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Why Do Koalas Hug Trees?

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Just as we humans cling to our air conditioners and plunge our heads into the freezer in the summer months, koalas have found a source of relief from stifling temperatures. According to a recent report, those cute, eucalyptus-eating marsupials keep cool by hugging trees.

Wild koalas live in parts of Australia where the temperatures regularly soar well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Natalie Briscoe, a research fellow at the University of Melbourne, fitted a group of 37 koalas with radio collars and studied them through both warm and cool months. She noticed that, when the heat rises, the animals descend from the eucalyptus limbs and wrap themselves around the trunks of the trees. Perplexed, Briscoe and her colleague Michael Kearney whipped out infrared cameras to measure the koalas’ temperatures, and upon doing so, discovered "it was absolutely obvious what they were doing," says Kearney. The trunks appeared much cooler than the surrounding air, probably because the trees suck water up through their roots. The koalas would even hug Acacia mearnsii trees, which they don’t eat, but which have even colder trunks.

For an animal that rarely drinks water (koalas get much of their water from eucalyptus leaves) and is covered in fur, chilling out is important. The animals don’t sweat, but when they pant or lick their fur to cool down, they lose moisture. So the warmer they are, the more water they lose. Researchers think the trunk-hugging koalas lose half as much water as they otherwise would.

And koalas aren’t the only tree-huggers. Leopards, primates, birds and other creatures could be using trees to combat colossal heat in ways we don’t yet know. Learning how animals use trees to manage their temperatures helps researchers understand how they will adapt to climate change.

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Slow Motion Is the Only Way to Appreciate a Chameleon’s Lightning-Fast Tongue
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From the unusual way they walk, to their ability to change color, the evolutionary adaptations of chameleons are pretty bizarre, and some of them remain mysterious even to scientists. Their super-powered tongues, for instance, can dart out so quickly that the movement can barely be seen with the naked eye. But modern high-speed cameras have enabled researchers at the University of South Dakota to observe this appendage at work like never before. The video below, shared over at The Kid Should See This, includes some of that groundbreaking footage, and it's pretty amazing to watch.

Shooting at 3000 frames per second, the camera was able to capture every split-second aspect of the chameleon's tongue strike. Slowed down, the video allows you to see how every component of the process works in harmony: First, muscles in the lizard’s tongue contract like the string of a bow. Then, when that tension is released, the bony base of the tongue shoots forward, pushing the sticky, elastic part toward the chameleon’s prey.

According to Christopher Anderson, one of the scientists who conducted the high-speed camera research, larger chameleons can catapult their tongues forward at distances of one to two times their body length. For smaller chameleons, this distance can reach up to two and a half times their body length. “Small chameleons need to be able to eat more food for their body size than large chameleons,” he tells bioGraphic in the video, “and so by being able to project their tongues proportionately further than these large species, they basically are opening up additional feeding opportunities to themselves that they wouldn’t have if they had a shorter tongue.”

To see one of nature’s greatest hunting tools in action, check out the full video below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
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Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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