Author Archives: Mikel Delgado

There was so much squirrel news that it didn't fit into 2017. So we're starting off 2018 with the last bits of my squirrel roundup!! 

Red squirrel vs Gray squirrel – the battle continues

Good news for the red squirrel in the Highlands of Scotland where a reintroduction project seems to be meeting with success. The endangered squirrels were all but extinguished in the area, due to habitat loss and competition with the larger, more robust gray squirrel. Next year researchers will begin monitoring the populations stability.

Locals are asked to report any sightings of gray squirrels, who are the “arch enemy” of red squirrels. However, those sightings typically lead to killings – as gray squirrels are invasive and spread squirrel pox – which they are not susceptible to – but is deadly to red squirrels. Not everyone in the UK is on board with this plan to cull the population of grays, with over 120,000 people signing a petition to end the practice.

Northern Ireland is engaged with its own conservation efforts, and the Belfast zoo recently celebrated the arrival of five baby squirrels (known as kittens). And these tiny but mighty creatures led the forestry agency in Northern Ireland to give up plans to build a new road as it would directly encroach on red squirrel turf.

In Canada, biologists have been observing the spread of gray squirrels in urban areas. These squirrels no longer rely on the yearly tree mast to survive; instead the spread of their population seems to be highly related to the presence of bird feeders. With few predators (primarily raptors and owls), squirrels continue their march toward world dominance. Or least being one of the most successful invasive species around.

Squirrels in history - Cute lepers

DNA testing confirmed that a UK woman who died approximately 1000 years ago perished from a strain of leprosy that was also found in Sweden and Denmark. This strain is a close relative to the one that many red squirrels carry in the modern era. Scientists hypothesize that it was humans' love of squirrel fur that may have been their downfall -- and that they trade in squirrel pelts and meat from the Vikings led to the British pandemic in the 11th century. For the squirrels, it may have just been sweet revenge.

(Oh and the Cute Lepers are a band that I think is pretty good. And a good band name!)

And speaking of cute...

Nothing gets people going like animals doing things that are human-like. Sure, a picture of a squirrel in a tree is cute, but get them to do something like push a tiny shopping cart, and the crowd goes wild. Perhaps the squirrels are playing Quidditch, or musical instruments! These British squirrels are living in the lap of luxury, while other industrious squirrels are hard at work using tools. Of course, these internet obsessions say much more about us humans than about squirrels (although they are very easy manipulated for photo ops with food)!!

Squirrels getting stoned?

As recreational pot becomes legal today in California, I’m sure many people can relate. Even squirrels need a break from reality once in a while. This squirrel ate some mushrooms and “checked out.” The internet claims he was taken to a vet and recovered. Regardless, the mushrooms had a serious effect on the squirrels (not sure it was so fun for the squirrel).

And you thought squirrels were clean-cut. A woman in a British churchyard was taking pictures of her toddler feeding squirrels, until she noticed one squirrel enjoying a nut alongside a syringe. No word on whether squirrels are eligible for harm reduction programs.

 

Late and Breaking Crime Report!

Police were called to a home in New York where a squirrel had broken into a home. The squirrel was in the kitchen eating cookies when the police arrived.

And that concludes the squirrel roundup -- until next time!! Happy New Year!! May 2018 be a good one for everyone!

Companion squirrels

Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of keeping wildlife as pets. I just report the squirrel news…but sometimes I disagree with it!

A man rescued a squirrel during Hurricane Matthew, and has since kept the squirrel as a pet. His landlord wants to evict him for keeping an exotic animal. The tenant is now claiming the squirrel is an emotional support animal.

In Auburn, WA, a young squirrel was found in a high school student’s locker. Apparently the squirrel was the student’s pet, and students were reminded not to bring pets with them to school. Perhaps the student should have claimed it was an emotional support squirrel.

Other interspecific interactions

The stories I report are often focused on squirrel-human interactions. But sometimes other species get involved too!

This squirrel wasn’t going to let some little chipmunk walk all over his food source. Apparently if you provide a squirrel with a weapon, they will use it. Check out the video.

Squirrels seem to know how to stay just out of the reach of their predators. This squirrel gives a kitty a run for his money, and escapes unscathed.

