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Olivier Testa

The Orange Cave Crocodiles of Gabon

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Olivier Testa

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In 2010, a group of scientists went on an expedition into the Abanda caves in the rainforest of Gabon. Among the many creatures they found there—bats, snakes, moths, spiders, crickets, scorpions and other insects and arachnids—there was a surprise. While making his way through a narrow passage, one of the scientists caught the reflection of two big eyes in the light of his headlamp. He was face-to-face with a crocodile. As he stood frozen wondering what he should do, the croc disappeared down the tunnel.

Crocs in caves are rare, but not unheard of. The reptiles are known to shelter in caves and caverns in Madagascar and Mauritania, but when the scientists tracked down and captured a few of the Abanda crocs, they found they were strange in ways besides their choice of home.

They were orange.

Some of the animals were clearly trapped in their underground home, and found in parts of cave system that were only accessible through a 7-meter-deep pit. While the rest of the crocs had more freedom to move around, the genetic and physical differences (broader heads, poorer eyesight and that strange orange skin) between them and crocodiles living on the surface suggested that the cave population had been isolated for a few thousand years.

The researchers think that the caves may have been more accessible in the past and a few crocs found shelter there, but over time the entrances they used filled in with sediment that kept them from coming and going on their own and cut them off from the outside world.

The group of cave crocs, which was 20 strong when the researchers made their expedition, live in complete darkness and are almost blind. Their diet consists of their underground neighbors—mostly bats, insects and a good amount of algae. Their unique color could be caused by any number of things: a physiological change linked to a life in darkness, their diet, or even a chemical reaction to algae or something else in the water or on the caves’ rock surfaces.

There are no hard answers yet, as the research is still ongoing, but you can get a peek at the scientists in action. A film crew accompanied the scientists on expedition and released a documentary about it last year for French television. You can watch a trailer here.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

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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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages

Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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