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A British Zoo Has Been Releasing Hundreds of Giant Spiders Into the Wild

The fen raft spider (Dolomedes plantarius) is the largest spider species in the UK. It can grow to nearly the size of a mouse, uses its spiky leg hair to walk across water, and feasts on everything from insects and smaller spiders to tadpoles and fish. And, for the last two years, a UK zoo has been releasing hundred of the gargantuan spiders back into the wild.

While that may be terrifying news for arachnophobes, it’s great for the fen raft spider, which is an endangered species. National Geographic reports that the Chessington World of Adventures began breeding the spiders in captivity several years ago in hopes of eventually increasing its population in the wild. Over time, the zoo managed to release 400 spiderlings into the UK’s wetlands, where their population has nearly doubled.

According to The Telegraph, the fen raft spider thrives in watery environments, so you’re not likely to stumble upon one in your home. And, despite their size, they’re harmless to humans. In fact, they play an important role in their ecosystem; according to a Chessington World of Adventures press release, humans have done much more damage to the spiders by encroaching on their environment than the spiders have ever done to humans. 

Chessington World of Adventures recently won a gold certificate at the annual BIAZA Awards for their work with the fen raft spider release program. “The successful work on reintroducing the Fen Raft species is a great example of the good zoos can do in helping conserve endangered species in the wild,” Chessington supervisor Keith Russell explained. 

[h/t National Geographic]

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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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