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Lionfish Continue Their Invasion of the East Coast's Warm Waters

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Compared to threats like pollution, tourism, development, and climate change, the ornately frilled lionfish might not seem like much of a menace to the world's seas. But this exotic aquatic creature—an invasive and voracious predator—has been the scourge of the western Atlantic, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico for most of the past decade, as Al Jazeera America reports.

In the 1980s, erstwhile aquarium owners reportedly dumped their lionfish—which are native to the Pacific and Indian oceans—into the Atlantic. Around 2007, the population started increasing at a precipitous rate.

Scientists don’t know exactly why this happened. However, they do know that the lionfish has no known predators. They're resistant to disease and infection. And female lionfish can lay up to 2 million eggs per year

Lionfish also aren’t as ethereal as they appear. They are vicious predators, consuming more than 50 species of fish, some of which are two-thirds of the lionfish's own body size (about a foot long). They gobble up juvenile grouper, snapper, flounder, and other "table fish," which are important for Florida’s economy. And since lionfish are usually immune to baits or traps, divers generally have to kill them with spears one at a time. 

Spearing lionfish is a tricky business—they have 18 venomous spines that can inflict seriously painful injuries, and the fish don’t fear humans. They can also survive in waters too deep for recreational divers to reach. While enterprising individuals are inventing new potential traps and hosting lionfish hunting derbies, there’s still no easy way to diminish the invasion.

As a landlubber, what can you do to help lessen the lionfish harm? Order it in restaurants. It’s white, flaky, and reportedly tastes like a cross between a grouper and a hog snapper. Hopefully, culinary demand for the lionfish will help control the exploding population, and help reclaim the waters.

[h/t Al Jazeera America]

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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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