12 Memorable Facts About Elephants

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Known for their strong family bonds and intelligence, elephants have fascinated humans across time and cultures. As the largest living land mammal, a male African bush elephant typically stands more than 10 feet tall and weighs an incredible 6.6 tons. Although poachers still kill approximately 100 African elephants every day, conservation groups are working to save elephant populations from extinction. Read on for a dozen things you might not know about elephants, from their long history as a political symbol to their legit firefighting skills.

1. CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF, THEY'RE NOT EXACTLY SCARED OF MICE.

Baby elephant looks startled.
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Cartoonists have long depicted the funny juxtaposition of a giant elephant terrified of a tiny mouse. Zoologists and elephant trainers have conducted experiments to test whether elephants are truly afraid of rodents, and it seems to be a myth. Mice themselves don't frighten elephants, but the pachyderms have poor vision and can get extremely startled when anything suddenly scurries by. Elephants are probably more afraid of a mouse's sudden movement than the mouse itself.

2. WILD ELEPHANTS COULD HAVE POPULATED THE U.S., BUT LINCOLN NIXED THE IDEA.

A mother and baby elephant taking a walk.
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In 1861, President Lincoln received gifts, including elephant tusks and a handmade sword, from Siam's King Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongkut. The king of present-day Thailand also made an interesting offer: Mongkut proposed that Siam would send pairs of male and female elephants to the U.S. to breed in the forests. Americans could then tame the wild elephants and put them to work for the economic benefit of the country. William Seward, Lincoln's secretary of state, replied to Mongkut in 1862, graciously declining his offer. He told the king that since the U.S. already used steam power to efficiently transport goods within the country, elephants simply wouldn't be practical.

3. THE ELEPHANT EQUIVALENT OF THUMB-SUCKING IS TRUNK-SUCKING.

Baby elephant sucking its trunk.
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When baby elephants want to comfort themselves, they instinctively start sucking their trunks. Trunk-sucking is also a way that a baby elephant can learn how to use her trunk (which contains between 40,000 and 50,000 muscles). Although most elephants, like human babies, grow out of sucking behavior, some adult elephants also suck their trunks when they feel anxious.

4. THEY'VE SYMBOLIZED THE REPUBLICAN PARTY SINCE 1874.

Elephant symbol for the Republican party.
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Although elephants had been occasionally used as a symbol for Republicans during the Civil War, cartoonist Thomas Nast, who drew an elephant in an 1874 issue of Harper's Weekly, gets the credit for linking the animal with the political party. In later cartoons, Nast continued to draw an elephant to portray the Republican Party, and other cartoonists adopted it, establishing the animal as the GOP symbol.

5. BARNUM & BAILEY TRAINED ELEPHANTS TO PLAY BASEBALL.

U.S. stamp with a circus elephant on it.
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Baseball is America's pastime, so why not teach elephants how to play the game? In 1912, thanks to the work of Barnum & Bailey's elephant trainer, Harry L. Mooney, the intelligent animals played their first ballgame. Although playing baseball was just one of many tricks that circus elephants learned, Barnum & Bailey capitalized on the concept of elephant baseball by using the image on posters to sell tickets for shows.

6. SOME ELEPHANTS HAVE BEEN CONVICTED OF MURDER.

Elephant foot in chains.
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Although elephants are typically viewed as gentle giants, they are capable of attacking and killing humans. Male elephants undergo musth, a hormonal change that makes them temporarily produce tons of testosterone, resulting in aggression. But even female elephants can kill. In 1916, a town in Tennessee charged an elephant named Big Mary with first-degree murder for killing her handler. Big Mary, who worked for the Sparks Circus, attacked her handler, possibly after he struck her with a bullhook as she was trying to eat a watermelon rind. Big Mary was convicted and sentenced to execution. Some 2500 residents of the town gathered to watch Big Mary's dramatic hanging, which featured a 100-ton crane and a chain that broke under her weight.

7. THEY GRIEVE DEATH.

Elephants mourning the death of a baby elephant.
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Although we can't know exactly what elephants feel and how they process death, they seem to show signs that they experience grief when a member of their family (or another elephant) dies. When they see a dead elephant, they may vocalize, use their trunks to "hug" the dead animal, or stay with the carcass for hours. Some elephants have also tried to bury the dead body by covering it in leaves and soil.

8. TRAINED ELEPHANTS FIGHT FIRES IN INDONESIA.

Elephant with water spewing out of its trunk.
Ishara S.KODIKARA, AFP/GettyImages

You probably won't see an elephant riding on a fire truck anytime soon, but elephants in Indonesia are a vital part of fighting fires. In 2015, East Sumatra was plagued with multiple fires over a period of several months, so 23 trained elephants from a conservation center went to work. Carrying water pumps and hoses, the elephants helped patrol the land and made sure that new fires weren't ignited.

9. YOU MIGHT SEE THEM STROLL THROUGH YOUR HOTEL'S LOBBY IN ZAMBIA.

An elephant walks into the lobby of the Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia.
An elephant walks into the lobby of the Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia.
Lars Plougmann, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Some guests at Mfuwe Lodge in the African country of Zambia get an unusual animal sighting before they even leave the lobby. Each year between October and December, families of elephants walk through the lodge's reception area to eat wild mango from a tree in the courtyard. The elephants' giant size and seeming indifference to their hotel lobby surroundings make for quite a striking sight.

