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The Woman Who Invented Aquariums

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Without a 19th century seamstress named Jeanne Villepreux-Power, there might be no fish tanks. Villepreux-Power, who was one of the foremost cephalopod researchers of her era, invented the modern aquarium. Yet she’s largely been forgotten, in part due to an unfortunate shipwreck. 

Villepreux-Power was born in rural France in 1794. She became a noted Parisian dressmaker, skilled enough to be hired to embroider clothing for royal weddings. But when she married a wealthy merchant and moved to Italy as a young woman, she ditched embroidery for scientific pursuits, as author Helen Scales describes in her book on seashells, Spirals in Time. Villepreux-Power went on to observe tool use in octopi and discover the way Argonauta argo, the paper nautilus, secretes its own shell. 

In the course of her pioneering research on the paper nautilus, she had to figure out a way to observe the creature in the lab. So she invented the modern glass aquarium in 1832. 

Image Credit: Comingio Merculianovia Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain


She invented three different types of aquariums, according to an article in the bulletin of the Malacological Society of London. One was designed to be used indoors, one placed in a cage to be set in shallow water, and one designed to be anchored to the sea floor. She used these to observe the paper nautilus developing shells as larvae, and repair them by secreting a special substance when the shell was damaged. She also discovered that a small, octopus-looking organism found with paper nautilus eggs was actually the male Argonauta

Unfortunately, all of Villepreux-Power’s books and papers were lost at sea while the scientist and her husband were moving from Sicily to London. The couple had traveled by land, but had sent their belongings on a ship that sank in a storm. Devastated, Villepreux-Power stopped researching, leaving much of her contributions to early marine animal research unheralded. So go ahead and pour one out for her whenever you see a particularly nice fish tank.

[h/t: Science News via Smithsonian]

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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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