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5 Awesome and Adorable Products You Can Get at CatCon

This weekend, CatCon—the convention for people who love cats—returns to Los Angeles. Visitors will brush paws with Lil Bub, Pudge, and Nala cat, hear from cat behaviorists and other feline-related speakers, adopt kitties, and, of course, buy some really awesome cat stuff. Here are a few things you might want to pick up if you’re at CatCon this weekend (and where you can buy everything if you won’t be there).

1. APOLLO PEAK WINE FOR CATS

Many a cat lover has fantasized about sharing a glass of wine with their beloved feline companions. Now, thanks to Brandon Zavala, they can. He created Apollo Peak wine, an all-natural wine for cats, last year. “It all actually started as a joke,” Zavala tells mental_floss in an email. “I've been known in my group of friends as the ‘cat guy.’ During a trip, I slapped a Pinot Meow label on a bottle of real wine and the idea to make a wine for cats just lit up in my head.” It made sense to him for a number of reasons: “I really felt as though cats just don't get as much of the cool treats as dogs do,” he says. “If you look anywhere in a pet store, most cat toys and treats are boring mice, balls or kibble. Wouldn't it be nice if owners can have an option to purchase a wine-like beverage for their cat? You can actually get a little tipsy yourself on wine while you laugh at your cat getting nip-drunk on cat wine. Plus, cats kind of do look like winos anyway.”

So Zavala got to work. The first step was figuring out what to make the wine out of: Zavala knew he wanted to keep it all natural and pretty basic. “I did lots of research on what ingredients cats love and wouldn't be harmful to them,” he says. He’d include catnip, obviously, but human vino is made of grapes, which are toxic to cats. “I searched around for something that could mimic the grape wine look, but not be harmful to them. Beets just so happened to fit the bill.” Creating the wine involved a lot of trial and error: “The first recipes were pretty darn good, but began to degrade in color real quick,” he says. “It took lots of testing with the recipe to finally get it right and consistent—without using stabilizers or any unnatural ingredients.”

He also made sure to get the feline seal of approval on the wines. He started with his two cats, Apollo and Hades. Despite the fact that Apollo is a bit of a wine snob, Zavala says the wines were an instant hit with his cats and his friends’ felines. “Most cats I had given this to, whether it be at the local cat cafe or sent to friends, showed not only downright enthusiasm, but a hilarious love for the stuff,” he says. “The early videos and pictures were priceless.” Picture your cat on catnip, but even more intense: “It's a concentrated catnip brew, per se,” Zavala says. “What's especially great about it is it's just a very different experience to see your cat drink something and react as they do when they smell catnip. We've seen cats jump around, roll over, even had a little guy humping (yes, humping) other cats … [we] never really figured that one out. It's absolutely ridiculous, but seriously funny. The only negative (if there is any) is that it may likely color their urine if they drink a lot. That's because beet juice is a pretty darn strong color.”

The whole process took around six months and resulted in two flavors: Pinot Meow—“it was a red wine and I'm a lover of red wines myself,” Zavala says—and MosCATo, a yellow wine that came about when Zavala’s partner, Zoe, suggested they use yellow beets. A third cat wine, White Kittendel—which uses Valerian rather than catnip—will debut at CatCon. Can’t make it to the convention? Buy some cat wine here.

2. CURIO CAT LITTER/LOUNGE CABINETS

Ailurophiles obviously love their cats, but they’re probably not as enamored with a requirement for feline ownership: the litterbox. Many would love nothing more than to hide these unsightly poo receptacles—and with CURIO Cabinets, they can hide a litterbox stylishly.

Creating the box was a matter of necessity for CURIO creators Heather and Damian Fagan. “My wife and I live in a small apartment in San Francisco, and our litter box has to be openly displayed,” Damian tells mental_floss. “When we adopted our two cats, Dolly and Chunkers, a few years ago, we were surprised by the lack of design-minded litter box options on the market. Many were just decorative litter box covers that didn't improve upon the litter management aspect and many were very expensive. We felt there was a real need for a functional and stylish litter box that was more affordable.”

