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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
What's the Difference Between Gophers and Groundhogs?
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
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Gophers and groundhogs. Groundhogs and gophers. They're both deceptively cuddly woodland rodents that scurry through underground tunnels and chow down on plants. But whether you're a nature nerd, a Golden Gophers football fan, or planning a pre-spring trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might want to know the difference between groundhogs and gophers.

Despite their similar appearances and burrowing habits, groundhogs and gophers don't have a whole lot in common—they don't even belong to the same family. For example, gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, a group that includes pocket gophers (sometimes referred to as "true" gophers), kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.

Groundhogs, meanwhile, are members of the Sciuridae (meaning shadow-tail) family and belong to the genus Marmota. Marmots are diurnal ground squirrels, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA biologist and marmot expert, tells Mental Floss. "There are 15 species of marmot, and groundhogs are one of them," he explains.

Science aside, there are plenty of other visible differences between the two animals. Gophers, for example, have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, and fur-lined cheek pockets for storing food—all traits that make them different from groundhogs. The feet of gophers are often pink, while groundhogs have brown or black feet. And while the tiny gopher tends to weigh around two or so pounds, groundhogs can grow to around 13 pounds.

While both types of rodent eat mostly vegetation, gophers prefer roots and tubers (much to the dismay of gardeners trying to plant new specimens), while groundhogs like vegetation and fruits. This means that the former animals rarely emerge from their burrows, while the latter are more commonly seen out and about.

Groundhogs "have burrows underground they use for safety, and they hibernate in their burrows," Blumstein says. "They're active during the day above ground, eating a variety of plants and running back to their burrows to safety. If it's too hot, they'll go back into their burrow. If the weather gets crappy, they'll go back into their burrow during the day as well."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that gophers are the more reclusive of the two, as groundhogs famously hibernate during the winter. Gophers, on the other hand, remain active—and wreck lawns—year-round.

"What's really interesting is if you go to a place where there's gophers, in the spring, what you'll see are what is called eskers," or winding mounds of soil, Blumstein says [PDF]. "Basically, they dig all winter long through the earth, but then they tunnel through snow, and they leave dirt in these snow tunnels."

If all this rodent talk has you now thinking about woodchucks and other woodland creatures, know that groundhogs have plenty of nicknames, including "whistle-pig" and "woodchuck," while the only nicknames for gophers appear to be bitter monikers coined by Wisconsin Badgers fans.

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
Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View
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Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.
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Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]

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