Monthly Archives: March 2017

Too smart to quit

A biology professor in Canada tells it like it is. Squirrels are just too smart for us to keep out of bird feeders. Although he tries.

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Speaking of birdfeeders, you say potato, I say...

Can you prove a bird feeder isn't a squirrel feeder? A woman in Canada was cited for "providing sustenance for squirrels." Since neither squirrel nor bird feeding is illegal where she lives, the question is whether she is attracting vermin through her "bird feeding" habits.

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The war on squirrels

Slate recently covered the 1918 "war on squirrels" where California children were enlisted to kill ground squirrels who were responsible for the destruction of millions of dollars worth of food crops. Children enthusiastically came forth with over 100,000 squirrel tails that were captured in a week, and crops made a brief recovery.

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And in North Carolina, people are going nuts for squirrels, but not in a good way: more people than ever are seeking "pest control" services for squirrels.

But squirrels fight back

Not to be deterred by these attempts at eradication, squirrels recently attacked children in a British park, where "In one instance a child was feeding a squirrel when six others ran out from a bush and bit his hand." Six squirrels at once??? Apparently medics had to spend three hours treating the wounds.

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The Chicago alderman who suffered an injury after a squirrel  jumped into his bicycle spokes is back on duty. The accident happened shortly after he implored the city council to fight the Chicogo squirrel problem. Upon his return, he repeated his plea to "ban squirrels," although he claims it was in jest.

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Police Blotter

In Wisconsin, a woman reported that "while her 10-year-old son was waiting for a bus, a man in a car threw a $5 bill at him" -- and in other news, a squirrel was trapped in a home, made a mess and died.

A teenager who broke into a home to steal guns was thwarted by the homeowner's pet squirrel, who startled the teen and "attacked" him.

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A man dodged hitting a squirrel while driving and lost control of his Jeep, hitting a utility pole, a street sign, a tree and a flag pole. The squirrel and driver were unharmed.

The ongoing attempted murder trial for a man who shot his neighbor in the buttocks last May has been postponed to June. The incident began with an argument over squirrel feeding. The accused has stated that he thinks feeding squirrels is a way for him to commune with his dead parents.

Squirrel rescue

Although squirrels are very self-sufficient, once in a while they need our help. A man in Omaha freed a squirrel who had gotten her head stuck in a cereal box.

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In Lowell, Michigan a family found a squirrel who had been impaled by a dart. Wildlife rescue was able to capture and treat the squirrel, who is expected to survive.

A Floridian squirrel got stuck between a sliding door and the screen for almost an hour. Another squirrel stopped by to see what the heck was going on. The squirrel was eventually freed without injury.

And New York's finest took a break from policing the streets to rescue a baby squirrel who was blown from his nest!

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While I'm not a fan of squirrels as pets, this Florida family is getting chemotherapy for their pet squirrel who has breast cancer.

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Squirrels and Food

A squirrel is either commuting between NY and Philly, or each town has yet ANOTHER pizza squirrel. Boston recently laid claim to its own pizza squirrel. In case you haven't guessed, squirrels enjoy pizza.

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In Canada, a squirrel and a crow disagreed on who was going to get that last slice of pizza.

Squirrels and Sports

Baseball season is here, and perhaps you've been wondering, what's the Rally Squirrel been up to? And will he predict this year's World Series Champion?

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Power Problems

Squirrel related power outages were reported in SeattleKetchum, ID, North Lakeland, FLTerre Haute, IN, Laureldale, Pa, East Duluth, MNOntario, Canada, Williams, AZ, and Morganton NC.

A squirrel "triggered" an electrical problem, leading a nightclub in Thailand to burn down. There was no indication of what exactly the squirrel did.

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In memoriam

Students in Houston raised funds to preserve a much-loved campus squirrel with unique markings.  The cause of death of the White Tailed Squirrel is unknown, but his taxidermied body will carry on his legacy forever.

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In Kansas, students held a memorial service for Ralphy, a campus squirrel who was found dead and "didn't deserve to die."

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Hunting corner

Squirrel: It’s what for dinner

The Missouri Department of Conservation recently posted a new video on making Squirrel Sausage. Start with fifteen squirrels...

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Representatives in Mississippi recently proposed extending the squirrel hunting season, to give dogs more time to work.

And the Holley Squirrel Slam, subject of a 2015 lawsuit that was tossed, has once again been targeted. The Fire Department of Holley, NY has been advised to seek legal council after a lawsuit was filed by a local squirrel supporter. The "Slam" offers cash and other prizes to folks who bag the most squirrels on Slam Day.

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An alternative to killing: sterilization via Nutella

Gray squirrels are causing problems for the red squirrels in the UK. But folks don't want to kill mass numbers of cute gray squirrels. The possible answer? Delivery of oral contraceptives to gray squirrels via Nutella.

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Catnip: almost everyone knows about this magical mint-relative that has a powerful effect on approximately 60% of cats. Rolling, rubbing, drooling, and chewing are just a few of the responses your cat might have to catnip. But most folks, including veterinary professionals, aren’t aware that there are other plants that have a similar, usually positive, effect on our kitties.

A new study with a long title, Responsiveness of cats (Felidae) to silver vine (Actinidia polygama), Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and catnip (Nepeta cataria), took an in-depth look at how these catnip alternatives, such as silver vine or Tatarian honeysuckle rank next to been-there, done-that catnip. IT'S OPEN ACCESS!!!!

