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First American Bees Join Endangered Species List

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YouTube // naturesblueprint

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is shining a spotlight on threatened bee populations. Last week, USFWS suggested the rusty patched bumble bee belonged on the endangered species list. This week, it officially added seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees to the list [PDF]. The ruling, which will go into effect October 31, re-classifies the bees, three other animals (the band-rumped storm-petrel, the orangeblack Hawaiian damselfly, and the anchialine pool shrimp), and 39 plant species.

Hawaiian yellow-faced bees (genus Hylaeus) aren't as well-known as their bumble bee cousins or honeybees, but their story is no less incredible. A single bee traveled to Hawaii, found a local, and mated. Their offspring multiplied and spread across the islands, settling into niches in lush forests, volcanic slopes, high deserts, and white-sand beaches. Today, there are no fewer than 63 native Hylaeus species living in the islands. Naturalist R.C.L. Perkins called [PDF] the yellow-faced bees “almost the most ubiquitous of any Hawaiian insects.”

But their glory days were numbered. Human development began to chip away at the bees’ habitats and food supply, while invasive species like ants and flies carried disease and began competing for resources. Nine of the original 63 species have not been spotted in 80 years and may be extinct. Others have vanished from their original habitats, corralled into fast-shrinking safe areas. Among those are the seven newly designated endangered species: Hylaeus anthracinus, H. assimulans, H. facilis, H. hilaris, H. kuakea, H. longiceps, and H. mana.

While it might not sound like it, endangered species status is actually good news in this case. The bees and their classmates were already endangered; official designation is a step that makes it easier to protect them. Mary Abrams is USFWS supervisor for the Pacific Islands office. “Listing these species as endangered will help draw attention to the threats that have brought them so close to extinction, and allow us to begin the process of bringing about recovery,” she said in a press statement [PDF].

The designation is a good start, says Matthew Shepherd, communications director for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Still, he writes on the society’s blog, “there is much work that needs to be done to ensure that Hawaii’s bees thrive.” Habitat loss is a major threat, but the USFWS did not call out any areas of the islands as “critical habitat,” a label that would ensure additional protection.

Abrams emphasized that the designation was just the beginning, adding, “We will continue working with local communities, governments, industry, and the people of Hawaii to protect and recover these native species, which are an important part of what makes these islands so special.”

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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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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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