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Rest Assured: Your Cat Really Does Like You

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Cat owners are an insecure bunch. We are always looking to scientists to prove whether or not our feline friends truly love us, since they are not as endlessly affectionate as dogs. The data doesn’t always bear out—studies have found that your cat might not be purring out of love but rather manipulating you for food, and that cats who allow themselves to be petted show higher stress hormone levels after.

A new study in Behavioural Processes, though, is one that cat owners should find reassuring. Sometimes, our cats like us even more than food. In tests with both shelter animals and pets, cats expressed a preference for human interaction over preferences for food or toys, as Motherboard reports.

Like many pet studies, this one is small: the Oregon State University–led study used 19 pet cats and 20 shelter cats. (The researchers intended to study 25 of each, but some cats were too nervous or uninterested to complete the tests.) Each of the cats was placed in a room either in its home or at the shelter, where it was given opportunities to play alone with different toys, eat different meats, smell different natural scents (like gerbil or catnip) on a cloth, or hang out with a human for short periods of time.

During the human interaction test, the people alternately played with the cat, pet it, or talked to it for several minutes at a time. The stimuli (including, in the human condition, the person interacting with the cat) moved around the room to make sure the cat was actually drawn to it, and the cats were tested in each category with 12 different stimuli total.

At the end, the researchers figured out what the cats had spent the most time doing—playing with a certain toy, eating, smelling the cloth, or interacting with the person—and set up a trial where the cat could pick from all of them.

Overall, the study found that cats preferred hanging out with humans (either their owners or people at a shelter) more than even food (though food came in second). Half of the cats chose to interact with the person in the room instead of the food or toys it had shown a preference for.

This suggests that cats do occasionally see us as more than just a meal ticket … though they also want that out of you, too.

[h/t People]

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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