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Your Cat Isn't as Attached to You as You Think

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It’s easy to tell that a dog loves you. The moment you return from a short absence, there are slobbering kisses and overeager jumps (and, in the case of puppies, some loss of bladder control) to prove it. With cats, it’s a little harder. Sure, they might rub up against your legs a bit, but do they actually care about you, or do they just want dinner? 

A new study by a pair of animal behavior researchers from the University of Lincoln in the UK suggests that you may not be as precious to your kitty as she is to you. It’s not that your cat doesn’t like you—it's just likely that she doesn’t look to you as her source of safety and security in an uncertain world. 

As they report in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers tested how much cats really like their owners using the Ainsworth Strange Situation Test, a psychology test that has been used to demonstrate both babies’ and dogs’ perceptions of their parents/owners as their primary source of safety and security. In it, the study subjects (in this case, cats) are placed in unfamiliar rooms with their owners and with a stranger. The researchers observe whether the cats respond differently to being with their owner versus a stranger, testing whether the cats look to their owners for a special source of comfort. 

In tests with 18 cats (two others had to be excluded because, in typically feline fashion, they spent the entire experiment hiding), kitties didn’t alter their behavior significantly if their owner was present versus a stranger. They didn’t play more with their owner than with a stranger, nor were they more vocal when their owner left the room than when a stranger did. They didn’t try to stick closer to their owners in a strange situation, which would signify secure attachment. 

“We do not reject that cats may have social preferences, nor that some cats might form this type of attachment in certain circumstances, nor do we wish to imply that cats do not form some form of affectionate social relationship or bond with their owners,” they write, “only that the relationship with the primary caregiver is not typically characterized by a preference for that individual based on them providing safety and security to the cat.”

Certainly cats have a different relationship with their owners than with total strangers, but it may not mimic the parental-strength attachment seen in dogs. It’s also possible that cats express their bond with their owners in ways that a test designed to measure infants’ attachment to their mothers cannot deduce. However, the study confirms what we’ve always known: Cats are independent, mysterious creatures. 

[h/t: Washington Post]

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Animals
Watch a School of Humpback Whales 'Fish' Using Nets Made of Bubbles 

Just like humans, humpback whales catch many fish at once by using nets—but instead of being woven from fibers, their nets are made of bubbles.

Unique to humpbacks, the behavior known as bubble-net feeding was recently captured in a dramatic drone video that was created by GoPro and spotted by Smithsonian. The footage features a school of whales swimming off Maskelyne Island in British Columbia, Canada, in pursuit of food. The whales dive down, and a large circle of bubbles forms on the water's surface. Then, the marine mammals burst into the air, like circus animals jumping through a ring, and appear to swallow their meal.

The video offers a phenomenal aerial view of the feeding whales, but it only captures part of the underwater ritual. It begins with the group's leader, who locates schools of fish and krill and homes in on them. Then, it spirals to the water's surface while expelling air from its blowhole. This action creates the bubble ring, which works like a net to contain the prey.

Another whale emits a loud "trumpeting feeding call," which may stun and frighten the fish into forming tighter schools. Then, the rest of the whales herd the fish upwards and burst forth from the water, their mouths open wide to receive the fruits of their labor.

Watch the intricate—and beautiful—feeding process below:

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Big Questions
Why Do Dogs Love to Dig?
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Dog owners with green thumbs beware: It's likely just a matter of time before Fido turns your azalea bed into a graveyard of forgotten chew toys. When dogs aren't digging up your prized garden, they can be found digging elsewhere in your yard, at the beach, and even between your couch cushions at home. But what exactly is behind your dog's drive to turn every soft surface he or she sees into an excavation site?

According to Dr. Emma Grigg, an animal behaviorist and co-author of The Science Behind a Happy Dog, this behavior is completely normal. "When people say 'why do dogs dig,' the first thing that always comes to mind is 'well, because they're dogs,'" she tells Mental Floss. The instinct first appeared in dogs' wolf ancestors, then it was amplified in certain breeds through artificial selection. That's why dogs that were bred to hunt rodents, like beagles and terriers, are especially compelled to dig in places where such animals might make their homes.

But this tendency isn't limited to just a few specific breeds. No matter their original roles, dogs of all breeds have been known to kick up some dirt on occasion. Beyond predatory urges, Dr. Grigg says there are two main reasons a dog may want to dig. The first is to cool off on a hot day. When stuck on an open lawn with little to no shade, unearthing a fresh layer of dirt untouched by the sun is a quick way to beat the heat.

The second reason is to stash away goodies. Imagine your dog gets bored with chewing his favorite bone but knows he wants to come back for it later. Instead of leaving it out in the open where anyone can snatch it up, he decides to bury it in a secret place where only he'll be able to find it. Whether or not he'll actually go back for it is a different story. "There's a disconnect with modern dogs: They know the burying part but they don't always know to dig it up," Dr. Grigg says.

Because digging is part of a dog's DNA, punishing your pet for doing so isn't super effective. But that doesn't mean you should stand idly by as your yard gets turned inside-out. When faced with this behavior in your own dog, one option is to redirect it. This can mean allowing him to dig in a designated corner of the yard while keeping other parts off-limits, or setting up a raised flowerbed or sandbox especially to satisfy that urge. "You can get him interested in the area by burying a couple bones or some interesting things in there for him to dig," Dr. Grigg says. "I like the idea of buried treasure."

If your dog's motive for digging is more destructive than practical, he may have an energy problem. Dogs require a certain amount of stimulation each day, and when their humans don't provide it for them they find their own ways to occupy themselves. Sometimes it's by chewing up shoes, toppling trash cans, or digging ditches the perfect size for twisting ankles. Fortunately, this is nothing more walks and playtime can't improve.

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

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