Lead author Sebastiaan Bol was kind enough to answer some of my questions about their work.

The investigators tested the effects of catnip and the three alternative substances on cats in a sanctuary, a shelter, and a veterinary office. Not wanting other felines to feel left out, they also looked at whether tigers and bobcats would indulge.

Olfactory enrichments were presented to cats in a clean sock. To be certain that cats don’t just love socks, a control sock with no plant product was also given to the cats. Responses such as sniffing, licking, head shaking, rubbing, and rolling were noted, and cats’ responses were classified as either “mild/partial,” or “characteristic/intense.” Dr. Bol told me more about what these responses looked like:

“Cats showing the characteristic catnip response almost always first sniff and lick, then give the sock chin or cheek rubs and start rolling. A positive response needed to last at least several seconds before it would be considered an intense response. We observed that not all domestic cats responded to the plants the same way; some would only sniff and lick. These cats really seemed to enjoy the plant material though and it was a response we did not see when they were offered the negative, empty control sock.”

Photo by "T"eresa via Creative Commons License https://www.flickr.com/photos/teresa-stanton/

The results of the study showed that not all plants are equal to cats. Over three-quarters of the cats responded to silver vine, 68% to catnip, 53% to honeysuckle, and 47% responded to valerian. There were no effects of sex or personality (classification as shy or outgoing) on the response. There were more mild than intense responses overall for catnip than for silver vine, especially with older cats, suggesting an effect of age on the catnip response.

The good news is that most cats will enjoy some type of olfactory enrichment. Ninety-four percent of the cats responded to at least one stimulus, and 24% responded to all four! So, if you’re not offering olfactory enrichment for your cat, don’t you think it’s time to try?

If you don’t have a local source of silver vine, Bol recommends purchasing the powdered version from Smack, a Japanese company that ships through Amazon (give it a few weeks to arrive). “If their cat doesn't respond euflorically to this, it is unlikely they will respond to silver vine wood sticks. When they do respond (to the powder), it is worth trying the sticks. Hold the wood sticks in front of your cat to make it easier for them to give it cheek rubs. When the wood lays on the floor, it is much more difficult for your cat to interact with it. In contrast to the powder, not all cats will respond positively to the wood sticks immediately.” Bol felt that their study showed less support for the use of silver vine leaves, although I have to say that my backyard feral, the Town Crier, begs to differ.

But what about the big cats in this study? Previous research has suggested tigers don’t much care for catnip. Only one of nine tigers responded mildly positively to catnip, and none responded positively to the silver vine: four were indifferent and five walked away from it.

All of the bobcats showed a characteristic response to silver vine and catnip, showing similar behaviors as those of our “tiny tigers.” I asked Sebastiaan what is up with tigers not loving the ‘nip.

“Interestingly, we still have no idea which genes are involved in the catnip response. Genetic variation within a species determines if the animal has the ability to respond to a certain active compound, but that's pretty much all we know. I believe the difference between the response of domestic cats and tigers to the plant materials can be explained by their different genetic makeup. Once we have identified the gene or genes involved in the catnip response, it would be very interesting to compare them between different species in the Felidae.” Agreed!

Having observed some cats getting riled up on catnip, I asked Dr. Bol if he observed any negative responses to the olfactory enrichments. “I don't think there is something inside the plants that causes aggression. Each cat will respond differently to the plants. Some will mellow out, others become more playful. We have seen cats that play rough when offered the plant materials. They are just terribly excited, but mean no harm.” He recommends, “When you live with multiple cats, make sure you supervise your cats the first few times you offer them these materials, so you know how it affects their behavior. Never give some to one cat, but not the other(s). If your cat becomes really excited, just don't pet them while they are enjoying the plants. There will be plenty of time to cuddle with your cat afterwards, when they are tired from playing.”

Overall, this is a lovely study that is one of the most comprehensive to date at categorizing cats’ responses to olfactory enrichment. My only critique is that this study could have been strengthened by blinding the coder to which treatment the cat was receiving. However, this research provides a compelling case for why we should offer a little “herb” to our cats. These plants may increase activity and mental stimulation, or be useful as rewards in training; or perhaps most importantly, provide cats with a welcome sense of “eufloria.”

 

Reference: 

Responsiveness of cats (Felidae) to silver vine (Actinidia polygama), Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and catnip (Nepeta cataria)

  • Sebastiaan Bol,
  • Jana Caspers,
  • Lauren Buckingham,
  • Gail Denise Anderson-Shelton,
  • Carrie Ridgway,
  • C. A. Tony Buffington,
  • Stefan Schulz and
  • Evelien M. Bunnik
BMC Veterinary Research 2017 13:70
DOI: 10.1186/s12917-017-0987-6

This weekend I'm off to NYC, attending Cat Camp! Why didn't they have this kind of camp when I was a kid?!?!

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Joking aside, I'm looking forward to the opportunity to schmooze with fellow cat-lovers, and attend this unique event dedicated to all things cat. Christina Ha of the Meow Parlour cafe in NYC organized Cat Camp, with cat cafes, community cats, special needs cats, the fight against declawing, behavior, and kitten rescue all on the agenda! There is a wonderful line-up of speakers including Jackson Galaxy, Hannah Shaw,  Kate Benjamin, Jennifer Conrad, Beth Adelman, and Ingrid King. I will be live-tweeting the event if I'm not too busy cuddling kittens!