A new study looks at visual and olfactory cue preferences in cats
We know that cats have an excellent sense of smell, and good vision for certain things (like prey moving along the horizon). They need this excellent smelling, seeing (and of course sensing with other organs and body parts, like detecting air movement with whiskers, and sensing pheromones with their Jacobsen’s organ) to hunt, find mates, and avoid danger. But do cats have a preferred sense they rely on? And are all cats the same in this preference?
A closer look at the map behind cognitive maps and free speech for faculty
Edward Tolman is the man they named the Psych building for at UC Berkeley - but do you know about his contributions to the field of animal cognition? Or how he stood up for free speech in the age of McCarthyism? I wrote about him at the Berkeley Science Review!
I've had plenty of urban encounters with raccoons and they kind of scare the crap out of me. Like many urban "pest" species, they are amazingly understudied given their obvious problem solving behaviors and survival skills. Jason Goldman tells us more about the behavior and lifestyle of this fascinating animal.
Do captive mice run in their wheel because they are neurotic and stressed? Or is it a natural mouse behavior? Well, it turns out that if you put a running wheel out in the wild, the mice will come. And they will run. Turns out frogs and other animals will join in too. Pretty cool. Read more about the study here, or download the open access paper here.
Note: this does not "prove" that mice in captivity aren't running in a wheel due to stress!
Best video from this story: a slug in a running wheel. Please watch.
Warming trends are changing these male Puerto Rican coqui frogs - like its effects on other animals, they are getting smaller, and their calls are getting squeakier. The summary article did not comment on how this might impact their ability to attract mates, but the manuscript suggests that changes in male frogs' calls without corresponding changes in the females' frequency-dependent detection system could have dire effects.
My research examining how fox squirrels assess food and how these behaviors are influenced by factors such as season, food type and competition was recently published in PLOS|ONE, and thanks to open access, you can read it here; or you can read the abridged version at PLOS|ONE's blog, EveryONE.
Regardless, I encourage you to check out our video of these squirrel assessment behaviors:
Anthropomorphism impedes our understanding of animal behavior
This fascinating study had 4 and 5 year old children read one of two versions of a story about animals - one with anthropomorphism, and one that used factual language. Results suggested that children who read the story where animals were depicted with human-like traits were more likely to assign human psychological, but not physical, traits to animals later. The Thoughtful Animal at Scientific American tells us more about it here.
Is musicality something unique to humans? It’s a question scientists have been asking for years, but I thought I’d dig a little deeper after seeing a recent video of a cat playing with a theramin (an eerie-sounding, electronic instrument).
I think the first thing to recognize is that musicality in humans is a broad spectrum – some of us love to listen to music, some of us love to create music, some of us love to dance and sing, and (strangely to me) some people could care less about any of it. Some people have perfect pitch,and others are tone deaf. Any time we try to determine if animals can do something we human animals can do, it’s important to think about how we define that ability.
Three new marsupial species discovered in Australia; have sex until they disintegrate
It's gotta be tough being a male antechinus; you have sex until your body falls apart and then you die from stress while still desperately seeking one last "romp." It seems like a bad idea, but I guess as long as you get your sperm passed along before you pass, it will get your genes out into the world and your offspring will likely follow the same lifestyle. I'd like to know what the lady antechinus are up to. Read more here.
Citizen Science - Sea Lion Identification
When I hear about projects that get the general public interested in - and actually DOING - science, I get excited. Scientists in Western Australia are interested in how crowd-sourced photos of sea lion snouts can help them reliably identify individuals by their unique whisker patterns. Booyah!
Cats are more active before feeding time
If you have a cat, you may already know this - I even made a movie about my cat's obsessive circling around the house before mealtime:
Scientists have now found EVIDENCE that cats are more active by having them wear activity monitors and manipulating the number of times a day while holding the total amount of food constant! Feeding cats multiple, small meals a day increases their active time and may be a good strategy for preventing obesity (Personally, I also like food puzzles for cats!).