Urban Wildlife: Are We in a  Cognitive Arms Race?

Are efforts to thwart raccoons from breaking into compost bins sending the carnivores to new heights of intelligence? Is the term "raccoon-proof" a misnomer? Toronto tries to address their raccoon problem, bringing up issues of how we interact with the animals around us (are they pests or "urban pets"?). Excellent read.

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Speaking of urban wildlife...

Camera traps are one way to get a glimpse at elusive wildlife...and the way that scientists in New York City have been tracking the nighttime activities of the coyotes that live there. Slideshow here.

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Do too many choices make frogs irrational?

When given a choice of two mating calls, female frogs go for the low, long call: suggesting a larger male. But when a third, less "attractive" call is added to the mix, females are more likely to change preferences and approach the call they rebuffed before. Even humans sometimes make these types of "irrational choices." Read more here.

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Can plants be smart? I just reviewed a new book about plant intelligence, "Brilliant Green," for the Berkeley Science Review. Check it out!

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DNA may bust you for not picking up dog poo

A city in Spain is working with a university to create a database of dog DNA. This database could be used to match abandoned dog poo with the owner who violated standards of good dog ownership by not picking up the poo in the first place.

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Speaking of poo,could it save a cute kangaroo?

The tree kangaroo is at risk of going extinct. They are particularly susceptible to the side effects of the drought, such as eating toxic plants to survive. Little is known about this creature (as opposed to the 'roos that hang on land), but scientists are testing hormone levels in poo to determine reproductive periods and help them increase their population for their captive-breeding program. One joey has hit the pouch so far.

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And speaking of dogs, why you should never clone one

@DogSpies' Julie Hecht takes an in-depth look at the fascinating and disturbing dog-cloning industry and interviews John Woestendiek, author of the book Dogs Inc. Even if you've been tempted, you will think twice after reading this!

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Power outages and more

Squirrels caused people to lose their power in Grand Rapids, MI, Topeka, KS,  South Strand, SC, Grand Island, NE, North Fargo, ND, Montreal, and Signal Hill, CA, and just to stick it to the man a little bit more, squirrels took out police surveillance cameras in Newark, MD.

 

Squirrels…they’re just like us…they can:

Carry a large towel up a tree

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They can hang from their back legs (okay, we can’t do this very well)

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They do handstands!

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They sit on swings

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And sit on even more swings!

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...continue reading

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Many cats spend time in shelters or in a boarding facility during their lifetime. The welfare of these cats is an issue of major concern – how can we make this experience less stressful? Stress can make cats appear less adoptable, or make them susceptible to disease, so reducing potential stressors is an important welfare question.

A new study, “The effects of social interaction and environmental enrichment on the space use, behaviour and stress of owned housecats facing a novel environment” brought to us from La Trobe University in Australia, took a stab at looking at what factors could potentially reduce stress on cats who find themselves in unfamiliar turf. The study looked at the effect of different types of resting areas, and human interaction on the cats’ stress levels and behavior. The researchers also included information about the cat: their age, sex, temperament factors, and previous experience with boarding.

Let’s start with the cats – twenty owned cats who were each assessed in the home via the Feline Temperament Profile, which measures how cats respond to a stranger on behaviors such as making eye contact, approaching the stranger, biting or scratching when handled, reaction to an unexpected noise, and willingness to interact with a toy. This gives cats one FTP score, which rates cats on friendliness, playfulness, aggressiveness, and fear. Most of the cats in the study lived in multi-cat homes, twelve were indoor-outdoor, and seven cats had previous experience being boarded in a cattery.

char12The cats were housed for two days in a room at the university, which was set up with litter box, food and water, and three enrichment options: an igloo bed, an open basket with the owner’s scent added (via used pillowcase), and a cat tree. Cats were randomly assigned to one of two groups – one group received one 20-minute visit from a human per day, and the other group received three 20-minute visits. These visits included talking in a gentle voice, as well petting, playing and grooming if the cat allowed.

Several variables were recorded: each cat was given a Cat Stress Score twice a day (the CSS uses body language and activity levels to determine a cat’s stress levels); in addition, measures of “stress hormones” in the cats’ feces were taken before, during, and after the study. The proportion of time the cat spent in the enrichment options was measured, as well as time spent engaged in different behaviors (such as grooming, playing, and eating).

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Cats with higher stress scores spent more time in igloo-style cat beds. Photo by hehaden via Flickr/Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/hellie55/6754221353/

There were many variables and analyses and results, so I’ll try to focus on a few key findings. There were some individual differences when it came to enrichment use, and it seemed like it took most of the cats a day to adjust and show preferences. On the second day, cats with a higher stress score spent more time in the igloo bed; these cats were also less likely to explore, and in fact performed fewer total behaviors than less stressed cats.

Human interaction seemed to have a positive effect on stress – cats who received three visits a day had lower stress scores on day two. This suggests that human interaction for owned cats kept in confinement cat be a positive experience for them. Older cats, and cats with no previous experience being boarded also had higher stress scores.

