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!
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!).
We're not going to discuss "the dress" or the great llama chase of 2015 (where was I yesterday?) ...but there's plenty else to talk about!
False memory in bumblebees
In an experiment that might be called "confuse a bee," bees were trained on two different stimuli that indicated a reward (a yellow flower, or a black and white striped flower). After training, they were given three flowers to choose from: one yellow, one black and white striped, and one YELLOW striped - combining qualities from the test stimuli. Bees chose the flower most recently rewarded.
A few days later, the bees started to chose the yellow striped flower, suggesting their memory was getting fuzzy and they were hedging their bets for a treat! Read more here.
Scientists had bees solve increasingly difficult "puzzle flowers" to get rewards. In a control group, they presented the hardest flower to the bee first, and the bee could not solve the problem. In a second study, naive bees watched experienced bees solve the puzzle, and then were able to solve it more quickly themselves. Read more here