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This Moth’s Love Song Has a Dual Meaning

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When love is in the air for certain moth species, the female secretes a pheromone to signal that she’s ready to make little moths. An interested male will approach and “sing” her a courtship song composed of a series of ultrasonic pulses. 

Some types of moth use a “true” song that woos the female into giving the male access to her genitalia. Some other species, meanwhile, lie to get sex. They produce a deceptive song that mimics the echolocation calls of a hunting bat. The female, thinking there’s a predator around, freezes, which allows the male to mate with her even if she’s not interested in him. 

Now, scientists in Japan have found a moth that combines the two types, and makes a love song and a lie rolled into one. The yellow peach moth’s courtship song is a made up of a few short pulses followed by a longer one. The long pulse, the researchers found, is attractive to females and hearing it causes them to get into their mating position, like a “true” courtship song. The short pulses are similar to the deceptive songs, and sound, to a moth, like the hunting calls of bats. 

The peach moth isn’t trying to frighten his potential mate like the other liars, though. His deception is aimed at his competition. The researchers found that the short pulses didn’t really affect the female moths. When they heard it, they didn’t move into a mating position, and didn’t freeze or change their behavior in other ways, either. When other males flitting about heard the short pulses, however, they changed their flight patterns and stopped following the trail of the females’ pheromones—the same way they did when they heard a recording of a hunting bat. 

The peach moth’s courtship song kills two birds with one stone. The short, bat-like pulses scare off other males so that the first one who reaches a female and starts singing doesn’t have to deal with any competitors. With the rival suitors scrambling for safety instead of heading towards the female, the crooning moth has her to himself, and the long pulse that ends his song put her in the mood for love. 

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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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