Monthly Archives: August 2014

Social Learning in Lizards

Perhaps you've assumed that reptiles and amphibians aren't so smart. You're wrong! The cold-blooded cognition lab at the University of Lincoln is just one of the labs starting to focus on these very interesting creatures. A new study from Macquarie University in Sydney showed that young skinks could learn how to solve a task (which colored container contained a mealworm) faster by watching a demonstrator skink, one of the first studies to show social learning in these not-so-social creatures.

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It may not be your veterinarian.

All pets have needs - food, water, comfort, attention, stimulation. But how do we know that we are meeting a cat's welfare needs? Behavior problems can be one indicator that a pet's needs are not being met (although a lack of overt behavior problems should not be assumed to mean that all needs ARE being met). Another way to get at the question is outright ask people what they know about cat behavior and welfare, which is exactly what some scientists in Portugal did. The study, "Comparison of interpretation of cat’s behavioral needs between veterinarians, veterinary nurses and cat owners" was recently published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.

Scratching is a basic need for all cats.  Photo by Mr. TinDC via Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/2287537534/in/photostream/
Scratching is a basic need for all cats.
Photo by Mr. TinDC via Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/2287537534/in/photostream/

In the study, there were three groups of participants: 226 veterinarians, 132 vet techs and 582 cat owners who were bringing their cat to the vet. All participants were asked to what extent they agreed with several feline behavior/welfare related statements, such as "Scratching behavior is natural and needed for all cats" and "Some forms of play by the owners can lead to aggression."

The 11-item questionnaire statements broke down into three general categories related to either Elimination, Stress-Releasers or Human Stimulation. The development of the questionnaire is rather glossed over (all we know is that it was previously "pre-tested" on 50 people), so you may be thinking there are some categories or questions missing, and you may be right. But let's get to the findings.

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Do you look like your pet?

For some strange reason, we are really good at matching photos of strangers and their dogs. This finding has been demonstrated in a few studies, and a new study delved deeper - and it turns out that if you can't see the eyes of either the dog or the owner, it is ever so much harder to match the two...so whatever it is that makes people and their dogs seem like they belong together - it's in the eyes!

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A festival of squirrels

Where in the world would more than 7000 people gather to celebrate squirrels with music, beer, fireworks, face painting and even a bridge for squirrels to cross the road without getting squished by cars? Longview, Washington, a place I really need to visit one day.

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Squirrel season has begun

For the record, I am a vegetarian and not exactly pro-hunting. But…last year was a mast year for many areas, and squirrel populations are up. Quotes like “it’s a good way to introduce kids to firearms” and “someone is bound to have a good recipe” are not exactly a fast track to my heart.

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I was lucky to attend this year's fantastic Animal Behavior Society Meeting in Princeton NJ. So many amazing talks and ideas and people! Among my favorites were Iain Couzin, James Serpell, Tim Clutton-Brock, Dorothy Cheney and David Whyte-MacDonald.

I storified my live tweets of the talks so you could get a taste of the awesome stuff that was presented:

Day 1: August 10

Day 2: August 11

Day 3: August 12

Day 4: August 13

I also hung with a few fellow science bloggers/twitter peops, like DogSpiesPrancingPapio and @RiceisReal

IMG_4021As a bonus, Princeton is a lovely campus with lots of eastern gray squirrels and rabbits! And somehow I got lucky, two weeks on the East Coast and the weather was pretty fantastic.

Next week: we return to regular programming with cats and squirrels and Friday Faves. Stay tuned!

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One academic conference is enough to exhaust your brain. Two might fry it. I'm currently at the Animal Behavior Society Meeting in Princeton, NJ (more on that later). Last week I was at the International Society for Behavioral Ecology meeting in NYC.

For your reading pleasure, I have storified my tweets from the presentations that I attended - Now you can see what kind of cool, amazing science got reported there!

Day 1: August 1

Day 2: August 2

Day 3: August 4

Day 4: August 5

I also spent a few lovely days in Brooklyn, where I got to hang out with DogSpies. I also checked out the Ai Weiwei exhibit at the Brooklyn museum, ate some serious pizza, met with a fellow cat behavior consultant and hung with some friends. I have to love a place that has THIS mural!!

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Cats and Squirrels will be taking a little break from Friday Faves, This Week in Squirrels and the usual blog posts to attend (and present my research at) two conferences on the East Coast: The International Society for Behavioral Ecology Meeting in NYC, and the Animal Behavior Society Meeting at Princeton.

To be sure, I'll be live tweeting from the meetings and will likely be posting some bits and pieces on here. Cats and Squirrels resumes regular programming on August 15th!

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