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9 Internet-Famous Cats Who Were Adopted

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In case you’re in need of another reason to bring a brand new fluffy new feline into your life, June is Adopt-A-cat Month. Just think—a whole month dedicated to finding forever homes for the most regal of household pets. If that’s not enough to push you into bringing a new little one into your heart and home, how about the possibility that the Internet’s newest superstar is waiting for you at your local shelter? After all, some of the web’s most beloved viral sensations were adopted, too.

1. Hana

Being the little sister of the web’s arguably most famous cat—Maru, best known for his love of bags and boxes—can’t be an easy job, but baby Hana manages to do it with some style, grace, flair, and plenty of charm. Maru’s human parents adopted Hana the Chiba cat back in 2013, and since her introduction into the world of viral cats, she’s added some noticeable sweetness and kitten-sized wit to Maru’s ever-popular videos.

2. Nora The Piano-Playing Cat

The Internet’s favorite “musical edu-cat” was a shelter kitten in Cherry Hill, New Jersey before she was adopted in 2006. Her owners, Betsy Alexander and Burnell Yow, already had five cats and weren’t in the market for a new one—but Nora charmed piano instructor Betsy so thoroughly that they couldn’t resist the little gray tabby. Nora’s love of “playing” the piano was soon unleashed, thanks to a home that features two giant grand pianos and Betsy’s many piano students. It was only a matter of time before Nora tried her paw at the keys.

3. Keyboard Cat

Although the original Keyboard Cat—Washington state-born Fatso—is currently playing on the big scratchpad in the sky (she passed away back in 1987, long before the very idea of “viral videos” hit the mainstream), she was a shelter cat back in her kitten days. In fact, Fatso was sick when her family first adopted her from a local shelter in Spokane, but they were dedicated to getting her happy and healthy. It was only after Fatso healed up that they realized her unique “talents” for clomping the keys.

4. Lil Bub

Lil Bub’s unique look—several genetic mutations, including dwarfism, give her that cute “perma-kitten” appearance—is adorable now, but it almost worked against her when she was first put up for adoption in 2011. Born to a feral mom, Bub was the runt of an otherwise normal litter, and while she was lucky enough to be fostered by a loving family, they had some serious trouble finding her a forever home. Of course, that all changed when her human dad, Mike Bridavsky, met her. He eventually took her home and turned her into a star—and Bub is using all of her starpower for good. The cat and her owner frequently give to animal-related charities and shelters, but right now they're doing something special: June is Bub's birthday month, and instead of toys, the cat is raising money for the ASPCA.

5. Colonel Meow

Although Colonel Meow is no longer ruling this fair Earth (he passed away earlier this year), the Himalayan-Persian crossbreed left a big mark on both the planet and the Internet during his life. He also probably left a lot of hair—Meow holds the 2014 Guinness world record for “longest fur on a cat,” a staggering nine inches. The angry-faced cat dictator (dictcator?) was first rescued by the Seattle Himalayan and Persian Society before his loving human family (aka his “slave beasts”) adopted him at a local Petco. Meow soon became an Internet star, thanks to both his luxurious fur and his impudent mug. We miss you, great leader!

6. Nala

Nala Cat is web-famous for a very special reason: she’s just really, really cute. The wide-eyed Siamese-Tabby mix lights up the Internet with her permanently surprised expression and panache for wearing absurdly cute outfits. Nala was born into an overly-cat-populated home, and when she was taken away to a local shelter, she was separated from the rest of her cat family. When Nala was about six months old (her real birthday is unknown), her future owner just happened to visit the shelter, and while she knew she wanted to adopt a cat, she wasn’t planning on taking one home that day. Nala, of course, won her over with a big face kiss, and the duo has been inseparable ever since.

7. Hamilton the Hipster Cat

California’s own hipster cat with a built-in moustache, Hamilton was born into a feral cat colony in San Jose. Young Hammy was picked up by the Humane Society of Silicon Valley (along with his sister, Flower), who set about readying the two skittish ferals for adoption. It took a lot of work, trust, and patience, but by the time Hamilton’s human dad adopted him in September of 2012, some major milestones had already been reached—and Hammy’s instant attachment to his new dude sure didn’t hurt.

8. Sockington

One of Twitter’s first true superstars—of any species, really—Sockington didn’t have such an auspicious start. Before he became a viral sensation, young Socks was spotted at a Boston subway station in 2004. Hungry and alone, the gray and white shorthair caught the attention of a commuter on his way to work, who couldn’t help but notice that the handsome fellow was still there when he returned later in the day. Socks was soon taken in, passed through a few fosters in order to find a forever home, and eventually made his way to Jason Scott, who has provided him with a “life of luxury” and instant Internet fame. Socks is still popular on Twitter, where he proudly leads the “Socks Army.”

9. Penny

Socks isn’t the only famous kitty in his home—and he’s also not the only one to come from a scrappy background. Sockington’s own sister (and semi-nemesis) Pennycat also got started out in the wild. Penny’s original owners dropped her off on the front porch of a local animal shelter after they decided they didn’t want her, but the wily Penny didn’t have much interest in shelter life and soon ran away to a Hudson, New York farm, where she just kind of hung out for a few months. Eventually adopted by Jones, Penny is now just as spoiled as Socks—and 10 times more sassy. While Socks stays busy on Twitter, Pennycat runs their website. What a pair!

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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Animals
15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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