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14 Fascinating Facts About Ocean Sunfish

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The Mola mola—which looks like a prehistoric shark that lost a tail in an epic battle—might be the world's weirdest fish. Here are just a few reasons it's the most fascinating marine creature around.

1. They love to sunbathe.

Sunfish spend up to half the day basking in the sun near the surface of the water, which helps warm their bodies up after deep water dives to hunt.

2. They can weigh more than a car.

The average ocean sunfish is 10 feet long and weighs 2200 pounds, but the biggest can grow up to 5000 pounds. The average pickup truck is only 4000. This makes them the world's largest bony fish.  

3. They lay more eggs than any other animal. 

Image Credit: Pline via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Sunfish can lay up to 300,000,000 eggs at one time, more than any other vertebrate.

4. They have super weird teeth.

Mola mola teeth are fused together in two plates that look like a parrot’s beak

5. They are related to the bass. 

Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, rock bass, and black bass are all members of the sunfish family. Bass generally eat the smaller members of the sunfish family, like bluegills

6. Eating them is bad luck, according to Polynesian legend. 

A 3500 pound sunfish caught off the coast of California in 1910. Image Credit: Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

According to marine biologist Tierney Thys’ site OceanSunfish.org, Polynesians called the sunfish “King of Mackerel.” It was considered bad luck to kill sunfish, lest their loss prevent mackerel from making their way to the islands. 

7. They’re named after a millstone.

The name Mola mola comes from the Latin word for “millstone.” It’s named for its gray, round body, and rough texture. 

8. In German, they are called "swimming heads."  

The German term for a sunfish is Schwimmender Kopf, meaning “swimming head,” a pretty apt description of their appearance. The Polish name for sunfish is samogłów, or “head alone.”

9. They are the namesake of the world’s most popular sailboat. 

The Sunfish, first developed in the late 1950s, was designed to be something like a surfboard with a sail on it. In 1995, it was inducted into the the American Sailboat Hall of Fame as the most popular fiberglass boat ever sold. 

10. They can dive up to 2600 feet. 

A sunfish spotted near the Galápagos. Image Credit: Edgard Dias Magalhães via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 

Sunfish generally hang out at depths of 160 to 650 feet, but they can dive much deeper on occasion. In one study, scientists recorded a sunfish diving more than 2600 feet below the surface. 

11. They’re voracious predators. 

Scientists used to think that sunfish were relatively inactive, spending their days sunbathing and feeding on jellyfish. However, despite their doofy appearance, sunfish are active predators with discerning tastes who travel several miles per day. In a recent study, scientists observed sunfish feeding solely on the most energy-rich parts of jellyfish—the gonads and the arms (yum!)—while leaving the less nutritious bell behind. They also occasionally eat small fish and zooplankton. 

12. They were an acceptable form of tax payment in 17th century Japan …

During the 1600s and 1700s, Japanese shoguns accepted Mola mola as payment for taxes [PDF]. 

13. … And are currently the subject of a popular Japanese video game. 

Image Credit: Select Button Inc. via Google Play

A mobile game called Survive! Mola Mola! has more than 6 million downloads in Japan. It revolves around nurturing an ocean sunfish, like Tamagotchi for weird-shaped marine life. 

14. They may or may not be plankton. 

Despite its massive size, the sunfish has been classified for years as a type of plankton, because it seemed to drift with the current rather than swim. (Plankton drift up and down the water column with the current, unable to swim against it.) However, more recent studies of Mola mola have refuted the idea that sunfish are passive planktonic creatures. Tracking has shown that they can move independently of the current, and can swim at speeds similar to that of other large fish

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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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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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