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11 Wild Facts About Dingoes

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When most people hear the word "dingo," they most likely think of the famous movie line "a dingo ate my baby." While inspired by true events, there's a lot more to learn about the creatures than their baby-snatching reputations would suggest.

1. THE DINGO IS NOT A DOG BREED.

Technically, dingoes are not a breed of dog. They're only semi-domesticated and are just as much wolf as they are dog. So far, it's unclear if Canis lupus dingo was ever fully domesticated. Some evidence suggests that they may once have been pets, but were abandoned and left to revert to their wild state. It's believed that travelers from Indonesia or Southeast Asia dropped the once-domesticated dogs in Australia roughly 4000 years ago. The dogs, left to their own devices, thrived by falling back on the wolfish instincts of their ancestors. While some dingoes would travel and eat with Aboriginal tribes on the Australian continent, they were wary companions and certainly not pets.

2. THEY'RE CONSIDERED PESTS.

Left to fend for themselves, dingoes became the largest predator in Australia and enjoyed a wide variety of prey to gobble down. It wasn't until the English came to the country with their sheep that the dingo ran into some trouble. Dingoes feasted on the newcomers' livestock until the farmers were at their wit's end. While most dogs are considered man's best friend, dingoes are decidedly an enemy of the Australian farmer. Some sheep owners today have resorted to "guard donkeys" to protect their stock. The hoofed animals are low maintenance and scare away dingoes and foxes with their powerful kicks.

3. THE LARGEST FENCE IN THE WORLD WAS BUILT TO KEEP OUT DINGOES.

Australians desperate to keep their flocks safe resorted to building a fence in southeastern Australia to keep the dingoes out. The impressive fence is one of the longest structures in the world and is generally considered the longest fence. The original incarnation was a collection of small fences built in the 1880s to prevent the spread of rabbit plague, but they quickly fell into disrepair. In the early 1900s, they were repaired and converted into dingo fences. The various structures were connected in the 1940s to create one giant, continuous fence. It once stretched 8614 kilometers (5352.5 miles) long, but has since been shortened to 5614 kilometers (3488.4 miles). It costs 10 million Australian dollars a year in upkeep, but is considered mostly a success at keeping the predators out.

4. THERE ARE DIFFERENT KINDS.

The range of climates across Australia likely led to the development of different types of dingo, which all reside in different areas of the continent. Desert dingoes are reddish, golden yellow, or sand colored with a compact body size. Alpine dingoes are the most rare in the wild and have a light cream coat. Finally, northern dingoes have a finer stature and lack the double coat the other two types have.

5. SOME PEOPLE KEEP THEM AS PETS...

Some people might frown upon keeping a semi-wild animal as a pet, but others find dingo ownership to be very rewarding. The dogs are very loving and emotionally in tune. The attractive canines are lot like other domesticated dog breeds and can be walked on a leash and brought to the dog park.

That said, the dogs are very high-maintenance. Since dingoes are closely related to wolves, they have deeply ingrained pack values. They don't like being left alone and greetings are a necessary 15-minute procedure filled with patting, talking, and kissing. Failure to properly pay attention to the dogs' needs and pack mentality will leave the dogs disappointed and upset. Owners of dingoes will not be able to move frequently because of the dogs' dislike of change. Having a dingo as a pet is a full time responsibility, as dingoes don't handle rejection well and will likely not emotionally recover from being placed in a new home.

6. ...BUT IT'S ILLEGAL TO KEEP THEM AS PETS IN SOME PLACES.

In places like New South Wales and Western Australia, it's legal to own a dingo without a permit. Victoria and the Northern Territory require a special permit, but in Tasmania, Queensland, and South Australia, the wild dogs are completely illegal to own.

7. SOME DOGS HAVE DINGO IN THEIR ANCESTRY

Despite being somewhat wild, dingoes are still dogs and have mixed with other canine natives of Australia. You can find dingo blood in Australian Kelpies and Australian cattle dogs. Breeders realized that the sturdy wild dogs were perfect to help bulk up working dogs.

8. DINGOES HAVE OWL-LIKE ABILITIES

Dingoes are well-equipped for the Australian Outback, and have an impressive sense of vision. They can even swivel their heads about 180 degrees. Comparatively, owls can turn their heads 270 degrees; humans can only turn theirs 45 to 70 degrees.

9. THEIR BENDY WRISTS ARE HELPFUL.

Just like humans, dingoes have rotating wrists. This allows them to use their paws like hands to catch prey. It also helps them better climb trees and even open doors. Their flexible wrists let them climb and enter places other dogs can't go, making them a formidable pest for farmers trying to keep them away from their livestock.

10. THEY DON'T REALLY BARK.

Unlike your standard dog, dingoes are much quieter. Instead of barking, the dogs have a yodel-like howl.

11. THEY LIVE A LONG TIME IN CAPTIVITY.

In the wild, dingoes live somewhere between five to 10 years, but in captivity, they can live upwards of 18 to 20 years. This number is pretty impressive, as most domesticated dogs don't boast such a long lifespan. Comparatively, the English springer spaniel, which is roughly the same size as the dingo, only lives 10 to 14 years.

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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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