Environmental DNA Evidence Suggests the Loch Ness Monster Could Be a Giant Eel

Ariana Walls/iStock via Getty Images
Ariana Walls/iStock via Getty Images

Since the first supposed monster sighting at Loch Ness was recorded in the 6th century, people have been searching for logical explanations. Sturgeons, trees, and even elephant trunks have all been blamed, but scientists (and fans) haven't settled on a single culprit. As The Washington Post reports, one scientist from New Zealand claims he's finally discovered Nessie's true identity: She's not a prehistoric plesiosaur—she's an oversized eel.

That's the suggestion made by a recent environmental DNA project that analyzed the genetic material of every living thing in Loch Ness. In 2018, Neil Gemmell of the University of Otago and his team embarked on a mission to collect 250 water samples from various spot in Loch Ness in Scotland. This was harder than it sounds: The freshwater lake is 23 miles long and 788 feet deep. But the team succeeded in capturing a biological snapshot of the lake, with enough "eDNA"—the genetic material organisms leave behind in their environment—for 500 million sequences.

After comparing the sequenced DNA against global DNA databases of known organisms, the scientists didn't find anything to indicate the lake is hiding an unknown species, prehistoric or otherwise. The findings also ruled out Greenland sharks, catfish, and sturgeon as the stand-ins behind the Nessie sightings. (It's unclear if the study has been published or peer-reviewed.)

They did, however, find an unusually high amount of eel DNA in their samples. "The remaining theory that we cannot refute based on the environmental DNA data obtained is that what people are seeing is a very large eel," a summary of the findings on the project's website reads. "Eels are very plentiful in Loch Ness, with eel DNA found at pretty much every location sampled—there are a lot of them."

Eels indigenous to the British Isles can grow to incredible lengths. Conger eels grow up to 10 feet or more, and in 2001, two 7-foot specimens were discovered on the shore of Loch Ness (though it's possible the saltwater species were planted there by someone looking to stir up monster-related press). When swimming near the surface, a large eel can possibly be mistaken for the backbone of an aquatic beast. The eDNA project didn't reveal whether the eels living in Loch Ness are gigantic or smaller in size.

Despite the new evidence, the research likely won't be enough to dissuade Nessie believers. The most famous photograph of Nessie has been proven to be fake, and there's a lot of science debunking the existence of a massive aquatic reptile hiding in Loch Ness. Nonetheless, multiple monster sightings are still reported each year.

[h/t The Washington Post]

Not-So-Fancy Feast: Your Cat Probably Would Eat Your Rotting Corpse

Tycson1/iStock via Getty Images
Tycson1/iStock via Getty Images

Cat enthusiasts often cite the warmth and companionship offered by their pet as reasons why they’re so enamored with them. Despite these and other positive attributes, cat lovers are often confronted with the spurious claim that, while their beloved furry pal might adore them when they’re alive, it won’t hesitate to devour their corpse if they should drop dead.

Though that’s often dismissed as negative cat propaganda spread by dog people, it turns out that it’s probably true. Fluffy might indeed feast on your flesh if you happened to expire.

A horrifying new case study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences offers the fresh evidence. The paper, first reported by The Washington Post, documents how two cats reacted in the presence of a corpse at Colorado Mesa University’s Forensic Investigation Research Station, or body farm, where the deceased are used to further forensic science for criminal investigations.

The study’s authors did not orchestrate a meeting between cat and corpse. The finding happened by accident: Student and lead author Sara Garcia was scanning surveillance footage of the grounds when she noticed a pair of cats trespassing. The cats, she found, were interested in the flesh of two corpses; they gnawed on human tissue while it was still in the early stages of decomposition, stopping only when the bodies began leaching fluids.

The cats, which were putting away one corpse each, didn’t appear to have a taste for variety, as they both returned to the same corpse virtually every night. The two seemed to prefer the shoulder and arm over other body parts.

This visual evidence joins a litany of reports over the years from medical examiners, who have observed the damage left by both cats and dogs who were trapped in homes with deceased owners and proceeded to eat them. It’s believed pets do this when no other food source is available, though in some cases, eating their human has occurred even with a full food bowl. It’s something to consider the next time your cat gives you an affectionate lick on the arm. Maybe it loves you. Or maybe it has something else in mind.

[h/t The Washington Post]

Wolf Puppies Play Fetch, Too, Study Finds

Christina Hansen Wheat
Christina Hansen Wheat

It took thousands of years of selective breeding for wolves to become the Golden Retrievers you see at dog parks today. Domesticated dogs are very different from their wild counterparts, but according to a new study, they may have a surprising trait in common. Researchers found that some wolf puppies are willing to play fetch with total strangers, suggesting that following human commands is intrinsic to canines.

For their study in the journal iScience, researchers from Stockholm University in Sweden set out to find how domestication affects behaviors in young wolves. They raised litters of wolf and dog pups separately from 10 days old and placed them in various scenarios.

When the scientists tested how the wolf puppies would respond to a game of fetch, they expected to be ignored. Chasing a ball and bringing it back requires understanding human commands and obeying them—abilities that were thought to only have emerged in dogs post-domestication.

The first two wolf groups met expectations by showing little interest in the toy, but something different happened with the third set. Three eight-week old pups went after the ball and brought it back when they were encouraged to do so. This was the case even when the person giving the commands was someone they had never met before.

Even though most of the puppies didn't play fetch, the fact that those who did belonged to the same litter indicates a "standing variation" for a retrieving trait in wolves. "When you talk about a specific trait in the context of standing variation, it means that there is variation for the expression of this trait within a given population," co-author Christina Hansen Wheat tells Mental Floss. "For our study it suggests that, while probably rare, standing variation in the expression of human-directed behavior in ancestral populations could have been an important target for early selective pressures exerted during dog domestication." In other words, ancient people seeking to domesticate wolves might have focused on some wolves' innate ability to follow human commands.

The first dogs were domesticated as far back as 33,000 years ago. Over millennia, humans have selected for traits like loyalty, friendliness, and playfulness to create the modern dog, but these new findings could mean that the dog's earliest canine ancestors were genetically predisposed toward some of these behaviors.

"All three litters were brought up under identical and standardized conditions across years," Hansen says of the pups in the study. "With this significant effort to control the environmental conditions, it is likely that the differences in behavior across litters to some extent have a genetic basis."

After raising the dog and wolf litters for three years and completing that part of their study, the researchers will continue to analyze their data to see if there are any other adorable (or weird) traits the two groups share.

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