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Natural History Museum Dioramas Are Disappearing

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Life-sized dioramas were once a staple of many natural history museums. Taxidermy-treated deer, wolves, and lions roamed carefully constructed habitats designed to replicate actual places in the wild where artists and scientists had done field work. But soon, this low-tech method of making museum visitors feel like they’re really face-to-face with a lion may be disappearing, replaced with more flashy interactive exhibits. 

Newsweek traces the history of these works of taxidermy-filled art:

Dioramas arose in the late 1800s, largely out of a desire to return to nature following the Industrial Revolution. 'These are what you might call the earliest version of virtual reality,' says Stephen Quinn, who recently retired as senior project manager and longtime diorama artist at the [American Museum of Natural History]. The displays consist of taxidermied animals, foreground props and artfully painted panoramic backgrounds. More than just works of art, dioramas are true to science; for decades, artists and scientists went into the field to collect specimens and their surroundings and replicate them exactly as they appeared. 'This sense of place and this sense of reality and a personal encounter is so strong that they are a real powerful medium for teaching science,' Quinn says.

But diorama art in museums has been on a slow decline since the 1920s, and today, museums (and museum goers) are more interested in interactive displays and multimedia than 100-year-old, meticulously recreated nature scenes. In recent years, several major museums have opted not to recreate their dioramas when they moved to new facilities, including the California Academy of Sciences (which relocated between 2003 and 2008) and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Yet there may still be hope for lovers of those classic museum scenes. Taxidermy is making a comeback, and the Field Museum in Chicago recently received more than $155,000 in crowdfunded pledges to build their first new diorama in a quarter century. However, true to the times, the museum didn't reach its $170,000 goal. They're building the hyena exhibit anyway, thankfully.  

Read more about the great diorama dilemma in Newsweek. 

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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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