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9 Hardy Facts About Anatolian Shepherds

The Anatolian shepherd is known for its good looks and fierce loyalty. Learn more about this impressive (and impressively large) breed.

1. THEY COME FROM TURKEY.

The Anatolian shepherd hails from, not surprisingly, Central Anatolia in Turkey. Likely the mix of a mastiff and a sighthound, the stocky breed is both muscular and agile. Anatolia's climate can be harsh: summers are very dry, and winters are very cold. The Anatolian shepherd was bred especially to endure these extreme conditions. It’s believed that the dog first emerged roughly 6000 years ago. The dogs are still employed in Turkey by modern-day shepherds; there, they’re called Coban Kopegi, which translates to "Shepherd's Dog.”

2. SHEEP ARE IN GOOD HANDS WITH THEM AROUND.

Anatolian shepherds aren’t herders: The bulky dogs are mostly used to guard livestock from predators and poachers, and, thanks to their speed and large size, are generally successful. Often, shepherds will outfit their dogs in spiked collars to keep their throats safe during attacks.

3. THEY’RE VERY INDEPENDENT.

Anatolian shepherds are excellent at taking care of themselves and the people or animals around them. They were bred to be protectors, so they tend to “adopt” whomever they consider family. In the past, the dogs were left alone to live with flocks of sheep, which would become their responsibility. The independent canines needed very little help from humans and often weren't fed past puppyhood. As adults, they would survive on gophers and other small prey that they found and hunted themselves. Today, the dogs are still fiercely independent—which means they have a tendency to become defensive or possessive. Owners should make every effort to train their dogs early, before they get their own ideas about how things should be.

4. THEY SHUT DOWN A U.S. FEDERAL PROJECT.

Chris vT, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Anatolian shepherds' popularity took off in America thanks to ranchers and working dog lovers in the 1950s, but the ones imported then weren’t the first of the breed to arrive. Two decades prior, a pair of Anatolian shepherds were provided to the U.S. government by the Turkish prime minister.

At the time, Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace was working on a federal project aimed at finding the world's best sheepdog. In the 1930s, synthetic clothing materials had yet to be invented, so wool was an extremely important commodity. Wallace hoped to hone in on the dog breed that would best protect the animals producing said commodity. Wallace mentioned his project to the Turkish Prime Minister during a White House dinner; the prime minister suggested he consider the Anatolian shepherd, and promised to send him a pair.

When the dogs arrived, however, the female was pregnant and sick with a parasite. After an enormous amount of trouble caring for the dog and helping her through labor, a litter of 12 healthy puppies were born—which quickly grew and ate the facility out of house and home. In the midst of the Great Depression, the government couldn't afford to keep the project going and the whole thing was shut down. The pack of giant shepherds was discreetly sold to a buyer from the Virgin Islands. After that, no one knows what happened to the 14 enormous dogs, but Wallace was glad for the whole thing to be over.

5. THEY'RE NOT THE ONLY TURKISH FLOCK DOG.

The Anatolian shepherd we know today is a distinct breed that was refined in the United States and Britain. In Turkey, there are three other distinct flock-guardians that look very similar, but have their own traits and ancestry. Each group is designated by its origin location: the Akbash, the Kangal, and the Kars. The Akbash is an all white dog with a curled fluffy tail from Western Turkey. The Kangal is a stocky breed with a curled tail from Sivas, Turkey. Finally, the Kars has a brownish coat and comes from Northeastern Turkey.

6. THEY’VE ENJOYED SOME SCREEN TIME.

These giant dogs are no Jack Russells, but they have managed to land some coveted roles. Butch, the leader in the movie Cats & Dogs, was played by an Anatolian shepherd. The breed was also seen in Friends With Benefits and Kate & Leopold. The 2014 Turkish movie Sivas centered on an Anatolian shepherd and its bond with a young boy. The foreign film was submitted as the Turkish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, but didn’t get the nomination.

7. THEY HELP KEEP CHEETAHS ALIVE.

In Namibia, cheetahs are considered a huge threat to area farmers. The powerful cats can quickly take out dozens of sheep at a time. Cheetahs are a protected species, but because they can endanger the food supply, shepherds are allowed to trap and kill the predators. In an effort to protect both the cheetahs and their prey, U.S. biologist Dr. Laurie Marker proposed bringing in Anatolian shepherds.

Since 1994 the Livestock Guarding Dog Program has been bringing dogs to Namibia and training them to protect sheep. Cheetahs are deathly afraid of the massive dogs, so they avoid areas patrolled by the canines, making it a win-win: the cats escape uninjured and the farmers get to keep their livestock. You might remember this story from the time a cheetah hopped up on David Letterman's desk on The Late Show.

