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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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DNA Analysis of Loch Ness Could Reveal the Lake's Hidden Creatures
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Stakeouts, sonar studies, and a 24-hour video feed have all been set up in an effort to confirm the existence of the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Now, the Associated Press reports that an international team of scientists will use DNA analysis to learn what's really hiding in the depths of Scotland's most mysterious landmark.

The team, led by Neil Gemmell, who researches evolutionary genetics at the University of Otago in New Zealand, will collect 300 water samples from various locations and depths around the lake. The waters are filled with microscopic DNA fragments animals leave behind as they swim, mate, eat, poop, and die in the waters, and if Nessie is a resident, she's sure to leave bits of herself floating around as well.

After extracting the DNA from the organic material found in the water samples, the scientists plan to sequence it. The results will then be compared to the DNA profiles of known species. If there's evidence of an animal that's not normally found in the lake, or an entirely new species, the researchers will hopefully spot it.

Gemmell is a Nessie skeptic, and he says the point of the project isn't necessarily to discover new species. Rather, he wants to create a genetic profile of the lake while generating some buzz around the science behind it.

If the study goes according to plan, the database of Loch Ness's inhabitants should be complete by 2019. And though the results likely won't include a long-extinct plesiosaur, they may offer insights about other invasive species that now call the lake home.

[h/t AP]

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10 Biting Facts About Snapping Turtles
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Here in the Americas, lake monster legends are a dime a dozen. More than a few of them were probably inspired by these ancient-looking creatures. In honor of World Turtle Day, here are 10 things you might not have known about snapping turtles.

1. THE COMMON SNAPPING TURTLE IS NEW YORK'S OFFICIAL STATE REPTILE.

Elementary school students voted to appoint Chelydra serpentina in a 2006 statewide election. Weighing as much as 75 pounds in the wild (and 86 in captivity), this hefty omnivore’s natural range stretches from Saskatchewan to Florida.

2. ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLES CAN BE LARGE. (VERY LARGE.)

An alligator snapping turtle
NorbertNagel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Utterly dwarfing their more abundant cousin, alligator snappers (genus: Macrochelys) are the western hemisphere’s biggest freshwater turtles. The largest one on record, a longtime occupant of Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, weighed 249 pounds.  

A monstrous 403-pounder was reported in Kansas during the Great Depression, though this claim was never confirmed.  

3. COMMON SNAPPERS HAVE LONGER NECKS AND SPIKIER TAILS.

Alligator snappers also display proportionately bigger heads and noses plus a trio of tall ridges atop their shells. Geographically, alligator snapping turtles are somewhat restricted compared to their common relatives, and are limited mainly to the southeast and Great Plains.

4. BOTH VARIETIES AVOID CONTACT WITH PEOPLE.

If given the choice between fight and flight, snapping turtles almost always distance themselves from humans. The animals spend the bulk of their lives underwater, steering clear of nearby Homo sapiens. However, problems can arise on dry land, where the reptiles are especially vulnerable. Females haul themselves ashore during nesting season (late spring to early summer). In these delicate months, people tend to prod and handle them, making bites inevitable.

5. YOU REALLY DON'T WANT TO GET BITTEN BY ONE. 

Snapping turtle jaw strength—while nothing to sneeze at—is somewhat overrated. Common snapping turtles can clamp down with up to 656.81 newtons (N) of force, though typical bites register an average of 209 N. Their alligator-like cousins usually exert 158 N. You, on the other hand, can apply 1300 N between your second molars.

Still, power isn’t everything, and neither type of snapper could latch onto something with the crushing force of a crocodile’s mighty jaws. Yet their sharp beaks are well-designed for major-league shearing. An alligator snapping turtle’s beak is capable of slicing fingers clean off and (as the above video proves) obliterating pineapples.

Not impressed yet? Consider the following. It’s often said that an adult Macrochelys can bite a wooden broom handle in half. Intrigued by this claim, biologist Peter Pritchard decided to play MythBuster. In 1989, he prodded a 165-pound individual with a brand new broomstick. Chomp number one went deep, but didn’t quite break through the wood. The second bite, though, finished the job.

6. SCIENTISTS RECENTLY DISCOVERED THAT THERE ARE THREE SPECIES OF ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLES.

A 2014 study trisected the Macrochelys genus. For over a century, naturalists thought that there was just a single species, Macrochelys temminckii. Closer analysis proved otherwise, as strong physical and genetic differences exist between various populations. The newly-christened M. suwanniensis and M. apalachicolae are named after their respective homes—namely, the Suwannee and Apalachicola rivers. Further west, good old M. temminckii swims through the Mobile and the Mississippi.

7. THANKS TO A 19TH CENTURY POLITICAL CARTOON, COMMON SNAPPING TURTLES ARE ALSO KNOWN AS "OGRABMES." 

Snapping turtle cartoon
Urban~commonswiki via Wiki Commons // CC BY PD-US

Drawn by Alexander Anderson, this piece skewers Thomas Jefferson’s signing of the unpopular Embargo Act. At the president’s command, we see a snapping turtle bite some poor merchant’s hind end. Agitated, the victim calls his attacker “ograbme”—“embargo” spelled backwards.

8. ALLIGATOR SNAPPERS ATTRACT FISH WITH AN ORAL LURE …

You can’t beat live bait. Anchored to the Macrochelys tongue is a pinkish, worm-like appendage that fish find irresistible. Preferring to let food come to them, alligator snappers open their mouths and lie in wait at the bottoms of rivers and lakes. Cue the lure. When this protrusion wriggles, hungry fish swim right into the gaping maw and themselves become meals.

9.  … AND THEY FREQUENTLY EAT OTHER TURTLES. 


Complex01, WikimediaCommons

Alligator snappers are anything but picky. Between fishy meals, aquatic plants also factor into their diet, as do frogs, snakes, snails, crayfish, and even relatively large mammals like raccoons and armadillos. Other shelled reptiles are fair game, too: In one Louisiana study, 79.82% of surveyed alligator snappers had turtle remains in their stomachs.

10. YOU SHOULD NEVER PICK A SNAPPER UP BY THE TAIL.

Ideally, you should leave the handling of these guys to trained professionals. But what if you see a big one crossing a busy road and feel like helping it out? Before doing anything else, take a few moments to identify the turtle. If it’s an alligator snapper, you’ll want to grasp the lip of the upper shell (or “carapace”) in two places: right behind the head and right above the tail.

Common snappers demand a bit more finesse (we wouldn’t want one to reach back and nip you with that long, serpentine neck). Slide both hands under the hind end of the shell, letting your turtle’s tail dangle between them. Afterwards, clamp down on the carapace with both thumbs.

Please note that lifting any turtle by the tail can permanently dislocate its vertebrae. Additionally, remember to move the reptile in the same direction that it’s already facing. Otherwise, your rescue will probably turn right back around and try to cross the road again later. 

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