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Ohio Conservationists Unleash Hellbenders on Local Streams

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Brian Gricke via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

They may not be as popular as creatures like pandas or butterflies, but America’s hellbenders still need our attention. The latest effort is a mass release of more than 250 of the enormous, slimy salamanders into streams all over Ohio.

Letting hellbenders go is both easier and harder than you might think. The Eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, also known as the snot otter, devil dog, or Old Lasagna Sides) is coated in slippery goo, making it harder to hold onto one than it is to set it free. But as America’s hellbender populations begin to vanish, conservationists are fighting hard and fast to get the salamanders to hang on. 

The third-largest salamander in the world, reaching up to 29 inches long, C. alleganiensis is as picky as it is peculiar. They like clear, fast-moving streams with good, flat rocks on the bottom. Male snot otters defend sprawling territories of around 1000 square feet, with their favorite stone in the middle.

Come mating season, each male digs an inviting tunnel under the rock and waits for an amorous female hellbender to approach. If she likes what she sees, she’ll drop between 150 and 450 eggs into the tunnel while the male sprays them with sperm. The male then shoos away his mate and spends the next few weeks keeping guard over his kids-to-be. In 60 to 80 days, the eggs will hatch.

Pete and Noe Woods via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It’s that moment that has conservationists concerned. Like adults, baby hellbenders need a safe nook and clear, fresh water. But runoff from farms and housing developments is filling the water with silt, which nudges larvae out of their niches before they’re ready.

Herpetologist Greg Lipps says he knows that “siltation” isn’t a word that would alarm the average person. “It’s a lot less sexy to hear it’s mud in the water,” he told the New York Times. Sexy or not, it’s doing intense damage; the state’s hellbender populations have dropped 82 percent since the 1980s.

Lipps and other concerned scientists are doing all they can to help the hellbenders. The Ohio Hellbender Partnership is a collective of representatives from local and federal government, universities, zoos, and environmental agencies, all working to keep hellbenders around.

The freeing of 255 captive-bred young adults this week—the third and largest release in the program’s history—is just the latest of many projects. Members have built artificial shelters called “Bender Huts,” collected eggs in the wild for safe rearing in zoos, and even started a hellbender nursery at the Marion State Correctional Institute.

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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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