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10 Horses to Kick Off the Year of the Horse

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Tomorrow begins the Lunar New Year Festival, celebrated in many Asian countries. In China, the festival lasts two weeks and will usher in the Year of the Horse. I "rounded up" some interesting horses that deserve to be remembered on this auspicious occasion. This is far from an exhaustive list of famous horses, just a few that you may find interesting. Please feel free to tell us about your favorites in the comments. 

1. The War Horse: Sgt. Reckless

In 1952, a young Korean sold his beloved horse Ah Chim Hai (Flame in the Morning) to the U.S. Marines so he could purchase a prosthetic leg for his sister, who lost hers to a land mine. The Marines renamed the mare Reckless. She was very friendly with the troops, sharing their rations, entering their quarters, and snuggling with them on cold nights. Her appetite was famous, as she loved candy, beer, eggs, and coffee, and would even eat poker chips or a blanket if she was feeling stubborn.

Reckless was used to carry ammunition. Her finest hour came during the five-day Battle of Outpost Vega in March of 1953, when she made 51 trips to the front in just one day -most of them unaccompanied- to ferry ammunition in and wounded servicemen out. That was a total of 9,000 pounds of ammunition over 35 miles, under enemy fire! Reckless was wounded twice, but kept going.

For her bravery, Reckless was promoted to Sergeant. She was eventually awarded two Purple Hearts and a slew of other medals. After the war, Sgt. Reckless was shipped to the U.S. She arrived in San Francisco on November 10, 1954, the Marine Corps birthday, and was feted at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball that evening, where she ate both the cake and the flowers. Just before a parade was held for her promotion, she ate her custom-made blanket, and a substitute had to be constructed quickly to hold her medals. Sgt. Reckless lived peacefully at Camp Pendleton until her death in 1968. See a video about Reckless here

2. The Wooden Horse: Trojan Horse

The tale of the Trojan Horse is in Homer’s Odyssey and in the poem Aeneid by Virgil. It tells of the siege of Troy by the Greeks. After some years, the Greeks appeared to retreat from Troy, but left behind a huge wooden horse. Despite warnings from elders, the Trojans brought the horse into their citadel. That night, as they slept or celebrated their apparent victory, a unit of Greek soldiers crept out of their hiding place inside the horse and slaughtered the Trojans. The story gave us the phrase “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” and “Trojan horse” became a term for computer malware that sneaks in by appearing as a benignly useful application.

3. The TV Horse: Mister Ed

Mister Ed was a television series about a talking horse that aired from 1961 to 1966. Mister Ed belonged to architect Wilbur Post, who was the only person Ed would talk to. As a consequence, Wilbur had to hide the fact that his horse talked to him, a device that fueled many of the plot lines. The show was directed by Arthur Lubin and the horse trainer was Les Hilton. Both had previously worked on the movie series Francis the Talking Mule, which was the direct inspiration for Mister Ed. Mister Ed was played by a show horse named Bamboo Harvester.

The horse’s dialogue was a voiceover, of course, of course, but how did they get the horse to move his lips? The story given by the show’s producers is that they gave Mister Ed peanut butter to chew on, but others believe that that method was supplemented by a nylon filament used as a bit to control the horse’s lip and head movements.

4. The Mythological Horse: Sleipnir

Artwork by Brianna Cherry Garcia.

In Norse mythology, Sleipnir was Odin’s horse, the finest horse in all the world, who could run like the wind because he had eight legs. The origin of Sleipnir is a strange tale. Loki, the god of mischief, turned himself into a mare and mated with a legendary work horse named Svadilfari. The ruse was to keep Svadilfari from work, but the result was an eight-legged colt, which was given to Odin. It’s not clear whether Odin was aware of the horse’s origin. 

5. The Racehorse: Eight Belles

We know many legendary racehorses: Man O’War, Secretariat, Seabiscuit, and others. You might remember Barbaro, the horse that won the Kentucky Derby in 2006, and then shattered three bones in one leg at the Preakness Stakes. Despite surgery and therapy, Barbaro was euthanized the following year. As sad as his story was, it was eclipsed by that of Eight Belles two years later.

