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9 Fluffy Facts About the Shih Tzu

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The shih tzu, known for its humorous-sounding name (the real pronunciation is actually “sheed-zoo,” thank you very much), has a lot to offer. Loyal service dogs and loving companions, these small dogs are an ideal fit for anyone in need of affection. Learn more about the pooch and its long history of melting hearts. 

1. THEY’RE AN OLD BREED. 

Nobody knows exactly how old the shih tzu is, although it existed at least as far back as 624 CE (we know this because of its presence in art from the era). As with most ancient breeds, it’s difficult to determine when and how exactly it originated, though experts have some ideas. According to one popular theory, the breed was started in Tibet by Buddhist monks and eventually made its way to China. 

Back then, Tibetan monks bred a number of lion-like dogs, which they referred to as “holy dogs.” (Since the time of early Buddhism, the lion has been an important religious symbol, representing the Bodhisattvas, or "sons of the Buddha.") According to some accounts, the Dalai Lama came to China in the 17th century with a trio of lion-like pooches. These shih tzu predecessors were bred with Chinese dogs, resulting in pups with shorter snouts. 

In the early 20th century, the Chinese empress Tzu-hsi was gifted a pair of Tibetan lion dogs. She was immediately enamored, and kept them from breeding with the Pekingese and pugs in her care. The result: the shih tzus we know and love today.

2. THEY’RE CLOSELY RELATED TO WOLVES. 

They may not look like it, but the modest shih tzu is more closely related to wolves than many fiercer-looking breeds. In 2004, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle tested the genetic data of 414 dogs from 85 different breeds. They concluded that Asian breeds, from the imposing akita all the way down to the diminuitive Pekingese, are some of the oldest and most closely related to Canis lupus familiaris's wolf ancestors. (Only the Nordic breeds have these dogs beat: The Siberian husky, Alaskan malamute, and Samoyed, among others, are the "best living representative[s] of the ancestral dog gene pool," the researchers wrote.)

3. ROYALTY LOVED THEM.

Despite their genetic similarities to wolves, shih tzus were bred to be loving companions. The pampered pets led luxurious lives in palaces, enjoying all the creature comforts a dog could want. Their thick coats made them effective radiators, and their owners would use the dogs to keep their beds warm. At one time, it was even fashionable to keep the small canines tucked away in large robe sleeves. 

4. THEY HAVE MANY NAMES.

For such a small dog, the shih tzu has a long list of nicknames. Shih tzu roughly translates to little lion dog. Other monikers include "under-the-table dog," "Fu dog," "shock dog," "sleeve dog," "Tibetan poodle," and more. They are sometimes referred to as the chrysanthemum-faced dog thanks to their unique facial fur, which fans out like flower petals. 

5. THEY ALMOST WENT EXTINCT. 

As with other Chinese dog breeds, the shih tzu was nearly wiped out when the Communist party began its takeover. Luckily for shih tzu lovers, some dedicated fanciers protected the breed and seven males and seven females survived. Those 14 dogs were responsible for rebuilding the entire line. 

6. THEY HAVE LONG, SILKY ‘DOS …

The hair of a shih tzu is truly something to envy. Show dogs can be seen sporting stylish long hair that drags on the floor like a dress's train. This particular hairstyle is very hard to keep up, so most shih tzu owners opt to keep their dog’s hair in a short style called the “puppy cut.” Usually this involves cutting the hair uniformly about two inches from the body (this is also referred to as the "teddy bear cut," because it makes them look like a plush toy). Other owners opt to shave the body hair closely, leaving the hair on the head and ears in a bob-like style (this is known as the "top knot cut.") If neither of these options appeal to you, you can always book an appointment with this groomer in Taiwan, who will cut your dog’s hair into a perfect circle or square. 

7. … AND COME IN LOTS OF COLORS.

According to the American Kennel Club, the shih tzu comes in 14 different colors and three different markings. 

8. THEIR SPOTS ARE THE STUFF OF LEGEND.

Most shih tzus rock a little white spot on their foreheads, which is affectionately known as the “Star of Buddha.” According to legend, Buddha was traveling with a little canine companion that closely resembled the shih tzu. When a group of robbers tried to attack Buddha, the little dog transformed into a fierce lion and chased the thieves off.  Buddha was so grateful he kissed the dog on the forehead, giving it its little white mark. The markings on its back are said to represent the saddle Buddha used to ride the dog-turned-lion. 

