Why Do Goats Have Such Weird Eyes?

iStock
iStock

Even with their yelling and fainting competing for your attention, it’s hard not to notice a goat’s eyes. Their horizontal, rectangular pupils seem alien compared to the round pupils of people and dogs and the vertical slits of cats. Why do goats’ eyes look like that? And for that matter, why do cats’ eyes look the way they do? In a new study, vision scientist Martin Banks has found that the shape of an animal’s pupils is a clue to its place in the food chain.

Banks and his team looked at the eyes of 214 different species of land animals, and found a clear relationship between the shape of their pupils and their ecological role. Predatory animals that ambush their prey tend to have vertical slit pupils, while herbivores that are prey for other animals usually have horizontal pupils.

The predator-prey divide in pupil shape suggests that the hunters and the hunted gain some advantage from having a specific type of pupil. To find out what those advantages might be, the researchers analyzed the abilities of the two pupil shapes and how they could serve the different visual requirements of predators and prey.

Goats and other grazing animals (like deer, cattle and moose) that are hunted by predators have a pretty simple strategy for not being eaten: look out for danger and run away if they see it. Their eyes need to be able to do two things to support that strategy. “On the one hand, these animals must see panoramically to detect predators that could approach from various directions,” the researchers write. “On the other hand, they must see sufficiently clearly in the forward direction to guide rapid locomotion over potentially rough terrain.”

Horizontal pupils help here, the team found, because their shape creates a sharp panoramic view that’s wider and shorter than what you’d get with a round or vertical pupil and lets the animal see nearly all around itself. A long horizontal pupil also enhances the image quality of objects ahead of and behind the animal, and helps the eye capture more light along the ground and less dazzling overhead light.

Of course, those benefits don’t apply if the pupil stays oriented the same way and becomes vertically aligned when the animal tilts its head to graze. After watching grazing animals at the zoo, though, the researchers found that their eyes rotate to stay horizontally aligned with the ground whether their heads are upright or face down in the grass.

For a land animal that’s in danger of being eaten by something else and has few options besides being aware of its surroundings and running away, the researchers say that a long horizontal pupil seems to be ideal. In other words, goats have weird eyes because they help keep goats alive.

Meanwhile, the team found that vertical, slit-shaped pupils help small ambush predators like cats and snakes judge the distance of prey and other objects so they know how far they have to pounce.

Why Do Dogs Lick?

iStock/MichaelSvoboda
iStock/MichaelSvoboda

​One of the more slightly annoying things our dogs do (or most adorable, depending on who you ask) involves their tongue obsessively licking every crevice of every spot possible in pretty much the whole world. From our faces to our furniture to themselves, some dogs are absolutely in love with licking anything and everything. Although it can be cute at first, it quickly gets pretty gross. So why do they do it?

According to ​Vetstreet, your pup's incessant licking is mostly their way of trying to show affection. When we pick up our dogs or give them attention, chances are we kiss or pat their heads, along with petting their fur. Their way to show love back to us is by licking.

However, there are other reasons your dog might be obsessively licking—including as a way to get attention. Licking can be a learned behavior for dogs, as they see that when they lick their owner, they get more attention. The behavior can seem like something humans want which, to an extent, it is.

Licking is also a sensory tool, so if your dog is licking random objects or areas of your home, they're probably just exploring. It's easier to get a feel for their surroundings if they can taste everything. But licking objects like your rug or furniture can also be indicative of anxiety or boredom (which can often lead to destructive behavior), and a recent study linked excessive licking of surfaces to certain gastrointestinal disorders.

Another reason for licking is your dog wanting to clean themselves and/or spots around them. They've seen it since they were born; animals lick things ritualistically for cleaning and care. If your dog seems to be obsessed with licking themselves or one particular thing, they probably are. (Yes, dogs can have OCD, too.)

As Vetstreet points out, "excessive" dog licking often only seems excessive to the dog's owner, not the pooch itself. But if it's bothersome enough to you, a trainer can often help curb your dog's enthusiasm for giving wet, sloppy kisses. And while strange behavior is not rare for pets, if your dog's licking seems odd or in any way concerning, there's no harm in taking your pet to the vet to check it out—even if it's just for peace of mind.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

5 Holiday Foods That Are Dangerous to Pets

iStock/svetikd
iStock/svetikd

One of the best parts of the holiday season is the menu of indulgent food and drinks that comes along with it. But while you enjoy that cup of spiked hot cocoa, you’ve got to be careful your dog or cat doesn’t nab a lick. Here are five holiday treats that are dangerous for your pets, according to Vetstreet.

1. COFFEE

Any coffee lover will agree that there’s nothing quite like an after-dinner cup of joe on a cold night. But pups, kitties, and other pets will have to sit this tradition out. Caffeine can prompt seizures and abnormal heart rhythms in pets, and can sometimes be fatal. Other caffeinated drinks, such as soda or tea, should also be kept away from your four-legged family members.

2. BREAD DOUGH

We know the threat that bread dough poses to the appearance of our thighs, but it’s much more dangerous to our furry little friends. Holiday bakers have to be careful of unbaked bread dough as it can expand in animal stomachs if ingested. In some dogs, the stomach can twist and cut off the blood supply, in which case the pup would need emergency surgery.

3. CHOCOLATE

Cat and dog in Santa hats chowing down on plates of food
iStock/TatyanaGl

A little chocolate never hurt anybody, right? Wrong. The sweet treat can cause seizures and even be fatal to our pets. Darker chocolate, such as the baker’s chocolate we love to put in our holiday cookies, is more toxic to our pets than milk or white chocolate. The toxic ingredients include caffeine and theobromine, a chemical found in the cacao plant.

4. MACADAMIA NUTS

Macadamia nuts, which are a common ingredient in holiday cookies and often put out to munch on as an appetizer, can be toxic to dogs. While poisoning might not always be easy to detect in a pet, clinical warning signs include depression, weakness, vomiting, tremors, joint stiffness, and lack of coordination.

5. ALCOHOL

Think back to when you first started drinking and how much less alcohol it took to get you tipsy, because you likely weighed less than you do now. Well, your pet probably weighs a lot less than you did, even back then, meaning it takes much less alcohol to make them dangerously sick. Keep those wine glasses far out of reach of your pets in order to avoid any issues. Well, maybe not any issue: We can’t promise that this will stop you from getting embarrassingly drunk at a holiday party this year.

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