A recent paper by Kristen Shreve and Monique Udell reviews the importance of olfaction to cats, and how understanding this importance may help us better support feline welfare. In this interview, Shreve incorporates her recent work on training cats to suggest...perhaps a future role for cats as detection animals...search and rescue cats anyone?
Can we put the toxoplasmosis question to bed now?
I've written before about my irritation with the assumption that because cats are carriers of toxoplasmosis (a parasite linked with several health problems, including mental health issues), that living with a cat somehow means you are "crazy."
Well, a new longitudinal study followed children from birth until their teenage years and found no relationship between growing up with a cat and early signs of mental illness as a teenager. So if you have kids, or are thinking of having kids, don't let that stop you from adopting several adorable cats. You can read Karin Brulliard's WaPo report on the study here.
Could bumblebees use a soda machine? May-bee
Researchers in the UK wanted to see if bees could learn to use a "vending machine" - essentially, to learn that an item without any intrinsic rewards (such as a token) could be exchanged form something very rewarding (like nectar). To modify this task, they used a ball that could be rolled (because bees don't have pockets for coins). Bees learned the task, and learned even faster if they could watch a puppet bee perform the task first, and learned even faster than that if they could watch a real bee first. Read more here!
Dominance: An illusion when it comes to dog-human relationships
The always astute John Bradshaw wrote a lovely summary this week as to why trying to assess your relationship with you dog through the lens of a hierarchy is misguided and a possible welfare issue. Read it here!
Could a parrot serve as a witness?
A fascinating story of a parrot who knew too much...while humans have a long history of placing animals on trial, this is a new case questioning whether a talking parrot who had been previously owned by a mob boss could provide court evidence against him. ...continue reading →
Warthogs in Uganda may find themselves being bitten by ticks. A solution? Lie down and let the mongooses climb on them to snack on said ticks. This type of relationship, where both species benefit, is called a mutualism. Read more here.
Birds may use alligators as security guards -- previous studies show that birds that nest near alligator habitat produce more offspring. But a new study also showed that alligators near nesting birds were heartier, suggesting that the nesting birds may "pay" for this security service with a few babies that fall out of the nest...into the alligator's mouth. Read a summary here.
Why are New Caledonian crows good at some tasks and not others? Is it the nature of the test? Researchers in New Zealand looked at the reasons that primates performed better on "self-control tasks" in a recent study that compared cognition across many species (hey I was one of the many authors of that study!) - could hands and experience with humans have an effect?
Meanwhile, a new paper explores the fact that corvids and parrots show cognitive abilities on par with primates, despite having a VERY different brain structure (which lacks the neocortex that is often considered responsible for "higher functions"). Summary here.
We spend a lot of time worrying about whether our pets love us. How would you even prove it? @DogSpies' Julie Hecht contemplates the question, and encourages just living with the answer "probably."
Fat cats won't stop loving YOU if you put them on a diet
If your cat is obese, that is a problem! Pet owners who worry that putting their feline on a diet might turn them into grumpy cat should worry no more. A study found that reducing an overweight cat's calories made them MORE affectionate toward owners. Remember: putting your cat on a diet should be done in concert with your veterinarian.
Cats are part of the family
A new survey of cat welfare in Australia found that most owners consider their cat part of the family, and feel confident in their ability to provide for their cat. However, most cats have not been to the vet for a yearly check-up and other findings suggested that owners are not meeting all of their cat's welfare needs. Nice summary from Zazie Todd on her blog Companion Animal Psychology here!
A nice little review of new study about voles exhibiting empathic behaviors toward one another. It features a squirrel studying alum from my lab, Stephanie Preston! I would add that some of the willingness to look at empathic behaviors in other animals is not neccessarily due to a shift away from abhorring anthropomorphism, but a shift away from anthropocentrism!
Humans seem want to know two things about their pets: WHAT ARE THEY THINKING? and DOES (S)HE UNDERSTAND ME? This desperation leads to endless click-bait about what exactly is going on in our fuzzy friends' minds.
What is my cat thinking?
A new device (that has no peer-reviewed testing that I can find) - basically a fancy collar that measures activity - claims to tell you if your cat is playful (OK, that I believe), or happy or annoyed. The collar will measure heart rate and temperature (how accurately?), but consumers should know that we have no accepted measures of "happiness" or "annoyance" in pets. I feel pretty confident in saying this collar cannot tell you what your cat is thinking. BUYER BEWARE!
In the 1950s, scientists discovered that rhesus macaques in Japan washed their food before they ate it. Recently, other studies have tried to determine if the monkeys really care if their food is dirty. Experimental methods included rolling sweet potato chunks in sand, and placing wheat grains or peanuts on real monkey poo, or fake poo. I won't give away the ending, you should read about it yourself!
Why do animals have white patches? Does your dog or cat have "mittens" or a white tail tip? It appears that domesticating animals somehow has selected for this pattern of coat colors...and @DogSpies is going to tell us more!
Male crickets give the female an edible packet of proteins to consume during mating. This sort of "nuptual gift" is fairly common in insects, and may allow physiological and behavioral changes that increase the chance of a successful mating! The longer it takes the female to eat the packet, the better the sperm transfer. Other insects give dead insects or even their own body as part of this pre-nup arrangement, so seems like crickets are getting off pretty easily (no pun intended!).