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Why Cats Meow

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Cat owners will tell you they can detect the difference between a contented meow and an annoyed meow, a scared meow and a playful meow, and so on. This is, perhaps, by design -- cats, as it turns out, rarely meow to one another. Most often their meows are directed at their owners, and slight modulations can carry different meanings.

For instance, when I've been away for a few days, my cat starts in with the Hey, quit leaving, I missed you meows, which are clipped and rapid, and come out in a long stream that can last, maddeningly, for hours. (I appreciate the sentiment, cat -- but shut up!) According to the ASPCA, these are other common meows:

The what's up meow, which depending on your cat's mood you can expect when you walk into a room, encounter the cat in the yard, or speak to your cat. I can attest to that last one: my cat's pretty talkative, and you can have entire back-and-forth "conversations" with her, with me saying only her name. It's cute, if not terribly enlightening.

The play with me meow. "Cats enjoy social contact with people, and some will be quite vocal in their requests for attention."

To ask for food. "Most cats like to eat," the ASPCA helpfully points out, "and they can be quite demanding around mealtimes. Some cats learn to meow whenever anyone enters the kitchen, just in case food might be forthcoming."

Let me in / out. My cat hates-hates-HATES closed doors of any kind, which makes life a little difficult when, say, I'm trying to sleep in one room and my wife is watching TV in the next room; kitty goes nuts if I close the door. Damn cat.

The senile meow. "Elderly cats suffering from mental confusion, or cognitive dysfunction, may meow if they become disoriented—a frequent symptom of this feline version of Alzheimer’s Disease."

• The one major exception to the "cats don't meow to one another very often" rule seems to be when they're looking for mates, in which case they start yowling like nobody's business.

Of course, there are many shades of meaning when it comes to feline vocalization -- cat owners, what are some of the things your cat tries to communicate? Anything weirdly specific or funny?

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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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