After an uptick in grizzly bears killed by trains in Canada, researchers looked for the culprit and found – squirrels were responsible. High populations of red squirrels near train tracks leave “middens,” or piles of food. Given that the bears’ natural food sources have been less plentiful, they’ve been increasingly attracted to the tracks – at their peril.

Pig meets squirrel – so what?
These two buds enjoy a meal together at the Animal Place Sanctuary in Grass Valley, CA.

A dog had to be rescued by firefighters after chasing a squirrel up a tree, and getting stuck.

A face-off between bird and squirrel – all over a snowball with a nut inside. Bird 1, squirrel 0.

Science corner

My friend Pizza Chow recently published her study looking at how well squirrels could remember a puzzle – two years after they had first encountered it. Lo and behold, the squirrels were almost as good at problem-solving as they were when they had last solved the puzzle!

Ground squirrels hibernate, and when they do, changes in their brain allow them to survive long-term despite low blood flow. Scientists are trying to apply these changes to stroke patients – as a short-term “hibernation” could provide brains with protection while they recover.

The Kluane Red Squirrel Project, lovingly known as "squirrel camp," is a laboratory studying a multitude of interesting questions about squirrels – such as where they are burying their food and who is having sex with whom. They’re also using cool technology – like accelerometers, to track the squirrels’ activity. They recently found that momma squirrels who can anticipate a bumper year of nuts before the trees actually produce that abundance have more surviving offspring.

Finally, I published a little squirrel research of my own this year, exploring the decisions squirrels make when they are given “mixed nuts” – and interestingly, they cached nuts in a manner that suggested they were organizing nuts by type, even when they received the nuts in random order! You can read about it here!

 

 

Glamping -- it's not just for humans

People went "nuts" when they saw this squirrel stealing toilet paper at a campsite. Glamping? Or just fluffing up her nest?

Squirrel and cars -- Can they be friends?

A man in Michigan heard a strange clicking coming from the hood of his car…and pulled over to investigate. Inside were…hundreds of pine cones. He was pissed, but imagine how the squirrel feels.

If you’ve ever run over a squirrel with your car, or like me, have come close to a squirrel-disaster while on a bicycle – you might wonder – why do squirrel seem to hedge when they’re trying to cross the road? Rather than darting back and forth, why can’t they just commit and make a run for it??

Well, a likely explanation is that this zig-zag behavior is helpful when avoiding most of their predators, such as owls. It doesn’t work so well with cars, but hey, squirrels didn’t do most of their evolving around automobiles.

Tomorrow: Bringing in the New Year with my fifth and final installment of the squirrel roundup! It will feature the CUTE CORNER and squirrels in history!

Squirrels and sports

A squirrel interrupted the second quarter of a football game between the Eagles and Dolphins, setting Twitter on fire. Presumably a different squirrel got in the mix during a game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Not to be outdone, this squirrel SCORED A TOUCHDOWN during a Lousville-Kent State game. For the record, this video is AMAZING.

A squirrel was running wild at the start of a Manchester soccer game, but was scooped up after causing an 8-minute delay and biting one groundskeeper.

A squirrel interrupted Jason Day’s golfing warm-up, and a squirrel thrilled the audience of a cycling race in Norwegian with his branch-scampering antics.

Squirrel Rampages

Back in July, a Brooklyn squirrel went on a “three day biting spree,” and claimed at least five victims in Prospect Park (including one man who was bitten while jogging) before mysteriously disappearing.

Squirrels in New Orleans had similar plans, attacking at least four people, including a pastor and two women who were leaving Sunday mass at a local Catholic church. The city was looking for “two squirrels of interest.” One squirrel was seen climbing a man’s leg in New Orleans just hours before other attacks.

Indiana University sent out a warning asking students to beware of squirrels: “If they don’t get food…” they “…may attack.” Washington State University also sent out warnings after squirrels starting biting at people’s shoes as they walked by. The Pasadena police blotter reports that “A strange squirrel was seen to be chasing students” in addition to “A black Toyota Camry was heard to be revving their engine in Lot 5 level 4D.”

