Why Are Cats Afraid of Cucumbers?

iStock
iStock

Thanks to the internet, felines around the globe seem to have found a new—and unlikely—foe: the seemingly harmless garden cucumber. You’ve likely seen viral video compilations of pet owners surprising their cats with the fruit (yes, a cucumber is technically a fruit), which include footage of frightened kitties jumping, running, or clawing at the mysterious green objects before them.

Are cats and cucumbers really mortal enemies? Did an early feline ancestor eat a bad salad, or find that cucumbers made terrible scratching posts? “No, I don’t think that cats are inherently afraid of cucumbers,” Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss.

Cats are creatures of habit, and Delgado thinks the cats in those videos—who were often ambushed from behind while bent forward eating—were simply caught off-guard while engaging in a familiar activity.

“Their eyes face forward, much like ours do,” Delgado explains. “That’s a very common structure for a face in a predator—you’re looking forward, and you’re not as worried about seeing behind you. Personally, I think that a lot of people were inadvertently startling their cats when they were already distracted. They were putting a strange object behind the cat while it was eating, the cat can’t see the object, they’re focused [on their food], and then they turn around” and see a cucumber.

The cats’ fright could be likened to how we sometimes jump or scream after we turn around and see someone standing behind us. But even though we typically laugh these moments off once the adrenaline dies down, it’s not cool to subject your cat to the same unsettling experience—especially when it’s eating.

“You want cats to feel safe when they eat,” Delgado says. “If cats don’t eat, they can become sick quite fast, and develop what’s called fatty liver disease.”

Plus, “stress can have really serious health effects on cats,” Delgado adds. “There’s been research showing that something as trivial as changing their routine can cause cats to exhibit what we call sickness behaviors: vomiting, not using their litter box, diarrhea, changes in appetite. Cats are sensitive.”

This doesn’t mean that you can’t introduce new items (say, a couch in the spot where your cat typically likes to sleep) to your household. But when you do, let Fluffy check out these unfamiliar objects on his or her own terms.

“A lot of the time people try to show a cat that something they’re afraid of isn’t scary,” Delgado says. “They’re going to inadvertently make the cat more afraid, because they’re forcing it to interact with something they’re fearful of.”

As time passes, the object will start smelling familiar, and your favorite feline will gradually relax. In the meantime, though, save the cucumbers for your salad, and keep them far away from your kitty’s food dish.

Does the Full Moon Really Make People Act Crazy?

iStock.com/voraorn
iStock.com/voraorn

Along with Mercury in retrograde, the full moon is a pretty popular scapegoat for bad luck and bizarre behavior. Encounter someone acting strangely? Blame it on the lunar phases! It's said that crime rates increase and emergency rooms are much busier during the full moon (though a 2004 study debunked this claim). Plus, there's that whole werewolf thing. Why would this be? The reasoning is that the Moon, which affects the ocean's tides, probably exerts a similar effect on us, because the human body is made mostly of water.

This belief that the Moon influences behavior is so widely held—reportedly, even 80 percent of nurses and 64 percent of doctors think it's true, according to a 1987 paper published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine [PDF]—that in 2012 a team of researchers at Université Laval's School of Psychology in Canada decided to find out if mental illness and the phases of the Moon are linked [PDF].

To test the theory, the researchers evaluated 771 patients who visited emergency rooms at two hospitals in Montreal between March 2005 and April 2008. The patients chosen complained of chest pains, which doctors could not determine a medical cause for the pains. Many of the patients suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and mood disorders, or suicidal thoughts.

When the researchers compared the time of the visits to the phases of the Moon, they found that there was no link between the incidence of psychological problems and the four lunar phases, with one exception—in the last lunar quarter, anxiety disorders were 32 percent less frequent. "This may be coincidental or due to factors we did not take into account," Dr. Geneviève Belleville, who directed the team of researchers, said. "But one thing is certain: we observed no full-moon or new-moon effect on psychological problems."

So rest easy (or maybe not): If people seem to act crazy during the full Moon, their behavior is likely pretty similar during the rest of the lunar cycle as well.

This story was updated in 2019.

What's the Difference Between a Rabbit and a Hare?

iStock.com/Carmen Romero
iStock.com/Carmen Romero

Hippity, hoppity, Easter's on its way—and so is the eponymous Easter bunny. But aside from being a magical, candy-carrying creature, what exactly is Peter Cottontail: bunny, rabbit, or hare? Or are they all just synonyms for the same adorable animal?

In case you've been getting your fluffy, long-eared mammals mixed up, we've traveled down the rabbit hole to set the record straight. Although rabbits and hares belong to the same grass-munching family—called Leporidae—they're entirely different species with unique characteristics. It would be like comparing sheep and goats, geneticist Steven Lukefahr of Texas A&M University told National Geographic.

If you aren't sure which animal has been hopping around and helping themselves to the goodies in your vegetable garden, take a closer look at their ears. In general, hares have longer ears and larger bodies than rabbits. Rabbits also tend to be more social creatures, while hares prefer to keep to themselves.

As for the baby animals, they go by different names as well. Baby hares are called leverets, while newborn rabbits are called kittens or kits. So where exactly do bunnies fit into this narrative? Originally, the word bunny was used as a term of endearment for a young girl, but its meaning has evolved over time. Bunny is now a cutesy, childlike way to refer to both rabbits and hares—although it's more commonly associated with rabbits these days. With that said, the Easter bunny is usually depicted as a rabbit, but the tradition is thought to have originated with German immigrants who brought their legend of an egg-laying hare called "Osterhase" to America.

In other ambiguous animal news, the case of Bugs Bunny is a little more complicated. According to scientist and YouTuber Nick Uhas, the character's long ears, fast speed, and solitary nature seem to suggest he's a hare. However, in the cartoon, Bugs is shown burrowing underground, which doesn't jive with the fact that hares—unlike most rabbits—live aboveground. "We can draw the conclusion that Bugs may be a rabbit with hare-like behavior or a hare with rabbit nesting habits," Uhas says.

The conversation gets even more confusing when you throw jackrabbits into the mix, which aren't actually rabbits at all. Jackrabbits are various species of large hare that are native to western North America; the name itself is a shortened version of "jackass rabbit," which refers to the fact that the animal's ears look a little like a donkey's.

A jackrabbit
Connor Mah, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

As Mark Twain once famously wrote about the creature, "He is just like any other rabbit, except that he is from one-third to twice as large, has longer legs in proportion to his size, and has the most preposterous ears that ever were mounted on any creature but the jackass." (Fun fact: Black-tailed jackrabbits' extra-long ears actually help them stay cool in the desert. The blood vessels in their ears enlarge when it gets hot, causing blood to flow to their ears and ridding their bodies of excess heat.)

Rabbits, hares, and jackrabbits all have one thing in common, though: They love a good salad. So if you happen across one of these hopping creatures, give them some grass or weeds—and skip the carrots. Bugs Bunny may have loved the orange vegetable, but most hares and rabbits would prefer leafy greens.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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