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A 'Siberian Unicorn' Roamed the Earth Until 29,000 Years Ago, Scientists Say

Thousands of years ago, a real-life unicorn roamed the Earth, and as scientists have just discovered, it lived hundreds of thousands of years more recently than we thought. 

Elasmotherium sibiricum was a “Siberian unicorn” that looked more like a hairy rhinoceros than a fantastical equine dream. Its horn was long and huge in contrast to the rhinos of today, and it stood more than 6 feet tall and 14 feet long (making it as big as a mammoth). Much like their contemporary counterparts, the beasts likely feasted on mostly grass.

Researchers from Tomsk State University recently discovered a well-preserved skull of Elasmotherium sibiricum in the Pavlodar region of northeastern Kazakhstan. Using radiocarbon dating techniques, they dated the specimen to around 29,000 years ago—a notable departure from previous evidence suggesting that the species died out around 350,000 years ago. The study was published recently in the American Journal of Applied Science.

The giant rhinoceros featured in the study was likely an older male, and its cause of death is unknown. In a press statement, paleontologist Andrey Shpanski says that the ancient animal may have found refuge in the region, which is located in southwest Siberia, allowing it to survive longer than other rhinos.

The team now plans to date other mammals believed to have gone extinct between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago. They hope that by better understanding the environmental conditions that may have led to extinction in the past, they might be able to make more accurate predictions about the future. 

[h/t Science Alert]

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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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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages

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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