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Hyenas Are Way Friendlier Than You Think

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Hyenas are generally viewed as dangerous, cunning animals that, according to folklore, steal children and rob other animals of their kill. But among their own families, hyenas are actually loyal, lifelong friends. Spotted hyenas live in large groups that are founded on stable social ties between friends, a new study from the journal Ecology Letters reports. 

Based on 20 years of field observation, biologists found that hyenas make friends pretty much the same way humans do: they seek out the friends of their friends. 

In the Talek clan, a group of spotted hyenas in Kenya that has been studied daily since 1988, hyenas proved to be selective about whom they formed close bonds with. Sharing a contact in common upped the chance of two hyenas associating with each other, forming a kind of friendship triangle. Female-female friendships were slightly more stable than male-male associations, and hyenas of a lower social rank were more likely to make friends than those of a higher rank. Hyenas can be snooty too! 

The researchers liken hyena social structures—which remain stable for years—to those of human hunter-gatherer societies, or, more interestingly, to Facebook use, where people tend to cluster in friend groups. Venture capitalists: go ahead and throw money at a Facebook for hyenas. 

[h/t: Science]

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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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