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.
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.
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.
Safe to say, this feline behavior consultant’s least favorite thing is dealing with my own cats’ behavior problems. My cats are supposed to be perfect! And in general, they are; except when it comes to food.
I’ve got two cats. One we’ll call the Vacuum, and one we’ll call the Nibbler. The Vacuum may have food security issues, or she might just really love to eat. The Nibbler, on the other hand, prefers to graze small amounts throughout the day.
Conveniently, the Vacuum is a little on the chunky side, and not the most agile of cats. The Nibbler is more active and so we fed her for many years on top of the refrigerator. This situation worked just fine, until it didn’t anymore. As the Nibbler has entered her senior years, she made it clear that jumping up on the fridge was more work than she was willing to do.
We moved her food to a lower shelf, and all was well and good for a few months, until the Vacuum realized that there was extra food…possibly within her reach. Suddenly the Nibbler’s food was disappearing at a rapid pace, and not because the Nibbler was eating it.
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.