Most cats did not sit in the open basket with their owner’s scent; this may have been because the basket was open, and not elevated, and thus was quite different in the safety it offered compared to the igloo and the cat tree. Thus, we can’t conclude that cats do NOT find owner scent comforting – further study is needed.

Do we need to revisit how we measure feline temperament? Photo by Dilara Goksel Parry.
Do we need to revisit how we measure feline temperament? Photo by Dilara Goksel Parry.

Interestingly, the Feline Temperament Profile did not predict any behaviors or stress scores. This suggests that we might need to revisit how we measure cat personality – as some shelter temperament tests are based on the FTP, and make assumptions that behaviors in one environment should predict behaviors in another. This is not the first time that the FTP has failed to correlate with other behavioral or physiological measures, although other studies have shown some consistency over time. It is possible that a longer stay in the facility in the current study would have revealed different results and more effects of the FTP.

This study did provide several tidbits of useful information that can be applied to housing cats in a shelter or cattery. Older cats may need more help adjusting to new environments; positive interactions with humans are helpful, and multiple interactions per day may be best; cats should be offered both an elevated safe place and a secure, enclosed bed to ensure meeting the needs of cats and their different tendencies to adjust to new spaces. Cats may need a day to decide which enrichment(s) they prefer, and because many cats utilized multiple enrichment items, choices may help them get comfortable. Finally, further research is needed to determine whether owner scent is helpful or calming to cats.

 

 

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Tech Meets Feline

I'm a HUGE fan of foraging toys for cats...for example:

The Cat Powered Autofeeder

But now a self-proclaimed "aspiring geek" has taken foraging toys to a whole new level...he created a machine that feeds his cat...when the cat drops a ball with an RIFD chip into a gizmo. The cat has to find the balls around the house and carry them to the machine. Really cool!

Some other great foraging toys for cats:

Trixie Pet Catalog - my favorite, the Mad Scientist!

Fundamentally Feline's many foraging toys

The Egg-Cersizer

How do animals see the world?

New software can help us understand how animals perceive colors and patterns. Using filters and different settings for different species, the resulting photo can give you a hint as to the visual world of other animals. Cool and free to download!

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Horses have many expressions

Researchers have developed a coding system for facial expressions for yet another species: the horse (such systems already exist for humans, chimps, cats and dogs). Okay, this isn't technically high-tech, as it relies on humans, not technology, to do the actually coding. But, development required a lot of observations and understanding of the facial musculature of horses. Turns out they have at least 17 distinct expressions! Next: to see if these expressions are related to positive and negative emotional states.

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Don't buy crappy scratchers like this one. Your cat won't use it!
Don't buy crappy scratchers like this one. Your cat won't use it!

Often when I’m walking around (I don’t have a car, so I do that a lot), I see a tiny, unused “cat scratcher,” which has generously been placed out on the sidewalk in case someone else wants to make the mistake of thinking their cat will use it. I usually think to myself “awww, the human tried, but they bought the cheapest cat scratcher, and have now (in their mind) reaffirmed the idea that cats won’t use cat scratchers.” If only the human had done a little research, and invested a little more money, they would have had a better chance of getting their cat to use the scratcher instead of the sofa.

So WHAT kind of scratcher do cats like? The short answer is, it depends. But a new study has tried to get a little more info (based on owner report) as to what cats like to scratch. Owner observations regarding cat scratching behavior: An internet-based survey, recently published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, asked over 4000 people to tell them about their cat’s scratching habits and preferences. The results suggest that there might be a mismatch between what cats are offered to scratch, and what they like to scratch.

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He who crows first...is on top

Roosters are infamous for their early-morning cock-a-doodle-do, but a new study looked closer at this behavior. Turns out that the first to crow is the dominant rooster in the bunch. If you take him away, the next in line in the pecking order takes over those wake-up alarm duties. But the subordinate roosters always waited for the boss to crow first, even if he did so later than usual.

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Salamander Brigade! #CitSci to the Rescue!

If a salamander is going to make babies, they have to head to a vernal pool. In some places, that means a deadly trek across a freeway, resulting in many (50-100%) squished amphibians.  Conservationists in New Hampshire started a Citizen Science program to track both live and dead salamanders and give them a little help crossing the road. The Salamander Brigade has over 600 volunteers and helped 25K salamanders get to the pool, and hopefully, find a mate. They've also started photographing and ID-ing salamanders by their individual markings, and found that many of the same salamanders make the cross-freeway trek year after year! So COOL!

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Squirrel attacks

Squirrels world-wide have apparently been on a collective, crazy, aggressive rampage:

Animal control was called to the scene near Kansas City, when three squirrel attacks were reported in one 24-hour period, including one incident that sent a victim to the emergency room.

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A German squirrel was “arrested” for chasing a woman, only to be fed honey and apples once officers realized he was just exhausted.

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