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Sea Turtles Wear Swim Suits With Diapers for Research

To help an animal, you must understand it. And to understand it, often, you need its poop. Feces is more than just waste—it’s a record of an animal’s diet, health, travels, and interactions with other species

Collecting animal scat can be difficult on land, but it's really hard in the sea. The second sea-creature poop leaves its maker, it begins to dissolve and disintegrate in the water. So scientists who want to collect, say, sea turtle poop need to get a little creative.

That's why researchers at Australia’s University of Queensland designed custom swimsuits with poop catchers for their 120 kilogram (265-pound) subjects. 

Queensland scientists Owen Coffee and Carmen da Silva had previously tried attaching flexible funnels to the back of the turtles’ shells, but the funnels kept falling off. They also caught six massive loggerhead turtles and kept them in saltwater tanks until they pooped, but the poop dissolved before it could be collected.

Coffee mentioned his predicament to the research station’s education officer, Kathy Townsend, who remembered that a previous research team had made tiny swim-fabric harnesses for their sea turtle hatchling subjects, as shown in the photo above.

Inspired, Coffee went to a nearby thrift shop and bought a bunch of rash guards—the full-length swimsuits surfers wear to keep their limbs safe from sunburn and scrapes. Coffee cut the arms and legs off the rash guards and stitched them into custom swimsuits, complete with removable collection bags—essentially, turtle diapers.

Turtle swimsuit harness

nappie

And like a child’s swim diaper, a turtle bathing suit allows its wearer a full range of motion in the water while keeping any special deposits safely contained. The difference is what happens when the collection bag is full. While a parent will keep the child and throw away the dirty diaper, Coffee and da Silva saved the collection bags and released the now-naked turtles back into Moreton Bay.

Release

The researchers will now analyze the feces to figure out what the turtles have been eating and where they’ve been foraging, information crucial to protecting them.

Coffee is satisfied with his collection, and Townsend was impressed with his needlework. In a recent press release, Townsend said that not only were the swimsuits easy to put on and comfortable for the turtles, but they also “looked great.”

All images embedded via the University of Queensland Flickr page

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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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