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Thanassi Karageorgiou / Museum of the Moving Image

Is the Internet as Obsessed With Cats as We Think It Is?

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Thanassi Karageorgiou / Museum of the Moving Image

Today, Friday August 7, New York's Museum of the Moving Image opens its doors on a new exhibit that shows just how broad the world of movies and film has become. "How Cats Took Over The Internet" explores a central tenet of the modern online experience—that cats rule the world wide web. But when he started to dig deeper, Jason Eppink, the curator (who does not own a cat and is, in fact, allergic to them) found the trend that's become a cliché wasn't exactly reflected in the numbers.

Even on sites where cute content flourishes—Reddit, YouTube, Tumblr, BuzzFeed, and Instagram—posts tagged as featuring cats and dogs seldom exceed .3 percent of a site’s traffic. And cats don't even always edge out their canine counterparts. The exhibit features a wall full of color-coded charts comparing the virality of cat content to content centered on dogs. On Reddit, the number of comments about cats and dogs has remained relatively equal since the site launched in 2007, with dogs in the lead for most of that time. Dog posts have exceeded cat posts on BuzzFeed for a few years now. Even on YouTube, the so-called "ground zero for cat videos," the Pets & Animals category accounts for less than 1 percent of all videos—and while 16 percent of views in that category are of cat clips, dogs garner 23 percent of views.

So why have cat videos become synonymous with online time-wasting? (One recent study claims they're actually energy boosting.) Another portion of the exhibit tackles this phenomenon with a number of different theories (interspersed with cat videos, of course). They cite the appeal of a "virtual cat park," an idea coined by Jack Shepard, editorial director at BuzzFeed. According to this theory, the Internet serves as a gathering place for cat owners, the same way a dog park serves to bring dog owners together. Similarly, there's the idea that self-described cat people—who, pre-Internet, felt stigmatized by society at large—were especially eager to join up with fellow cat lovers.

Another theory points to cats' tendency to ignore the humans (or cameras) around them, which gives cat videos a more voyeuristic feel. Add to that the fact that people are inclined to identify with living creatures in general (a characteristic called biophilia), attribute human-like internal lives to their pets (anthropomorphism), and just think kittens are downright adorable, and it isn't surprising that the idea that "Cats Rule the Internet" became a self-perpetuating truism. 

"How Cats Took Over The Internet" is at the Museum of the Moving Image from August 7, 2015 to January 15, 2016. All images courtesy Thanassi Karageorgiou / Museum of the Moving Image.

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Animals
Elusive Butterfly Sighted in Scotland for the First Time in 133 Years

Conditions weren’t looking too promising for the white-letter hairstreak, an elusive butterfly that’s native to the UK. Threatened by habitat loss, the butterfly's numbers have dwindled by 96 percent since the 1970s, and the insect hasn’t even been spotted in Scotland since 1884. So you can imagine the surprise lepidopterists felt when a white-letter hairstreak was seen feeding in a field in Berwickshire, Scotland earlier in August, according to The Guardian.

A man named Iain Cowe noticed the butterfly and managed to capture it on camera. “It is not every day that something as special as this is found when out and about on a regular butterfly foray,” Cowe said in a statement provided by the UK's Butterfly Conservation. “It was a very ragged and worn individual found feeding on ragwort in the grassy edge of an arable field.”

The white-letter hairstreak is a small brown butterfly with a white “W”-shaped streak on the underside of its wings and a small orange spot on its hindwings. It’s not easily sighted, as it tends to spend most of its life feeding and breeding in treetops.

The butterfly’s preferred habitat is the elm tree, but an outbreak of Dutch elm disease—first noted the 1970s—forced the white-letter hairstreak to find new homes and food sources as millions of Britain's elm trees died. The threatened species has slowly spread north, and experts are now hopeful that Scotland could be a good home for the insect. (Dutch elm disease does exist in Scotland, but the nation also has a good amount of disease-resistant Wych elms.)

If a breeding colony is confirmed, the white-letter hairstreak will bump Scotland’s number of butterfly species that live and breed in the country up to 34. “We don’t have many butterfly species in Scotland so one more is very nice to have,” Paul Kirkland, director of Butterfly Conservation Scotland, said in a statement.

Prior to 1884, the only confirmed sighting of a white-letter hairstreak in Scotland was in 1859. However, the insect’s newfound presence in Scotland comes at a cost: The UK’s butterflies are moving north due to climate change, and the white-letter hairstreak’s arrival is “almost certainly due to the warming climate,” Kirkland said.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Animals
Plagued with Rodents, Members of the UK Parliament Demand a Cat
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iStock

Members of the United Kingdom’s Parliament want a cat, but not just for office cuddles: As The Telegraph reports, the Palace of Westminster—the meeting place of Parliament’s two houses, the House of Commons and the House of Lords—is overrun with vermin, and officials have had enough. They think an in-house feline would keep the rodents at bay and defray skyrocketing pest control costs.

Taxpayers in the UK recently had to bear the brunt of a $167,000 pest control bill after palace maintenance projects and office renovations disturbed mice and moths from their slumber. The bill—which was nearly one-third higher than the previous year’s—covered the cost of a full-time pest control technician and 1700 bait stations. That said, some Members of Parliament (MPs) think their problem could be solved the old-fashioned way: by deploying a talented mouser.

MP Penny Mordaunt tried taking matters into her own hands by bringing four cats—including her own pet kitty, Titania—to work. (“A great believer in credible deterrence, I’m applying the principle to the lower ministerial corridor mouse problem,” she tweeted.) This solution didn’t last long, however, as health and safety officials banned the cats from Parliament.

While cats aren’t allowed in Parliament, other government offices reportedly have in-house felines. And now, MPs—who are sick of mice getting into their food, running across desks, and scurrying around in the tearoom—are petitioning for the same luxury.

"This is so UNFAIR,” MP Stella Creasy said recently, according to The Telegraph. “When does Parliament get its own cats? We’ve got loads of mice (and some rats!) after all!" Plus, Creasy points out, a cat in Parliament is “YouTube gold in waiting!"

Animal charity Battersea Dogs & Cats Home wants to help, and says it’s been trying to convince Parliament to adopt a cat since 2014. "Battersea has over 130 years [experience] in re-homing rescue cats, and was the first choice for Downing Street, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Cabinet Office when they sought our mousers to help with their own rogue rodents,” charity head Lindsey Quinlan said in a statement quoted by The Telegraph. “We'd be more than happy to help the Houses of Parliament recruit their own chief mousers to eliminate their pest problem and restore order in the historic corridors of power."

As of now, only assistance and security dogs are allowed on palace premises—but considering that MPs spotted 217 mice alone in the first six months of 2017 alone, top brass may have to reconsider their rules and give elected officials purr-mission to get their own feline office companions.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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