Eight Belles was a filly that astonished fans by winning race after race early in 2008. As the only filly in the field, she came in second at the Kentucky Derby, behind winner Big Brown. Then she collapsed on the track with two broken front ankles. An ambulance was summoned, but the decision was made to put her down. Eight Belles was euthanized by injection right on the track, in front of the huge Derby crowd.

The magnitude of what happened was slow to reach the fans at Churchill Downs. Not only was a horse down, but it was the filly. And horse racing -- with the memory of Barbaro still fresh and the death of a horse coming only a day earlier on Kentucky Oaks Day -- had to confront grief one more time.

"There was no way to save her. She couldn't stand," trainer Larry Jones said. "She ran an incredible race. She ran the race of her life."

6. The Twitter Horse: Horse_Ebooks

Horse_Ebooks is a famous Twitter account that was supposedly run by a spambot. It would send nonsensical Tweets that appeared to be random text strings from various sources, rarely encompassing an entire sentence or coherent thought. But the Tweets were more varied and funnier than the average spambot, and did not contain the expected advertising links. The account eventually gathered over 200,000 followers, as users couldn’t wait to see what the spambot came up with next.

Then in September of 2013, the Horse_Ebooks account was exposed as a hoax. Or actually, a piece of performance art by Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender. Bakkila took over an existing spambot account two years earlier and attempted to get inside the mind of a spambot as he imitated, and eventually improved upon, its performance. The two were also responsible for the popular and enigmatic YouTube account Pronunciation Book

7. The Cartoon Horse: Quick Draw McGraw

Quick Draw McGraw was a Hanna-Barbera creation that spoofed Western movies. Quick Draw was an anthropomorphic horse who worked as the brave but dim-witted sheriff of an Old West town. His sidekick, a burro named Baba Looey, was much smarter, but Quick Draw never let him forget who was the authority figure. His catchphrase was “Hold on thar, Baba Looey! I'll do the thin'in' around here, and don't you for-git it!" Quick Draw occasionally appeared as his alter ego, the masked hero El Kabong, who used his guitar as a weapon to beat up on outlaws. Although Quick Draw was a horse himself, he was often shown riding a realistic horse or driving a team of horses. Go figure.

8. The Community of Horses: My Little Pony

My Little Pony is a TV series and a line of toys by Hasbro. The franchise began as the toys called My Pretty Pony developed by Bonnie Zacherle and Charles Muenchinger in 1981. They were renamed My Little Pony in 1983. TV specials were produced to promote the toys in the mid-‘80s. The Ponies have been on TV, home video, and movies ever since, and have in the past few years developed a huge internet presence. The fourth generation TV series, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, debuted in 2010. A community of adult fans called Bronies have formed around the show. They keep in touch through online forums, community projects, and meet ups.

9. The Movie Horse: Khartoum

Khartoum was a fictional horse in the movie The Godfather, and was featured in its most horrific and memorable scene. Khartoum was a Triple Crown winner bought for $600,000. In the film, movie producer Jack Woltz was very attached to his horse, which he planned to use for stud. He learned the hard way that you don’t mess around with the Corleones when he woke up one morning with Khartoum’s severed head in his bed. Although the horse that played Khartoum was well-treated on the film set, the horse head found in the bed was real, having been procured from a dog food manufacturer.

10. The Survivor Horse: Comanche

The story of Comanche is often told as the horse that was the sole survivor of the massacre at Little Big Horn, but that’s not quite true. The huge bay horse indeed survived, but to be exact, he was the only survivor on the U.S. Cavalry side of the fight that was found at the scene. There were plenty of survivors on the side of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes, as well as military horses captured by the warriors (Comanche was left behind because he was injured). Still, Comanche became a symbol of the carnage of Little Big Horn. He was nursed back to health and paraded as symbol of U.S. military might. Comanche was never ridden again, but was retired to a peaceful life at Fort Riley in Kansas. When he died in 1890, a taxidermist from the University of Kansas Natural History Museum preserved his hide. The mounted remains of Comanche can be seen to this day at the museum. 