A man in Logan, UT was bitten after he chased what he first thought was a “moving dog toy” inside of his house. A baby flying squirrel had snuck into his home, and when the man tried to catch the squirrel with a towel, he got a chomp on the hand. The man expressed interest in keeping the squirrel, but instead the squirrel was brought to the humane society for typhus quarantine.

A woman thought a squirrel was cute and started recording his antics, which included leaping at her face moments later.

Although squirrel bites are fairly common, the CDC has no record of a fatal squirrel attack. EVER.

Squirrel celebrations

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Longview, WA hosted the seventh annual Squirrel Fest, which featured over 50 vendors, live music, a beer garden, a 5K race, a zipline, and a parade. Oh, and thousands of squirrel lovers.

On the other side of the country, Bentonville, AK and West Virginia had their own version of the “Squirrel Fest,” where squirrels on a plate were celebrated. The World Champion Squirrel Cookoff featured tamales, gumbo, and pizza with squirrel meat. The Virginia Squirrel Fest featured squirrel gravy, the “best gravy of all the gravies.” You can also find a recipe for “Squirrel with Herb Dumplings” in the news story.

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Squirrels ruin the holidays

Squirrels ruined holiday displays in 2017. Sea Girt, NJ found its holiday display in tatters after a squirrel was busted severing wires. A squirrel in Queen Anne, WA stole over 150 bulbs from one woman’s Christmas display.

This year, Keene, NH prevented squirrels from repeating last year’s antics of eating the top of the city’s Central Square Christmas tree. Scented soap and a humane trap have kept the squirrels at bay.

A New Jersey family routinely places out small gifts for their mail carrier and other delivery workers. They were shocked to find that the basket of candy, lip balm and tissues had been raided – but the thief was only taking the GOOD STUFF – the chocolates. They set up a remote camera and discovered the culprit was none other than a chubby squirrel. The chocolates have since been placed in a secure glass jar.

It's not all bah humbug for squirrels -- one squirrel got into the holiday spirit by decorating her nest with a Christmas stocking.

 

 

Tune in tomorrow for the science corner and squirrels hanging out with other species!!

Squirrels and crime

I’ve previously reported about Jon Barbour, the man who shot his neighbor in the buttocks after a dispute about Barbour’s squirrel-feeding habits. Barbour claimed that squirrel-feeding allowed him to commune with his deceased parents. In August, Barbour was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the incident.

Another squirrel feeder in trouble, Gaylord Sigland (who I reported on back in July), was cited for feeding wildlife, possibly violating a city ordinance. A neighbor was unhappy with the squirrels gathering peanuts from Sigland and then burying them in his yard. City council eventually voted 5-3 to exempt squirrel- and bird-feeding from the ordinance, and the charges were dropped.

A British man was arrested after dragging a dead squirrel around from door to door to convince people they had a rodent problem and needed roof repairs. He has since been charged with fraud.

 

Whenever I think about gun control laws, I think about stories like the one about the woman who was “high on something” and pointed a gun at a squirrel outside a coffee shop. And pulled the trigger three times.

You think you're just grocery shopping, and then you see an abandoned cart with five severed squirrel heads in it. Well, hopefully this has not happened to you, but it did happen to someone in Ontario, Canada. The local SPCA is investigating and asking for folks to come forward (confidentially) if they have any information.

A man was behaving suspiciously and walking around wearing emoji-pajamas carrying a baby squirrel in a pink washcloth. Next thing you know he is in lockdown, biting a police officer’s arm and getting tasered in the butt. The squirrel was taken to animal control. Police suspect that he was casing houses for burglaries.

Police blotter

Folks in Lexington, MA called the cops because a squirrel had gained entry into his home.  Similarly, in Wisconsin Rapids, a man called the police because he needed help getting a squirrel out of his home.

Car accidents

A 16-year old girl in Pewaukee, WI crashed her car into a tree after swerving to avoid a squirrel. A man in Charlotte, NC drove into a brick wall when he tried to avoid hitting a squirrel.

Pizza squirrels

Squirrels were spotted eating pizza in Washington, DC, Lakewood, CO, Michigan, Atlanta, and St. Petersburg, FL.

Squirrels were also seen indulging in cookies and potato chips.

