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A Sea Lion that Dances to the Backstreet Boys

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By Chris Gayomali

Some birds—like this inexplicable, Lady Gaga-loving Cockatoo—have shown that animals can indeed follow a beat. They can bob their heads and "dance." But outside of a few mimetic parrots, few creatures (including me) have demonstrated any skill whatsoever moving in an aesthetically pleasing manner to a basic 4/4 rhythm. At least until now.

Meet Ronan the sea lion. Psychologists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, say she's the first non-human mammal to show an affinity for—dramatic pause—the art of dance. (Watch below.)

"From my first interactions with her, it was clear that Ronan was a particularly bright sea lion," lead researcher Peter Cook, a psychology grad student at UC Santa Cruz, tells NBC News. "Everybody in the animal cognition world, including me, was intrigued by the dancing-bird studies, but I remember thinking that no one had attempted a strong effort to show beat-keeping in an animal other than a parrot." He adds: "I figured training a mammal to move in time to music would be hard, but Ronan seemed like an ideal subject."

For several months, Cook and his team spent their weekends working with Ronan to move her head in time to the music. (An arduous task that involved plenty of snacks and head-bobbing demonstrations, which you'll enjoy picturing in your head.) Over time, the talented sea lion learned to perfectly keep time to Earth Wind & Fire's "Boogie Wonderland" (Ronan's fave) and an indiscriminate Backstreet Boys song that isn't "I Want it That Way."

"The fact that we showed Ronan could do it means there's a raw capability in sea lions," says Cook. He hopes her online stardom will reveal other adorable animals who have the similar cognitive ability to maintain a funky beat. You know. For science.

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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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