The cuteness may not last long, thanks to climate change

Everyone on the internet is agog over the adorable ila pika, an endangered small mammal that is part of the taxonomic order Lagomorpha (rabbits are also Lagomorphs). The ila pika is undeniably cute and undeniably in trouble. Due to climate change, these little guys are moving higher and higher to find snow. This is the first photograph of an ila pika in 20 years.

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Monkeys get depressed?

Okay, it depressed me that this research was done in a primate breeding facility (macaques are the lab rats of the primate research world), but researchers are suggesting that they observed similarities in depressive body language and behaviors in monkeys to that of humans - slumped posture, decreased interest in food and sex, and avoidance of conspecifics. Neuroskeptic poignantly argues that we don't know if this is an analog for depression (a clinical disorder) versus a normal emotional response (perhaps to living in a primate breeding facility?). Read more here.

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And this week in dogs...

Dogs pretty good at telling you if you killed someone

Dogs do so many different things for humans, including cadaver detection. DogSpies tells us all about how dogs can sniff a carpet and indicate whether a dead body had been hanging out there. Pretty amazing stuff, but will it hold up in court?

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and is pretty good good enough? K9s reveal racist tendencies

A review of Ferguson's police force exposed that 100% of the recipients of dog bites by trained police dogs were black men. This New Yorker article investigates how the biases of the trainer might train the dog who gets a pass, and who gets a bite...

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How parrots' social lives prep them to mimic humans

Have you ever wondered why parrots tend to copy what their humans say? It has to do with their backgrounds as social birds, where they even have their own "names." Learn about Disco, an amazing parakeet, who knows over 100 phrases, and can even beat-box.

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Oxytocin boosts dogs' love for humans

Like they weren't already overachieving pets, turns out that giving dogs oxytocin (often called the "love hormone" as this molecule facilitates social relations in many mammals) gives their attention to human behavior a boost. Will we start giving our pets "love pills" to make them more affectionate?

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Could you love a robot? Probably.

Research has already suggested that robot dogs may have some of the same positive effects for dementia patients as therapy dogs, and children in another study expressed their "love" for AIBO, the robot dog. Now folks in Japan are holding funerals for robots. Perhaps they should make them more sturdy?

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Gosh, sorry to use such a tired old meme! But your friend at Cats and Squirrels has been a busy bee in 2015! It's all about the conferences!!

BA2014_newLogo_garamond_generic_fullname-logo120x490First of all, I've been Co-Director of a team putting together a conference called Beyond Academia, which will be happening here at UC Berkeley on March 16 & 17. I had no idea how much work (and money) is required to put on a conference! From wrangling a venue and catering AND 100 speakers, plus marketing, selling tickets, updating webpages, putting together programs, fundraising, and begging for free booze - it's been a major undertaking! But we are very excited about what we have put together, and it has been one of the most social things I have done as a graduate student.

Beyond Academia is a conference organized by UCB graduate students and postdocs to help students learn about other viable job options for PhDs besides academic positions. Given that the odds of getting an academic job seem to be shrinking daily (and that not everyone  WANTS a tenure-track faculty position), BA created a space for information about non-academic careers with a positive, supportive format. We aren't academia-bashers (and some of us are still considering academic jobs), but it's time to recognize that non-academic jobs are not an "alternative" -- they are a reality! And for students to recognize that their PhD has great value in the "real world!"

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The conference this year features loads of amazing speakers, and workshops on the job hunt process, starting your own business, presentation and media skills, and discovering what jobs are best suited for your interests. We have panels on jobs in tech, entrepreneurship, non-profits, university admin, science communication as well as one I'm particularly excited about - graduate students talking about how they started their non-academic careers while still in grad school. And more! The conference is sold out, so this isn't an advertisement, I'm just a proud parent excited to unveil months of hard work.

If you have questions about how to put on your own event of a similar nature, please feel free to get in touch with us! info@beyondacademia.org

catconfWell once that is over, I have to get ready for two more conferences! In April, I'll be heading to Atlanta for the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants' Feline Behavior Conference (really only the tiny domesticated kind of feline). This conference has a FANTASTIC lineup of veterinary behaviorists (Tony Buffington, Sharon Crowell-Davis, Leticia Dantas and Lynne Seibert), plus talks from Certified Cat Behavior Consultants (yes, we really exist) Jacqueline Munera, Steve Dale, Beth Adelman, and moi!

If you are looking to increase your knowledge of cat behavior, this is your chance! There will be presentations on feline aggression, OCD, social behavior in cats, aging in cats, psychopharmacology, feline nutrition, the connection between stress and urinary tract problems, reducing stress, using negative reinforcement to reduce fearful behaviors and MORE! I will be presenting on what makes cats and their owners unique, including my research on personality traits and attachment of pet owners - and how to apply this knowledge to behavior consulting. The Feline Behavior Conference is happening on April 11-12, more details here!

bannerWhile in Atlanta, I'll also be speaking at an event that is part of the Animal Voices Film Festival, which takes place at the University of Georgia in Athens. This will be a screening of a documentary film, the Paw Project, which focuses on an organization that educates the public and veterinarians about the declawing of cats big and small. The Paw Project (the organization) also performs paw repair surgeries on declawed cats, and works to make the declawing of cats illegal. I am very excited to be part of a panel that includes my dear friend Ingrid (another Certified Cat Behavior Consultant) from Fundamentally Feline, and Dr. Stephanie Globerman of Paws, Whiskers & Claws, a cat-only veterinary practice in Atlanta.  Oh, and I'm in the movie! Bonus! Learn more about this event here!

ccs_logo_small_web@2xAm I tired yet? Yes! But I'm not done. From Georgia, I'll head to Melbourne, Florida for four days for the Comparative Cognition Society Conference (CO3). CO3 is one of my favorite animal behavior related conferences: there's always tons of interesting research to learn about, it's small, friendly, and on a beach. I checked out this year's program, and there will be sessions on exciting topics like tool use and problem solving, dog cog, numerosity, spatial cognition, and social learning. I'll be presenting a poster on my research on how fox squirrels decide where to bury their nuts, and one of my research assistants, Aaron, will be presenting a poster on our project looking at competition and signaling behaviors in fox squirrels.