 

 

Squirrel rescue corner

As self-sufficient as squirrels may be, they often find themselves in situations where they need a little help from their human friends. This Boston squirrel got his head stuck in a hole at the bottom of a dumpster, which required a soap treatment to get him slippery enough to get out.

A squirrel in Georgia got stuck in a bird feeder, although it’s unclear if the man who discovered the squirrel also helped the squirrel out, or just recorded his plight.

 

A Canadian squirrel got his head stuck in a Dairy Queen cup, but a good citizen was able to set him free. A squirrel in Connecticut got stuck in some spray insulating foam when a man was sealing his roof. The foam quickly rendered the squirrel immobile, but a wildlife rescue was able to clean her up and keep her until she was ready for release.

 

Turns out that police commonly rescue squirrels – officers in Sparta, WI and Portsmouth, VA helped baby squirrels make their way to safety.

And if you rescue a squirrel, you may end up with a friend for life. A family saved Bella, who had been attacked by an owl. They raised her until she was ready to be released into the wild. But for the last eight years, Bella comes by daily for treats, and to model tiny squirrel hats.

Cinderella story or Jon Benet Ramsey of squirrels? Theodora was found in the gutters of a family’s home. Since then, they’ve been caring for her, taking her to McDonald’s for fries, and dressing her up in costumes.

Do squirrels dream of nuts?

This rescued baby squirrel is dreaming of something. Nuts. Yes, I think nuts.

Tune in tomorrow for squirrels and sports, squirrel celebrations, and SQUIRREL ATTACKS!!

When you neglect the squirrel news, it adds up. I'll be ending 2017 with a few posts letting you know what my favorite rodents have been up to. Let's go!

Power Outages and Fires

Squirrels started brush fires in West Richland, WA and Mississippi, after shorting an electrical circuit, caused a vacant building to burn in Pennsylvania, and inadvertently set fire to a golf course in Anaconda Hills, Montana. Another squirrel burned down 40 acres in Pelion, SC. A squirrel also started a fire in a cheese factory in Canada, causing 20,000 gallons of milk to spoil, and finally, a holiday was all but ruined when a squirrel was found responsible for a house fire in Menlo Park, CA. Squirrels also caused some $1500 worth of damage to the library in Hopedale, MA, where “They’re not welcome if they’re going to chew on the electrical wires.”

Few states avoided the wrath of squirrels. Squirrel related outages occurred in Mitchell, South Dakota, Oklahoma City, Prescott Valley, AZ, Midland Park, NJ, Chattahoochee, FL, Casper, WY, 100 Mile House, Canada, Statesville, NC, Canton, OH, Idaho Falls, York County, PA, East Memphis, TN, Grand Island, NE, Janesville, WI, Auburn, CA, Stamford, CT, Sidney, NY, Louisville, OH, Findlay, OH, Wake Forest, NC, Orleans, Ottawa, Altus Air Force Base, OK, Lincoln, NE, Centralia, WA, Altus, OK, Lafayette, AL, and Mableton, GA.

According to reports, a squirrel in Island Park, ID “sizzled” ‘til he was “medium rare.” A squirrel also shut down the power and the classes at University of Michigan. Christmas Eve wasn’t so fun for thousands in Pasadena who were left without power for over an hour, thanks to a squirrel: “The condition of the squirrel was unavailable.” In Dadeville, AL, a squirrel shorted power lines, causing the lines to fall on the ground and leave marks that some thought were crop circles left by aliens. Finally, one particularly powerful squirrel left over 45,000 people without power in San Diego.

Squirrel-related school lockdowns

School officials thought they heard a gun firing and locked down the elementary school in Beloit, WI. Turns out it was just a squirrel blowing out the transformer.

 

A man in Cocoa, FL put a school in lockdown when he pointed a BB gun at a squirrel that was in his attic. It led to a call to 911, and after the hub bub the man decided he didn’t want to shoot the squirrel after all! For some reason, the news article features several photos of the gun-wielding individual in just a beach towel.

A 74-year old man in Michigan sent a school into lockdown when he was hunting squirrels on school property. Children were rushed inside, and the man was citing for firing a firearm within city limits.