9. TRAINING CAN BE TRICKY.

Before you get a shih tzu, consider how much free time you have. The little dogs are notoriously difficult to train and it takes a lot of patience to housebreak them. In fact, it can take around 40 to 50 repetitions of a bathroom routine before the stubborn pup catches on. Owners are urged to start training immediately at puppyhood so irreversible bad habits don’t form.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

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
10 Juicy Facts About Sea Apples

They're both gorgeous and grotesque. Sea apples, a type of marine invertebrate, have dazzling purple, yellow, and blue color schemes streaking across their bodies. But some of their habits are rather R-rated. Here’s what you should know about these weird little creatures.

1. THEY’RE SEA CUCUMBERS.

The world’s oceans are home to more than 1200 species of sea cucumber. Like sand dollars and starfish, sea cucumbers are echinoderms: brainless, spineless marine animals with skin-covered shells and a complex network of internal hydraulics that enables them to get around. Sea cucumbers can thrive in a range of oceanic habitats, from Arctic depths to tropical reefs. They're a fascinating group with colorful popular names, like the “burnt hot dog sea cucumber” (Holothuria edulis) and the sea pig (Scotoplanes globosa), a scavenger that’s been described as a “living vacuum cleaner.”

2. THEY'RE NATIVE TO THE WESTERN PACIFIC OCEAN.

Sea apples have oval-shaped bodies and belong to the genus Pseudocolochirus and genus Paracacumaria. The animals are indigenous to the western Pacific, where they can be found shuffling across the ocean floor in shallow, coastal waters. Many different types are kept in captivity, but two species, Pseudocolochirus violaceus and Pseudocolochirus axiologus, have proven especially popular with aquarium hobbyists. Both species reside along the coastlines of Australia and Southeast Asia.

3. THEY EAT WITH MUCUS-COVERED TENTACLES.

Sea cucumbers, the ocean's sanitation crew, eat by swallowing plankton, algae, and sandy detritus at one end of their bodies and then expelling clean, fresh sand out their other end. Sea apples use a different technique. A ring of mucus-covered tentacles around a sea apple's mouth snares floating bits of food, popping each bit into its mouth one at a time. In the process, the tentacles are covered with a fresh coat of sticky mucus, and the whole cycle repeats.

4. THEY’RE ACTIVE AT NIGHT.

Sea apples' waving appendages can look delicious to predatory fish, so the echinoderms minimize the risk of attracting unwanted attention by doing most of their feeding at night. When those tentacles aren’t in use, they’re retracted into the body.

5. THE MOVE ON TUBULAR FEET.

The rows of yellow protuberances running along the sides of this specimen are its feet. They allow sea apples to latch onto rocks and other hard surfaces while feeding. And if one of these feet gets severed, it can grow back.

6. SOME FISH HANG OUT IN SEA APPLES' BUTTS.

Sea apples are poisonous, but a few marine freeloaders capitalize on this very quality. Some small fish have evolved to live inside the invertebrates' digestive tracts, mooching off the sea apples' meals and using their bodies for shelter. In a gross twist of evolution, fish gain entry through the back door, an orifice called the cloaca. In addition expelling waste, the cloaca absorbs fresh oxygen, meaning that sea apples/cucumbers essentially breathe through their anuses.

7. WHEN THREATENED, SEA APPLES CAN EXPAND.

Most full-grown adult sea apples are around 3 to 8 inches long, but they can make themselves look twice as big if they need to escape a threat. By pulling extra water into their bodies, some can grow to the size of a volleyball, according to Advanced Aquarist. After puffing up, they can float on the current and away from danger. Some aquarists might mistake the robust display as a sign of optimum health, but it's usually a reaction to stress.

8. THEY CAN EXPEL THEIR OWN GUTS.

Sea apples use their vibrant appearance to broadcast that they’re packing a dangerous toxin. But to really scare off predators, they puke up some of their own innards. When an attacker gets too close, sea apples can expel various organs through their orifices, and some simultaneously unleash a cloud of the poison holothurin. In an aquarium, the holothurin doesn’t disperse as widely as it would in the sea, and it's been known to wipe out entire fish tanks.

9. SEA APPLES LAY TOXIC EGGS.

These invertebrates reproduce sexually; females release eggs that are later fertilized by clouds of sperm emitted by the males. As many saltwater aquarium keepers know all too well, sea apple eggs are not suitable fish snacks—because they’re poisonous. Scientists have observed that, in Pseudocolochirus violaceus at least, the eggs develop into small, barrel-shaped larvae within two weeks of fertilization.

10. THEY'RE NOT EASILY CONFUSED WITH THIS TREE SPECIES.

Syzgium grande is a coastal tree native to Southeast Asia whose informal name is "sea apple." When fully grown, they can stand more than 140 feet tall. Once a year, it produces attractive clusters of fuzzy white flowers and round green fruits, perhaps prompting its comparison to an apple tree.

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