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10 Trippy Facts About Triops

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Try to picture a tiny, transparent crustacean that looks like a hybrid of a centipede and a horseshoe crab with a zillion writhing legs. While they’re not likely to win any beauty contests, triops are impressive little critters. The genus Triops has been around for as long as 300 million years—that’s about 200 million years older than T. Rex—making them the oldest known animals on the planet. Here are some other fun facts about these resilient creatures.

1. TRIOPS ARE OFTEN CALLED "LIVING FOSSILS,” BUT THAT'S A MISNOMER.

Commonly known as tadpole shrimp, they appear to be almost identical physically to their fossilized ancestors. But appearances can be deceiving. Recent research shows that their DNA and reproductive techniques are constantly evolving.

2. THEY OFTEN HAVE A VARIETY OF WAYS TO REPRODUCE.

In addition to sexual reproduction, some eggs are capable of developing without fertilization. Other triops are hermaphrodites. This means an entire population can develop from just one egg. No wonder they’ve survived for so long.

3. THERE ARE MORE THAN A DOZEN TRIOPS SPECIES.

Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 

They're found in seasonal ponds, pools, and puddles all over the world. Triops were around before the break-up of the last supercontinent, which helps explain why they live on every continent except Antarctica. Triops longicaudatus, a rather fancy critter with a long tail, frequents all but the colder regions of North America, while Triops newberryi prefers the milder climate of the Pacific Northwest and parts of California. Triops granarius is found throughout much of Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. Triops Australiensis calls, you guessed it, Australia home. Triops cancriformis, the oldest species, hails from Europe, the Middle East, and India, and is considered endangered in the UK.  

4. TRIOPS MEANS "THREE EYES" IN GREEK.

They Might Be Giants wrote a song about this helpful feature. Sing along with the kids:

Two eyes on a face
Are usually enough
But triops has got
One that looks up
And one that looks around
And one to keep an eye
On the other pair of guys
Triops has three eyes

5. THEY CAN HAVE AS MANY AS 140 (SURPRISINGLY MULTIPURPOSE) LEGS.

What what they do with them is far more impressive than walking or swimming. Some legs act as antennae that help them find food, while others create a water current to direct food toward their mouth. Females have capsules on some of their legs to carry eggs. Some triops have lobe or leaf-like extensions on their legs that function similarly to gills, allowing them to breathe.

6.THEY EAT A LOT—INCLUDING EACH OTHER.

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Triops have a varied diet, from mosquito larvae to aquatic plants and tiny invertebrates to, um, other triops. Yes, to support their rapid growth, larger triops will cannibalize smaller ones if food supplies run low. Hey, when your home is perpetually in danger of drying up, you have to eat as much as you can so you can grow and breed before it’s too late.

7. THEY GROW QUICKLY—AND THAT CAN BE DEADLY.

Many reaching maturity in one to two weeks—but their exoskeletons do not. That requires them to molt regularly as they outgrow their exoskeletons. Young triops grow so quickly that molting is a daily experience, and a dangerous one: They can die if they don’t successfully shed the old exoskeleton.

8. TRIOPS EGGS CAN LAY DORMANT FOR DECADES, AND THEN HATCH IN WATER.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

They achieve this by laying something called cysts, or resting eggs, that are eggs with a special structure that protects the interior from extreme temperatures, drought, and even radiation. These cysts allow triops to move into new territory by hitching a ride with some pretty far-out modes of transportation, including inside migrating birds and in the feet and poop of animals that pick them up from puddles and pools.

9. THEY CAN SURVIVE IN OUTER SPACE FOR 18 MONTHS.

Tests on the International Space Station (ISS) prove this hardiness. Those findings led to a NASA high school experiment last year that sent Triops Longicaudatus back to the ISS to test whether it could be grown in space and serve as a high-protein food source for astronauts on future long-term missions.

10. CHARMED? YOU CAN HAVE YOUR OWN!

There is a wide assortment of triops starter kits out there to choose from. They’re low-commitment, too: Triops only live for 1–3 months (less if they eat each other). And when one batch dies out, you can dry out the soil or sand in the tank and transfer it to fresh water. If resting eggs are in the sand, with the proper care, you'll soon have another group of triops. 

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Big Questions
Why Can't Dogs Eat Chocolate?
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Even if you don’t have a dog, you probably know that they can’t eat chocolate; it’s one of the most well-known toxic substances for canines (and felines, for that matter). But just what is it about chocolate that is so toxic to dogs? Why can't dogs eat chocolate when we eat it all the time without incident?

