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Kate Thomas

The Strange Logic of the Strawberry Squid’s Lopsided Eyes

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Kate Thomas

Our oceans are an endless cornucopia of weirdness. Today, we’d like to introduce you to a cockeyed deep-sea cephalopod called the strawberry squid. Researchers writing in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B say each of the squid’s unusual eyes serves a separate purpose in the black depths of the sea.

Histioteuthis heteropsis (literally “different eyes”) is pink, studded with bioluminescent spots, and quite content to cruise through the “twilight zone” some 650–3300 feet beneath the surface of the ocean. It has one enormous yellow eye and one normal blue eye—as normal as squid eyes get, anyway.

Biologist Kate Thomas of Duke University, lead author on the paper, says she was impressed by the strawberry squid’s strangeness. “You can’t look at one and not wonder what’s going on with them,” she says in the video above.

So she decided to find out. She pulled up 30 years' worth of undersea video recorded by remotely operated vehicles at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and scrolled through, watching the squids’ behavior and looking for clues. She analyzed 152 different H. heteropsis sightings and another nine sightings of its cousin, Stigmatoteuthis dofleini.

The onscreen sightings revealed yet another strawberry squid eccentricity: They like to float along upside down, with their heads pointed toward the ocean floor. But this posture, while whimsical, appears to be practical. The head-down orientation aims the squid’s large eye toward the surface—which is where any light might originate. The little blue eye, better suited for spotting bioluminescence, can keep looking downward into the darkness.

Senior author Sönke Johnsen, Thomas's advisor, said the squid's blue eye could only have one job. “There is no way it is able to pick out shapes against the ambient light," he said in a statement. "And once it is looking for bioluminescence, it doesn’t really need to be particularly big, so it can actually shrivel up a little bit over generations. But the eye looking up actually does benefit from getting a bit bigger.”

It’s an ingenious solution to a low-light situation. “Eyes are really expensive to make and maintain,” Thomas added. “You want eyes just big enough to do what you need to do, but you don’t want to have any bigger eyes because then you are just wasting resources.”

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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
Watch a School of Humpback Whales 'Fish' Using Nets Made of Bubbles 

Just like humans, humpback whales catch many fish at once by using nets—but instead of being woven from fibers, their nets are made of bubbles.

Unique to humpbacks, the behavior known as bubble-net feeding was recently captured in a dramatic drone video that was created by GoPro and spotted by Smithsonian. The footage features a school of whales swimming off Maskelyne Island in British Columbia, Canada, in pursuit of food. The whales dive down, and a large circle of bubbles forms on the water's surface. Then, the marine mammals burst into the air, like circus animals jumping through a ring, and appear to swallow their meal.

The video offers a phenomenal aerial view of the feeding whales, but it only captures part of the underwater ritual. It begins with the group's leader, who locates schools of fish and krill and homes in on them. Then, it spirals to the water's surface while expelling air from its blowhole. This action creates the bubble ring, which works like a net to contain the prey.

Another whale emits a loud "trumpeting feeding call," which may stun and frighten the fish into forming tighter schools. Then, the rest of the whales herd the fish upwards and burst forth from the water, their mouths open wide to receive the fruits of their labor.

Watch the intricate—and beautiful—feeding process below:

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