In 1986, the residents of Chernobyl were forced to flee their homes when the town’s nuclear power plant turned into a disaster zone. The area of Ukraine has been without a permanent human population ever since, but that doesn’t mean it’s empty. The landscape is teeming with insects, plant life, and even radioactive puppies descended from the house pets that were abandoned there 31 years ago.
A new mini documentary from Cloth Map explores the lives of some of Chernobyl’s cutest occupants. In the “Puppies of Chernobyl,” the tiny animals can be seen playing, wagging their tails, and running around just like domesticated dogs. Though the stray dogs tend to gather around places with the most tourist activity, like Chernobyl’s canteen, contact between humans and puppies is discouraged. As host Drew Scanlon explains in the video below, “Visitors are advised not to touch animals in the exclusion zone because they could carry radioactive particles in their fur.”
According to Newsweek, the radioactivity goes even deeper than that. When the American nonprofit Clean Futures Fund surveyed dogs in the exclusion zone, they found pockets of radioisotopes in their bones. The organization has set up a spay and neuter clinic nearby to keep the line of Chernobyl dogs from proliferating.
Parts of Chernobyl have been open to visitors since 2011, but officials still warn about the health risks posed to visitors who don’t follow the rules. Despite this, some explorers, like YouTube star Bionerd23, have been known to taste-test radioactive apples and feed catfish off the designated path. Even the workers with the Clean Futures Fund can’t resist petting the puppies in Chernobyl, but at least they know enough to wash their hands afterwards.
For centuries, dogs were dogs and cats were cats. They did things like bark and drink water and lay down—actions that pet parents didn’t need a translator to understand.
Then the internet arrived. Scroll through the countless Facebook groups and Twitter accounts dedicated to sharing cute animal pictures and you’ll quickly see that dogs don’t have snouts, they have snoots, and cats come in a colorful assortment of shapes and sizes ranging from smol to floof.
Pet meme language has been around long enough to start leaking into everyday conversation. If you're a pet owner (or lover) who doesn’t want to be out of the loop, here are the terms you need to know.
You know your pet is fully relaxed when they’re doing a sploot. Like a split but for the whole body, a sploot occurs when a dog or cat stretches so their bellies are flat on the ground and their back legs are pointing behind them. The amusing pose may be a way for them to take advantage of the cool ground on a hot day, or just to feel a satisfying stretch in their hip flexors. Corgis are famous for the sploot, but any quadruped can do it if they’re flexible enough.
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images for ASPCA
Unlike most items on this list, the word derp isn’t limited to cats and dogs. It can also be a stand-infor such expressions of stupidity as “duh” or “dur.” In recent years the term has become associated with clumsy, clueless, or silly-looking cats and dogs. A pet with a tongue perpetually hanging out of its mouth, like Marnie or Lil Bub, is textbook derpy.
If you’ve ever caught a cat or dog poking the tip of its tongue past its front teeth, you’ve seen a blep in action. Unlike a derpy tongue, a blep is subtle and often gone as quickly as it appears. Animal experts aren’t entirely sure why pets blep, but in cats it may have something to do with the Flehmen response, in which they use their tongues to “smell” the air.
Mlems and bleps, though very closely related, aren’t exactly the same. While blep is a passive state of being, mlem is active. It’s what happens when a pet flicks its tongue in and out of its mouth, whether to slurp up water, taste food, or just lick the air in a derpy fashion. Dogs and cats do it, of course, but reptiles have also been known to mlem.
Some pets barely have any fur, and others have coats so voluminous that hair appears to make up most of their bodyweight. Dogs and cats in the latter group are known as floofs. Floofy animals will famously leave a wake of fur wherever they sit and can squeeze through tight spaces despite their enormous mass. Samoyeds, Pomeranians, and Persian cats are all prime examples of floofs.
According to some corners of the internet, dogs don’t bark, they bork. Listen carefully next time you’re around a vocal doggo and you won’t be able to unhear it.
Speaking of doggos: This word isn’t hard to decode. Every dog—regardless of size, floofiness, or derpiness—can be a doggo. If you’re willing to get creative, the word can even be applied to non-dog animals like fennec foxes (special doggos) or seals (water doggos). The usage of doggo saw a spike in 2016 thanks to the internet and by the end of 2017 it was listed as one of Merriam-Webster’s “Words We’re Watching.”
Some pets are so adorably, unbearably tiny that using proper English to describe them just doesn’t cut it. Not every small pet is smol: To earn the label, a cat or dog (or kitten or puppy) must excel in both the tiny and cute departments. A pet that’s truly smol is likely to induce excited squees from everyone around it.
Like doggo, pupper is self-explanatory: It can be used in place of the word puppy, but if you want to use it to describe a fully-grown doggo who’s particularly smol and cute, you can probably get away with it.
We’ve already established that doggos go bork, but that’s not the only sound they make. A low, deep bark—perhaps from a dog that can’t decide if it wants to expend its energy on a full bark—is best described as a boof. Consider a boof a warning bark before the real thing.
Snoot was already a dictionary-official synonym for nose by the time dog meme culture took the internet by storm. But while snoot is rarely used to describe human faces today, it’s quickly becoming the preferred term for pet snouts. There’s even a wholesome viral challenge dedicated to dogs poking their snoots through their owners' hands.
Have you ever seen a dog snoot so cute you just had to reach out and tap it? And when you did, was your action accompanied by an involuntary “boop” sound? This urge is so universal that boop is now its own verb. Humans aren’t the only ones who can boop: Search the word on YouTube and treat yourself to hours of dogs, cats, and other animals exchanging the love tap.
It’s no hammerhead shark, but the hammerhead flatworm has become a real menace in France. Or at least a menace to earthworms, as Earther reports.
Believed to be an invasive species from Asia, the hammerhead flatworm was only recently recorded in France, as is documented in a new study (titled "Giant worms chez moi!") published in the journal PeerJ. However, based on reports, photographs, and videos sent in by citizens across the country, scientists determined the pests have gone undetected for nearly 20 years. This came as a shock, especially because the worms can measure more than a foot in length.
In recent years, three species of the carnivorous worm have quietly taken over French gardens and have even been spotted in metropolitan areas. Some species immobolize their prey with tetrodotoxin, the same powerful neurotoxin that makes pufferfish so poisonous. The worms secrete digestive enzymes, allowing them to dissolve earthworms and slugs their size.
Jean-Lou Justine, co-author of the study, says their eating habits are a concern. "Earthworms are a major component of the soil biomass and a very important element in the ecology of soils," Justine tells Earther. "Any predator which can diminish the populations of earthworms is thus a threat to soil ecology."
Archie Murchie, an entomologist who was not involved in the study, told The Washington Post that the worms will continue to spread in step with global trade. The worms were also seen in overseas French territories, including one worm with a blue-green hue that is probably a newly detected species, Murchie tells the newspaper.