It comes down to theobromine, a chemical in chocolate that humans can metabolize easily, but dogs cannot. “They just can’t break it down as fast as humans and so therefore, when they consume it, it can cause illness,” Mike Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss.

The toxic effects of this slow metabolization can range from a mild upset stomach to seizures, heart failure, and even death. If your dog does eat chocolate, they may get thirsty, have diarrhea, and become hyperactive and shaky. If things get really bad, that hyperactivity could turn into seizures, and they could develop an arrhythmia and have a heart attack.

While cats are even more sensitive to theobromine, they’re less likely to eat chocolate in the first place. They’re much more picky eaters, and some research has found that they can’t taste sweetness. Dogs, on the other hand, are much more likely to sit at your feet with those big, mournful eyes begging for a taste of whatever you're eating, including chocolate. (They've also been known to just swipe it off the counter when you’re not looking.)

If your dog gets a hold of your favorite candy bar, it’s best to get them to the vet within two hours. The theobromine is metabolized slowly, “therefore, if we can get it out of the stomach there will be less there to metabolize,” Topper says. Your vet might be able to induce vomiting and give your dog activated charcoal to block the absorption of the theobromine. Intravenous fluids can also help flush it out of your dog’s system before it becomes lethal.

The toxicity varies based on what kind of chocolate it is (milk chocolate has a lower dose of theobromine than dark chocolate, and baking chocolate has an especially concentrated dose), the size of your dog, and whether or not the dog has preexisting health problems, like kidney or heart issues. While any dog is going to get sick, a small, old, or unhealthy dog won't be able to handle the toxic effects as well as a large, young, healthy dog could. “A Great Dane who eats two Hershey’s kisses may not have the same [reaction] that a miniature Chihuahua that eats four Hershey’s kisses has,” Topper explains. The former might only get diarrhea, while the latter probably needs veterinary attention.

Even if you have a big dog, you shouldn’t just play it by ear, though. PetMD has a handy calculator to see just what risk levels your dog faces if he or she eats chocolate, based on the dog’s size and the amount eaten. But if your dog has already ingested chocolate, petMD shouldn’t be your go-to source. Call your vet's office, where they are already familiar with your dog’s size, age, and condition. They can give you the best advice on how toxic the dose might be and how urgent the situation is.

So if your dog eats chocolate, you’re better off paying a few hundred dollars at the vet to make your dog puke than waiting until it’s too late.

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
Elusive Butterfly Sighted in Scotland for the First Time in 133 Years

Conditions weren’t looking too promising for the white-letter hairstreak, an elusive butterfly that’s native to the UK. Threatened by habitat loss, the butterfly's numbers have dwindled by 96 percent since the 1970s, and the insect hasn’t even been spotted in Scotland since 1884. So you can imagine the surprise lepidopterists felt when a white-letter hairstreak was seen feeding in a field in Berwickshire, Scotland earlier in August, according to The Guardian.

A man named Iain Cowe noticed the butterfly and managed to capture it on camera. “It is not every day that something as special as this is found when out and about on a regular butterfly foray,” Cowe said in a statement provided by the UK's Butterfly Conservation. “It was a very ragged and worn individual found feeding on ragwort in the grassy edge of an arable field.”

The white-letter hairstreak is a small brown butterfly with a white “W”-shaped streak on the underside of its wings and a small orange spot on its hindwings. It’s not easily sighted, as it tends to spend most of its life feeding and breeding in treetops.

The butterfly’s preferred habitat is the elm tree, but an outbreak of Dutch elm disease—first noted the 1970s—forced the white-letter hairstreak to find new homes and food sources as millions of Britain's elm trees died. The threatened species has slowly spread north, and experts are now hopeful that Scotland could be a good home for the insect. (Dutch elm disease does exist in Scotland, but the nation also has a good amount of disease-resistant Wych elms.)

If a breeding colony is confirmed, the white-letter hairstreak will bump Scotland’s number of butterfly species that live and breed in the country up to 34. “We don’t have many butterfly species in Scotland so one more is very nice to have,” Paul Kirkland, director of Butterfly Conservation Scotland, said in a statement.

Prior to 1884, the only confirmed sighting of a white-letter hairstreak in Scotland was in 1859. However, the insect’s newfound presence in Scotland comes at a cost: The UK’s butterflies are moving north due to climate change, and the white-letter hairstreak’s arrival is “almost certainly due to the warming climate,” Kirkland said.

[h/t The Guardian]

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