10. IN 2015, SCIENTISTS RECORDED THEM YAWNING FOR THE FIRST TIME.

An elephant's open mouth.
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Although scientists speculated that elephants probably yawn, scientists from the University of California, Davis captured the first video of an elephant yawning. If you enjoy watching sleepy animals stretching and yawning, this is for you. Warning: extreme cuteness ahead.

11. ELEPHANTS STARRED IN YOUTUBE'S FIRST EVER VIDEO.

Man taking a photo of an elephant on his phone.
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On April 23, 2005, Jawed Karim made internet history when he uploaded the first video to a certain nascent video-sharing website. Karim, one of YouTube's founders, posted an 18-second scene of himself standing in front of elephants at a zoo. In the video, he speaks about how cool the elephants' long trunks are. As of August 2018, it has more than 53 million views.

12. THEY SNACK ON OLD CHRISTMAS TREES.

Two elephants snacking on pine trees.
VADIM KRAMER, AFP/Getty Images

Zookeepers at Tierpark Berlin, a zoo in Germany, feed unsold Christmas trees to their elephants in early January. The trees are certified pesticide-free, and the elephants seem to enjoy their special snack. Berlin isn't the only place where elephants eat Christmas trees, though. Zoos in Prague also treat their elephants to the tasty conifers.

This story originally ran in 2017.

It 'Rained' Spiders in Brazil Last Week—and You Can Watch It If You Dare

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iStock.com/aury1979

If recent events are anything to go by, you should be less concerned about swallowing spiders in your sleep and more concerned about bird-eating spiders raining down on your head. As The Guardian reports, recent footage from the Brazilian countryside shows thousands of spiders seemingly suspended in mid-air. (Arachnophobes might want to give the video below a miss.)

In reality, they aren’t falling at all. The spiders, which likely belong to a South American species called Parawixia bistriata, are merely crawling on an ultra-fine and nearly invisible web that attaches to two objects, like trees or bushes, to form a canopy.

So why do they do it? To catch prey, naturally. They’re likely to snag a variety of insects and maybe even small birds in their communal web, which can stretch up to 13 feet wide. (And yes, they eat the birds, too.)

Brazilian biology professor Adalberto dos Santos tells The Guardian that P. bistriata are some of the rare “social” spiders that do this. They leave their webs up overnight, hide out in the nearby vegetation, and then return at dawn to feast.

While this natural phenomenon is certainly unsettling, it isn’t exactly rare. Residents of the southeast municipality of Espírito Santo do Dourado, where the video was shot, said these “spider rains” are common when the weather is hot and humid.

Here’s another video from Santo Antônio da Platina in southern Brazil in 2013.

Other species of spider have been known to jump into the wind and "surf" on strands of silk as a means of getting around. They do this to escape threats or get to food or mates in other locations, and cases of "spider flight" have been recorded all over the world. Some especially adventurous spiders have even been known to cross oceans by “ballooning” their way from one land mass to the next.

[h/t The Guardian]

FDA Recalls Several Dry Dog Foods That Could Cause Toxic Levels of Vitamin D

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iStock.com/Chalabala

The FDA has recalled several brands of dry dog food that contain potentially toxic levels of vitamin D, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. While vitamin D is essential for dogs, too much of the nutrient can result in kidney failure and other serious health problems.

The FDA has already received reports of vitamin D toxicity in dogs that consumed certain dry foods. Pet owners are advised to stop using the following products:

Old Glory Hearty Turkey and Cheese Flavor Dog Food (manufactured by Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Evolve Chicken & Rice Puppy Dry Dog Food (Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Sportsman's Pride Large Breed Puppy Dry Dog Food (Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Triumph Chicken & Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food (Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Nature's Promise Chicken & Brown Rice Dog Food (Ahold Delhaize)

Nature's Place Real Country Chicken and Brown Rice Dog Food (Ahold Delhaize)

Abound Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe Dog Food (sold at Kroger in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as King Soopers and City Market stores in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming)

ELM Chicken and Chickpea Recipe (ELM Pet Foods, Inc.)

ELM K9 Naturals Chicken Recipe (ELM Pet Foods, Inc.)

ANF Lamb and Rice Dry Dog Food (ANF, Inc.)

Orlando Grain-Free Chicken & Chickpea Superfood Recipe (sold at Lidl stores)

Natural Life Pet Products Chicken & Potato Dry Dog Food

Nutrisca Chicken and Chickpea Dry Dog Food

For the full list of UPC and lot numbers involved in the recall, visit the FDA's website.

Symptoms of vitamin D poisoning usually develop 12 to 36 hours after pets consume a suspect food, according to PetMD. The FDA says those symptoms include vomiting, loss of appetite, increased thirst, increased urination, excessive drooling, and weight loss. "Customers with dogs who have consumed this product and are exhibiting these symptoms should contact their veterinarian as soon as possible," the FDA writes.

The agency says the situation is still developing, and it will update the list of recalled brands as more information becomes available. According to WKRN News, veterinary professionals recommend sticking to dog foods that have an AAFCO label (from the Association of American Feed Control Officials) on them.

[h/t The Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

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