Wild cats certainly kill many more other animals than outdoor pet cats. After all, they have to hunt for their food instead of just bug their human companions. But a new study by North Carolina State University zoologists and their colleagues revealed that outdoor pet cats kill between two and ten times as many animals as wild cats in the same size area. Apparently, every year North American pet cats with outside access kill between ten and thirty billion birds and mammals. But according to the new data gleaned from GPS cat collars, our feline friends generally don't venture further than 100 meters away from their home. Still, their hunting can be a real problem when it comes to conservation. From Scientific American:
[...]In some places, including California, Florida, Australia, and elsewhere, cats were an important threat to some species that are already in trouble.
"On one hand, it’s kind of good news that the cats aren't going out further abroad, but it’s bad news that they're quite likely to have an impact on animals they share space with near their houses," [says North Carolina State University zoologist Roland Kays.]
With so much killing concentrated around people's houses, the positive impacts of urban wildlife—like the beauty of songbirds, or the way small lizards can control insect pests—could get washed away in precisely the areas where those benefits are most appreciated.
image credit: Stiopa (CC BY-SA 4.0)
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Mathematician Clifford Pickover's brilliant caption for this clip: "Philosopher-cat explores the nature of reality, identity, mind, and its place in the vast space-time cosmos that we call home."
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In many, animal species are domesticated when humans bring them into their homes whether they want to be there or not. For example, it's mostly accepted that humans domesticated wolves, breeding them in captivity until they became the modern dogs we love today. Now, a new study of cat genetics reveals that cats just kind of hung around humans for thousands of years before they were domesticated. From Casey Smith's article in National Geographic:
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The earlier ancestors of today’s domestic cats spread from southwest Asia and into Europe as early as 4400 B.C. The cats likely started hanging around farming communities in the Fertile Crescent about 8,000 years ago, where they settled into a mutually beneficial relationship as humans’ rodent patrol.
Mice and rats were attracted to crops and other agricultural byproducts being produced by human civilizations. Cats likely followed the rodent populations and, in turn, frequently approached the human settlements.
“This is probably how the first encounter between humans and cats occurred,” says study coauthor Claudio Ottoni of the University of Leuven. “It’s not that humans took some cats and put them inside cages,” he says. Instead, people more or less allowed cats to domesticate themselves.
A second lineage, consisting of African cats that dominated Egypt, spread into the Mediterranean and most of the Old World beginning around 1500 B.C. This Egyptian cat probably had behaviors that made it attractive to humans, such as sociability and tameness.
The results suggest that prehistoric human populations probably began carrying their cats along ancient land and sea trade routes to control rodents.