I think most of us who adopt a kitty from a shelter (especially if they are an adult) wonder about their past life, before we brought them home. Who fed them? Were they born under a bed or under a bridge? But how important is it to adopters to know that their cat previously lived in a home, with people? A new study, "Is There a Bias Against Stray Cats in Shelters?" suggests that there might be a bias against stray cats with an unknown history.
The authors of the paper, Kathryn Dybdall and Rosemary Strasser, did three studies. In the first, they examined shelter records of adult adoptable cats (12 months or older) who had been listed as either owner-surrender or stray. Owner-surrender cats tended to be adopted on average in 26 days, compared to 32 days for stray cats.
This week, I have things to say about two of my favorite species, cats and squirrels...
How can we know that cats love us?
A recent article in the Atlantic discussed the "love hormone" oxytocin, and how it is released when we interact with our pets (turns out other animals have it too, and their oxy levels may go up after interactions with US too).
Most studies have been on dogs, and one study showed that the effects of interacting with cats were less "loving" than interacting with dogs. Most research on human-pet attachment also finds reports of stronger attachment to dogs than cats. Why is this? Are our relationships with cats that different than those with dogs? Are the scales flawed? Is it our co-evolution with dogs that leads to this oxy release? There are still many unanswered questions.
There used to be an electric fence at the Czech-German boundary. While the Iron Curtain may have come down 25 years ago, red deer prefer to maintain that previous line in the sand, and are not crossing into "foreign territory." Read more here.
I recently purchased Meowspace (for more about my Meowspace chronicles, see my past blog posts here and here) – a device that allows me to feed my cats separately, but requires the Meowspace user to learn to get in and out of a box using a microchip-controlled cat flap. Whether I trained my cat or she figured it out herself is a good question.
Even though at times I felt like she was never going to succeed at Meowspacing, it took the Nibbler less than three weeks to learn to use the cat flap. As soon as she figured it out, I lured her in, and set up a videocamera to see exactly what she was doing to get out. At first I was watching her to see what she would do once she was in the box. Turns out she was doing the same thing to me – watching me to see if I was going to help her get out.
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
The oxytocin hormone contributes to our feelings of love and care, and scientists have been exploring what it means for how dogs feel about us (they have oxytocin too). The results suggest it is not just oxytocin in general that directs those loving doggie feelings, but which SPECIFIC variant of the oxytocin receptor gene a dog has, that predicts how friendly they are toward people. DogSpies summarizes it all for us very nicely here:
New Dish? Moles in Couscous
I'm not talking about spicy Mexican cuisine. Scientists at the University of Massachusetts investigated how moles burrow, by x-raying them in tunnels of couscous (apparently it has a nice texture). Apparently moles are burly little creatures, able to dig with a force of forty times their body weight! Read and see more here (there's video!)
Raising the Roof - with bovine flatulence
If you bring a lot of cows together in a small building, you are going to have serious gas (cows emit around 500 liters of methane a day - is there a cow fart suit like there is for dogs???). Add a bit of static electricity and you have an exploding barn. This happened in Germany this week. One cow was slightly injured, luckily no fatalities, and I once again can tag a blog post with the word "farting." There's not much more to the story really (cows, farts, explosions, what more do you need to know?) but you can read more about the science of cow flatulence here.
I was fortunate enough to get to interview my former lab mate, dog expert and all around awesome person, Amy Cook. She received her PhD from UC Berkeley studying dog cognition and the relationship between dogs and their humans. You can read my profile of her and her research here, at the Berkeley Science Review.
Paedomorphic Facial Expressions Give Dogs a Selective Advantage
It's no big surprise that we prefer animals with baby-like features: that is what CUTE is all about! Konrad Lorenz called it "baby schema" (Kindchenschema). This study used adoption from a shelter as a proxy for active selection (hmmm...does preference equal evolution?) and looked at how often dogs "raised their eyebrows", which the authors claimed made the dogs look more "paedomorphic" (juvenile). Two dogs were removed from the study because they took too long to get adopted (another hmmm...), and the results suggested that adoption rates for the remaining 27 dogs was related to how often they raised their eyebrows; more eyebrow raises = faster adoption. Read it for yourself here, yay OPEN ACCESS!