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7 Unexpected Animal Beauty Pageants

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Most people have heard of the pampered pooches who compete at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, held every year at NYC’s Madison Square Garden. It may be more of a surprise to learn that there's a version of Westminster for tarantulas, or that cows, goats, elephants, and other furry (or feathered) friends compete in beauty pageants around the world. (So far, of course, Westminster is the only event with its own mockumentary.) These competitions range from the bitterly contested to the relatively lighthearted, but they all feature animals that we don’t usually expect to see on a judging platform.

1. British Tarantula Society Annual Competition

Like Westminster, the British Tarantula Society's annual contest features both individual categories—such as "Best Asian Arboreal" and "Best Brachypelma"—as well an overall Best in Show crown. This year, top honors went to a Phormictopus sp. "Green," an 8-inch creepy-crawly with a metallic green tint. The British Tarantula Society was founded 30 years ago by one Ann Webb (yes, really), and has been charming arachnophiles ever since. The first annual contest was held in Webb's garage, while this year's event packed about 2000 people into a Coventry stadium.

2. World’s Falcons Beauty Contest

Falconry is a big deal in the United Arab Emirates, where the bird is a national symbol featured on official crests and an inspiration for traditional music, dance, food, and Instagram-fueled rap battles. The Emirates Falconers’ Club runs the World’s Falcons Beauty Contest, which judges the “best looking and largest falcons in the world” according to their size, weight, the color and consistency of their feathers, and other characteristics. The birds are assessed in four categories, including "best gyr-peregrine hybrid bred in captivity" and "best pure gyr" (gyr and peregrines are species of falcons), while owners are judged in “The Best Stand of Falconry and Its Equipment in the Exhibition.”

3. Miss Milk Cow Pageant

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Judges at the annual Miss Milk Cow pageant in Vietnam are looking for long legs and a shapely torso, but the real asset on trial is the ability to produce lots and lots of milk. The Miss Milk Cow contest is held annually in Moc Chau, a region of Vietnam known for its dairy pastures, and the contest’s stated purpose is to promote dairy farming. The most recent Miss Milk Cow, who won her title in October 2014, was a comely four-year-old capable of producing 42 kg of milk (about 92.5 pounds) per day—double the average volume.

4. Elephant Beauty Contest at the Chitwan Elephant Festival

The Chitwan Elephant Festival in southern Nepal features elephant races, elephant calf football, and an elephant picnic, plus ox- and horse-cart races. But for some, the highlight is undoubtedly the elephant beauty pageant, when freshly scrubbed and painted pachyderms appear resplendent in gowns and nail polish before a group of judges. Contestants are scored on cleanliness and intelligence, among other attributes. Five elephants competed in the most recent event, held in December 2014, although the pageant's final outcome, disappointingly, seems to have gone unreported in the English-language press.

5. Camel Beauty Pageant at the Selcuk Efes Camel Wrestling Festival

Camel wrestling goes back thousands of years in Turkey, although the Selcuk Efes Camel Wrestling Festival’s current incarnation was launched by the nation’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 1982. Spectators who might not be up for the brief-but-violent wrestling matches between spitting Tulu camels (watch out for the flying saliva and urine!) can instead take in the animals adorned with beads, sequins, pom poms, and tassels competing for the title of best-dressed in the beauty pageant.

6. National Pigeon Show

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Who hasn't occasionally admired the metallic plumage of pigeons at the park? The birds at the National Pigeon Association's Grand National Pigeon Show take it to the next level, with multi-colored crimped and curled plumage that would put even Kate Middleton's tresses to shame. This year's contest, held in Los Angeles, saw 7800 pigeons in over 300 breeds and from 21 countries compete in best-of-breed and best-in-show categories. (Even noted pigeon enthusiast Mike Tyson attended.) This year's overall champion was a snowy Oriental Frill.

7. Goat Beauty Contests

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You might not think of goats as being in the same league as Miss America, but goat beauty pageants are definitely a thing. In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, pedigree Najdi goats—known for their distinctive noses and silky manes—have competed to win prizes, while in Jordan, Al Shami goats (also known for their great noses) have duked it out. Both breeds can fetch tens of thousands of dollars per animal, and the contests seem mostly geared to establishing bragging rights for breeders.

Lithuania, however, has kept things a little more homegrown with a goat beauty pageant in 2010 meant to celebrate the 640th anniversary of the village of Ramygala. (A fetching cream-colored goat named Grazyolyte took home the crown.) The idea behind such contests isn’t new, by the way—in the mid-1930s, there were regular goat beauty pageants in Central Park, sponsored by a beer company seeking the mascot for their annual advertising poster. The 1934 winner, Pretzels, was described by The New York Times as possessing “magnificent swirling horns, a long, sagacious beard and a relatively sweet disposition.”

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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

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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