The duo spent a year crafting the perfect litter cabinet, and they had a few goals in mind: Their cabinet would be “a piece of furniture, instead of purely as a place for cats to do their business,” Fagan says; it would meet the functional needs of the cat without sacrificing the aesthetics important to cat owners; and it would be “a complete litter box solution that improved upon litter management.” That meant not just creating the cabinet, but the liner to go inside it. “Our Litter Liner is a huge improvement over traditional litter pans,” Fagan says. The box also needed to be affordable and easy to ship.

They went through seven or eight versions of the cabinet, using their two cats as beta testers. “Our lifelong experiences as cat parents have made us very aware of how fickle and unexpected cats can be with their bathroom habits,” Fagan says. “Watching their behavior helped us determine the overall dimensions of CURIO as well as the size and location of the entry hole.” The cats were smitten: “Knowing how fickle our cats were, we knew we were onto something.”

Once the duo was satisfied with their design, they built 20 cabinets—and it wasn’t just Dolly and Chunkers who were fans. “We were amazed at how enthusiastic the response was,” Fagan says. “That was about 18 months ago, and the design continues to be refined.”

These days, Chunkers and Dolly have two CURIO Cabinets, “one as a litter box and one as a cat lounge where they hide their favorite toys,” Fagan says. CURIO Cabinets, which come in three designs and are made with real wood, ship flat and can be assembled with just a screwdriver. Can’t make it to CatCon? You can still get a CURIO cabinet by visiting their website or Etsy shop.

3. KAFBO CAT FURNITURE

You could get a regular cat scratcher, but why do that when you can get one that’s a little more whimsical? Kafbo’s cardboard scratchers are adorable—choose from a whale, a walrus, a rooster, a mouse, and more—affordable, and eco-friendly. If you can’t make it to CatCon, you can still buy one at their website.

4. NOTSOKITTY SUNGLASSES

Wendy Casazza Scruton started making kitty sunglasses sort of by accident. She’d already been making cat hats—her first was inspired by Princess Beatrice's royal wedding fascinator—when she decided to make some kitty looks inspired by pop culture icons. Her initial inspirations were Kanye West and Lady Gaga, which evolved into “Katye West” and “Kitty Gaga” designs. These days, she’s also inspired by things like nerd culture and the holidays, and she offers all kinds of kitty shades at her Etsy shop, NotSoKitty.

Scruton uses lightweight stiffened felt to create the glasses, and initially used her two cats for beta testing. “[They] were the types of old cats that ‘DGAF’ about life and loved me the same whether we were hanging out or staging photo shoots,” she says. “They didn't mind the glasses as much as I thought they would. As you can see in my photos, they aren't freaking out.” (She did reward them with treats after a photoshoot for modeling well done.) The glasses have an elastic band on the back to keep them in place for a quick photo. “I usually have my cats pose in the glasses they can't see through (ie..3D lenses in the 3D glasses, Katye west shutter shades) when they are groggy and waking up from a nap... They usually go back to sleep for the photo shoot and you can't tell in the picture.”

This will be Scruton’s second year at CatCon, and at her booth visitors to this year’s CatCon will be able to pick up a pair of blinged-out Katye West glasses for their felines (as well as other designs). “I'm so excited to be returning!” she says. “Last year I was blown away by the response to my products—particularly the glasses and a few of my cat hat designs. Many of my designs had sold out by the afternoon on the first day! This year I hope I'm better prepared, but we'll see how that pans out this weekend!”

5. KITTY KASAS

All of the proceeds from these durable—and adorable—cat houses go to the ARNI Foundation, a no-kill shelter in Daytona Beach, Florida, that rescues animals from other shelters before they’re euthanized.

The owners of the shelter were inspired to create their own cat houses after going through expensive cat trees on a monthly basis. “The cats would destroy them, fleas loved to breed in them, and they were filthy!” they write on their website. “We decided to design and make our own pet products and ARNI says was born! If we could design products for dogs and cats that could survive a shelter environment- basically they had to be indestructible, totally cleanable, and of course look great, then cats and dogs everywhere would be happy and healthy! … We have tested all our products on our animal ‘team’ at the shelter—not always the best behaved bunch! As well as getting the vet stamp of approval.”

You can grab a Kitty Kasa for your favorite feline here.

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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Animals
15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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iStock

People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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