Election day diversions

by Greg Mayer

Here in the U.S. it’s election day, and Americans are going to the polls to vote (many have already cast ballots in early voting). To divert you while awaiting the results (we’re expecting them at 3:00 PM Chicago time), here are a couple of items.

First, the following photo is of identical twins. Does it look like they are? Think about it first, and then post your thoughts in the comments. I’m sure most readers will figure it out.

Identical twins.

Identical twins.

Second, my correspondent in Yokosuka, Japan, sends the following photo, and comments, “If I told you I just got a rugby playing squirrel from a vending machine in a camera store you’d think it was weird, but then remember I’m in Japan…. I especially like how the nut is the ball.”

A rugby-playing squirrel from Yokosuka, Japan.

A rugby-playing squirrel from Yokosuka, Japan.

The squirrel seems to be stretching for a try. If anyone can read the accompanying brochure, please translate it for us.  I didn’t realize rugby was well enough known in Japan to be the subject of toys, but rugby is popular in a number of places you might not associate with the sport.


  1. Geoff Toscano
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I assume each has an identical twin but that they themselves aren’t sisters?

    • Florian
      Posted November 8, 2016 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Ah, very good. I wasn’t clever enough to figure it out.

      • Mike
        Posted November 9, 2016 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        Me either.duh

    • darrelle
      Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      Going just by that picture I would believe that they are identical twins and sisters. One appears to be wearing make-up and the other appears not to be. Other than that they look close enough to be identical twins to me.

      • Geoff Toscano
        Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        They don’t seem to be identical but perhaps related. Cousins?

        • darrelle
          Posted November 8, 2016 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

          Could be. I’m looking forward to the reveal.

          When I compare specific features, like chin, cheeks, nose, eyes, hair line, head shape and so on, they look very much alike. The differences I see in the eyes, eyebrows and the shading on their faces are well within what I would expect to see with the same person if comparing pictures of them with make-up vs no make-up.

    • Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      That was my first thought but this being a science blog, I mean website, I’m guessing it’s something more interesting (see below).

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink


  3. Andrew Laycock
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Are you kidding? The Japanese national RU team produced the biggest upset in rugby history, by beating the South African Springboks in the World Cup. The reaction of the Japanese fans was utterly ecstatic – rightly so.

    • Dominic
      Posted November 9, 2016 at 3:39 am | Permalink

      England stole their coach! 🙂

  4. Redlivingblue
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Don’t think they are each other’s twin… teeth look too different. Perhaps they are both identical twins , but not related to each other.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 8, 2016 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      Or identical twins who are sisters, but not each other’s twin.
      Actually, it’s not impossible that they are both identical twins, and also fraternal twins.

      • eric
        Posted November 9, 2016 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        Ah, that took me a second. You’re implying there were two fertilized eggs, and each of those twinned. That would explain the reason they look similar – same mom and dad, if not identical to each other. Very interesting idea.

        Though I have say, they look developmentally similar enough to be identical twins to me. As someone else mentioned, between lifestyle differences, make up, etc., if I met these two people and they claimed they were (each other’s) identical twins, I wouldn’t really be suspicious they were lying because they look that similar (at least pictorially).

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted November 10, 2016 at 3:44 am | Permalink

          same mom and dad

          And same development environment too.

  5. Kevin
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Either I am unaware of all of the permutations of identical twins, or I would say, at face value, they are not twins.

  6. Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Something to do with epigenetics? Same DNA but different genetic expression?


    • Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      I’m sticking with this. Monozygotic twins but the DNA has been ‘read’ differently, hence different phenotypes.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        Interesting idea, but what would cause that?

        Maybe the embryo split at a relatively late stage, after some cells had already been tagged for tissue differentiation?

        • Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

          Applying Google-fu, just came across the term ‘discordant monozygotic twins’ which appears to be an epigenetic effect:


          (Will be so disappointed if it turns out to be a trick question, e.g. twins – but not of each other!)

