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Architect Creates a Living, Breathing Wall Full of Frogs

Have you ever looked at the blank, boring wall of your home or workplace and thought, “It’s fine, I guess, but I just wish there were frogs in it”? Well, does experimental architect David Benjamin have a treat for you: a living, breathing wall that’s literally full of frogs.

This is slightly less nonsensical than it sounds. Every building has an inside and an outside. The layer between the inside and outside—that’s the foundation, walls, windows, ceiling, roof, etc.—is called the building envelope. The building envelope has a big job: It keeps the structure standing and regulates temperature, humidity, and air pressure.

Glass building envelopes are made of two or three panes of glass. The pockets of air between the panes help insulate the building and let light in. Three-pane envelopes are solid and efficient, but, Benjamin says, they could be doing so much more.

Collaborating with biologist Ali Brivanlou from Rockefeller University, the architect inserted a miniature ecosystem into the cavities of a glass envelope. The team filled one pocket with air and the other with water, algae, snails, and frogs.

Frogs take in oxygen from the water. When that oxygen runs out, the frogs swim to the surface to get a breath of air. A frog's appearance at the surface sets off a digital sensor, which pulls in air from outside the tank. Air entering the tank is purified as it moves through the water, and then released into the atmosphere surrounding the wall. 

Every element of the living diorama has a part to play. The snails are frog food. The algae balls absorb light and carbon dioxide, and produce additional oxygen.

Benjamin calls his wall the Amphibious Envelope, since it makes use of a frog’s ability to breathe both above and under water. The envelope provides a room with purified air, as well as a primitive form of air conditioning. The bubbles in the tank and the movements of the frogs create what Benjamin calls a “dynamic pattern.”

This is not Benjamin’s first bizarre-architecture rodeo. Last summer, the architect (who also goes by the name of his design firm, The Living, an Autodesk Studio) built a tower of living bricks in the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art. The bricks were made of corn stalk and mycelium, the thread-like roots of fungus. 

And then there was the Venice Mussels Choir, a display of shellfish hooked up to sensors and microphones. As the mussels filtered the water, the sensors would “sing” about the water quality. 

Yes: All of these projects are weird. But they also offer a sense of interconnectedness and possibility. We don’t have to do things the way we’ve always done them. We don’t have to isolate ourselves from our environment. Light and air are everywhere; all we have to do is think outside the cinder block.

All photographs are courtesy of The Living

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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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