For more horses, I recommend you look through these links.
The 30 Best Horse Movies
The American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame
The Most Famous Racehorses in History
13 Fictional Horses You Wouldn’t Want To Eat
Wikipedia’s List of Historical Horses
The Singing Horses

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Courtesy of Crumbs & Whiskers
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Animals
Inside Crumbs & Whiskers, the Bicoastal Cat Cafe That's Saving Kitties' Lives
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Courtesy of Crumbs & Whiskers

It took a backpacking trip to Thailand and a bit of serendipity for Kanchan Singh to realize her life goal of saving cats while serving lattes. “I met these two guys on the road [in 2014], and we became friends,” Singh tells Mental Floss about Crumbs & Whiskers, the bicoastal cat cafe she founded in Washington, D.C. in 2015 which, in addition to selling coffee and snacks, fosters adoptable felines from shelters. “They soon noticed that I was feeding every stray dog and cat in sight," and quickly picked up on the fact that their traveling companion was crazy about all things furry and fluffy.

On Singh’s final day in Thailand, which happened to be her birthday, her friends surprised her with a celebratory trip to a cat cafe in the city of Chiang Mai. “I remember walking in there being like, ‘This is the coolest, most amazing, weirdest thing I’ve ever done,'” Singh recalls. “I just connected with it so much on a spiritual level.”

Singh informed her friends that she planned to return to the U.S., quit her corporate consulting job, and open up her own cat cafe in the nation’s capital. They thought she was joking. But three years and two storefronts later, the joke is on everyone except for Singh—and the kitties she and her team have helped to rescue.

A customer pets cats while drinking coffee at the flagship Washington, D.C. location of cat cafe Crumbs & Whiskers.
A customer pets cats while drinking coffee at the flagship Washington, D.C. location of cat cafe Crumbs & Whiskers.
Courtesy of Crumbs & Whiskers

Washington, D.C. customers stroke a furry feline while enjoying coffee at cat cafe Crumbs & Whiskers.
Washington, D.C. customers stroke a furry feline while enjoying coffee at Crumbs & Whiskers.
Courtesy of Crumbs & Whiskers

Crumbs & Whiskers—which, in addition to its flagship D.C. location, also has a Los Angeles outpost—keeps a running count of the cats they've saved from risk of euthanasia and those who have been adopted. At press time, those numbers were 776 and 388, respectively, between the brand’s two locations.

Prices and services vary between establishments, but customers can typically expect to shell out anywhere from $6.50 to $35 to enjoy coffee time with cats (food and drinks are prepared off-site for health and safety reasons), activities like cat yoga sessions, or, in D.C., an entire day of coworking with—you guessed it—cats. Patrons can also participate in the occasional promotion or campaign, ranging from Black Friday fundraisers for shelter kitties to writing an ex-flame's name inside a litter box around Valentine's Day (where the cats will then do their business).

Cat cafes have existed in Asia for nearly 20 years, with the world’s first known one, Cat Flower Garden, opening in Taipei, Taiwan in 1998. The trend gained traction in Japan during the mid 2000s, and quickly spread across Asia. But when Singh visited Chiang Mai, the cat cafe craze—while alive and thriving in Thailand—had not yet hit the U.S. "Why does Thailand get this, but not the U.S.?" Singh remembers thinking.

Once she arrived back home in D.C., Singh set her sights on founding the nation’s first official cat cafe, launching a successful Kickstarter campaign that helped her secure a two-story space in the city’s Georgetown neighborhood. Ultimately, though, she was beat to the punch by the Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, California, which opened to the public in 2014, followed shortly after by establishments like New York City’s Meow Parlour.

LA customers at cat cafe Crumbs & Whiskers
LA customers at cat cafe Crumbs & Whiskers
Courtesy of Crumbs & Whiskers

Still, Crumbs & Whiskers—which officially launched in D.C. in the summer of 2015—was among the nation’s first wave of businesses (and the District's first) to offer customers the chance to enjoy feline companionship with a side of java, along with the opportunity to maybe even save a tiny life. Ultimately, the altruistic concept proved to be so successful that Singh, sensing a market for a similar storefront in Los Angeles, opened up a second location there in the fall of 2016. "I always felt like what L.A. is, culturally, just fits with the type of person that would go to a cat café," she says.

