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!
If a salamander is going to make babies, they have to head to a vernal pool. In some places, that means a deadly trek across a freeway, resulting in many (50-100%) squished amphibians. Conservationists in New Hampshire started a Citizen Science program to track both live and dead salamanders and give them a little help crossing the road. The Salamander Brigade has over 600 volunteers and helped 25K salamanders get to the pool, and hopefully, find a mate. They've also started photographing and ID-ing salamanders by their individual markings, and found that many of the same salamanders make the cross-freeway trek year after year! So COOL!
Getting ready for all these conferences has made it hard to keep up with all the latest in animal behavior research! But there’s been plenty to talk about.
Could kissing your dog solve your digestive problems?
Researchers at the University of Arizona are launching a study to examine whether dogs may transfer healthy gut bacteria to the humans they live with. Read more about the study here, and see the university website here.
Dogs use different nostrils for different things
(Pretty sure we do too!) My fave in dog-blogs, @DogSpies covers research looking at how dogs use each nostril differently – among other things, dogs seem to use the right nostril for novelty, and the left to check out familiar things. Super cool, read all about it!
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?
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.