          • Ralph
            Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

            Given that Jerry said most readers will figure it out, it seems unlikely to be something so unusual, interesting though it is. I’m pretty sure the “trick question” resolution is correct.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted November 8, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

              It was Greg Mayer who said that, but I agree with Speaker that the “trick question” resolution would be pretty lame, equivalent to calling Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump “siblings”.

    • Ralph
      Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      Sure, but this is true for all identical twins.

      The significance of “epigenetics” is often wildly exaggerated. In this context, it is simply one component in the machinery by which gene expression routinely responds to environment. It is not even the most important component, since the “CPU” of gene regulation consists principally of transcription factors. In gene regulation, it’s a complete fallacy that epigenetics was any kind of paradigm shift: we ALWAYS knew that gene expression responds to environment, it would be ridiculous to suppose otherwise.

      The aspect of epigenetics that WOULD potentially be a pardigm shift would be if epigenetic markers were stably inherited through the germline, since this might amount to bona fide Lamarckism. But this has only been shown under limited circumstances for one or two generations; it is not therefore a significant factor in evolution.

      • Posted November 8, 2016 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        I think I first came across the word ‘epigenetics’ in reference to something about obesity in cloned mice.

        Clones are ‘twins’ of a sort because they share DNA but they can be quite different.

        That’s why I’m not to worried about Trump getting up to some Jurassic Park mischief with Hitler’s hairbrush.

  7. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    On the assumption that the caption is an honest description of the two women’s relationship, and not an attempt to trick us, I can think of several explanations for why they look slightly different.

    They might have had different sorts of physical training. Maybe one is a dancer and one is a musician, or one a swimmer and one a tennis player.

    Or perhaps one of them was born with a congenital (but not genetic) medical condition that entails a lifelong regimen of medication that subtly affects facial development.

    Or maybe they just like to defy expectations by dressing and doing their hair differently.

    On the other hand, if the caption is meant to trick us, then my best guess is that they’re non-twin sisters from a family with more than one set of twins.

  8. Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I think I detect an Adam’s apple on the twin on the left- a transgender twin?

    • Ralph
      Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      If so, there would have to be more to the story – identical twins are always the same sex.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 8, 2016 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        … to start with.
        Ohh, that would blow a few fuses in certain states.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      The neck on the left looks pretty normal to me for a female dancer or athlete.

  9. Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    P.S. not intentionally anonymous, opened WordPress account years ago with that moniker, will see if I can change it, Adrian Johnson.

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    The above suggestions about the twins all seem pretty reasonable. They figured it out in different ways.

  11. Posted November 8, 2016 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    If I am not mistaken the squirrel is not stretching for a try. He’s doing a dive pass, an athletic and aesthetic move, performed by number 9, the halfback (or scrumhalf in some rugby playing countries). Basically the halfback, typically the smallest player in the team, puts the ball into the scrum (a gathering of all the forwards [power guys] from both teams), then gets it back, then needs to clear it quickly to the line of backs [speed guys] arrayed outside of him. The idea is to dive towards them as he passes it, hopefully accelerating the pass. Rarely seen today. Popularised I believe by Danie Craven, the South African halfback in the 1930s, and decades later their premier administrator (and shamefully, protector of apartheid in rugby there).

    Who says living in New Zealand and absorbing the rugby culture here has no benefits? Incidentally, yes Japan really did beat South Africa, our greatest rivals last year. Much to the amusement of NZers. One of our points of pride is that we are have never been beaten by any ‘minnow’ team, only (very occasionally) by a select group of top tier teams. Losing to Japan remains unthinkable, but we did lose to Ireland in Chicago on the weekend for the first time in 116 years of playing against them. Strangely enough in the hometown of the Chicago Cubs, a few days after they broke one of the most storied droughts in all of sport. Chicago, home of Professor Ceiling Cat. Everything links up if you look at it long enough.

  12. sgo
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Loose translation of the folder with the squirrel:

    “Squirrel kick’s acorn can be held in both hands!”

