Why did scientists give a mirror to these weird fish? We have 5 ideas.

"Mirror, mirror, under waves — who's the fairest manta ray?"

Presumably, that's what's on this guy's mind:



GIF via Csilla Ari, Ph.D./New Scientist.

That ray, you see, is circling around a mirror placed in its tank by Csilla Ari, a researcher at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Ari filmed a pair of these aquatic blanket-creatures on two separate occasions: once with a mirror in their tank and once without. She observed a noticeable difference in the behaviors of these typically antisocial animals in the presence of their own reflections.

They would blow bubbles while facing the mirror, for example, or wave their fins around and swim circles past the looking glass, like in the GIF above. But as fun as it is to spend an afternoon watching fish act funny, this strange little experiment still begged the question: Why would a manta ray care about a mirror?

It turns out, there are actually a few possibilities:

Science fact: Rays love dancing. GIF via Cheezburger.

1. They were just making sure they're not a vampire or monster.

It's a commonly accepted scientific fact that evil mystical folk creatures don't have reflections — and once upon a time, people treated the so-called "devil ray" like monsters. There were stories of these flappy fish using their prodigious size to sink ships, and they gained a (completely fabricated) reputation for attacking humans. They even starred in a couple of monster movies, like "The Sea Bat (1930)" and "Devil Monster (1936)" — though sadly, none of them left their fin-prints on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

While manta rays can get pretty big — some are more than 20 feet across — they're not actually that dangerous in real life (and they're definitely not demonic).

"Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup." GIF from "Devil Monster."

2. Or they were checking to see if they had anything in their teeth.

So if manta rays aren't man-eating monsters, what do they eat? It turns out, they're really into those teeny tiny floating plants and animals we call plankton — so basically the opposite of human flesh. In fact, the ray's iconic horns are actually fins on the sides of their head that help them funnel plankton into their mouths!

Nom nom nom nom nom. GIF from GoPro/YouTube.

3. Perhaps they wanted to admire how smart they look.

Manta rays have the biggest brains for their bodies of any fish. There are even some stories of rays coordinating and cooperating with each other (even though they generally keep to themselves).

Intelligence is beautiful, so maybe these rays were just taking in the sights?

Woohoo! We're smart! Let's have a flap party about it! GIF from BBC Earth.

4. They could have also been looking for gray hairs.

The manta ray as we know it today has been around for about 5 million years, and its relatives date back around 20 million years. And they're not just an old family either — individual rays can live to be 50 years old! (Which is, like, really old for a fish.)

"Get off my lawn." GIF via Imgur.

5. Or maybe, just maybe, these manta rays got so excited by the mirror because their advanced intelligence make them self-aware.

The mirror test is a kind-of-vaguely-defined lowest-bar litmus test for determining if animals possess a higher consciousness like humans. The basic idea is that if an animal can recognize itself in a mirror (instead of, say, confusing its own reflection for another member of its species), then that animal must be at least somewhat aware of its own identity.

Other animals that have passed the mirror test include dolphins, chimpanzees, elephants, and magpies. It's only a tentative step, and it may not work for nonvisual animals like octopuses, for example (which lots of us already recognize as a vastly superior alien race). But if the manta rays in the experiment above did actually recognize their own reflections, it would make them the first fish to demonstrate self-awareness.

YAY I'M SELF-AWARE UR SELF-AWARE LET'S BE BFFL.

Of course, we can't exactly prove these manta rays are really as vain as we think they are ... at least, not yet.

But if this research checks out, it has the potential to be an ocean-sized milestone in our larger understanding of consciousness and evolution. Which means we're one step closer to being able to swim up to a manta and say, "Hey, who's that handsome devil ray in the mirror?"

And I think we're all agreed: That would be awesome.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

via Pixabay

Over the past six years, it feels like race relations have been on the decline in the U.S. We've lived through Donald Trump's appeals to America's racist underbelly. The nation has endured countless murders of unarmed Black people by police. We've also been bombarded with viral videos of people calling the police on people of color for simply going about their daily lives.

Earlier this year there was a series of incidents in which Asian-Americans were the targets of racist attacks inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given all that we've seen in the past half-decade, it makes sense for many to believe that race relations in the U.S. are on the decline.

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Photo courtesy of Macy's
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Did you know that girls who are encouraged to discover and develop their strengths tend to be more likely to achieve their goals? It's true. The question, however, is how to encourage girls to develop self-confidence and grow up healthy, educated, and independent.

The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

This is why Macy's has committed to partnering with Girls Inc. and making it easy to support their mission. In a national campaign running throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases to the nearest dollar or donate online to support Girls Inc. and empower girls throughout the country.


Kaylin St. Victor, a senior at Brentwood High School in New York, is one of those girls. She became involved in the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc. when she was in 9th grade, quickly becoming a role model for her peers.

Photo courtesy of Macy's

Within her first year in the organization, she bravely took on speaking opportunities and participated in several summer programs focused on advocacy, leadership, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). "The women that I met each have a story that inspires me to become a better person than I was yesterday," said St. Victor. She credits her time at Girls Inc. with making her stronger and more comfortable in her own skin — confidence that directly translates to high achievement in education and the workforce.

In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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