Friday faves

Progress on the Feline Genome

genomeScientists have now sequenced the genomes of 54 kitties, including a few wild species. While the emphasis is on learning more about diseases that are common to cats (and in some cases, also in humans), a larger sampling of cats, and hopefully collecting of other data (like BEHAVIOR) will mean a better understanding of what makes cats cats, and how domestication has shaped their bodies, brains, and behavior.

Can cats make you take your medicine?

We know that cute influences our cognition and increases our focus. Now a company is hoping that it will help you take your pills. Patients with type 2 diabetes  will be send medication reminders alongside cute cat photos in the hopes that it will increase adherence to medication regimens.

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Fish recognize faces

Damselfish can recognize members of their own species by their unique facial patterns, detectable to us only under ultraviolet light. The fish were tested under conditions where they were rewarded for swimming toward an image of a fish-face they had seen before over a novel image. They overwhelmingly picked familiar faces. Since fish swim in groups, it may benefit them to know their neighbors.

Also, the title of the article should be "Not just a human skill!" - as it is surprisingly not a human skill...

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Pizza rat vs. Milkshake squirrel

I love urban wildlife and the way they have adapted to exploit the resources available to them in the environment, like human food waste. This week, pizza rat and milkshake squirrel highlighted rodents' ability to carry large food items, and digest a variety of foods.

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Yet another klepto-kitty

Are cats becoming more likely to steal or is the internet just making us more aware of these thieving felines?  Yet another cat wandering the neighborhood and bringing goodies back home, such as undies and even a bag of weed. This kitty seems to have a preference for My Little Pony. Some cat experts have weighed in on this behavior before.  Read veterinary behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman's take here.

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Bird feeders spread avian "pink eye"

birddiseaseAs sad as this makes me to say, there is yet more evidence that bird feeders can do more harm than good (aside from attracting more squirrels than birds). A new study showed that birds who prefer feeders over foraging are major players in the spread of disease to other birds in their flock. If you feed birds, clean and disinfect your feeder every time you fill it please!!




What kind of movies do chimps want to see?

My undergrad advisor, who worked with Kanzi the chimp, told me that the chimps he worked with loved to watch football games and videos of chimps fighting. A new study, using non-invasive eye tracking, looked at what chimps look at when watching a video of humans, including one wearing a gorilla suit. By changing some features of the video on second viewing, the scientists could see what the chimps remembered, and what they expected to see.

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Are cats hard to understand?

grumpyNot if you try to understand how they communicate! Scientists agree: cats communicate with purring, meowing, and body language. Yours truly briefly quoted within, along with some of my cat-scientist heroes, John Bradshaw and Sharon Crowell-Davis.



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#CuteOff focus: the "uncute"

There was a recent craze on twitter to post pics of cute animals, using the hashtag #CuteOff. Despite the tendency for us to find vertebrates cuter than invertebrates (think fuzzy, big eyes, the kinds of things we find cute), there are plenty of examples of cute sponges, jellies, and worms out there in the world! Check them out!

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See the results on twitter here.

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Squirrels steal bird food...and bird calls?

Squirrels are infamous for busting into birdfeeders, but now they are stealing bird calls? Huh? Turns out that when predators are in the area, birds and squirrels join forces to spread the news, even using a similar warning sound to get the message out more effectively.

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Hearts across the animal kingdom

Heart disease: common in humans, rare in the wild. By placing heart monitors on many species and training them to use a treadmill, scientists at UC Santa Cruz have compiled some interesting data on how hearts and heart disease differ across species! Even the laziest lion is an elite athlete compared to most of us desk-bound humans, and your cat's heart is smaller (relatively speaking) than a dogs, because of their stalk-and-rush hunting style. Read more here!

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Urban Wildlife: Are We in a  Cognitive Arms Race?

Are efforts to thwart raccoons from breaking into compost bins sending the carnivores to new heights of intelligence? Is the term "raccoon-proof" a misnomer? Toronto tries to address their raccoon problem, bringing up issues of how we interact with the animals around us (are they pests or "urban pets"?). Excellent read.

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Speaking of urban wildlife...

Camera traps are one way to get a glimpse at elusive wildlife...and the way that scientists in New York City have been tracking the nighttime activities of the coyotes that live there. Slideshow here.

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Do too many choices make frogs irrational?

When given a choice of two mating calls, female frogs go for the low, long call: suggesting a larger male. But when a third, less "attractive" call is added to the mix, females are more likely to change preferences and approach the call they rebuffed before. Even humans sometimes make these types of "irrational choices." Read more here.

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DNA may bust you for not picking up dog poo

A city in Spain is working with a university to create a database of dog DNA. This database could be used to match abandoned dog poo with the owner who violated standards of good dog ownership by not picking up the poo in the first place.

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Speaking of poo,could it save a cute kangaroo?

The tree kangaroo is at risk of going extinct. They are particularly susceptible to the side effects of the drought, such as eating toxic plants to survive. Little is known about this creature (as opposed to the 'roos that hang on land), but scientists are testing hormone levels in poo to determine reproductive periods and help them increase their population for their captive-breeding program. One joey has hit the pouch so far.

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And speaking of dogs, why you should never clone one

@DogSpies' Julie Hecht takes an in-depth look at the fascinating and disturbing dog-cloning industry and interviews John Woestendiek, author of the book Dogs Inc. Even if you've been tempted, you will think twice after reading this!

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Tech Meets Feline

I'm a HUGE fan of foraging toys for cats...for example:

The Cat Powered Autofeeder

But now a self-proclaimed "aspiring geek" has taken foraging toys to a whole new level...he created a machine that feeds his cat...when the cat drops a ball with an RIFD chip into a gizmo. The cat has to find the balls around the house and carry them to the machine. Really cool!

Some other great foraging toys for cats:

Trixie Pet Catalog - my favorite, the Mad Scientist!

Fundamentally Feline's many foraging toys

The Egg-Cersizer

How do animals see the world?

New software can help us understand how animals perceive colors and patterns. Using filters and different settings for different species, the resulting photo can give you a hint as to the visual world of other animals. Cool and free to download!

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Horses have many expressions

Researchers have developed a coding system for facial expressions for yet another species: the horse (such systems already exist for humans, chimps, cats and dogs). Okay, this isn't technically high-tech, as it relies on humans, not technology, to do the actually coding. But, development required a lot of observations and understanding of the facial musculature of horses. Turns out they have at least 17 distinct expressions! Next: to see if these expressions are related to positive and negative emotional states.

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He who crows on top

Roosters are infamous for their early-morning cock-a-doodle-do, but a new study looked closer at this behavior. Turns out that the first to crow is the dominant rooster in the bunch. If you take him away, the next in line in the pecking order takes over those wake-up alarm duties. But the subordinate roosters always waited for the boss to crow first, even if he did so later than usual.

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