Don't Pet the Puppies in Chernobyl

Sean Gallup, Getty Images
Sean Gallup, Getty Images

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.

[h/t Newsweek]

Why Do Dogs Sniff Each Other's Butts?

Chloe Effron // Dogs: iStock
Chloe Effron // Dogs: iStock

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Do you have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

We might giggle when we see dogs sniffing each other’s rear ends, but there’s a good reason why dogs stick their noses in private places. It lets them find out all kinds of things about each other to help them get along and survive. A butt sniff for dogs is like a handshake for humans.

Dogs’ amazing sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than humans. They also have a special part of their noses called the Jacobson's organ that lets them ignore the smell of poop when they sniff another dog’s rear. Instead, the organ detects something more important. On the sides of a dog’s anus (AY-nuss)—the place where poop comes out—are special glands that release chemicals telling the body how to grow and work properly. This is what interests dogs the most about each other’s butts. 

The chemicals tell dogs a lot about each other. They help a dog to know if another dog is male or female, how old it is, what it eats, how healthy it is, and even what kind of mood they’re in. The chemicals also help it to know if other dogs are strangers or if they’ve met before. All of this helps dogs decide how they should behave. It's how dogs first get to know each other!

To sniff out more information about dogs and their noses (and their butts!), see this video by Reactions.

Do Lobsters Really Mate for Life?

iStock
iStock

It's a pop culture trope that mated lobsters stay together until they die. But is it true?

Nope. While plenty of animals practice long-term monogamy, lobsters are not among them. Lobsters actually mate by a weird system of serial monogamy. It's not exactly a one-night stand, but it's not a lifelong commitment either. Instead, a bunch of females take turns having a fling with the local dominant male that lasts a week or two and, if they're not happy with the amount of genetic material he's provided, then seek a little extra action.

It works like this: A female lobster who's ready to mate (which they can only do right after they've molted) hangs out near the den of the local dominant male and fans her pheromone-laced urine into his home. This relaxes the male, making him less aggressive and more receptive to mating. Then there's a brief courtship, and the male allows the female into his den.

Anywhere from a few hours to a few days later, the female slips into something a little more comfortable by shedding her exoskeleton. (Shacking up with the neighborhood tough guy guarantees her protection during this vulnerable time.) The pair mates, and the male deposits his sperm in the female. Once her new shell has hardened a week or two later, she takes off, and another female can have her turn. Often, the females in an area will stagger the timing of their molts to make their reproductive conga line more efficient. As soon as one female is done with the stud, the next one is already waiting to pee on his doorstep.

Sometimes, the male doesn't provide enough sperm to fully fertilize all of a female's eggs. In these cases, she'll leave before her new shell finishes forming to find and mate with another male (or males) until she collects enough sperm. Usually this requires just an extra dalliance or two, but as many as 10 have been reported.

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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