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Native Americans Might Have Domesticated Bobcats 2,000 Years Ago

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The remains of a young bobcat found in western Illinois may be early evidence of feline domestication in the Americas, according to new research. 

Some 2000 years ago, a bobkitten was carefully laid to rest in a burial mound near the Illinois River wearing a necklace of bear teeth and shells. Initially thought to be a dog burial when the remains were discovered in the ‘80s, researchers affiliated with several Illinois institutions, as well as the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, recently reanalyzed the sample and now assert that it represents the first wild cat burial documented in archaeology. 

The Hopewell Native Americans living in the region might have tried to tame the young bobcat, they write in the Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, representing an ancient example of cat domestication in North America. Domestic dogs were buried at this time, but not with the ceremonial pomp this cat received. The months-old bobcat was interred by itself near several human funeral mounds, and didn’t have any marks on it to suggest the animal had been killed as a sacrifice. 

Yet the researchers are unclear as to whether the animal was a pet, or merely held special significance for the Hopewell that resulted in a higher-class burial than most animals received. And even if it was a pet, that doesn't necessarily mean it was a predecessor of today's house cat. While this burial could be a sign of early efforts toward domesticating wild felines, the cat could also have been a singular outlier among a largely untamed population of bobcats. We can say for sure, though, that someone definitely liked this cat enough to give it a proper send-off. 

[h/t: Science News via io9]

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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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