Stories tagged cats

Mar
25
2011

Bird killer?: Not so fast...
Bird killer?: Not so fast...Courtesy Aeolus88

So there's this rumor running around that wind turbines kill birds, and it's true--they do. But are turbines the greatest threat birds face?

Death by window: Some birds are injured or die when they smash into windows. This is a print left by a bird doing just that.
Death by window: Some birds are injured or die when they smash into windows. This is a print left by a bird doing just that.Courtesy Lionel Allorge

A number of things kill birds in the wild--predators (including cats and other birds), pollution, cars, windows, tall buildings, airplanes, and habitat loss are some examples. In suburban areas, cats may be the single greatest bird predator. A recent study in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. showed that cats were responsible for nearly 37% of gray catbird deaths--the number one cause of bird death.

Double take: This cat got a pigeon.
Double take: This cat got a pigeon.Courtesy Yug

Nationally, cats kill about 500 million birds per year, according to the American Bird Conservancy. By comparison, the US Fish and Wildlife Service states that wind turbines kill 440,000 birds per year--that's less than 1% of the number killed by cats. As wind farms sprout up across the US, expects turbines to kill over 1 million birds per year by 2030. Even so, that's a paltry sum compared to cats. So why all the hubbub about wind farms?

One reason may be that wind turbines are unnatural--people are fine with predators doing their thing, even if that thing is killing birds in the wild. By comparison, when human-made turbines kill birds, it makes us uncomfortable because it makes us responsible. But housecats and their feral cousins are certainly a human-related killer, too. They're not even native to North America.

I'm in ur birdhouse: Eatin' ur birdeez
I'm in ur birdhouse: Eatin' ur birdeezCourtesy Karelj

Another potential reason is the NIMBY factor. NIMBY stands for "not in my back yard." It refers to situations where people reject a project, even if it's beneficial, because they don't want the negative consequences near their homes. NIMBY rears its head when people vote down a bus depot in their neighborhood, or when a group campaigns against a power plant near their homes.

Many such projects projects end up getting built in neighborhoods that don't complain--often in low-income neighborhoods, where people feel disengaged from the political process or don't have the time or money to spend fighting a project. Sometimes that's a good thing, if it's an important project and brings good things to the neighborhood. Other times it can lead to a concentration of polluting or otherwise nasty projects being built all in one place.

Which would you rather look at?: Ok, I know modern turbines aren't so quaint, but still...
Which would you rather look at?: Ok, I know modern turbines aren't so quaint, but still...Courtesy Friedrich Tellberg

With wind turbines, many cite the birdie death toll, noise, and even appearance as reasons to cancel wind farm projects. But as technology improves, the turbines kill fewer birds and become quieter. New planning approaches site wind farms outside migratory paths so that birds are less likely to come into contact with them. They also place wind farms out to sea, or use designs that sit closer to the ground. There are really a ton of ideas blooming right now for wind power.

And as for the view, well, would you rather look at smog? Or cooling towers? I mean, power has to come from somewhere, and chances are it will involve building something.

I want pair-uh-keetz: Of course, what you do in your own house is up to you.
I want pair-uh-keetz: Of course, what you do in your own house is up to you.Courtesy Ttrimm

But the cats, well…there isn't much you can do to improve them. (I know, I've tried teaching my cat to do the dishes, but she refuses to get her paws wet.) If you really want to help the birdies, perhaps the most effective method is to keep your kitties inside. I got mine a fake bird and she doesn't even know what she's missing.

Apr
27
2010

Cat in a pot: imagine the heartburn and a hair ball!
Cat in a pot: imagine the heartburn and a hair ball!Courtesy Zoe
Yeah, I said it! Does the mere thought make your skin crawl? Or are you more inclined to daydream of a light mushroom sauce with parsnips and leeks? If you are the later, you may wish to hold your tongue. Recently, an Italian food show host got himself into hot water discussing his love of the feline meat as a “delicacy”. Later, he back stepped to say he only remembers these dishes from when he was a boy during the 1930’s and 1940’s. This cultural blunder still caused him to get sacked. Take a look at the video clip.

Indeed, this would not be a singular account of such ravenous behavior during the Second World War. Food shortages were a common issue that can become intensely exaggerated during times of conflict. Stories from England speak of ‘roof-rabbits’ when discussing the consumption of cats. Similar accounts abound from Bulgaria, Romania, Germany and Poland. Nor should this particular conflict be extraordinary. Diaries from U.S. Civil War prisoners speak directly to purchasing a dressed cat to supplement the meager rations of internment. Placed under the circumstances of starvation, a human being can resort to eating almost anything for sustenance. We need not revisit the fate of the Donner party.

