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Edinburgh Zoo

Sir Nils Olav, Norway’s Penguin Knight

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Edinburgh Zoo

The United States Marines have their bulldogs and the Army has their mules, but the Norwegian Royal Guard has a mascot a little more accustomed to colder temperatures: Nils Olav, a King Penguin who is also a Colonel-in-Chief and a knight. As implausible as it seems, the story of how a humble bird ascended to such a distinguished title is actually more straightforward than you’d think.

In 1913, to commemorate the Edinburgh Zoo’s opening, Norwegian citizen Christian Salvesen presented the Zoo with its first King Penguin, paving the way for positive, pro-penguin relations between Scotland and Norway from that day forward. In 1961, as part of their routine visit to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an annual international army display, the Norwegian King’s Guard happened upon the Zoo’s penguin exhibit. Lieutenant Nils Egelien was enchanted by the waddling birds, and returned in 1972 with the intent of adopting one of them as the army’s new mascot. He did, and it was named Nils Olav, both for the penguin-loving lieutenant and in homage to Olav V, the King of Norway at the time.

Upon his adoption, Nils Olav was immediately given the title of visekorporal, or lance corporal—the lowest rank granted to a non-commissioned officer. When the King’s Guard returned, they upped his officer status: a decade after his first adoption, Norway’s mascot became Corporal Nils Olav. Over the years, Nils has risen through the ranks, from Sergeant to Regimental Sergeant Major to Honorable Regimental Sergeant Major until finally, in 2005, he became the Colonel-in-Chief he is today. Being a penguin doesn’t excuse him from the rules of uniform dress, either—in the absence of a military uniform, he wears the insignia tied to his right flipper.

So what exactly does a penguin do to merit moving upwards through the ranks of the Norwegian military, despite never having seen combat? According to the Guardsmen, Nils continues to be honored for his “outstanding service and good conduct”; presumably, that means he plays well with other penguins and stands tall when called to attention. On August 15, 2008, Nils’s good behavior took him all the way to knighthood, as British Major General Euan Loudon ceremonially dropped a sword on each of the penguin’s winged sides, standing in place of the Norwegian king. King Harald V, though not present at the ceremony, issued a citation to congratulate the penguin on his conduct, describing Nils as “in every way qualified to receive the honor and dignity of knighthood”—not too shabby for a bird who can’t fly.

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Animals
Australian Charity Releases Album of Cat-Themed Ballads to Promote Feline Welfare
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iStock

An Australian animal charity is helping save the nation’s kitties one torch song at a time, releasing a feline-focused musical album that educates pet owners about how to properly care for their cats.

Around 35,000 cats end up in pounds, shelters, and rescue programs every year in the Australian state of New South Wales, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Microchipping and fixing cats, along with keeping closer tabs on them, could help reduce this number. To get this message out, the RSPCA’s New South Wales chapter created Cat Ballads: Music To Improve The Lives Of Cats.

The five-track recording is campy and fur-filled, with titles like "Desex Me Before I Do Something Crazy" and "Meow Meow." But songs like “I Need You” might tug the heartstrings of ailurophiles with lyrics like “I guess that’s goodbye then/but you’ve done this before/the window's wide open/and so’s the back door/you might think I’m independent/but you’d be wrong.” There's also a special version of the song that's specifically designed for cats’ ears, featuring purring, bird tweets, and other feline-friendly noises.

Together, the tunes remind us how vulnerable our kitties really are, and provide a timely reminder for cat owners to be responsible parents to their furry friends.

“The Cat Ballads campaign coincides with kitten season, which is when our shelters receive a significantly higher number of unwanted kittens as the seasons change,” Dr. Jade Norris, a veterinary scientist with the RSPCA, tells Mental Floss. “Desexing cats is a critical strategy to reduce unwanted kittens.”

Listen to a song from Cat Ballads below, and visit the project’s website for the full rundown.

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Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
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Animals
Scientists Discover 'Octlantis,' a Bustling Octopus City
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Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Octopuses are insanely talented: They’ve been observed building forts, playing games, and even walking on dry land. But one area where the cephalopods come up short is in the social department. At least that’s what marine biologists used to believe. Now a newly discovered underwater community, dubbed Octlantis, is prompting scientists to call their characterization of octopuses as loners into question.

As Quartz reports, the so-called octopus city is located in Jervis Bay off Australia’s east coast. The patch of seafloor is populated by as many as 15 gloomy octopuses, a.k.a. common Sydney octopuses (octopus tetricus). Previous observations of the creatures led scientists to think they were strictly solitary, not counting their yearly mating rituals. But in Octlantis, octopuses communicate by changing colors, evict each other from dens, and live side by side. In addition to interacting with their neighbors, the gloomy octopuses have helped build the infrastructure of the city itself. On top of the rock formation they call home, they’ve stored mounds of clam and scallop shells and shaped them into shelters.

There is one other known gloomy octopus community similar to this one, and it may help scientists understand how and why they form. The original site, called Octopolis, was discovered in the same bay in 2009. Unlike Octlantis, Octopolis was centered around a manmade object that had sunk to the seabed and provided dens for up to 16 octopuses at a time. The researchers studying it had assumed it was a freak occurrence. But this new city, built around a natural habitat, shows that gloomy octopuses in the area may be evolving to be more social.

If that's the case, it's unclear why such octo-cities are so uncommon. "Relative to the more typical solitary life, the costs and benefits of living in aggregations and investing in interactions remain to be documented," the researchers who discovered the group wrote in a paper published in Marine and Freshwater Behavior and Physiology [PDF].

It’s also possible that for the first time in history humans have the resources to see octopus villages that perhaps have always been bustling beneath the sea surface.

[h/t Quartz]

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