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To Make a Tiger Photo-Ready, Just Spritz Some Perfume

Not everyone has what it takes to be a model, but wildlife photographers face a different problem entirely—their subjects don’t even know they’re posing. As such, sometimes the experts behind the camera need to employ some tricks of the trade, and as National Geographic reveals in the video below, that sometimes means pulling out a pricey fragrance.

In the short movie "How to Catch a Tiger with Joel Sartore," NatGeo photographer Joel Sartore attempts to get the perfect shot of a South China tiger at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Filmmaker Morgan Heim documents the struggle, which results in the use of a Prada perfume after two-and-a-half hours of failing to capture the attention of the uninterested wildcat.

Turns out, zookeepers often use fragrances to keep all kinds of large felines happy and healthy. Eau de toilettes—along with spices and essential oils—often serve as sensory enrichment for wildcats in controlled environments who are less exposed to a variety of olfactory experiences. In the wild, researchers use perfumes to lure the animals, with mixed results, though they’ve proved to be helpful in drawing the cats to hair traps or snares, which collect follicle samples when animals rub against them. With the hair, scientists are able to perform DNA tests, which can aid all sorts of research.

It’s not just perfume either: in 2010, Wildlife Conservation Society researchers at the Bronx Zoo in New York identified Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men as one of the more popular scents among its cheetahs. (It wasn't the favorite among cats in the wild; they declined to reveal which scent was.)

Louise Ginman, the Unit Supervisor for Carnivores at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia told Scientific American that they’d found lions and tigers to be the most receptive—snow leopards were as well—and that Obsession for Men was indeed one of the favorites.

Pat Thomas, a general curator at the Bronx Zoo, described fragrance testing to National Geographic, in which the big cats behaved a lot like your kitty does after breaking into the catnip: "Some would encourage this really powerful cheek rubbing behavior where these big cats would literally wrap their paws around a tree and just vigorously rub up and down. Sometimes they would start drooling, their eyes would half close, almost like they were going into a trance."

Scientific American reports that the big cats’ attraction to fragrances isn’t just about them having high-end taste—it’s because of a chemical compound in perfumes called civetone, which was originally taken directly from civets but is now produced synthetically.

See how the power of perfume makes for a stellar snapshot—like the one here from Sartore—in the NatGeo video down below.

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

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
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Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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Big Questions
What Makes a Cat's Tail Puff Up When It's Scared?
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Cats wear their emotions on their tails, not their sleeves. They tap their fluffy rear appendages during relaxing naps, thrash them while tense, and hold them stiff and aloft when they’re feeling aggressive, among other behaviors. And in some scary situations (like, say, being surprised by a cucumber), a cat’s tail will actually expand, puffing up to nearly twice its volume as its owner hisses, arches its back, and flattens its ears. What does a super-sized tail signify, and how does it occur naturally without help from hairspray?

Cats with puffed tails are “basically trying to make themselves look as big as possible, and that’s because they detect a threat in the environment," Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. The “threat” in question can be as major as an approaching dog or as minor as an unexpected noise. Even if a cat isn't technically in any real danger, it's still biologically wired to spring to the offensive at a moment’s notice, as it's "not quite at the top of the food chain,” Delgado says. And a big tail is reflexive feline body language for “I’m big and scary, and you wouldn't want to mess with me,” she adds.

A cat’s tail puffs when muscles in its skin (where the hair base is) contract in response to hormone signals from the stress/fight or flight system, or sympathetic nervous system. Occasionally, the hairs on a cat’s back will also puff up along with the tail. That said, not all cats swell up when a startling situation strikes. “I’ve seen some cats that seem unflappable, and they never get poofed up,” Delgado says. “My cats get puffed up pretty easily.”

In addition to cats, other animals also experience piloerection, as this phenomenon is technically called. For example, “some birds puff up when they're encountering an enemy or a threat,” Delgado says. “I think it is a universal response among animals to try to get themselves out of a [potentially dangerous] situation. Really, the idea is that you don't have to fight because if you fight, you might lose an ear or you might get an injury that could be fatal. For most animals, they’re trying to figure out how to scare another animal off without actually going fisticuffs.” In other words, hiss softly, but carry a big tail.

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