So why all the moral outrage over the recollections of an aging Italian chef? The issue seems to come down to one major factor: culture. Thankfully, there is still a wide variety of culture and tradition across the globe that has not been homogenized. Western culture has cultivated the relationship with our cats and dogs to the point of companions. While most Asian cultures refrain from cat or dog consumption, it is not uncommon practice in poor or rural areas. The beliefs of Judaism and Islam prohibit the eating of any carnivore. Hindus would be aghast at American treatment of cattle. Eating of cats occurs in parts of Africa, including Ghana. Australian Aboriginals are known to roast them over an open fire. Incidents dot the globe like a wild season of the Amazing Race. Korea… Switzerland… Peru… Malaysia… Denmark… China… Kuwait… Brazil… Italy. There are many views on “friend or food”.
Cow legs in an African market: could you bring yourself to eat these?
Cow legs in an African market: could you bring yourself to eat these?Courtesy bthomoso

Simply, not all people view cats in the same light. We may not either if we get hungry enough. It is unfair to condemn others in their attempt to feed themselves. Americans, for the most part, are well removed from the processing of their food. No eyelashes or tails wagging under the shrink-wrap. Our diets have become less exotic than those of our ancestors. The stalls of food markets in other countries may shock us. The plates of the world’s indigenous peoples, I’m sure, are never graced by the double cheeseburger with fries and a shake. Yet, we are entertained vicariously by modern media. Shows such as Bizarre Foods walk us through eating habits of fellow humans across the earth. Should we find ourselves lost or stranded, Man vs. Wild subconsciously questions our resolve to eat in the wilderness. Here is to hoping it never comes to that!

I, for one, am content to not stew the cat. I’ll continue to nurture that mutually beneficial relationship we have, with her minding to the errant stray pest wandering indoors. I wish you the fortune of never being so hungry to consider a feline fricassee. Bon Appétit!

Dec
03
2009


PJ the Cat
It is with bitter disappointment that I share this link: it’s the end of the line for hypoallergenic cats. Remember the promise of the hypoallergenic cat? People who would enjoy sharing their home with a cat but who were previously unable due to allergies (I count myself among this number) were given hope with the $4,000 felines, “guaranteed” to not cause allergic reactions.

No more.

Allerca Lifestyle Pets, the provider, announced on its website recently that due to its recent acquisition that it will no longer produce the hypoallergenic cats (and dogs) to customers.

Further, one wonders if Allerca was actually producing the cats (and dogs) as they promised. According to The Scientist, despite many testimonials they were never able to produce any scientific evidence that their cats were actually hypoallergenic and apparently there are a number of blogs out there decrying Allerca for non-delivery and non-performance. So it may have all been wishful thinking anyway.

My current plan is to find the smallest short hair cat possible – small animal, less spit to be allergic to. That’ll work, right?

What I find of ancillary interest is that internally here at the museum we have been looking at scientific denialism and fraudulent science. If I applied a skeptic’s “filter” to my examination of the claims on the Allerca web site, the heavy dependence on testimonials rather than scientific data, the attacks on groups who are skeptical of their claims, the use of lots of scientific jargon and that fact that they are shutting down even though their product was claimed to be effective makes me lean to an opinion that they may not be able to deliver what they say they can. However, as with anything be your own skeptic. Don’t form an opinion based on what I am saying alone – do some research, and use the evidence you collect – especially the evidence that is supported by scientific research – to make your own conclusions.

Oct
29
2008

He can teach you much, but give you nothing: Wait... Is this man even handsome? This IS complicated!
He can teach you much, but give you nothing: Wait... Is this man even handsome? This IS complicated!Courtesy monseurlam
Sorry to break it to you, dudes, but you aren’t just ugly ducklings—you’re just ugly. Or, if you are mirror-melting hot, those good looks are an invention all of your own, so skip the father’s day present, and get yourself something nice.

See, guys and boys, you’re dad may have taught you how to gut a possum, and he might even have given you your first possum-gutting knife, but he didn’t give you the looks that attracted all those hungry eyes at the possum market. He saved those for your sister.

It turns out that men don’t inherit their fathers’ “attractiveness”. Fathers do pass on masculine features to their sons, but there doesn’t seem to be any strong correlation between attractive fathers (or, technically, “hot dads”) and attractive sons. So says the journal Animal Behaviour.

By rating the images of hundreds of males and females, and their respective parents, the recent study hoped to test the theory that women seek out attractive mates to produce sexy male offspring, who will in turn pass on their mother’s genes.

