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A Member of Parliament Wants Hedgehogs as the UK's National Species

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Over the past couple years, Internet-famous hedgehogs like Darcy and Marutaro have given the spiny mammals a boost in popularity almost as big as Sonic did in the early to mid 1990s. Though still illegal in some places, the animals are quickly becoming one of the most popular pets in the United States, according to some reports. News from across the Atlantic Ocean suggests that hedgehog love is not confined to this country, though, because a member of the British Parliament is now seriously pushing for the cute creatures to become the first-ever national species of the UK.

The BBC reports that Conservative MP Oliver Colvile recently nominated the hedgehog as a national symbol to raise awareness of the species' declining numbers due to habitat loss. "Likely factors in the hedgehog’s demise are the loss of permanent grasslands, larger field sizes, the use of pesticides and herbicides and a reduction in hedgerow quality," Colvile said. However, Environment Minister Rory Stewart questioned whether the hedgehog was worthy to represent Britain:

"Do we want to have as our national symbol an animal which when confronted with danger rolls over into a little ball and puts its spikes up? Do we want to have as our national symbol an animal that sleeps for six months of the year, or would we rather return to the animal that is already our national symbol? I refer, of course, to the lion, which is majestic, courageous and proud."

Hilary Hanson of The Huffington Post writes that Stewart's argument against the hedgehog and in favor of the lion is flawed. "First of all, if your argument is that hedgehogs sleep too much, a lion is not a good alternative," Hanson says. "Male lions can sleep 18–20 hours per day, which translates to way more than half the year." She adds that it is "silly to make your national symbol an animal that doesn’t even live in the wild anywhere near your region. Making the lion the symbol of the UK would be like making the zebra the national symbol of the U.S. or the platypus the national symbol of Norway."

In his response to Colvile's plan, Stewart also noted that Parliament has probably not discussed hedgehogs since 1566. While maintaining that the lion would be a better fit, he also made a point of showing hedgehogs the respect that he feels they deserve as a species and a "symbol of innocence." After quoting Shakespeare and providing historical information about hedgehogs, Stewart spoke at length about the importance of helping and studying hedgehogs, reminded his colleagues that it was "used by Saatchi & Saatchi in an advertising campaign for the Conservative party in 1992 general election," and ended with a quote by poet and novelist Thomas Hardy. First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, Eleanor Laing, said Stewart's hedgehog speech was "one of the best speeches I have ever heard in this House." 

To read the full transcript from the House of Commons debate, click through here.

[h/t: Huffington Post]

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Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?
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If you've ever seen a pirate movie (or had the privilege of listening to this avian-fronted metal band), you're aware that parrots have the gift of human-sounding gab. Their brains—not their beaks—might be behind the birds' ability to produce mock-human voices, the Sci Show's latest video explains below.

While parrots do have articulate tongues, they also appear to be hardwired to mimic other species, and to create new vocalizations. The only other birds that are capable of vocal learning are hummingbirds and songbirds. While examining the brains of these avians, researchers noted that their brains contain clusters of neurons, which they've dubbed song nuclei. Since other birds don't possess song nuclei, they think that these structures probably play a key role in vocal learning.

Parrots might be better at mimicry than hummingbirds and songbirds thanks to a variation in these neurons: a special shell layer that surrounds each one. Birds with larger shell regions appear to be better at imitating other creatures, although it's still unclear why.

Learn more about parrot speech below (after you're done jamming out to Hatebeak).

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Extinct Penguin Species Was the Size of an Adult Human
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A penguin that waddled across the ice 60 million years ago would have dwarfed the king and emperor penguins of today, according to the Associated Press. As indicated by fossils recently uncovered in New Zealand, the extinct species measured 5 feet 10 inches while swimming, surpassing the height of an average adult man.

The discovery, which the authors say is the most complete skeleton of a penguin this size to date, is laid out in a study recently published in Nature Communications. When standing on land, the penguin would have measured 5 feet 3 inches, still a foot taller than today’s largest penguins at their maximum height. Researchers estimated its weight to have been about 223 pounds.

Kumimanu biceae, a name that comes from Maori words for “monster" and "bird” and the name of one researcher's mother, last walked the Earth between 56 million and 60 million years ago. That puts it among the earliest ancient penguins, which began appearing shortly after large aquatic reptiles—along with the dinosaurs—went extinct, leaving room for flightless carnivorous birds to enter the sea.

The prehistoric penguin was a giant, even compared to other penguin species of the age, but it may not have been the biggest penguin to ever live. A few years ago, paleontologists discovered 40-million-year-old fossils they claimed belonged to a penguin that was 6 feet 5 inches long from beak to tail. But that estimate was based on just a couple bones, so its actual size may have varied.

[h/t AP]

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