Someday, Singh hopes to bring Crumbs & Whiskers to Chicago and New York, and “for cat cafes as a concept, as an industry, to grow,” she says. “I think that it would be great for this to be the future of adoptions and animal rescues.” Until then, you can learn more about Crumbs & Whiskers (and the animals they rescue) by stopping by if you're in D.C. and LA, or by visiting their website.

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Animals
15 Examples of the Most Epic Metamorphoses from Youth to Adult
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We’re all familiar with the most dramatic metamorphosizers of the animal kingdom: butterflies. They go from a tiny egg to an awkward wiggling caterpillar to mysterious pupa to a delicate, colorful winged creature. However, there are many other animals besides butterflies that undergo dramatic transformations from youth to adult. Here are 15 of the most epic metamorphoses seen in nature.

1. LADYBUGS (COCCINELLIDAE)

What’s black, white, and red all over? Mandy ladybugs are—but only in their final stage of life. Turns out these little beetles undergo one of the most epic metamorphoses in the animal kingdom: For most species, after adult female ladybugs mate, they lay a clutch of tiny yellow eggs right in the middle an aphid colony, usually on the underside of a leaf. Eggs hatch in a week, revealing spiky black worm-like larvae that readily gobble up the aphids around them. When a larva is fully grown, it changes into a blob-like yellow pupa. Finally, the black, white and red (or sometimes yellow or orange) insect appears.

2. MAYFLY (EPHEMEROPTERA)

Mayflies, the less-elegant cousins of dragonflies and damselflies, have one of the most unique metamorphoses of all insects. Most insects’ life stages move from egg to nymph to pupa to adult, but mayflies do not have a pupa stage. Instead, it is the only type of insect to undergo a subimago stage, meaning it’s almost an adult in the sense it grows wings … but cannot fly long distances and isn’t yet sexually mature. The mayfly’s final life stage, the fully flighted and sexually mature imago or adult, is extremely short, lasting just a few hours to a few days.

3. PEACOCK SPIDER (MARATUS)

Left: Jurgen Otto, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Right: Jurgen Otto, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Peacock spiders are tiny, venomous, and beautiful (especially the colorfully rumped males) arthopods native to Australia. Male peacock spiders are so beautiful, in fact, it’s hard to believe that, like all spiders, they go through some not-so-glamorous life stages: egg, egg sac, spiderling, adult. When male peacock spiders reach sexual maturity they try to seduce less-colorful female peacock spiders by performing a showy dance.

4. NUDIBRANCH (NUDIBRANCHIA)

While adult nudibranchs are essentially colorful and ornate blobs of the sea, they don’t start out that way. In fact, after hatching, nudibranch larvae are tiny, plain-looking and have small snail-like shells. Over the course of two months they morph from this plain stage into adults, along the way getting larger and more colorful, losing their shells, and growing gills and feelers, called rhinophores.

5. CROWN OF THORNS STARFISH (ACANTHASTER PLANCI)

Another sea creature that looks completely different as an adult than a juvenile is the crown of thorns starfish. When looking at an adult, it’s easy to see where this creature gets its name: It’s completely covered with dangerous-looking sharp spikes. But after hatching, it looks like not much more than a translucent, floating blob. Over time it grows arms, and later, spikes, then fixes itself to rocks where it feeds on coral.

6. IMMORTAL JELLYFISH (TURRITOPSIS DOHRNII)

The secret to a long and prosperous life, it turns out, is to be a jellyfish. The aptly named immortal jellyfish begins life as an egg, like all other jellies. It then enters the free-swimming larva stage, then settles down into a polyp on the ocean floor, and then finally morphs into a sexually mature jellyfish. Unlike most other jellies, an immortal jellyfish is capable of reverting back into the polyp stage at any time it faces environmental stress, attacks by predators, sickness or old age—essentially being reborn as a young jelly.

7. FLATFISH (PLEURONECTIFORMES)

Think of Pablo Picasso’s most asymmetrically painted human face, stick it onto a fish, and there you have a flatfish. These fish, which include flounder and sole among other species, begin life inside tiny eggs that float up to the surface of the sea. For a few weeks, a larval flatfish swims upright and looks just like a typical baby fish. But after a few weeks its skull bones shift and one eye migrates to the opposite side of its face, forcing the now-lopsided fish to swim sideways. Eventually, when its facial features all move to one side of its face, it changes color and moves to live on the bottom of the sea, its blind side facing down.