Hunting corner: More squirrels and guns

A man in Amherst shot through three walls of his neighbor’s home with a .22 while aiming at a squirrel. 71-year old Zbigniew Stanley Puza was charged with a misdemeanor crime for discharging a firearm within city limits. No one was injured.

Roger Hoeker was charged with involuntary manslaughter after killing a 13-year old boy. The man was squirrel hunting, the boy was on a hunting trip as part of the Christianity Outdoors mentorship program.

A man in Tiffin, Ohio was shot in the chest by his hunting buddy who was aiming for a squirrel.

A man in Newcastle, Wales, shot his neighbor’s cat while aiming for a squirrel. The squirrel was scaring birds away from his bird feeder, leading John Charles Quinney to seek out the ultimate punishment. Sadly, the cat was seriously injured and had to be euthanized. Mr. Quinney was required to pay a fine.

A Christmas morning squirrel hunting trip in Bristol Township, Ohio led to the discovery of human remains. The human skull and other remains were believed to be almost a year old, and likely belonged to a man. No word on whether the rest of the hunting trip was fruitful.

Tune in tomorrow for even more squirrel news, including squirrel crime and squirrels eating pizza.

Everyone still wants to know, does my cat love me? And now, thanks to technology and an increased understanding of the human-cat relationship, we can take a better look at whether your cat misses you when you’re gone.

Does your cat miss you when you're gone?

Are cats aloof loners who don’t miss you? Or are they secretly pining away for your return while you are at work? Cats have a reputation for being a low-maintenance pet. Throw down some food and a litter box, and they’re fine, right? But I think the reputation is a bit overblown. It used to drive me nuts when I worked in an animal shelter and the adoption staff would direct someone toward adopting a cat because they worked too much for a dog. Cats have needs, and although they don’t need to be taken for a walk to go to the bathroom like dogs do, it doesn’t mean they don’t need exercise, affection, and other mental stimulation to keep them engaged. I believe this “low-maintenance” stereotype is often the culprit when it comes to people experiencing behavior problems with their cats.

That said, we know very little about what cats do when we are gone, and about the cat-human relationship. A new open-access study, “Cats and owners interact more with each other after a longer duration of separation” looked at what happens when humans leave from and return to the home, to see if cats showed any signs of what is known as “separation distress.”

The study was conducted with fourteen cats, in their homes, in Sweden. The cats normally spent most of their time indoors, and if they were allowed outdoors, it was only with supervision. The cats were tested on two consecutive days: on one day, the owner departed for 30 minutes, and on the other day, the owner was gone for four hours. All cats experienced both conditions, and the order of conditions was balanced, meaning that for some cats, the owner was gone for 30 minutes on the first day, and for other cats, the owner was gone for four hours on the first day.

Digital cameras were used to record the cats’ behaviors and vocalizations, and owners’ behavior when leaving and returning. Behaviors noted included resting, playing, grooming, walking, sitting, attention to owner, meowing, and purring (you can download a list of all the behaviors here). The cats were on camera for about 70% of the time guardians were gone. So, what happened when the guardians left?

Well, not too much. There were no differences in human or cat behavior before the guardian left or while they were gone. Cats spent more of their time resting during the longer separation.

Cats greeted their humans with a little stretch.

When guardians returned, cats were more likely to purr and stretch after the four-hour separation, than the short period of separation. Guardians were more likely to talk to their cats when they returned if they were gone for a longer time, but the purring and stretching were not dependent on that human interaction. This suggests that the cats may have noticed that their human was absent for a longer period, although it is unclear what the stretching indicates.

My guess? That the cats were taking a bit of a siesta during that longer absence (as cats often stretch when they first wake up) – which was interrupted by their human’s return.

Did the cats miss their humans? I don’t think this study provides us with a slam dunk either way. I love that the study looked at cats’ natural behaviors in their homes, and I think it’s great starting point for looking at how cats respond to human absence and presence. But the sample size is quite small, and as most research does to me, I was left with more ideas and questions than answers.

It would be great to look at cats’ activity patterns through the day, and how those are dictated by human activity. One challenge with videorecording is that when the cat is off camera, you don’t know what they are doing.

My cat's daily activity...

