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!
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!
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.
A new study looks at pica and chewing behavior in cats.
Does your cat like to chew on things that aren’t food? If so, you are not alone. I personally have had cats who liked to chew paper (one cat shredded my rent check once), cardboard, corners of the carpeted cat tree, and the ever-popular plastic bag. Have you ever wondered WHY your cat does this?
When an animal ingests non-food items, that behavior is called pica. Humans do it too, with the most common targets being dirt or paint (yum!). The cause is not well-understood, with nutritional deficiencies, parasites, need for fiber, and obsessive-compulsive disorders all being tossed into the ring of possible reasons.
We've all heard that cats are mysterious and don't communicate, but those of us who work with cats are trying to bust those myths. This article interviews a few cat experts (including Sharon Crowell-Davis, John Bradshaw, and moi! How'd I end up in that mix???) about how cats communicate and how to better understand what they are trying to tell us.
What your cat is trying to tell you: Stop playing with the tin foil!
A fascinating new study was just published that suggests that certain high-pitched sounds (including crumpling tin foil) can trigger seizures in older cats. I have a lot of thoughts about this that will likely merit a blog post next week. In the meantime: read away!
What's up in canine science?
A lot as usual! @DogSpies talks with Dr. Monique Udell, about the state of dog science, and points the way to some current open access dog studies (meaning: you can read them even if you aren't affiliated with a university!!!) in her latest blog.
That big, bumbling sunfish isn't so lazy after all
I love seeing the sunfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (which is apparently the only place to have captive sunfish on display). They look so ancient and blobby, but turns out their quite good at hunting. Scientists attached accelerometers and cameras to some sunfish to see what they get up to. Turns out: eating lots of jellyfish!
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our pet cats are predators at heart, especially if you just fill their bowl of kibble every now and then. But beneath that fuzzy, cute exterior is a potentially vicious killer, even if your cat doesn’t have the opportunity to practice mass destruction of small animals. That’s where playtime with interactive toys comes in! But more on that later!
There are two major categories of predators: specialists – those who hunt just one or two prey types; and generalists – animals with a broad diet or who may show a wide range of prey preferences within a species. Both types are likely related to prey available, and how an animal has adapted over time to that prey availability. These preferences could be learned during development, such as when a mother cat brings injured prey to her kittens, or could be a response to changes in the environment. If prey abundance changes, predators have to change their responses too…or go hungry.
Who would have guessed that the big research questions of 2014 would be all about cats (okay, I’m biased)? Do cats really love us? Do they recognize our voices? Do they hate petting? Why do they love boxes? Does anyone understand them (even our vets?)? Why are cats so mysterious???
What's the science behind your relationship with your cat?
Are cat people just a little different? Do we relate to our pets a little differently too? Yes. I wrote on this subject for the Dodo many months ago, and was interviewed for this excellent piece by Gwynn Guilford that was released this week on Quartz (qz.com).
Yep, this very blog turns one today. To celebrate, let's look back at my first post...a blog which was also my first post at the Berkeley Science Review (I LOVE RECYCLING!). It was about a study suggesting that cats might not like petting...and why I disagreed with the scientists' conclusions. Read all about it!
Squirrels and Halloween go together like chocolate and peanut butter. I remember the first year we put out a jack-o-lantern, only to find tiny nibbles and bits of pumpkin all over our porch. Great! Well, Halloween was just a few days ago, so it’s not too late to look at some squirrel-related Halloween stories.