Domestic cats are known killers, and when let loose they can
do real predatory damage. Cats (Felis catus) can wipe out entire populations of native birds and small mammals such as mice, squirrels and rabbits when introduced to island environments. Eradication efforts have historically been implemented to remove these non-native predators from islands. A new study shows that domestic cats can wreak havoc on the mainland as well. Researchers say un-owned cats kill far more birds and mammals than previously thought, making them the greatest human-related cause of these wildlife deaths in the United States.
The strangest thing about this Chinese boy’s light blue eyes is not their color. It’s the purported fact that he can see in the dark. His eyes are just like cat eyes, glowing blue-green when you shine a light in them, says this clip from China’s state-run English TV channel. The boy can catch crickets in the dark without a flashlight and even completes a writing test in a pitch-black stairwell. True, or too good to be?
Natalie Wolchover at Life’s Little Mysteries has rounded up some experts and their collective reaction seems to be, “Hmm…” (It doesn’t help that this video has been posted on YouTube under the name, “Alien Hybrid or Starchild Discovered in China? 2012.”) One possibility they consider is whether the boy has a mutation that produced something like a tapetum lucidum, an extra layer of tissue that helps cats see in the dark. James Reynolds, a pediatric ophthalmologist at State University of New York in Buffalo, puts a stop to that idea:
Cats have been our companions for almost 10,000 years. They have been worshipped by Egyptians, killed (or not) by physicists, and captioned by geeks. And in all that time, no one has quite appreciated how impressively they drink. Using high-speed videos, Pedro Reis and Roman Stocker from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has shown that lapping cats are masters of physics. Every flick of their tongues finely balances a pair of forces, at high speed, to draw a column of water into their thirsty jaws.
Read the rest of the post at Not Exactly Rocket Science, where Yong explains that each sip is a tug-of-war between inertia and gravity. Here’s a little of that high-speed video:
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It’s common wisdom that the big cats, like so many animals, evolved their particular look to blend into the background and skulk around undetected. But just how much are a cat’s spots or stripes fine-tuned to its habitat? To find out, William Allen and colleagues dug into the markings in detail for a study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and found that their specificity is even more connected to the species’ home and lifestyle than scientists ever knew.
The Allen team studied 35 different species of big cats, looking at their markings next to their habitat, history, and hunting patterns.
Dark-colored coats, which are common to leopards and jaguars but unknown to cheetahs, were tied to species that may roam both day and night and that occupy a wide variety of habitats. Solid-colored coats were linked to cats that are active during the day, usually walk on the ground and that live in open habitats, such as in deserts or on the plains. Stripes, on the other hand, remain somewhat of a mystery. “There aren’t enough species of stripy cat to reliably make associations between stripes and potential drivers of stripyness,” Allen explained. [Discovery News]
The Florida panthers may be saved. They simply needed a little Lone Star assist.
Fifteen years ago the big cats in Florida were in dire straits, doomed to probable extinction because of genetic inbreeding and dwindling numbers. Now, though, their population is on the upswing, thanks to a program that brought in eight females from a panther population in Texas to bolster the Florida cats. Scientists who studied the experiment report in the journal Science that it has worked: Both the numbers and the genetic diversity of Florida panthers improved drastically.
Hybrids of the Florida cats and cousins of the same species from a wild-caught Texas population have twice the genetic variety and far fewer of the genetic defects that were known in Floridian panthers before the introduction, says geneticist [and study coauthor] Warren Johnson. [Science News]
Don’t be fooled by those sinister fangs: For saber-toothed cats, much of the killing power was concentrated in the front limbs.
The long canine teeth that gave the extinct cat its name are an unmistakable feature, protruding from the snarling faces of models in natural history museums everywhere. But while those fangs were deadly, their great length also made them delicate and liable to break if the cat’s prey jostled and writhed in an attempt to escape. Researcher Julie Meachen-Samuels had an idea how such a precarious killing device could have evolved: The cats had incredibly strong front limbs to hold down prey while they used their saber teeth to cut them up.
For a study that appears in the journal PLoS One, the team x-rayed the bones of many saber-toothed cats (Smilodon fatalis), and compared them to a variety of modern-day cats. According to Meachen-Samuels:
News that an Iowa cat has been diagnosed with swine flu has sparked a new round of concerns, as pet-owners worry both that their furry companions could get sick, and that their pets could pass the virus on to other humans. The 13-year-old, mixed-breed cat showed the symptoms of lethargy, sneezing and coughing typical to sick cats [ABC News]. The veterinarians who treated him say that several people in the cat’s home had been experiencing flu-like symptoms, and lab work confirmed that the feline had the H1N1 virus.
Happily, the cat is expected to make a full recovery. But both vets and public health officials are rushing to reassure the public that one sick cat probably does not indicate a coming crisis. While it’s possible that more cats will be diagnosed with the swine flu, vets point out that the virus was circulating for more than six months before the first cat case was discovered, indicating that the virus probably doesn’t jump from species to species very easily. Doctors also note that there’s very little chance that a cat will spread the virus to humans: Even when inter-species transmissions do occur, the H1N1 virus seems more likely to move from humans to animals, rather than the other way around [HealthDay News].
There have been no reported cases of dogs catching the virus, but there is one type of pet that is known to be vulnerable. Ferrets are generally susceptible to the seasonal flu, and the AP reported Wednesday that H1N1 infection has been confirmed in two ferrets, one in Nebraska and the other in Oregon. “Not only can they be infected with the flu but they are clearly able to transmit the flu back to people,” Treanor said [HealthDay News]. But the bottom line appears to be: Unless you’re a ferret-owner, you probably have nothing to worry about.
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Image: flickr / theogeo
Plenty of cat owners joke about being at the beck and call of a demanding feline, and now researchers have identified one vocal tactic that house cats use to manipulate their owners. The newly identified vocalization, called “solicitation purring,” has never been acknowledged or studied before, although cat fanciers, such as the study’s lead author Karen McComb, are quite familiar with it. “In the case of my cat, if he sees you stirring from sleep at all in the early morning he will immediately switch into giving this solicitation purring and position himself next to your head so you get the full impact” [Discovery News], she says.
Unlike the low-pitched purr that cats produce when they’re lazily lounging, this sound incorporates a high-pitched “cry” with a similar frequency to a human baby’s. The team said cats have “tapped into” a human bias – producing a sound that humans find very difficult to ignore [BBC News]. McComb suggests that cats may learn to embed the subtle wake-up call within the purring sound usually associated with contentment because more overt meowing is likely to get them kicked out of bed.