Uh uh. The study found that hot dads didn’t necessarily have hot boys, and that unattractive fathers (or “ug dads”) didn’t necessarily have ug boys. In fact, the study found no evidence of male-to-male attractiveness inheritance at all. So that beautiful bone structure, those sparkling eyes, that indefinable something that makes you so, so foxy… where did that come from? Your mother, perhaps?

Nope, attractiveness doesn’t seem to come from your mom either. It seems that when boys are born, they’re cast out into the Land of Fug to fend for themselves, and if they find a sunny hilltop to build a face on, they have to do it on their own.

Mothers, the study found, do pass on attractiveness to their daughters. And, ironically, so do fathers—hot dads are likely to have attractive daughters. That means that daughters are getting all those good looks funneled into them from both sides! Ooooh, I hate them so much!

It’s like the legend of Puss in Boots, really. The wealthy old miller and his wife (who I believe was some sort of novelty hat heiress) were on their deathbeds at the same time (food poisoning, I believe), and were deciding how to divvy up their vast wealth between their two sons and one daughter. Keep in mind, this was before division was invented, so the two dying parents decided that the fairest thing to do would be to give all their money to the daughter and none to the sons. The daughter lived a long and very happy life, and no more needs to be said about her. One of the sons died more or less on the spot (food poisoning, I believe), and the other grabbed the miller’s cat and did a runner.

The stolen cat may or may not have had a plan for the surviving son’s well-being, but there was no way to tell, because the cat couldn’t speak English, and the son couldn’t speak Cat. So, making the best of what he had, the son forgot to feed the cat until it died, and then took its fur. (And this was clever in itself, because the son was still too poor to afford a knife, and he had to be creative—that’s where the saying “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” comes from.) The son then used the beautiful fur (it was a good cat) to make an attractive fur hat (a skill he learned from his mother), which he sold to a local eccentric. The profits from the sale were then invested in the construction of a new animal shelter/hat factory. The venture proved to be a lucrative one, and it kept the man in stockings and gin for the rest of his life, until he burned the factory down so that his own son couldn’t inherit it.

Do you see the connection? If you replace all references to money in the story with the word “hotness,” the analogy is particularly apt.

Jun
24
2008

Nothing to do with the cat, actually: She just realized that she forgot her cell phone.
Nothing to do with the cat, actually: She just realized that she forgot her cell phone.Courtesy dieselbug2007
How has your day been so far? Good? I suppose it’s a little early to be asking that.

Depending on how you feel about no-faced cats, your day may be about to take a dive, or really look up.

When I say “no-faced cat,” what I mean is “a real cat with no face.” This one, in particular.

Not only has Chase recuperated beautifully from having her face and leg removed, but she’s started a blog!

Medicine is amazing, cats are amazing, and the Internet is amazing.

Who knew a cat could even type?

Jun
05
2008

OMG! Cute kitten! LOL!: I r poisnin ur brain!
OMG! Cute kitten! LOL!: I r poisnin ur brain!Courtesy manitoon
I was wrong!

You know, I spend so much time being right, that the occasional (very, very occasional) situation in which I’m slightly…not right, is actually pretty refreshing. It’s like, oh, I don’t know, getting halfway to work and realizing that you forgot to put on pants, and then linking, “Hey, who cares? And it’s a warm day!” It’s liberating.

Some days I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by cat feces. I don’t even live with a cat at the moment, but I’m aware that there are millions of cats out there, and they’re all addicted to pooping (just try forcing a cat to go cold turkey—total junkies for the litter box). There’s just so much cat poop in the world, and none of it smells very good, and I don’t want to touch any of it, and its very existence drives me to distraction.

Nobody else seems to care very much. Here I am, dreaming of cats that emit water vapor and rose-scented hydrogen gas as their only waste products, and the rest of the world seems content to live with a planet suffocating under the weight and odor of cat effluvia. I imagine that Leonardo felt the same way. It’s a lonely existence.

Perhaps no longer.

Toxoplasmosis gondii is an interesting little gooball (gooball is a term of my own, so don’t use it in class, or you’ll get an F and I’ll sue you). It’s a protozoan parasite, capable of living in nearly any warm-blooded mammal (it’s estimated that over 20% of the U.S. population carries the parasite), although its infectious form—responsible for about a third of all deaths from food borne illnesses—is only carried by cats.

The parasite has some interesting tricks up its sleeves too. It seems that when a rodent is infected with T. gondii, it loses its fear of cats. And a little mousey with no fear of cats is a little mousey that gets eaten, successfully passing the parasite back to its favorite host. Weird.

