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Cats Invaded Australia in the 19th Century, Study Finds

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There'd be no such thing as a "cat lady" in Australia were it not for European explorers, a new study argues. Domestic cats aren’t native to the continent, and had to arrive from either Europe or Asia, though when exactly they arrived and from where has been a matter of debate. 

In order to figure out how long cats have been in Australia, and where they came from, a team of German, American, and Australian researchers traced the genetic history of the continent’s feral cat populations. In a study published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, they examined the genetics of cat populations in six different places on the Australian mainland and on seven different Australian islands, comparing their genetic makeup to DNA data from European and Southeast Asian cat populations. 

They found that cats probably arrived from Europe in the 19th century. European explorers, whalers, and sailors may have had cats on their ships as a form of rodent control, and colonists brought them along for their new settlements, too. 

Since there was no population of cats whose DNA could be traced solely back to Asia, they probably did not initially arrive from there. One alternative history of Australia's feral cat populations postulates that they came with Malaysian sea cucumber fishermen (trepangers) in the 1650s, but this analysis shows that to be implausible. Though the researchers did find genetic sequences associated with Asian cats, those may have arrived in Australia later, or mixed with European cat populations before traveling down under.

Cats are far from the only invasive species in Australia. The continent’s flora and fauna were isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years, and with a few exceptions like the dingo, there weren’t many new species entering the region until Europeans began to settle there. When Europeans arrived, they brought with them familiar animals and plants from home, both intentionally and by accident, including rabbits, horses, foxes, and several types of rats. Over the years, many of these new species have become pests, destroying the native ecology of the region, and, per a 2004 government report, costing more than $5.2 million a year. By dating feral cat populations’ arrival, researchers can also track the subsequent decline of other species, helping establish exactly what kind of impact these invasive species have on local ecology. 

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The Simple Way to Protect Your Dog From Dangerous Rock Salt
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Winter can be a tough time for dogs. The cold weather usually means there are fewer opportunities for walks and more embarrassing accessories for them to wear. But the biggest threat to canines this time of year is one pet owners may not notice: the dangerous rock salt coating the streets and sidewalks. If you live someplace where this is a problem, here are the steps you need to take to keep your pooch safe until the weather warms up, according to Life Hacker.

Rock salt poses two major hazards to pets: damage to their feet and poisoning from ingestion. The first is the one most pet owners are aware of. Not only do large grains of salt hurt when they get stuck in a dog’s paws, but they can also lead to frostbite and chemical burns due to the de-icing process at work. The easiest way to prevent this is by covering your dog’s paws before taking them outside. Dog booties get the job done, as do protective balms and waxes that can be applied directly to their pads.

The second danger is a little harder to anticipate. The only way you can stop your dog from eating rock salt from the ground is to keep a close eye on them. Does your dog seem a little too interested in a puddle or a mound of snow? Encourage them to move on before they have a chance to take a lick.

If, for some reason, you forget to follow the steps above and your pet has a bad encounter with some winter salt, don’t panic. For salty feet, soak your dog's paws in warm water once you get inside to wash away any remaining grit. If your dog exhibits symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and disorientation and you suspect they’ve ingested rock salt, contact your vet right away.

Even with the proper protection, winter can still create an unsafe environment for dogs. Check out this handy chart to determine when it’s too cold to take them for a walk.

[h/t Life Hacker]

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© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Hires Puppy to Sniff Out Art-Munching Bugs
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some dogs are qualified to work at hospitals, fire departments, and airports, but one place you don’t normally see a pooch is in the halls of a fine art museum. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is changing that: As The Boston Globe reports, a young Weimaraner named Riley is the institution’s newest volunteer.

Even without a background in art restoration, Riley will be essential in maintaining the quality of the museum's masterpieces. His job is to sniff out the wood- and canvas-munching pests lurking in the museum’s collection. During the next few months, Riley will be trained to identify the scents of bugs that pose the biggest threat to the museum’s paintings and other artifacts. (Moths, termites, and beetles are some of the worst offenders.)

Some infestations can be spotted with the naked eye, but when that's impossible, the museum staff will rely on Riley to draw attention to the problem after inspecting an object. From there, staff members can examine the piece more closely and pinpoint the source before it spreads.

Riley is just one additional resource for the MFA’s existing pest control program. As far as the museum knows, it's rare for institutions facing similar problems to hire canine help. If the experiment is successful, bug-sniffing dogs may become a common sight in art museums around the world.

[h/t The Boston Globe]

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