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6 Weird Animal Phenomena Investigated by Science 

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These animal kingdom oddities may seem like urban legends, but they all actually happened and had real-life scientists scratching their heads.

1. Exploding Toads in Germany

While toads often inflate themselves to appear bigger to predators, they don’t often outright explode. Except, that is, in April 2005 in Hamburg, Germany when thousands of frogs blew apart over a period of a few days, sometimes strewing little toad parts up to a meter around.

Dr. Franz Mutchsmann, a veterinarian from Berlin, came up with a theory for the toads' apparently spontaneous explosions: A flock of crows had recently taken up residence in parts of Hamburg, and they had developed a taste for toad liver. The crows would swoop down, thrust their beaks inside the toads, and steal their livers before the toads even knew what had happened. The toads would instinctively puff themselves up to scare the crows away, but with the holes the crows left in their skin, the pressure would push their insides to the outside, bursting the toad into pieces.

2. Globsters

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All over the world, huge lumps of unidentified flesh, known as "globsters," wash up on shore. Often, they look like animals completely unknown to science. They can weigh up to several tons and have been spotted on beaches everywhere throughout the last century.

So what are they? Often, they’re initially believed to be giant squids and other rare (or non-existent) marine animals, but scientists have found that the explanation isn’t quite that amazing.

So far, every globster discovered has been definitively identified (before it washes back out to sea or is tampered with in some way) as the remains of an ordinary creature, usually a whale. For example, a globster found in Chile in 2003 was discovered to be the skin of a sperm whale. Since dead animals in the ocean simply drift, anything left over from predators and natural decay can get caught in a strong tide and wash up on dry land to gross us all out.

3. Mike the Headless Chicken

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In 1945, farmer Lloyd Olsen took one of his many chickens to the chopping block to prepare dinner for his family. After decapitating the chicken, something strange happened: The chicken didn’t die.

The headless chicken, which the family later named Mike, continued to wander around the farm and steadfastly refused to be turned into the Olsen’s supper. The Olsens discovered that they could still feed and water Mike by way of an eyedropper inserted into his neck hole. After that, they took the chicken on the road, showing him off as Mike the Headless Chicken.

What magic kept Mike alive? Sheer luck, as it happens. Scientists at the University of Utah who examined Mike found that Olsen barely missed Mike’s brain stem, which allowed him to continue walking and moving even after his decapitation. Unfortunately, Mike died when his family lost his eyedropper and were unable to help him when he began to choke on a kernel of corn.

4. Thousands of Eyeless Fish Wash Up on the Same Beach. Twice.

American Down Under

A few years back, the news was rife with stories about mass animal deaths, especially ones involving birds. Almost all had completely normal explanations (like fireworks scaring birds into flying into trees and buildings), but a few ended up going more or less unexplained.

On the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand, thousands of dead snapper washed up overnight in early 2011, many of them with no eyes. Although wildlife authorities looked into the event, no official explanation was ever announced. An early statement indicated that it may have been “deliberate.”

Almost two years later to the day, the same thing happened again, at the same beach. Thousands of snapper popped up with strange wounds on their bodies. This time, officials concluded that it was most likely a broken net being hauled by an illegal fishing boat, though they didn’t say how (or if) it was connected to the previous deaths.

5. The Malawi Terror Beast

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In 2003, villagers in the Dowa district of Malawi fled in fear of a creature dubbed the “Terror Beast,” an unidentified animal that killed three and injured sixteen. The creature badly maimed its victims, tearing off limbs and disemboweling the dead. Since most animals only attack out of self-defense or to feed, this appeared to be extremely unusual behavior.

The villagers described it as some variety of large dog. What’s more, a similar animal killed five and injured 20 a year before. That one was killed by authorities and found to be a rabid hyena, but survivors of that first attack alleged the creature was too large to have really been a hyena and that the animal killed was not the one which attacked them.

Meanwhile, the Terror Beast, which may have also been a rabid hyena, was never found.

6. The Florida “Skunk Ape” Photos

In 2000, Florida residents in Campbell County began seeing a large, ape-like creature and finding dead cats throughout their neighborhoods. Some believed it might be a legendary Bigfoot-esque creature known as the “skunk ape.” Things got especially weird when an anonymous woman sent two pictures of the creature to the police.

Loren Coleman, a cryptozoologist, became interested in the case and began to archive newspaper reports as well as copies of the letter and photographs sent by the anonymous woman. The Skunk Ape eventually disappeared and the photographs were never positively identified.

Coleman has a pretty good explanation sitting in plain view on his site (although he and the cryptozoological community don't buy it). In a comparison image created by a Canadian Wildlife Service biologist named Tony Scheunhamme, the skunk ape is compared with an ordinary orangutan. Not coincidentally, animal control had already been looking into a lost orangutan.

As for how an orangutan got loose in Campbell County, that’s as much of a mystery as anything else.

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Big Questions
Should You Keep Your Pets Indoors During the Solar Eclipse?
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By now, you probably know what you’ll be doing on August 21, when a total solar eclipse makes its way across the continental United States. You’ve had your safety glasses ready since January (and have confirmed that they’ll actually protect your retinas), you’ve picked out the perfect vantage point in your area for the best view, and you’ve memorized Nikon’s tips for how to take pictures of this rare celestial phenomenon. Still, it feels like you’re forgetting something … and it’s probably the thing that's been right under your nose, and sitting on your lap, the whole time: your pets.

