes near the Equator, like the Caribbean islands, weather stays beautifully mild all year. Temperatures in Puerto Rico, for example, range from 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit year round. Those places might be warm, but they don’t get to experience the 41 reasons fall is the best season of the year.