The Fast and the Furry-ous: Watch Rats Drive Tiny Cars in the Name of Science

Supersmario/iStock via Getty Images
Supersmario/iStock via Getty Images

If you’ve ever driven to the grocery store to pick up some cereal, you might have more in common with rats than you previously thought.

According to New Scientist, Kelly Lambert and her colleagues at the University of Richmond recently discovered that the clever creatures can learn how to operate tiny cars when there are Froot Loops at the end of the ‘road.’

To build the car, they fitted a plastic food container with wheels, an aluminum floor, and a steering mechanism made from three copper bars. The rats could complete the electric circuit that powered the vehicle by standing on the aluminum floor and holding onto the bars, and they could steer by touching the left or right bars.

It’s a more complex task than the usual maze-related experiments we’re used to seeing, and the rats rose to the occasion admirably. The tests included 17 rats—six female and 11 male—who took turns driving the car in enclosures as large as about 43 square feet. The researchers varied the location of the Froot Loops so the rats would have to practice steering in order to reach their reward.

“They learned to navigate the car in unique ways and engaged in steering patterns they had never used,” Lambert told New Scientist.

The study not only proves that watching tiny animals drive tiny cars is adorable, it also suggests that learning to drive had an interesting therapeutic effect on the rats. Throughout the experiment, Lambert’s team measured two hormones in the rats’ feces: corticosterone, which indicates stress, and dehydroepiandrosterone, which relieves stress. As the rats became more skilled drivers, their dehydroepiandrosterone levels increased, and their corticosterone levels decreased. In other words, the rats relaxed once they mastered their task. Lambert has found the same pattern in other experiments that involve teaching rats new things; for example, learning how to dig up buried food also caused a decrease in corticosterone. The findings were published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research.

It’s not all that different from what humans experience, which Lambert calls “self-efficacy or agency.” Mastering something new helps us feel like we can successfully take care of ourselves—maybe you even remember feeling pretty good when you learned how to drive a car.

Discovering that rats’ brains have such high neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt to new challenges, gives scientists an opportunity to devise more complex experiments that relate more closely to human cognitive conditions, like Parkinson’s disease or depression.

It also proves that rats are a lot cooler and smarter than we like to give them credit for. From collapsing their skeletons to chomping through brick walls, here are some other talents you didn’t know they had.

[h/t New Scientist]

Maine Man Catches a Rare Cotton Candy Lobster—For the Second Time

RnDmS/iStock via Getty Images
RnDmS/iStock via Getty Images

Just three months after a cotton candy lobster was caught off the coast of Maine, another Maine resident has reeled in one of the rare, colorful creatures.

Kim Hartley told WMTW that her husband caught the cotton candy lobster off Cape Rosier in Penobscot Bay—and it’s not his first time. Four years ago, he caught another one, which he donated to an aquarium in Connecticut. While the Hartleys decide what to do with their pretty new foster pet, it’s relaxing in a crate on land.

Though the chances of finding a cotton candy lobster are supposedly one in 100 million, Maine seems to be crawling with the polychromatic crustaceans. Lucky the lobster gained quite a cult following on social media after being caught near Canada’s Grand Manan Island (close to the Canada-Maine border) last summer, and Portland restaurant Scales came across one during the same season. You can see a video of the discovery in Maine from last August below:

According to National Geographic, these lobsters’ cotton candy-colored shells could be the result of a genetic mutation, or they could be related to what they’re eating. Lobsters get their usual greenish-blue hue when crustacyanin—a protein they produce—combines with astaxanthin, a bright red carotenoid found in their diet. But if the lobsters aren’t eating their usual astaxanthin-rich fare like crabs and shrimp, the lack of pigment could give them a pastel appearance. It’s possible that the cotton candy lobsters have been relying on fishermen’s bait as their main food source, rather than finding their own.

While these vibrant specimens may look more beautiful than their dull-shelled relatives, even regular lobsters are cooler than you think—find out 25 fascinating facts about them here.

[h/t WMTW]

What’s Better Than a Dog in a Sweater? A Sweater That Shows an Image of Your Dog in a Sweater

Sweater Hound
Sweater Hound

If you think the sight of someone walking their sweater-clad dog is just about the cutest thing in the world, you’re absolutely correct. But what if that person was wearing a sweater that showed an image of their dog wearing a sweater? If you think that sounds even cuter, you’re in for a treat.

According to People, New York-based apparel company Sweater Hound will knit you a sweater that displays an image of your dog in a sweater—all you have to do is submit your favorite photo of your dog. And, because not all dogs love wearing sweaters in real life, your dog doesn’t have to be wearing a sweater in the photo you upload.

Each sweater is made from a combination of acrylic and recycled cotton, and will prove to your pet that you truly do love them more than anyone else (unless you already own sweaters emblazoned with the faces of your friends and family).

The sweaters, which cost $98 each, come in both child and adult sizes, and you can choose between cream, navy, black, and gray. The options don’t stop there—Sweater Hound offers sweaters that show your dog wearing just a bow tie, a bow tie and a sweater, a Santa hat and scarf, reindeer ears and a sweater, or even a “Super Dog” cape and domino mask outfit.

sweater hound dog wearing a bow tie on a sweater
Sweater Hound

If sweaters aren’t really your style, there are also hoodies and sweatpants decorated with a smaller, logo-sized image of your dog. Or, you could snuggle with your prized pooch underneath a warm blanket bearing a rather giant image of said pooch.

blanket with an image of a dog wearing a bow tie and sweater
Sweater Hound

While the company does specialize in creating dog-related products, they’ll do their best to accommodate people who love salamanders in Santa hats, birds in bow ties, and other pets wearing clothes. You can email them at Hello@Sweaterhound.com to discuss your options.

If you’re hoping to get someone a gift from Sweater Hound this holiday season, you should act fast: You have to place your order by December 4 in order to guarantee delivery before Christmas, and that date will likely change as the days go by.

Adorable, customizable clothing is just one of the many perks of being a dog owner—here are 10 more scientifically proven benefits.

[h/t People]

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