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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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Big Questions
Do Cats Fart?
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Certain philosophical questions can invade even the most disciplined of minds. Do aliens exist? Can a soul ever be measured? Do cats fart?

While the latter may not have weighed heavily on some of history’s great brains, it’s certainly no less deserving of an answer. And in contrast to existential queries, there’s a pretty definitive response: Yes, they do. We just don’t really hear it.

According to veterinarians who have realized their job sometimes involves answering inane questions about animals passing gas, cats have all the biological hardware necessary for a fart: a gastrointestinal system and an anus. When excess air builds up as a result of gulping breaths or gut bacteria, a pungent cloud will be released from their rear ends. Smell a kitten’s butt sometime and you’ll walk away convinced that cats fart.

The discretion, or lack of audible farts, is probably due to the fact that cats don’t gulp their food like dogs do, leading to less air accumulating in their digestive tract.

So, yes, cats do fart. But they do it with the same grace and stealth they use to approach everything else. Think about that the next time you blame the dog.

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
Squirrels Are Probably More Organized Than You, Study Finds
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Despite having a brain that's slightly bigger than the size of a peanut M&M, squirrels have a fascinating, razor-sharp instinct when it comes to survival. They know that acorns that are high in fat and sprout late are perfect for long-term storage, so they salvage them for winter and eat the less nutritionally dense white-oak acorns right away. They also tend to remember where they put their acorn stash rather than relying solely on smell. Like nature's perfect stunt performer, they can even fall out of trees in a way that minimizes physical damage. Now, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have unveiled a newly discovered part of a squirrel's hoarding strategy, Atlas Obscura reports.

The researchers tracked 45 wild fox squirrels on the UC-Berkeley campus for nearly two years. They made available to the squirrels four different types of nuts—walnuts, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts. Sometimes the animals were given a single type of nut, and other times the nuts were mixed. Either way, the squirrels promptly sorted and stored their food according to type—walnuts went in one hiding place, almonds in another, and so on.

This type of behavior is known as "chunking" and makes it easier to retrieve data in memory. In doing this, a squirrel won't have to visit several different places looking for pecans: They know just where the main supply is. Squirrels can stockpile up to 10,000 nuts a year, so it's essential for them to know which type of nut is where.

The study, published in Royal Society Open Science, also indicated that squirrels seem to understand nuts have weight, choosing to carry heavier acquisitions to a different location than lighter nuts.

Squirrels being squirrels, they were happy to be gifted an assortment of nuts during the experiment, but there was one wrinkle: Rather than stash them away, sometimes they'd just eat them on the spot.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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