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mental_floss Fashion Week: We love Paris

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We at mental_floss may not be able to squeeze into European-size-36 pants (we need at least a 38), but that doesn't mean we can't appreciate Paris Fashion Week, which is ongoing -- and which we're marking all week long with a series of faaabulous posts. Nonetheless, feeling a bit self-conscious about our thighs, we decided to make today's post about the surroundings, rather than the doings. Hope you enjoy this little travelogue from our upcoming book, In the Beginning:

Ah, Paris: land of the crepe, the beret, and the River Seine"¦ Of course, only the river was there when Paris was founded. The place wasn't even called Paris at the time "“ Julius Caesar's legions, who controlled the area starting in 52 B.C., called it "Lutetia." (The word "Paris" comes from the Parisii tribe of Celtic traders who had settled the banks of the Ile de la Cite about 250 years earlier.) Lutetia was just a sleepy town in Gaul for most of the Roman Empire, and by the fall of said empire it was little more than a military outpost. Over the next 600 years or so, though, it served alternately as the home of the Frankish king Clovis I (who gave it its tribal-based name), the target of Viking raids, the feudal equivalent of a county seat "“ and, finally, in 987 AD, with the elevation of a local nobleman named Hugh Capet to the king's throne, a real capital of France.

Many of the landmarks associated with Paris weren't built until much later, in the 1200s. The Louvre was originally designed as a fortress (and later used as a palace), not a repository of great works of art. Notre Dame was mostly built by 1245 but wouldn't be completely finished for another 100 years. (Hey, you try building something like that without cranes and bulldozers.) Sainte Chapelle, another gorgeous church, opened its doors in 1248 as a house for Holy Land relics, including (supposedly) pieces of the "True Cross" and Jesus' crown of thorns. And the Sorbonne started enrolling students five years later at the behest of its founder, the infamous Armand Jean du Plessis. You know him as the Cardinal de Richelieu "“ the royal adviser so powerful that some historians consider him the world's first secretary of state.

Then there are the modern-day landmarks. Parisians are famously snobbish about their architecture "“ the Centre Pompidou and the Louvre's glass pyramid designed by I. M. Pei (and, alas, immortalized by Dan Brown) both provoked outrage when they were built. Their designers must have taken some solace in the fact that the Eiffel Tower, that symbol of all things Parisian, was also initially considered an eyesore when it was constructed for the International Exposition of 1889. The writer Guy de Maupassant, one of the fathers of the short story, famously patronized a restaurant inside the tower because it was the one place he wouldn't have to look at the building. Today, of course, the Eiffel Tower the most popular tourist draw in the city "“ and the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou are second and third.

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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images
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Animals
Fisherman Catches Rare Blue Lobster, Donates It to Science
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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Live lobsters caught off the New England coast are typically brown, olive-green, or gray—which is why one New Hampshire fisherman was stunned when he snagged a blue one in mid-July.

As The Independent reports, Greg Ward, from Rye, New Hampshire, discovered the unusual lobster while examining his catch near the New Hampshire-Maine border. Ward initially thought the pale crustacean was an albino lobster, which some experts estimate to be a one-in-100-million discovery. However, a closer inspection revealed that the lobster's hard shell was blue and cream.

"This one was not all the way white and not all the way blue," Ward told The Portsmouth Herald. "I've never seen anything like it."

While not as rare as an albino lobster, blue lobsters are still a famously elusive catch: It's said that the odds of their occurrence are an estimated one in two million, although nobody knows the exact numbers.

Instead of eating the blue lobster, Ward decided to donate it to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye. There, it will be studied and displayed in a lobster tank with other unusually colored critters, including a second blue lobster, a bright orange lobster, and a calico-spotted lobster.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy Murdoch University
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Animals
Australian Scientists Discover First New Species of Sunfish in 125 Years
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Courtesy Murdoch University

Scientists have pinpointed a whole new species of the largest bony fish in the world, the massive sunfish, as we learned from Smithsonian magazine. It's the first new species of sunfish proposed in more than 125 years.

As the researchers report in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, the genetic differences between the newly named hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) and its other sunfish brethren was confirmed by data on 27 different samples of the species collected over the course of three years. Since sunfish are so massive—the biggest can weigh as much as 5000 pounds—they pose a challenge to preserve and store, even for museums with large research collections. Lead author Marianne Nyegaard of Murdoch University in Australia traveled thousands of miles to find and collected genetic data on sunfish stranded on beaches. At one point, she was asked if she would be bringing her own crane to collect one.

Nyegaard also went back through scientific literature dating back to the 1500s, sorting through descriptions of sea monsters and mermen to see if any of the documentation sounded like observations of the hoodwinker. "We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time," she said in a press statement. "Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the 'hoodwinker.'"

Japanese researchers first detected genetic differences between previously known sunfish and a new, unknown species 10 years ago, and this confirms the existence of a whole different type from species like the Mola mola or Mola ramsayi.

Mola tecta looks a little different from other sunfish, with a more slender body. As it grows, it doesn't develop the protruding snout or bumps that other sunfish exhibit. Similarly to the others, though, it can reach a length of 8 feet or more. 

Based on the stomach contents of some of the specimens studied, the hoodwinker likely feeds on salps, a jellyfish-like creature that it probably chomps on (yes, sunfish have teeth) during deep dives. The species has been found near New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and southern Chile.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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