After CO3, I return home! Two days later I will give a guest lecture on human animal interactions for UCB's intro psych class . Then I will pass out!

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Urban coyotes

New York City's parks are seeing an increase in the coyote population. Experts recommend: leave them be. Bonus: they help control the rodents!

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...continue reading

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Photo by Big Presh via Flickr/Creative Commons
Photo by Big Presh via Flickr/Creative Commons

I’ve previously blogged about musical animals, and many believe that musicality (at least to the extent we see in humans) is unique to humans. We love music so much that we seem very determined to try and see if other animals love it too. Music is commonly used as enrichment for captive animals, or music is forced upon other animals (for example, many folks who clean animal cages like to listen to music while doing so, and I know my kitties have to listen to a lot of punk rock, probably against their will!). But do animals LIKE music? A recent study, “Cats Prefer Species-Appropriate Music,” looked at whether cats enjoyed music that was designed to be “species-specific” in its frequency and other characteristics. Let’s take a closer look at what the research revealed! ...continue reading

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We're not going to discuss "the dress" or the great llama chase of 2015 (where was I yesterday?) ...but there's plenty else to talk about!

False memory in bumblebees

In an experiment that might be called "confuse a bee," bees were trained on two different stimuli that indicated a reward (a yellow flower, or a black and white striped flower). After training, they were given three flowers to choose from: one yellow, one black and white striped, and one YELLOW striped - combining qualities from the test stimuli. Bees chose the flower most recently rewarded.

A few days later, the bees started to chose the yellow striped flower, suggesting their memory was getting fuzzy and they were hedging their bets for a treat! Read more here.

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...continue reading

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I wrote about a new study exploring turtle navigation and the importance of early learning for the Berkeley Science Review! Check it out!

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When a squirrel enters your house and eats your fig newtons, what to do?

This article recounts one woman’s experience of a squirrel breaking into her home, turning on the water, eating her fig newtons, and then taking a nap in her bed. Moral of the story: don’t panic, call animal control, then find a way to keep them from coming back in!

...continue reading

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Reading the Wired story on cats and boxes last week I was introduced to the cat's "thermoneutral zone." This is the temperature range at which animals do not expend any additional energy trying to stay warm (or cool off). For cats, this range is believed to be between 86 to 101 degrees Fahrenheit (for comparison, for dogs, the "TNZ" is more like 68 to 95, with much more variability and tolerance for lower temps)! Because most of us wear clothes, the human TNZ ranges between 64 and 72.

"It feels this cold all the time"
"It feels this cold all the time"

I realized how sad so many kitties must be that we domesticated them and took them away from their desert lifestyle. Are our poor cats constantly shivering and miserable? Well, feline happiness may depend on two things: where the kitty lives, and how much the cat's human warms up the environment.

Living in the Bay Area, we have a few issues: poorly insulated housing, bad heating, and a rather low and unchanging range of temperatures. In 2014, monthly average temperatures where I live were (in order, January to December): 52, 54, 59, 59, 63, 63, 67, 67, 67, 64, 57, and 55, with max temps of:  77, 73, 78, 89, 91, 86, 90, 78, 83, 92, 73, and 68. We had a mere EIGHT days in the cats' TNZ - meaning days where the average temperature was 86 or above (thank you Weather Underground!).

 

My cat sleeping on our heating grate. Harlow's monkey anyone?
My cat sleeping on our heating grate. Harlow's monkey anyone?

At times, my own cat has taken to sleeping on our floor heating grate for warmth from the gas pilot (conjuring images of Harlow's monkeys).

...continue reading

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Cats in print

A study examining the role of  cats in New York Times' stories over the year revealed some interesting patterns: cats were mostly hated in the 1800's, and beginning in the 1970's, stories about cats were more focused on welfare issues and treatment of cats. This shift likely reflects the growing interest in human-animal relations, and on-going debates over how we treat all animals. Fascinating!

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Cats + Tech

The MousR is a cat toy being developed to respond to your cats' movements - with "vision" that can detect your cat's reactions. MousR was created by cat-loving PhD students in Engineering at UC Illinois and I'm now wondering if I went into the wrong field! They've almost convinced me to spend $150 on a cat toy! After a successful kickstarter, MousR is set for a fall 2015 release.

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Now, the Meowlingual has me less convinced. For $169, it will apparently read your cat's facial expressions and meows. Given the Bowlingual's less than overwhelming success (Behaviorist Sophia Yin reviewed it on her blog and said: "Overall, my final ruling is that the Bow-lingual is fun to play with for a while if you got it for free, but it’s not very useful since the translations aren’t trustworthy and most don’t make sense." I'm guessing the same is true of Meowlingual. Buyer beware!

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What happens if there aren't enough rabbits for cats?

I recently wrote about a study about cat's individual prey preferences, and one of the authors of that study is a co-author on a new paper looking at the effects of the rabbit population of feral cat predation in Australia. Apparently, cats really love rabbits, but when there aren't enough rabbits, they focus more heavily on other animals, including native birds and rodents. This means thinking twice about rabbit-eradication programs. Read about the study here.

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Why do cats love boxes?

A subject that pops up from time to time, I've even written about it before! People REALLY WANT TO KNOW: why do cats love boxes? It's quite simple really: heat and safety. Wired dug deeper and talked to some cat experts.

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