8. EASTERN HELLBENDER (CRYPTOBRANCHUS ALLEGANIENSIS)

Left: Pete and Noe Woods, Flickr // CC BY 2.0; Right: Projosh More, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Also called the snot otter and devil dog, the eastern hellbender is a giant type of salamander not exactly known for being beautiful in its adult form. Slippery, wrinkly and the color of mud, they’re right at home at the bottom of rivers, where they can live up to 50 years. Like all salamanders, hellbenders begin as eggs. From their eggs they hatch, coming into the world small and adorable. As time passes, they grow larger and less cute.

9. CHALAZODES BUBBLE NEST FROG (RAORCHESTES CHALAZODES)

Don’t let this lime-green frog’s bright and cheery looks fool you: It lives in only one tiny area in India and is critically endangered, threatened most by an ever-shrinking habitat. These creatures were once believed to lay eggs that developed into tadpoles on pond surfaces like many other frogs. But in 2014, it was discovered that they had a different reproductive strategy: The frogs crawl into a living bamboo shoot that has a hole in it (probably created by insects or rodents) and lay their eggs there. The creatures skip the tadpole stage entirely, hatching as froglets. Because they don't have a tadpole stage, the species doesn't require water to lay its eggs.

10. MIMIC POISON DART FROG (RANITOMEYA IMITATOR)

Mattias Starkenberg, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Covered in bright hues spotted, striped, banded, and blotched with contrasting black, the poison dart frog is one of the most striking-looking of all amphibians. Yet they don’t start out that way. After hatching, young mimic poison dart frogs are looked after by their mother, who lays a clutch of unfertilized feeder eggs to provide them with some nourishment (and, at least for some species of poison frog, toxicity). Tadpoles are brown and black, growing more colorful with age until they reach their fantastic adult form.

11. KEA (NESTOR NOTABILIS)

The kea is a large, vulnerable species of parrot native to New Zealand, with green and blue feathers on its back and brown and orange feathers on its underside. While adult keas appear majestic and beautiful, they don’t start out that way. Baby keas retain an alien-like, sparse white hairdo for several months after hatching. Keas are considered a very intelligent species, observed working together and using tools.

12. LAYSAN ALBATROSS (PHOEBASTRIA IMMUTABILIS)

Laysan albatrosses are another species of bird where the babies are very little like their parents. But unlike baby keas, baby Laysan albatrosses hatch as adorable fuzzy gray blobs. As they grow older, the babies slowly grow adult feathers and lose their baby feathers. This leaves them with unique hairdos that sometimes make them look like human celebrities. Ringo Starr, anyone?

13. FLAMINGO (PHOENICOPTERUS)

Left: Getty Images // Right: iStock

Unlike keas and albatrosses, baby flamingoes look a lot like their parents, except they’re missing something: color. Flamingo chicks hatch with gray and/or white feathers, over time taking on the same pink hue as their parents, which becomes more intense over time. Why? Well, you are what you eat, and flamingoes eat shrimp and algae rich in carotenoids, the same pigments that cause shrimp to turn pink when cooked.

14. VIRGINIA OPOSSUM (DIDELPHIS VIRGINIANA)

Virginia opossums are scavengers, eating carrion and rotting vegetation, and that helps keep the environment clean. Virginia opossums are native to North America, where they’re the continent’s only living marsupials. This opossums have pouches for carrying their babies, just like kangaroos. Also like kangaroos they give birth to large numbers of navy-bean size babies, which grow inside their pouches. When they’re born, they look more like pink jellybeans than animals. Over the course of three to five months, they mature, growing fur, sharp teeth and long tails.

15. GIANT PANDA (AILUROPODA MELANOLEUCA)

Getty Images

Giant pandas are called giant pandas for a reason: They’re enormous in size, weighing up to 250 pounds. But these bamboo-munching bears don’t start out that way. When born, giant panda cubs weigh just 90 to 130 grams (about as much as a small apple). Besides being way smaller in size, baby pandas are also quite sparsely furred—and so they look very different than what they will as fuzzy black-and-white adults.

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