New Bird Fossils Discovered in China

These birds coexisted with dinosaurs

During the last 20 years, paleontologists have been unearthing dozens of different fossils from ancient birds that coexisted with other dinosaurs in China. The site, which is not far from the Great Wall, is a treasure trove of fossils that date back to 20 million years ago. At least two of these species were brand new. Scientists have had a difficult time identifying them due to their brokenness or incompleteness.

These fossils are special for another reason: they're helping scientists fill in the gaps that were left by evolution, following the timelines of these species and providing dental fossils to compare the birds with dinosaurs much better than previous fossils allowed. We now know that it was a small group of dinosaurs that evolved into birds, but that those birds still lived alongside other species of dinosaurs in the prehistoric world.

What other weird or cool animals news have you read this week? Share any dinosaur, cryptid, evolution or other fun science articles you run across in the chat!

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Meet the Blanket Octopus

Have you heard of this one yet?

Like the giant squid, the octopus has always fascinated me. In the BBC documentary film The Future is Wild, scientists speculated on which animals they believed would inherit the earth, and these creatures made the cut due to their resilience and intelligence, among other things. The creativity and intelligence of these animals has always wowed me, but sometimes the animals are just mind-boggling in and of themselves!

One example is the blanket octopus. The female is up to six feet long, for example, while the male is less than an inch! That just blows my mind. They weigh up to 40,000 times the size of males, and the males spend the majority of their energy just looking for a mate. The male actually removes its sperm-holding arm and gives it to the female to hold onto for whenever she's ready to lay 100,000 eggs and fertilize them herself!

What other bizarre species have you run across this week? Share any weird animals you've learned about or seen cool photos of this week in the chat.

Build-a-Bear After Dark

Because nothing says sexy like a stuffed animal?

If you're still looking for a last minute gift for Valentine's Day, Build-a-Bear wants your attention. They have an idea to "get you hugged," according to their Facebook page. It's the Build-a-Bear After Dark collection!

This is no joke! The spokesperson for this collection is a lion plushie dressed in a silky red bathrobe. He looks like he's waiting for some special company all spread out on a furry rug with a rose and two flutes of champagne! This sexy collection includes accessories like wine glasses, wine bottles and devil horns, and yes, you have to be 18 or older to visit the site landing page! There are all kinds of typical animals to choose from, but there are also special ones like a red bear with lots of sparkly accents.

The "After Dark" collection has outfits like French-style clothing (complete with a beret), pajamas, and saying about dating or drinking wine. I kind of fell in love with the "Nap Queen" sloth myself, but there's probably something there for most folks.

What do you think about Build-a-Bear targeting adults this Valentine's Day? Share your thoughts in the chat!

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The Talking Seal

What other "talking" animals do you know?

The other day, I heard about Hoover, the talking harbor seal, who lived from 1971-1985. Hoover was found as an orphan and adopted by Scottie Dunning, whose brother-in-law, George Swallow, adopted him as a pet. The family set up an outdoor tent with a pond and fence and eventually learned how to mimic Swallow's speech. When he said phrases like, "Hello, there!" they would even be in Swallow's New England accent. 

It sure is fun to think that animals might be able to understand us, and sometimes that is the case--especially with dogs, who can learn dozens, even hundreds, of human words. But most scientists think that when animals create vocal imitations of human sounds, it's a form of mimicry and not much else--even if some animals do possess some sort of understanding regarding what the sound is in relation to.

What other animals do you know about that make various human-like sounds or noises? Are there any other famous ones that have interesting stories--or have you had a pet, or known someone's pet, who "speaks" in this way? Share your animal experiences and stories in the chat.

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Did You Know This Creature Existed?

These people had no idea!

The number of cool, weird and interesting creatures on this planet never ceases to amaze. A story about a teen who was saddened to learn that mammoths were extinct after she saw the Ice Age films and wanted to see one in person circulated around the Internet years ago, making some folks laugh at the fact that she didn't know. But many people don't even know that some creatures exist in the first place!

If you're a Super Mario Brothers fan, chances are you already know that the Tanooki suit is based on a real creature. You also might already know what a dik-dik is, but did you know that there are hummingbird moths? Have you ever seen the hanging face of a Damascus goat, or the human-like eyes of the shoebill stork?

What is the strangest animal you just learned about and never knew existed until recently? What is the weirdest animal you've ever learned about in your life, or that you've ever seen? Share it in the chat.

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Humpback Whales are Drowning

Our fishing gear is the cause.

