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David Ryckaert III via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Siberian "Demon Baby," Explained

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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.”

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This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
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Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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