I also have very little fear of cats, which led me initially to believe that I was a carrier of the disease. But a study covered in this article details a whole different set of symptoms in infected humans (of which, again, there are many). Men who are infected “have lower IQs, achieve a lower level of education and have shorter attention spans. They are also more likely to break rules and take risks, be more independent, more anti-social, suspicious, jealous and morose, and are deemed less attractive to women” An unsettling portion of this description applies to me, and so it’s possible that I may still be infected.

Infected women, on the other hand, are generally “more outgoing, friendly, more promiscuous, and are considered more attractive to men compared with non-infected controls.” So, you know, it turns out that kittens are a good gift item after all.

And if that isn’t enough to get people thinking about cat feces, it turns out that some of human’s favorite animals, aquatic mammals, are just swimming in toxoplasmosis. How do you like that? The appearance of the parasite in marine mammal populations (including whales, dolphins, otters, sea lions, and seals) seems to be relatively recent, but it is estimated that up to 17% of sea otter deaths alone could be attributed to toxoplasma.

So how are sea creatures across the world becoming “infected by a parasite that is spread primarily through the consumption of infectious cat feces and infected meat”?

(That quote, by the way, comes from a microbiology researcher from Boston, and, if you remove “and infected meat,” is the winner of the best quote of the day award.)

Anchovies. Probably anchovies. The little fish are filter feeders, and could pick up the parasite before beginning extensive migrations, spreading the disease to the many anchovy eaters of the oceans (people who eat anchovies are safe, because heat kills the protozoa). Just how the organism is getting to the anchovies remains unclear, but it has been proposed that the problem has to do with cat feces-contaminated runoff.

So there. Like sea otters and dolphins? Then start thinking about cat feces. I don’t propose that you do anything about it, but I do want you to obsess over it. You won’t be alone.

Also, especially if you’re a guy, keep that stuff out of your mouth.

Mar
30
2008

So cute. So shnuggly. So lethal.: Jax, the mighty hunter, eyes some tasty birdies from his window perch.
So cute. So shnuggly. So lethal.: Jax, the mighty hunter, eyes some tasty birdies from his window perch.Courtesy Gene

As spring approaches (no, really, it is coming! You've got to believe!), house cats everywhere are sniffing at the fresh air coming in under the door, and are just itching to get outside. However, a politician in Boulder, Colorado is trying to pass a law that would require pet owners to keep their cats inside. It may sound funny – or like an unnecessary government intrusion into citizens’ lives—but outdoor cats are a big problem for wildlife. According to the American Bird Conservancy There are some 77 million house cats in America, and a similar number of feral cats. Each year, they kill hundreds of millions of birds, and perhaps a billion small mammals. Many of the prey species are threatened or endangered.

If you own a cat, keep it inside! Or invest in an enclosure so it can enjoy the outdoors without menacing the local wildlife.

A boring old one-faced cat: I'll be throwing him out soon, in favor of a newer model.
A boring old one-faced cat: I'll be throwing him out soon, in favor of a newer model.Courtesy JGordon
Why was I not made aware of this earlier? This is an outrage! There's a media conspiracy at work here, a government cover-up. They, The Man, the military-industrial complex, the cigarette-smoking men, the Masons, the Shriners, are trying to keep us honest, hard-working Americans, from the truth! Truths like "Can a single cat have two faces? Yes."

How are we, as a society, as a democracy, supposed to move forward if important, nay, vital, information is being kept from us?

Break free. Go here, and meet this damn two-faced cat.

Nov
01
2007

The business end of a saber-toothed tiger: Not as dangerous as previously feared, but still, dangerous enough.  Photo by Brendan Atkins from Flickr.com
The business end of a saber-toothed tiger: Not as dangerous as previously feared, but still, dangerous enough. Photo by Brendan Atkins from Flickr.com

Scientists in Australia, using a computer and advanced engineering formulas, have studied the skull of the famous saber-toothed tiger and discovered it wasn’t as fierce as previously thought. Due to weaknesses in the skull, its bite was only one-third as strong as a lion’s of similar size.

Of course, one-third the strength of a lion is still pretty strong.

OTOH, the saber-toothed tiger has a massively powerful body. The researches speculate that, rather than biting its prey on the run as lions do, the big cat first wrestled its prey to the ground and then clamped down on its neck.

No word as to whether these Ice Age creatures will be reintroduced to North America. If so, they would have to compete with these Tigers, the fiercest of all time.

(Other scientists have tried to figure out why the saber-toothed tiger had such big teeth to begin with.)

(And yes, I know it’s not really a tiger, but like my grandmother always used to say, alliteration counts for a lot.)