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David Ryckaert III via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
David Ryckaert III via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Siberian "Demon Baby," Explained

David Ryckaert III via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
David Ryckaert III via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Bad news for those of you who placed your bets on “weird dinosaur”: it appears the Siberian demon baby was a mammal, and a recent one at that.

Allow us to rewind the clock for those of you who have not been watching the demon baby story unfold. On Tuesday, August 9, the Siberian Times reported that workers in the Udachny diamond mine had discovered the weird, desiccated remains of some unfortunate creature.

Udachny is a pretty weird place to begin with. The frozen town, which lies about 9 miles south of the Arctic circle, is best known for its natural trove of diamond-studded rocks. Since mining began there in 1955, the pit has become one of the deepest mines in the world, and is believed to hold at least 120 million carats’ worth of diamonds. For obvious reasons, companies are willing to go to great lengths to get those diamonds out. In 1974, those great lengths included detonating an atomic bomb underground in order to make room for mining waste.

So that’s Udachny. Now, for the baby. The miners who found the “monster mummy,” as they called it, guessed that the twisted body had once belonged to a never-before-seen species of dinosaur.

The monster was slated to be taken more than a thousand miles to the regional capital of Yakutsk for further inspection.

But there’s no need for that, says one expert, because she knows exactly what the monster is. It’s a polecat.

Look at these monsters. Image credit: Peter Trimming via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Specimen preparator Darien Baysinger has been working with mummified remains for 25 years. Speaking to Earth Touch News, she said she was pretty confident that the so-called demon baby was simply the dried-out body of a Russian fitch, also known as a polecat.

Just as the demon baby is neither baby nor demon, polecats are neither cats nor poles. They’re members of the mustelid family, which also includes weasels, ferrets, minks, and martens.

The body isn’t fossilized, she says, and it must be relatively new, since the mine has only been open for several decades. Udachny’s absurdly cold climate (averaging -31.4°F to -46.5°F in January) likely kept the body relatively free of bacteria, which allowed it to dry out instead of liquefying.

“It would be easier to say with certainty if we had a top-down view,” Baysinger said, “and it's possible that I'm wrong—but not likely."

But even she is not immune to the allure of the demon baby: “I would love to get my hands on that thing.”

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

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Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?
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If you've ever seen a pirate movie (or had the privilege of listening to this avian-fronted metal band), you're aware that parrots have the gift of human-sounding gab. Their brains—not their beaks—might be behind the birds' ability to produce mock-human voices, the Sci Show's latest video explains below.

While parrots do have articulate tongues, they also appear to be hardwired to mimic other species, and to create new vocalizations. The only other birds that are capable of vocal learning are hummingbirds and songbirds. While examining the brains of these avians, researchers noted that their brains contain clusters of neurons, which they've dubbed song nuclei. Since other birds don't possess song nuclei, they think that these structures probably play a key role in vocal learning.

Parrots might be better at mimicry than hummingbirds and songbirds thanks to a variation in these neurons: a special shell layer that surrounds each one. Birds with larger shell regions appear to be better at imitating other creatures, although it's still unclear why.

Learn more about parrot speech below (after you're done jamming out to Hatebeak).

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Extinct Penguin Species Was the Size of an Adult Human
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A penguin that waddled across the ice 60 million years ago would have dwarfed the king and emperor penguins of today, according to the Associated Press. As indicated by fossils recently uncovered in New Zealand, the extinct species measured 5 feet 10 inches while swimming, surpassing the height of an average adult man.

The discovery, which the authors say is the most complete skeleton of a penguin this size to date, is laid out in a study recently published in Nature Communications. When standing on land, the penguin would have measured 5 feet 3 inches, still a foot taller than today’s largest penguins at their maximum height. Researchers estimated its weight to have been about 223 pounds.

Kumimanu biceae, a name that comes from Maori words for “monster" and "bird” and the name of one researcher's mother, last walked the Earth between 56 million and 60 million years ago. That puts it among the earliest ancient penguins, which began appearing shortly after large aquatic reptiles—along with the dinosaurs—went extinct, leaving room for flightless carnivorous birds to enter the sea.

The prehistoric penguin was a giant, even compared to other penguin species of the age, but it may not have been the biggest penguin to ever live. A few years ago, paleontologists discovered 40-million-year-old fossils they claimed belonged to a penguin that was 6 feet 5 inches long from beak to tail. But that estimate was based on just a couple bones, so its actual size may have varied.

[h/t AP]

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