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.
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!
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.
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!).
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).
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!
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.
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!
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.