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Doug Beckers via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Doug Beckers via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Researchers Say ‘Ugly’ Animals Get Less Scientific Attention

Doug Beckers via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Doug Beckers via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

What do pandas, lions, harp seals, and polar bears have in common? They’ve all been used to win sympathy (and funds) for animal conservation organizations. With their big eyes, fluffy babies, and endangered habitats, these "charismatic species" are surefire wallet openers.

The problem with picking cute or cuddly species to save is that everyone else can get left out. And it’s a problem that extends beyond conservation. Researchers now say that “ugly” mammals in Australia get far less scientific attention than their more charming counterparts. The study was published March 6 in the journal Mammal Review.

Scientists compiled a list of 331 Australian land-based mammal species, which they categorized as the “good,” the “bad,” and the “ugly” based on their estimates of public and scientific perceptions. As you’d expect, the “good” ones were koalas, kangaroos, and their relatives. “Bad” animals were introduced and invasive species like rabbits and foxes, and “ugly” animals were native rodents and bats like the adorable specimen pictured above (hey, ugly is subjective).

The researchers then searched the academic literature from 1900 to the present day, looking for papers on any of the 311 species. They analyzed the resulting pile of 14,248 papers to determine which species had been studied and how often.

A clear imbalance emerged. Studies on the “good” animals focused mainly on their anatomy and physiology, while those on the “bad” animals were more interested in eradication and population control. The “ugly” animals were more or less ignored: despite making up more than 45 percent of the species list, bats and rodents only appeared in 1587 of the more than 14,000 papers. 

"We know so little about the biology of many of these species,” lead author Patricia Fleming said in a press statement. “For many, we have catalogued their existence through genetics or taxonomic studies, but when it comes to understanding what they eat, their habitat needs, or how we could improve their chances of survival, we are very much still in the dark. These smaller animals make up an important part of functioning ecosystems, a role that needs greater recognition through funding and research effort."

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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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