8. THEY CAN GET (REALLY) BIG.

Great Danes are on average the tallest breed, so it makes sense that the tallest dog in the world was a Great Dane named Zeus, who was 44 inches tall from paws to withers. Lagging not far behind is Kurt the Anatolian shepherd who is 40 inches from paw to shoulder. Currently in the running for Britain’s biggest dog, the enormous animal weighs about 11 stone (154 pounds). His owner, Tracy Buckingham, spends about £100 a month on his diet of raw meat and bones.

9. THEY’RE HELPING OUT AT YELLOWSTONE.

Just like in Namibia, officials all over the world are using Anatolian shepherds to keep both predators and livestock safe. One new place adopting the method is Yellowstone National Park. Park officials are hoping that the protective dogs will keep people and predators—such as wolves and bears—separate and safe from harm. "We send these dogs to different countries around the world. They serve nature. Officials are highly satisfied by their skills," Muhammet Karakoyun, president of the Turkish Shepherd Dog Research, Production and Introduction Center, told Daily Sabah. "I am proud of them."

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Animals
20 Black-and-White Facts About Penguins
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To celebrate World Penguin Day (which is today, April 25), here are a few fun facts about these adorable tuxedoed birds.

1. All 17 species of penguins are found exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere.

2. Emperor Penguins are the tallest species, standing nearly 4 feet tall. The smallest is the Little Blue Penguin, which is only about 16 inches.

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3. The fastest species is the Gentoo Penguin, which can reach swimming speeds up to 22 mph.

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4. A penguin's striking coloring is a matter of camouflage; from above, its black back blends into the murky depths of the ocean. From below, its white belly is hidden against the bright surface.

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5. Fossils place the earliest penguin relative at some 60 million years ago, meaning an ancestor of the birds we see today survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

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6. Penguins ingest a lot of seawater while hunting for fish, but a special gland behind their eyes—the supraorbital gland—filters out the saltwater from their blood stream. Penguins excrete it through their beaks, or by sneezing.

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7. Unlike most birds—which lose and replace a few feathers at a time—penguins molt all at once, spending two or three weeks land-bound as they undergo what is called the catastrophic molt.

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8. All but two species of penguins breed in large colonies of up to a thousand birds.

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9. It varies by species, but many penguins will mate with the same member of the opposite sex season after season.

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10. Similarly, most species are also loyal to their exact nesting site, often returning to the same rookery in which they were born.

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11. Some species create nests for their eggs out of pebbles and loose feathers. Emperor Penguins are an exception: They incubate a single egg each breeding season on the top of their feet. Under a loose fold of skin is a featherless area with a concentration of blood vessels that keeps the egg warm.

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12. In some species, it is the male penguin which incubates the eggs while females leave to hunt for weeks at a time. Because of this, pudgy males—with enough fat storage to survive weeks without eating—are most desirable.

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13. Penguin parents—both male and female—care for their young for several months until the chicks are strong enough to hunt for food on their own.

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14. If a female Emperor Penguin's baby dies, she will often "kidnap" an unrelated chick.

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15. Despite their lack of visible ears, penguins have excellent hearing and rely on distinct calls to identify their mates when returning to the crowded breeding grounds.

16. The first published account of penguins comes from Antonio Pigafetta, who was aboard Ferdinand Magellan's first circumnavigation of the globe in 1520. They spotted the animals near what was probably Punta Tombo in Argentina. (He called them "strange geese.")

17. An earlier, anonymous diary entry from Vasco da Gama's 1497 voyage around the Cape of Good Hope makes mention of flightless birds as large as ducks.

18. Because they aren't used to danger from animals on solid ground, wild penguins exhibit no particular fear of human tourists.

19. Unlike most sea mammals—which rely on blubber to stay warm—penguins survive because their feathers trap a layer of warm air next to the skin that serves as insulation, especially when they start generating muscular heat by swimming around.

20. In the 16th century, the word penguin actually referred to great auks (scientific name: Pinguinus impennis), a now-extinct species that inhabited the seas around eastern Canada. When explorers traveled to the Southern Hemisphere, they saw black and white birds that resembled auks, and called them penguins.

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6 Myths About Animals, Debunked
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It’s easy to think we understand animals: They’re present in every part of our culture, from the movies we watch to the clichés we use. But the way a species functions in the wild is often worlds apart from a stereotype or cartoon. This gulf between misconceptions and reality is the theme of Lucy Cooke’s new book, The Truth About Animals.

"We have a habit of viewing the animal kingdom through the prism of our own existence, and that trips us up and obscures the truth,” Cooke, a zoologist and founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society, tells Mental Floss. “I think it's time we rebrand the animal kingdom according to facts and not sentimentality.”

As Cooke examines in her book, the real world is one in which pandas are virile lovers and sloths are master survivalists. These are just a few of the myths that were debunked in The Truth About Animals.