I recently put a Jawbone UP on my cat to see how active she is and when. What I can see is that when I’m sleeping, she’s sleeping. And that she has clear patterns of activity that reflect, to an extent, our activity in the home (note: this is not a scientific result!). In fact, I could match my fitness tracker with hers (correcting for when I’m not home, of course) and compare. Hmmm, I think I just came up with my next research project.

I also think that four hours isn’t necessarily long enough to know about how cats really respond to human absence. I don’t know what the work culture is like in Sweden, but most of my kitty clients are gone eight to twelve hours a day (if not more) if they work outside the home.

If the guardian absence wasn’t routine, and since it was different in each day of the experiment, we may not see the same level of greeting behaviors that some of us see when we come and go on a strict schedule. Just like dogs, I’ve seen many situations where cats anticipate their human’s return from work, and greet them at the door or show increased activity at that time.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot we don’t know about separation anxiety in cats, partly because we tend to use dogs as a reference point. Many dogs exhibit overt signs of separation anxiety, which can cause great stress for dog and human alike. Cats may show signs of distress that are less obvious – such as hiding, withdrawing from human interaction, or even sickness behaviors, which we know are triggered by stress and changes in routine.

Until we know more, I think we should assume that cats have needs while we are gone, and even if they aren’t meeting us at the front door. Most of us have to leave the home regularly, but I think that leaving your cat with bird feeders to watch, a sun spot to snooze in and a food puzzle to play with while you’re gone, and providing them with a structured routine including exercise and affection when you’re home are a great way to head off any separation distress at the pass!

References

Eriksson, M., Keeling, L. J., & Rehn, T. (2017). Cats and owners interact more with each other after a longer duration of separation. PloS one12(10), e0185599.

Stella, J. L., Lord, L. K., & Buffington, C. T. (2011). Sickness behaviors in response to unusual external events in healthy cats and cats with feline interstitial cystitis. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association238(1), 67-73.

A recent study helps us better understand cat elimination behavior

If you build it , they will come. Photo by CambridgeBayWeather courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Going to the bathroom, it seems so simple – everybody does it! But when it comes to cats, things can get complicated. When we provide what they prefer in a litterbox, it’s like magic – you build it (the litterbox), they will come. Thanks to cats’ natural proclivities for eliminating in a loose substrate, we don’t even have to “train” cats to use the litterbox.

But when things go wrong, and by that, I mean pee on your bed or poop on the floor, they go horribly wrong. Nothing sends guardians into despair, and cats into homelessness quicker than a litterbox avoidance issue. Any research that can help us understand the intricacies of feline elimination behavior is a good thing in my book.

Recently the folks at Purina published a study in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science called, “The ins and outs of the litter box: A detailed ethogram of cat elimination behavior in two contrasting environments.” This study was all about observation, no judgment, with a goal of providing a detailed ethogram of the behaviors that cats exhibit during elimination.

Twelve cats (six female, six male) who live in an enriched environment at the Purina cattery participated in the study. First the cats were allowed to acclimate to the testing room for 4 days. The testing room was 12 x 13’, with elevated resting areas, toys, and a large litterbox (approximately 3’x3’ square, and six inches high) with sandy clay clumping litter. On the 5th day, filming of the cats began, focusing on pre-, during, and post-elimination behaviors. On days 9 to 13, the cats were moved to a small enclosure (2 x 2.3 x 2.7’) within the room, to mimic the “clinical” environment a cat might be housed in while in a veterinary hospital or boarding facility. Cats were also given a smaller litterbox (16” x 12” x 4” high) and the litter was switched to polypropylene beads, similar to pellet litters that are sometimes used instead of the softer litters.

Ninety-one elimination events were recorded during the study, 58 urinations, 24 defecations, and nine 2-for-1s (or a number two with a number one!). From this, the researchers were able to come up with a detailed list of observations and differences between the two conditions (original vs clinical environment). Let’s take a closer look at some of the interesting findings!

First of all, 7 to 8 AM was the most popular time to pee and poop. In case you were wondering (of course, this might be related to what time the cats are fed, which was not noted in the manuscript).

