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Researchers Unearth Enormous Ancient Crocodile Relative in Tunisia

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As if average-sized crocodiles aren't terrifying enough, a team of researchers recently discovered an ancient relative of the reptile that was roughly the size of a bus, with a skull over five feet long.

According to BBC, the 30-foot creature lived 130 million years ago during the early Cretaceous period and has been given the name Machimosaurus rex ("fighting lizard-king") for its impressive size. At the time, it was the largest known marine crocodylomorph, a group of extinct animals that includes crocodilians and their relatives. "There's no question this animal had a terrific diet," co-discoverer Federico Fanti said of the remains, which he and his team found while exploring a part of Tunisia where no one had searched for fossils before. The bones were visible without digging, Fanti said. "We could see the outline of the body in the ground and counted more than one."

The researchers say that the discovery of Machimosaurus rex could change scientific understanding of the transition between the Jurassic and the Cretaceous periods. While some scientists believe a mass extinction event occurred during the transition, the fact that Machimosaurus rex seems to have survived about 20 million years past the extinction of other large reptiles undermines the mass die-out theory.

"We think that we are not looking at a global extinction but local extinction of different species," Fanti told BBC. "Dependent on where in the world you are digging, you are going to find that some species survived and others did not."

The researchers' report on the discovery, published in the journal Cretaceous Research, includes a graphic showing the size of the newly discovered species in comparison to an adult human. 

[h/t: BBC]

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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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