Even if you’ve never witnessed a solar eclipse, you undoubtedly know that you’re never supposed to look directly at the sun during one. But what about your four-legged family members? Shouldn’t Fido be fitted with a pair of eclipse glasses before he heads out for his daily walk? Could Princess Kitty be in danger of having her peepers singed if she’s lounging on her favorite windowsill? While, like humans, looking directly at the sun during a solar eclipse does pose the potential of doing harm to a pet’s eyes, it’s unlikely that the thought would even occur to the little ball of fluff.

“It’s no different than any other day,” Angela Speck, co-chair of the AAS National Solar Eclipse Task Force, explained during a NASA briefing in June. “On a normal day, your pets don’t try to look at the sun and therefore don’t damage their eyes, so on this day they’re not going to do it either. It is not a concern, letting them outside. All that’s happened is we’ve blocked out the sun, it’s not more dangerous. So I think that people who have pets want to think about that. I’m not going to worry about my cat.”

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, a veterinarian, author, and founder of pawcurious, echoed Speck’s statement, but allowed that there’s no such thing as being too cautious. “It’s hard for me to criticize such a well-meaning warning, because there’s really no harm in following the advice to keep pets inside during the eclipse,” Vogelsang told Snopes. “It’s better to be too cautious than not cautious enough. But in the interest of offering a realistic risk assessment, the likelihood of a pet ruining their eyes the same way a human would during an eclipse is much lower—not because the damage would be any less were they to stare at the sun, but because, from a behavior standpoint, dogs and cats just don’t have any interest in doing so. We tend to extrapolate a lot of things from people to pets that just doesn’t bear out, and this is one of them.

“I’ve seen lots of warnings from the astronomy community and the human medical community about the theoretical dangers of pets and eclipses, but I’m not sure if any of them really know animal behavior all that well," Vogelsang continued. "It’s not like there’s a big outcry from the wildlife community to go chase down coyotes and hawks and bears and give them goggles either. While we in the veterinary community absolutely appreciate people being concerned about their pets’ wellbeing, this is a non-issue for us.”

The bigger issue, according to several experts, would be with pets who are already sensitive to Mother Nature. "If you have the sort of pet that's normally sensitive to shifts in the weather, they might be disturbed by just the whole vibe because the temperature will drop and the sky will get dark,” Melanie Monteiro, a pet safety expert and author of The Safe-Dog Handbook: A Complete Guide to Protecting Your Pooch, Indoors and Out, told TODAY.

“If [your pets] have learned some association with it getting darker, they will show that behavior or at a minimum they get confused because the timeframe does not correspond,” Dr. Carlo Siracusa of Penn Vet Hospital told CBS Philly. “You might put the blinds down, but not exactly when the dark is coming but when it is still light.” 

While Monteiro again reasserts that, "Dogs and cats don't normally look up into the sun, so you don't need to get any special eye protection for your pets,” she says that it’s never a bad idea to take some extra precautions. So if you’re headed out to an eclipse viewing party, why not do your pets a favor and leave them at home. They won’t even know what they’re missing.

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Big Questions
Why Can't Dogs Eat Chocolate?
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Even if you don’t have a dog, you probably know that they can’t eat chocolate; it’s one of the most well-known toxic substances for canines (and felines, for that matter). But just what is it about chocolate that is so toxic to dogs? Why can't dogs eat chocolate when we eat it all the time without incident?

It comes down to theobromine, a chemical in chocolate that humans can metabolize easily, but dogs cannot. “They just can’t break it down as fast as humans and so therefore, when they consume it, it can cause illness,” Mike Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss.

The toxic effects of this slow metabolization can range from a mild upset stomach to seizures, heart failure, and even death. If your dog does eat chocolate, they may get thirsty, have diarrhea, and become hyperactive and shaky. If things get really bad, that hyperactivity could turn into seizures, and they could develop an arrhythmia and have a heart attack.

While cats are even more sensitive to theobromine, they’re less likely to eat chocolate in the first place. They’re much more picky eaters, and some research has found that they can’t taste sweetness. Dogs, on the other hand, are much more likely to sit at your feet with those big, mournful eyes begging for a taste of whatever you're eating, including chocolate. (They've also been known to just swipe it off the counter when you’re not looking.)

If your dog gets a hold of your favorite candy bar, it’s best to get them to the vet within two hours. The theobromine is metabolized slowly, “therefore, if we can get it out of the stomach there will be less there to metabolize,” Topper says. Your vet might be able to induce vomiting and give your dog activated charcoal to block the absorption of the theobromine. Intravenous fluids can also help flush it out of your dog’s system before it becomes lethal.

The toxicity varies based on what kind of chocolate it is (milk chocolate has a lower dose of theobromine than dark chocolate, and baking chocolate has an especially concentrated dose), the size of your dog, and whether or not the dog has preexisting health problems, like kidney or heart issues. While any dog is going to get sick, a small, old, or unhealthy dog won't be able to handle the toxic effects as well as a large, young, healthy dog could. “A Great Dane who eats two Hershey’s kisses may not have the same [reaction] that a miniature Chihuahua that eats four Hershey’s kisses has,” Topper explains. The former might only get diarrhea, while the latter probably needs veterinary attention.

Even if you have a big dog, you shouldn’t just play it by ear, though. PetMD has a handy calculator to see just what risk levels your dog faces if he or she eats chocolate, based on the dog’s size and the amount eaten. But if your dog has already ingested chocolate, petMD shouldn’t be your go-to source. Call your vet's office, where they are already familiar with your dog’s size, age, and condition. They can give you the best advice on how toxic the dose might be and how urgent the situation is.

So if your dog eats chocolate, you’re better off paying a few hundred dollars at the vet to make your dog puke than waiting until it’s too late.

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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