From this study, 38 elimination behaviors were observed and included in an ethogram, which covers everything from tail positions to paw motions and body postures. From the observed behaviors, and what we know from studies previously published by Wailani Sung & Sharon Crowell-Davis, and by Nicole Cottam & Nicholas Dodman, we can assume that there were some things about the clinical setting that the cats didn’t like.

A cat who doesn't put all their paws in the box might be trying to tell you something. Photo by 十字花剑 via Wikimedia Commons.

During urination, cats did more pawing at the litter when eliminating in the beads; they also did more “paw shifting” and kept fewer paws in the box with the beads. They also urinated less frequently and for longer periods in the clinical setting. When defecating, the cats were more likely to balance their paws on the side of the box, and were more hesitant to enter the box in the clinical setting with the bead litter.

For both urination and defecation, the cats spent more time sniffing their eliminations, and scratching at the walls or sides of the box in the clinical setting; there were no differences in time spent digging in the different litter substrates. The only times that the cats eliminated outside the box was in the clinical setting, with four urination and five defecation events occurring elsewhere.

Unfortunately, one issue with the current study is that in the “clinical” environment, the experimenters changed three things at once: the size of the enclosure, the size of the litterbox, AND the type of the litter. It’s hard to say for certain that the behavioral changes observed during the switch from enriched to clinical setting were due to one of those things, or perhaps because of an additive or interaction effect between more than one change. To tease factors like these apart, it’s really best to only change one thing at a time.

The authors suggest that a quick elimination experience may actually be a good thing; the extended time cats spent pawing at the areas around the box may have been because they kept smelling their waste in the box (also supported by more sniffing post-elimination in the clinical setting) – suggesting that the beads may not have provided enough odor control for the participating cats.

Another observation of concern was that the cats urinated less frequently and for longer periods in the clinical setting. This may be due to urine retention – in other words, that the cats were holding their urine for some reason (possibly because something about the litterbox experience was unpleasant). Urine retention can be a risk factor for urinary tract disease, which is another reason for us to better understand what helps cats love their litterboxes!

Perhaps most importantly, if we can assume that something about the clinical setting was distasteful to the cats, either the litter substrate, the size of the box, or both – this assumption further underscores the importance of understanding that USE does not equal preference. I’ve blogged about this before. Basically, just because your cat uses it, we should not assume they like it!

Because the cats showed some “frustration behaviors” in the clinical setting even when still using the box, including not putting all paws in the box and spending more time scratching at other areas besides the litter, the authors of the current study state, “out-of-box elimination alone may not provide a sufficient indicator of whether the cat finds the litter box experience acceptable.” Nuff said.

Photo via cheezburger.com: http://cheezburger.com/697955072/did-you-have-2-git-the-cheap-litter

Squirrels and sports

Like me, squirrels seem to enjoy baseball. A squirrel named Crumbs likes to cheer on Maryland’s minor league team. An outfielder noted: “Every time we have seen him during games … something good has happened. He knows we got the W.”

Another squirrel in Cleveland ran onto the field during a game, and disappeared into the stands when stadium staff tried to chase him. The same squirrel received cheers from the crowd a few weeks later when he made an encore appearance.

And this squirrel couldn’t wait for the All Star Game to be over, running onto the field of the Detroit Tigers’ stadium at the first opportunity.

But squirrels aren’t exclusive to baseball. This squirrel got involved during the PGA golf tournament in Texas, barely missing being blasted by a drive.

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Squirrels and crime

A man in Tunbridge Wells in the UK is dragging a dead squirrel door to door, offering to inspect people’s rooftops and then telling them they need to give him money to fix the (non-existent) squirrel related damage. Police recommend calling them if you are offered such services by a unsolicited man carrying a dead squirrel.

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In Wisconsin, folks at a rummage sale called the police to complain that baby squirrels were “harassing them,” and police were also called to escort a “large squirrel” from someone’s bedroom in Salem, Massachussetts. That wasn’t the only squirrel break-in: a woman was terrified by a squirrel who broke into her home in Pennsylvania, and screamed really loudly. The family managed to get the squirrel out of the home without having to call the police.

In Spokane, residents are concerned after a mutilated squirrel was found hanging from a tree. There were no witnesses to the event. Across the pond, folks were horrified when a man ordered his dog to kill a squirrel in front of children.

