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    Some good news to brighten up your Mayday

    Credit: Belga

    Today is May Day, and Labour Day, but between one thing and another there are not many reasons to be cheerful.

    So here are a few, gleaned from Belgian media:

    From tomorrow, supermarkets and other shops will be able again to offer price discounts, which were outlawed at the beginning of the lockdown in an attempt to calm down panic-buying of goods such as toilet paper and pasta. People feared for shortages to come, but in fact the only shortages that arose were local, temporary and mainly caused by panic-buying.

    As a result of the embargo on discounts, supermarket prices rose in the first month of confinement by 2.6% on average, and for some products up to 10%.

    Palaeontologists from the Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences (commonly known as the dinosaur museum) have discovered a new species of whale. The skeleton of the whale was dug up during construction of the Kieldrecht Lock in the Port of Antwerp in 2013.

    The research has been carried out since then, and it was discovered that the whale is a previously unknown sort that swam in the North Sea about three million years ago, when the land where Antwerp now stands was still under sea-level. The whale has been named Antwerpibalaena liberatlas, which means “True whale of Antwerp with a free-floating atlas vertebra” – referring to the spinal characteristic that allows the whale to support a head that makes up one-third of its entire body weight.

    The month of April was “a very good summer month,” according to VRT weatherman Frank Deboosere, with 110 hours of sunshine more than normal for the time of year, and a temperature of 24.1 degrees on April 8 – the highest for that date since 1892.

    Birds of one species can learn the language of another, according to behaviour biologist Hans Van Dyck, speaking on the VRT. He was explaining an American research project which showed that starlings have only one alarm call, while the yellow warblers who share their habitat have several, depending on the nature of the danger. The researchers found that despite not being able to make the warbler calls themselves, they have learned to respond to the alert.

    There is a great deal of communicative complexity in birdsong,” he said.

    Tomorrow is World Naked Gardening Day, an international event celebrated every year since 2005 on the first Saturday in May. The Royal Meteorological Institute is forecasting a high of 14 degrees, wind-speed 4 and a 70% chance of rain.

    The Girl with the Pearl Earring, the subject of the famous painting by Johannes Vermeer, originally had eyelashes, according to an international research project that has been studying the painting for the last two years.

    Since the painting’s creation in 1665, the fine strokes of the eyelashes have faded from view, but researchers using macro X-ray fluorescence scanning and microscopic examination reveals that the eyelashes have left a trace, albeit invisible to the naked eye. The painting was sold in The Hague in 1881 to a collector for the equivalent of €2.30, and when he died he left it to the Mauritshuis museum, where it remains to this day.

    Alan Hope
    The Brussels Times