The Center for Biological Diversity is suing the United States government over the devastating loss of humpback whales due to their entanglements in sablefish pot gear, which the government is failing to regulate well for the protection of ocean life. Whales drowning almost sounds impossible since they live in the ocean, but they're mammals and need to come up for air. That's where the fishing gear comes into play.

These fishing lines wrap around the whales' bodies, not only dragging them violently but also drowning them. The whales also die of exhaustion or infection along the way. This inhumane treatment needs to be stopped with protections put in place to make fishing save for both humans and whales. The permit allowing this all to happen is likely a violation of both the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, which both protect the whales.

Please share this lawsuit to raise awareness about what's happening to the whales on our behalf and share any actions you have for whales in the chat. 

This "Cat Dog" Is So Cute

Dúi is no cat, but folks have no problem dubbing him a cat-dog!

Hopefully, by now people know cat-dog hybrids don't really exist, but if they did they would probably look like Dúi, the adorable Hmong dog that folks across the Internet are dubbing a "cat-dog." Dúi is unique since he's actually a mixed breed between a Hmong and a different short-legged breed, but the dog, who was bought from a mountainous area in Vietnam, may also have a gene mutation that makes him even shorter, cuter and more catlike.

The dog's name means "raccoon," but audiences think he's more like a cat with all of his antics and personality. Hmong dogs are incredibly smart and active, and Dúi's doggy parents, Hai Anh and Tuan, thought they'd share his adventures online. Since then people have fallen in love with the dog and wanted to learn more about his breed. The dog is often used for tracking, but it's also quite rare and usually sells for over $1,000.

What other cute breeds have you just learned about recently? Share them in the chat! 

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Robot Dogs with Guns

This seems worse than Terminator.

As many people worried about robot takeovers issue Terminator-based warnings to officials, business people and scientists who don't seem to care all that much, society continues to develop more worrisome robotic aids to help humans. We've seen the stories (and maybe even seen the bots ourselves) of everything from food delivery robots to inventory counting machines going up and down aisles, but now that the military is developing robotic dogs with guns, things seem to really have escalated fast.

The army is already looking at these prototypes, developed by businesses who want contracts with the military, and it's definitely something that many of us are not happy about. Weaponizing machines and giving them guns to make decisions on their own regarding whose lives to take is incredibly risky at best. Even if they're being remote controlled by an operator, machines malfunction all of the time. This seems like an obvious bad decision, yet here we are. There's a petition to sign against these weaponized robots for those interested in signing it.

In the meantime, what other weird animal robot or science-based news have you read this week? Anything more outrageous than this? Share what you've found in the chat. 

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Raising Monarchs Can Be Harmful to the Species

Try these alternatives!

Knowing how threatened the Monarch butterfly is, many people are tempted to hatch their own caterpillars and nurture the butterflies from home, releasing them into the wild once they're fully grown. While this sounds like a great idea in theory, the reality isn't as helpful as we might think. For starters, there's no data supporting that raising Monarchs from home is beneficial at all.

A much more startling possibility is the danger of exposing Monarchs to parasites during captive breeding. Of course no one would do this on purpose, but when it happens they spread it to the rest of the species in the area. Monarchs raised in captivity also have a lower fitness rate and subsequent lower rate of survival, and people are harvesting too many Monarch eggs from the wild to use them for indoor breeding. 

Instead of possibly contributing to the problem, there are lots of alternative ways to help Monarchs thrive. Don't use pesticides in your garden, and plant lots of milkweed and nectar plants. Join citizen science projects to help monitor the Monarchs where you live and plant even more gardens for them at school, church and places of business. 

What does your Monarch garden look like? Have you been successful in convincing businesses and schools to plant gardens? Share your tips in the chat. 

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People Actually Hunt Puffins as Trophies

Hunting has significantly cut the puffin population.

Iceland is full of adorable puffins that look like a bunch of toys come to life. If you've ever been to the puffin exhibit at the zoo--and we never miss it when we go--you know how cute they are and how much fun it is to just watch them swim or hop around. That's why it strikes me as so strange that people would want to hunt them to display as trophy hunters. I suppose if people are willing to do it to gorillas, who look and are so much like us, I shouldn't be surprised.

Trophy hunters kill as many as 100 Atlantic puffins each, taking them home for bragging rights or selling them as trophies. It's not only cruel and sickening, it's culling the population at a speedy rate: in some years up to 42% of the population is hunted down and destroyed. 

Sign here to voice your opinion against puffin slaughter. Do you have any other action items to share to help protect animals today? Share those in the chat.

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