Is it a crime if it’s an act of patriotism?

Squirrels in Texas stole several small American flags from a veteran’s yard. Turns out the flags make handy squirrel nest material!

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Squirrel steals eggs from (Easter) bunny

After thirty years of successful Easter Egg hunts, a Missouri park experienced plastic egg theft at the paws of a sneaky squirrel, who grabbed a purple plastic egg, carried it up a tree, and chewed large holes into it.

Trial opens and closes in attempted murder case over squirrel feeding

A Colorado man, Jon Barbour, shot his neighbor in the buttocks after a dispute over his squirrel-feeding habits, which the neighbor did not appreciate. Barbour claimed that feeding squirrels helped him commune with his dead parents. He was charged with attempted second-degree murder. Just five days later, he was found guilty. Sentencing will happen on August 4.

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When squirrels attack

Several children in Jacksonville, FL were trying to enjoy a stroll in a local park when one was scratched up by a squirrel. Officials felt certain the squirrel was not rabid, just hungry. In Moscow, ID, a woman reported to police that a one-eyed rabid squirrel attacked her and her child. The squirrel could not be located, and neither the woman nor her child were injured.

How often do squirrels attack? Turns out we don’t really know. Since squirrels don’t tend to carry serious diseases, such as rabies, the CDC does not track squirrel bites (and most squirrel bites are probably not reported). The Atlantic recently delved into this topic!

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Crime fighting squirrel

I previously reported on the “pet” squirrel who thwarted a burglar attempting to break into a gun safe. The squirrel has since been returned to the wild, perhaps to fight other crimes.

Squirrel rescue corner

Sometimes squirrels need a little help from humans. I’m not so sure this Boston squirrel was ashamed, but he was definitely buttery by the time rescuers were able to free him from a dumpster he was stuck in.

A baby squirrel was rescued from a busy NY roadway, by a police officer who kept him safe overnight. He was transferred to wildlife rescue the next day.

A DC squirrel was rescued from a fire in a house he had apparently been squatting in. Speaking of squatting, this squirrel was rescued from a toilet. But how did the squirrel get IN the toilet?

A man in Virginia trapped a squirrel and cut off a large ring that was stuck around her neck. The squirrel was freed and completely recovered.

She could use an orthodontist

Concerned citizens in Miami are trying to save a squirrel with a maloccluded tooth – that means her tooth is not growing properly. Squirrels with such dental problems often die because they cannot eat or because the tooth grows into their skull. I couldn’t find an update on Sabrina the snaggle-toothed squirrel.

 

A squirrel king

It’s not as regal as it sounds; a squirrel king is when a bunch of squirrels get tied together by their tails. Yes, this really happens! Recently, four baby squirrels in Maine ended up tangled together, and a nearby cat was thinking they would make a tasty meal. A man was able to catch the squirrels and allowed them to calm down in a box. “It was a like a dreadlock” – but after working at the tails for an hour and a half, the babies were set free at their nest tree, and returned to mom.

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Yet another squirrel bridge

Longview, WA is known for its yearly Squirrel Fest, and its many squirrel bridges that allow squirrels to cross roads without running into traffic. This year Longview added a fifth bridge to the mix. But do the squirrels even care? A town in Holland spent over 12000 euros on squirrel bridges, and a year later, they believe that ZERO squirrels have used it.

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Back when squirrels were pets

Atlas Obscura published this fascinating piece on the history of keeping squirrels as pets! There was a time where you could purchase a squirrel in a pet store; I think as cute as squirrels are, we are much better appreciating them out of doors!

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Science corner

A new publication out of Exeter, by my friend Pizza Chow, looked at whether squirrels could remember a problem they had solved almost two years earlier, and whether they could apply these skills to a new, similar problem. The answers are YES and YES!

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What helps baby red squirrels survive? Being born before the other squirrels in the neighborhood. “First out of the nest is best” – those squirrels have a better chance at establishing their own territory before competition sets it. It sounds like trying to find housing in the Bay Area.

Researchers in North Carolina recently discovered that North America is home to THREE, not two, species of flying squirrel. The Humboldt’s flying squirrel is currently the nation’s newest mammal discovery!