    Red team (text in red/white acorn)

    The 6 different figures:
    1) Squirrel kick? (brown)
    2) Squirrel try (brown)
    3) Squirrel kick? (white)

    Green team (in green/white acorn)
    4) Squirrel kick? (brown)
    5) Squirrel try (brown)
    6) Squirrel try (white)

    Text under green team:
    Actual toy and picture may differ.
    As in the picture, you can place the acorn in its hood or in the squirrel’s hands.

    Far right front of folder: Capsule collection. 6 different figures in total. Rugby squirrel.

    They’re 200 yen each (about $2).

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    I see the resemblance, but they’re not likely to make the cut for a Doublemint® commercial.

    • Filippo
      Posted November 8, 2016 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps you’d care to directly contact them and tell them that.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 8, 2016 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

        I meant solely in terms of their resemblance to each other — they look close, but not quite close enough to sing the Doublemint gum jingle together.

        • Filippo
          Posted November 8, 2016 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

          Thank you kindly for your clarification.

  14. Ralph
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    To recall another interesting twin story from WEIT in 2015:


  15. Ralph
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    I found this instance of two pairs of identical twins in one “litter” of quadruplets.


    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 8, 2016 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      I’d just worked out that possibility a couple of comments ago. Glad to see I’m not utterly divorced from reality.

  16. Posted November 8, 2016 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    In retrospect, I can see that the squirrel packaging illustration really does show him stretching out for a try. Sorry. However in the photo the ball is separated and it really does look like a dive pass. Google Danie Craven dive pass for one of the classic sporting photos. A real coup to capture him in mid flight like that with 1930s photographic technology. (I think the image is from SA v NZ in NZ, 1937. They won the series 4-0. Shudder. I will never talk of this again).

  17. rationalmind
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Identical twins can sometimes be a little different and it depends on the situation.
    This is a rather peculiar example of two Korean girls separated at birth and raised in separate countries.
    In this photo it is clear that they look a little different

    However they are actually so identical that a friend of the French twin on the left was able to spot the American twin on the right, who is a professional actress on youtube. This led to them being reunited.

    Here I can’t tell who is who

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 8, 2016 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      That point about the friend recognising the twin highlights an interesting point about the very powerful pattern-recognising and integrating abilities of the brain. (Something that, I imagine, the AI people would love to emulate).

      In that photo, if you superimposed one face on the other, nothing would line up. Yet obviously, to anyone looking at it, the similarities are extremely strong.


  18. rickflick
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 6:27 pm | Permalink


    • rickflick
      Posted November 8, 2016 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      I know identical twin boys who are quite easily distinguishable. Never knew why. Epigenetics?

      • Ralph
        Posted November 8, 2016 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

        If you are suggesting that they inherited different epigenetic profiles from their parents via the germline, no there’s no evidence for that.

        Phenotype = genes + environment. Identical twins have identical genes but a different environment, including possibly the uterine environment. That’s why identical twins look slightly different. Genes are expressed differently in response to a different environment.

  19. John Yarzagaray
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm. This is my 2nd try at a comment. Sorry if this gets posted twice. Maybe they were frozen embryo twins but one was thawed and implanted earlier than the other. The one on the right just might look like a younger version of the woman on the left. Just a wild guess.

  20. Ralph
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Looking at the photo closely again, quite honestly I DO think they look the same. I was assuming that Greg’s hint meant they were supposed to look sufficiently different that we had to find some alternative explanation. But based on the photo alone, I really don’t see why these are not just identical twins. Different environment always creates slight differences, but the shape of their faces, all their features, build, look identical to me.

  21. John Yarzagaray
    Posted November 9, 2016 at 12:30 am | Permalink

    Lopsided x-inactivation could be another possibility. Or maybe they were just raised apart like another commenter suggested. But I’m hoping for a more science-y answer. If it’s just makeup or lighting, I’d feel pretty let down.

  22. Posted November 9, 2016 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    I’m going with that they are “fraternal” (sororital? ;)) twins. (Heterozygotic? Is that the right word? It has been a while.)

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