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Fig Pollination Is Incredible (And Probably Results In You Eating Mummified Wasps)

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You might not think of figs as nature’s most amazing creation, but you need only look inside to start to understand their awesome complexity. The fruit is actually an inward-blooming flower, or rather, bundle of flowers—and its survival depends on a tiny insect that gives its life in service of the Ficus carica.

Every single one of the 750-plus species of fig plant has its own fig wasp, and together, the pairs have been evolving together for more than 60 million years, The New Yorker reports. In order to pollinate the plant, a female wasp enters an unripe, male fig (not the ones we eat) and lays her eggs. Once the newborns hatch, they all mate, and the males—born without wings—chew a tunnel out of the fig. Then they die, and the females file out through the escape route to the wide open world, where they take flight in search of another fig tree in which to lay their respective eggs.

Once the females pick a plant, they crawl inside, drop some pollen from their birthfig, as well as their future babies, and the whole thing starts anew.

Now to the mummified wasps. We mentioned earlier that males are pretty much born to mate and then croak, but the females don’t have it much better either. Once they enter a fig to lay their eggs, their wings and antennae are stripped away, leaving the wasp to do her duty and perish. While we don’t eat the figs in which the female usually lays her eggs, occasionally one makes it into the wrong flower, where it dies having not fulfilled its life’s purpose. Those are the sad little insects we end up consuming.

Don’t worry though—not only are the wasps itsy bitsy, but by the time you’re cutting a fig up to put in your morning yogurt, the bug has been (at least mostly) broken down by an enzyme called ficain. The Huffington Post reports that this keeps some vegans away from the fruit, but for everyone else, it’s a pretty negligible fact. So next time you’re chewing on a fig, don’t think about the animal remains, think about the totally remarkable symbiotic process that made it possible.

[h/t The Huffington Post]

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Animals
Dogs Rescued After Hurricane Maria Are Available to Adopt in New York
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Dozens of dogs displaced by Hurricane Maria last month are now closer to having happy endings to their stories. As Mashable reports, 53 dogs flown out of Puerto Rico by The Sato Project have been put up for adoption in shelters around the U.S., with 28 of the rescues now available through a shelter in New York City.

The new batch of dogs looking for forever homes is in addition to the 60 dogs retrieved by The Sato Project earlier this month. According to the local animal rescue group, Puerto Rico was home to about 500,000 stray dogs before the historic storm made landfall in September. The animals being shuttled from the devastated island and into the U.S. via charter plane are a mix of feral dogs, abandoned dogs, and dogs that were surrendered to local shelters by families unable to care for them post-Maria.

The Sato Project, which worked to tackle Puerto Rico's stray dog problem before the disaster, wrote that in light of the storm they would be "mobilizing to provide supplies and support to our team on the ground in Puerto Rico, and to transport as many dogs as we can to safety in the coming days and weeks."

Aspiring pet owners looking to take in a four-legged survivor will have the best luck at the no-kill shelter Animal Haven in Manhattan's Lower East Side. There, dozens of dogs who made the trip from the U.S. territory are anxiously waiting to meet their new families. And if you don't live in the New York City area, you can check out The Sato Project's list of adoptable pets around the country.

Looking for ways to help Puerto Rico that don't involve adding a new member to the family? Here are some organizations doing recovery work on the island and ways you can support them.

[h/t Mashable]

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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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