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Rare European Dung Beetle Found Living in Cow Poop

A dung beetle is easy enough to picture: a squat, shiny little bug determinedly pushing its smelly treasure homeward. We picture them rolling their balls of dung across burning Egyptian sands, or under a hedge in the grasslands of Kenya. But a European dung beetle? That’s a little harder to imagine. 

It shouldn’t be. Dung beetles live on every continent except Antarctica. They’re literally all over the place, tidying up after larger animals from China to Peru. There are more than 100 species of dung beetle in the UK alone. 

Sally-Ann Spence hopes to find them all. Spence is a researcher with the Dung Beetle UK Mapping Project, or DUMP (probably not an accident). The goal of DUMP is to create an enormous database of information on UK dung beetles. The beetles have enormous value, and not just to scientists; dung beetles save UK cattle ranchers an estimated £367 million ($550 million USD) each year. All their burrowing into the ground aerates the soil, which lets rainwater and nutrients seep in. 

Spence and her colleagues volunteer their own time to conduct the research—research that often involves combing through cow pies. “We have become connoisseurs of fine dung,” Spence told the BBC. “[We’re] not adverse [sic] to feeling the texture or giving it a good sniff—you can tell a lot about an animal’s health by its dung—we will examine it meticulously for beetles." 

It was during one of these examinations that Spence found Aphodius affinis. Spence was on the island of Jersey for another research project and decided to do a little poking around. The reward for her curiosity was a single specimen of A. affinis, a beetle so small it could fit on the tip of a pinky. 

The beetle is the first of its kind ever spotted on the island, a fact that excited local entomologists. Roger Long is chairman of the Société Jersiaise’s entomology section. “Dung beetles are very important to the health of cattle herds and the meadows they feed in,” he told the Jersey Evening Post. “If we had no dung beetles, fields would be knee-deep in cattle dung.” 

Want to learn more? Follow #dungathon on Twitter. 

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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Animals
If You Want Your Cat to Poop Out More Hairballs, Try Feeding It Beets
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Have you ever wondered if there’s a way to get your cat to poop out its hairballs instead of hacking them up? If so, you’re likely a seasoned cat owner whose tolerance for gross stuff has reached the point of no return. Luckily, there may be an easy way to get your cat to dispose of hairballs in the litter box instead of on your carpet, according to one study.

The paper, published in the Journal of Physiology and Animal Nutrition, followed the diets of 18 mixed-breed short-haired cats over a month. Some cats were fed straight kibble, while others were given helpings of beet pulp along with their regular meals. The researchers suspected that beets, a good source of fiber, would help move any ingested hair through the cats’ digestive systems, thus preventing it from coming back up the way it went in. Following the experiment, they found that the cats with the beet diet did indeed poop more.

The scientists didn’t measure how many hairballs the cats were coughing up during this period, so it's possible that pooping out more of them didn’t stop cats from puking them up at the same rate. But considering hairballs are a matter of digestive health, more regular bowel movements likely reduced the chance that cats would barf them up. The cat body is equipped to process large amounts of hair: According to experts, healthy cats should only be hacking hairballs once or twice a year.

If you find them around your home more frequently than that, it's a good idea to up your cat's fiber intake. Raw beet pulp is just one way to introduce fiber into your pet's diet; certain supplements for cats work just as well and actually contain beet pulp as a fiber source. Stephanie Liff, a veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Care in New York, recommends psyllium powder to her patients. Another option for dealing with hairballs is the vegetable-oil based digestive lubricant Laxatone: According to Dr. Liff, this can "help to move hairballs in the correct direction."

[h/t Discover]

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