1. PANDAS HAVE LOW SEX DRIVES.

Pandas have long been blamed for their own precarious position in the animal kingdom. The species is in danger, some people claim, because pandas are reluctant to or just plain bad at copulating. If only they would get off their furry behinds and get it on, there would be more of them.

In The Truth About Animals, Cooke debunks this modern myth. Pandas have been living in the wild for 18 million years—long before humans swooped in to act as their savior—and that wouldn’t be the case without healthy sex habits. It’s true that pandas are difficult to breed in captivity, and the several failed attempts of zoos to produce a baby panda throughout the 20th century is likely what led to this stereotype. But the bears are much more responsive to members of the opposite sex in the wild. The female chooses who she mates with, moaning from high in a bamboo tree while several males on the ground compete for her attention. Once the bears have paired off, they can have sex over 40 times in one afternoon.

2. SLOTHS ARE LAZY.

Cooke was inspired to write her book by sloths, which she describes to Mental Floss as “highly successful, highly evolved” creatures. Not everyone agrees: More than perhaps any other animal, sloths have become synonymous with laziness and sluggishness, and today they’re held up as an example of evolutionary failure.

The reality is that sloths are much more impressive than their appearance suggests. They’ve been around since 64 million years ago—earlier than wooly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers—and they have their slow and steady nature to thank for their success. Sloths have a remarkably slow digestive system and a low-calorie diet, so they expend as little energy as possible, not out of laziness, but out of survival instinct. A sloth is awake for more than half the day, and when necessary it can scramble up a tree at speeds approaching 1 mph. It spends most of its day in a still, seemingly trancelike state, but it isn’t wasting its potential: It’s conserving energy so it can maintain its dominant spot in the evolutionary tree.

3. PENGUINS ARE LOYAL LOVERS.

Emperor penguins, the most famous of the bird group, are known for splitting parenting duties between mated pairs, with the father incubating the egg while the mother gathers food for her family. This has led some to praise penguins as the reflection of ideal, moral family dynamics in the animal kingdom, but these people should probably find a different analog. Though the parents of any given chick may raise their offspring together, penguins aren’t monogamous: 85 percent of emperor penguins find a new partner from one breeding season to the next. Penguins are also some of the only animals known to exchange goods for sex. Adélie penguins need rocks to build up their nests during warmer months when meltwater threatens their eggs. With no parenting duties to distract them, bachelor penguins end up collecting more stones than they need, so some females will sometimes trade a one-off sex session for one of their pebbles.

4. VULTURES STALK DYING PREY.

Watch enough survival movies and you’re bound to see a shot of a hungry vulture trailing behind the starving protagonist, waiting for them to lie down and die. The myth that vultures stalk their prey while it’s still alive and have the power to predict death is a persistent one, but that doesn’t make it accurate. The scavengers have no interest in living animals and will only seek out meat from dead and decaying corpses. Rather than reaper-like premonitions of mortality, turkey vultures and greater and lesser yellow-headed vultures use their noses to locate their meals. They join kiwis and kakapos on the small list of birds with highly-developed olfactory glands. Without a strong sense of smell, other New World vultures and all Old World vultures primarily rely on sight to find food. Some New World vultures like black vultures have adopted a different strategy: They'll follow turkey vultures to their prey, taking advantage of their sensitive noses.

5. ALL BATS ARE RABID BLOOD-SUCKERS.

Bats may be the animals most closely associated with the horror genre. They crave blood, so the myth goes, and though a bat latched onto your neck won’t be able to suck you dry, it will likely infect you with a nasty case of rabies.

According to Cooke, there are many problems with the statement above. Bats are poor stand-ins for their fictional vampire counterparts; only three species of bats drink blood—the common vampire bat, the hairy-legged vampire bat, and the white-winged vampire bat—while most prefer fruit or insects. After climbing onto its prey, the vampire bat locates where the blood is flowing with the heat sensor on its nose, and then, using its sharp front teeth like shears, it cuts away any hair that might be blocking the skin. Rather than biting down and sucking like Dracula, the bat creates a small incision and laps up blood from the open wound. They can recognize an individual animal's breathing patterns and return to feed on it the following night, taking advantage of the reliable blood source.

Bats are rarely rabid, with just .05 percent of them carrying the disease—less than dogs or raccoons. The image of a bat getting tangled in your hair also has no basis in reality: Their sophisticated echolocation system signals them to turn long before they have a chance to collide with your head.

6. FEMALE HYENAS HAVE PENISES.

Hyena genitalia has been baffling scientists for centuries. Member of both sexes appear to have a penis, while in females there’s no external vagina to be found. Scientists originally thought that hyenas must be hermaphrodites, but the true explanation is even more unusual. Though it’s often referred to as a pseudo-penis, female hyena genitalia doesn’t produce sperm, technically making it a nearly 8-inch-long clitoris. This appendage is also saddled with all the same duties as a conventional female organ, including giving birth to hyena pups.

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