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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
Slow Motion Is the Only Way to Appreciate a Chameleon’s Lightning-Fast Tongue
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From the unusual way they walk, to their ability to change color, the evolutionary adaptations of chameleons are pretty bizarre, and some of them remain mysterious even to scientists. Their super-powered tongues, for instance, can dart out so quickly that the movement can barely be seen with the naked eye. But modern high-speed cameras have enabled researchers at the University of South Dakota to observe this appendage at work like never before. The video below, shared over at The Kid Should See This, includes some of that groundbreaking footage, and it's pretty amazing to watch.

Shooting at 3000 frames per second, the camera was able to capture every split-second aspect of the chameleon's tongue strike. Slowed down, the video allows you to see how every component of the process works in harmony: First, muscles in the lizard’s tongue contract like the string of a bow. Then, when that tension is released, the bony base of the tongue shoots forward, pushing the sticky, elastic part toward the chameleon’s prey.

According to Christopher Anderson, one of the scientists who conducted the high-speed camera research, larger chameleons can catapult their tongues forward at distances of one to two times their body length. For smaller chameleons, this distance can reach up to two and a half times their body length. “Small chameleons need to be able to eat more food for their body size than large chameleons,” he tells bioGraphic in the video, “and so by being able to project their tongues proportionately further than these large species, they basically are opening up additional feeding opportunities to themselves that they wouldn’t have if they had a shorter tongue.”

To see one of nature’s greatest hunting tools in action, check out the full video below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
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Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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