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Andrey Atuchin

Scientists Find Fanged Amphibian and ‘Fire Frog’ Fossils in Brazil

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Andrey Atuchin

The world was a wild place 278 million years ago. The continents as we know them were all jammed together in the landmass called Pangaea. The ancestors of modern animals roamed the supercontinent’s swamps and tundras, adapting to the shifting climate where they could and dying out where they could not. 

We have a lot of fossils from this time period, although most of them were found in a few select regions of Europe and North America. Now, an international team of scientists reports the discovery of two new species in northeastern Brazil. 

Both of the newly discovered species were a part of the salamander-like genus Dvinosaurus. (That’s not a typo—there really was a group of amphibians called dvinosaurs.) Timonya annae (skull pictured below) was a little fanged creature that looked like a cross between an axolotl and an eel. It was found in the Brazilian state Piauí near the remains of another formerly undescribed species, Procuhy nazariensis. That species name translates from the local Timbira language as “fire frog,” but P. nazariensis isn’t a frog, nor did it live in fire. The name comes from the flint, or fire rock, near the site of the fossils’ discovery. 

Skull of Timonya annae. Image Credit: Juan Cisneros.

The researchers also found fossil evidence of a number of animals that had previously only been found in Africa and North America. Finding these species in Brazil offers a clue to the routes reptiles and amphibians took as they traveled across the supercontinent. 

The research team published their findings today in the journal Nature Communications. Their discoveries have broad implications, coauthor Ken Angielczyk of Chicago’s Field Museum said in a press release.

“Fossils from classic areas in North America and Europe have been studied for over a century, but there are long-standing questions about how different animal groups dispersed to other areas that we can't answer using just those fossils,” he said.

“Exploration in understudied areas, such as northeastern Brazil, gives us a snapshot of life elsewhere that we can use for comparisons. In turn, we can see which animals were dispersing into new areas, particularly as an ice age was ending in the southern continents and environmental conditions were becoming more favorable for reptiles and amphibians.” 

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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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