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What’s the Difference Between a Mammoth and a Mastodon?

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The Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) and the American Mastodon (Mammut americanum) both roamed the North American wilderness until roughly 10,000 years BCE (although a few remarkable “dwarf mammoths” managed to hold out for a good while longer). But what exactly is it that sets them apart? (And yes, there were several other species of both Mammoth and Mastodon, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll focus on the two most famous.)

Let’s start with a quick look at their family tree. The group of land mammals scientifically known as “proboscideans” contains living elephants and their ancient kin. In its heyday, this was a pretty diverse lot. Twenty-first century elephants are far more closely akin to mammoths than the relatively-primitive mastodons.

Want proof? Check out their teeth. Just like today’s tuskers, Mammoths tended to live in wide open plains, as demonstrated by their very elephant-like molars, each of which looked like a bony cheese-grater and was built to grind up tough grasses. Conversely, the word “Mastodon” literally means “nipple tooth." This is because the grooves in their chompers reminded some 18th Century paleontologists of human breasts. High-crowned teeth like this are better suited for mashing leaves and twigs, and, appropriately, Mastodon remains are usually found in forested environments. You can see the animals’ jaws compared side-by-side in this clip at the 0:26-mark:

Furthermore, as expert Daniel Fisher explained in the video above, Mammoths have curved tusks and high shoulders while Mastodons have straighter tusks and lower shoulders.

Thanks to a handful of frozen carcasses, genetic analyses have long-since confirmed the link between Mammoths and elephants. In fact, Mammuthus DNA has been so broadly studied that a Mammoth Genome Project is in the works.

Mastodons have had their admirers as well, including Thomas Jefferson himself, who actually stored a collection of their bones in the White House—though he did mistakenly believe that they were gigantic carnivores.

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