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The Time Bloodsucking Fish Rained From the Sky in Alaska

It started with a single fish in a parking lot. One day in 2015, employees of the Value Village in Fairbanks, Alaska, were alerted to the presence of a live fish just outside the store. The creepy, eel-like creature had just appeared, as though it had fallen out of the sky. The employees put the 15-inch-long fish in a bucket of water and called the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G).

That alone would have made it a strange week for Fairbanks. But the phone at the ADF&G kept ringing. Residents called in sightings of three more fish out of water, including one that materialized on somebody’s lawn.

ADF&G identified the stray fish as Arctic lampreys, a long, parasitic fish boasting terrifying rings of teeth, which it uses to latch on to a salmon, trout, or shark and suck out its prey's blood and body fluids. 

Arctic lampreys are common in Alaska waters. They’re less common on land. The fish that turned up that week all bore gashes in their sides, suggesting they’d been picked up by gulls, then dropped once the birds were aloft. The city of Fairbanks is located on a river, and this kind of thing has happened there before. It’s almost surprising that it doesn’t happen more often. 

Elsewhere in the world, it does. Stories of freak rains of fish (and sometimes frogs) have persisted for millennia, beginning with Pliny the Elder. Every two years or so, it seems, there’s a plague of airborne fish somewhere in the world. In the last ten years alone, slimy deluges have afflicted citizens of India, Japan, Australia, Hungary, the Philippines, and Ireland.

All of these storms were a bit more substantial* than the drizzle in Fairbanks, sometimes delivering hundreds of live or dead animals. Gulls can’t be to blame for events of that scale. So what is?

The most viable theory at the moment is that these rains are exactly what they resemble: weather. If a tornado or big rainstorm passes over a body of water, it could conceivably suck up some of the pond or river—and the animals that live there with it. As the waterspout passes over land, it dissipates, leaving frogs in the fields or fish at the front door.

However, scientists are not totally satisfied with this theory. For one thing, nobody has ever seen it happen. The fish just seem to appear when we’re not looking. For another, why would a waterspout suck up just one species? There aren’t rains of fish and crabs and pondweed. It’s just fish, and only one kind, at that. 

So the mystery remains. All we can do is keep our eyes open and our umbrellas handy.

*With the exception of Ireland, which allegedly experienced a momentary shower consisting of a single lamprey.

All photographs courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game

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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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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages

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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