Caturday felid trifecta: Cat confused by card trick; how cats were domesticated (twice); why cats wiggle their butts before pouncing; and lagniappe

October 30, 2021 • 9:30 am

It’s Caturday, and we have the usual three items—plus lagniappe at the bottom.

This first short video shows a cat confused by a card trick. Actually, the cat isn’t really confused, but responding appropriately to what it’s seen before when a hand is thrown out with an object in it. Do try this at home, but don’t drive your cat nuts!

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Here’s an 8-minute scientifically accurate video explaining how cats were domesticated (twice). I think the “commensal pathway” is the most likely as well. The video also explains why there’s far more variation among dog breeds than cat breeds. (I am sure we could breed domestic cats to look like dachshunds or to be as large as St. Bernards. It would just take time.)

Here’s the Cyprus burial that shows the first evidence of cat domestication about 9,000-10,000 years ago (it’s mentioned at the video’s beginning):

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Why DO cats wiggle their butts before they pounce? You know the behavior: the one shown below as Tom, a tuxedo male, attacks the ginger and white Mimi:

Here are some of the theories described by John Hutchinson, a professor of evolutionary biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College in London:

According to Hutchinson, butt-wiggling may help press the hindlimbs into the ground to give cats added friction (traction) for pushing them forward in the pounce. “It may also have a sensory role to prepare the vision, proprioception [an awareness of one’s position and movement] and muscle — and whole cat — for the rapid neural commands needed for the pounce,” Hutchinson noted.

Butt wiggling may also give the cat an aerobic warm-up, of sorts.

“It probably does stretch the muscles a bit and that might help with pouncing,” Hutchinson told Live Science. “And we can’t exclude that it’s just fun for cats; they do it because they are excited by the thrill of the hunt [and] prey.”

Big wild cats like lions and tigers show the same behavior. But Hutchinson concludes that we really don’t know the answer, which is what I’ve realized over the years.

An ideal experiment would have cats pounce with and without butt-wiggling, so scientists could determine what effect wiggling (or lack thereof) has on their pouncing performance, Hutchinson said.

Granted, Hutchinson has a lot on his plate, but he joked that “it must be done, somehow. I shall marshal some scientists, and some friendly cats, in due course.”

Now, however, I see THIS article from the Pasadena Humane Society brazenly claiming that we now know the answer. What is it? Click on the screenshot:

So what does Hagerman do? He consults Hutchinson, who’s already described all the theories and said that we don’t really know the answer.  So Hagerman just picks one at random:

So why do OG cat yogi’s love a good long stretch so much?

According to science: because it feels really good.

Who, exactly is “science”?  Hagerman goes on:

Cats sleep between 12 and 16 hours a day, about twice as much as people do. When humans sleep, the brain paralyzes most of the body’s muscles to prevent people from acting out their dreams. The same thing happens to cats during catnaps, which prevents the cat from sleepwalking off the sofa or wherever it’s snoozing.

Once the cat wakes up, the stretching begins.

When a cat is sleeping or relaxed, its blood pressure drops (which is also true of people). Stretching can help to reverse that.

As you stretch, it activates all of your muscles and increases your blood pressure, which increases the amount of blood flowing to the muscles and also to the brain. This helps wake you up and make you more alert.

As the muscles start moving with each stretch, they also flush out the toxins and waste byproducts that build up during periods of inactivity. For instance, carbon dioxide and lactic acid can accumulate in a cat’s body, but stretching can increase blood and lymph circulation, which helps to remove the toxins.

What’s more, stretching readies the muscles for activity. If a mouse scurries by — or, let’s be honest, an annoying human if we’re talking about house cats — the cat will be prepared to pounce if she has already stretched her muscles.

Well, that explains stretching but not butt wiggling. Hagerman’s answer is BOGUS—we still don’t know the answer. Controlled experimentation is mandatory here!

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Lagniappe:

On October 6, appropriately named reader Niki Kitsakis sent a photo of a cat at the Acropolis. His notes are indented.

I immediately had to think of you when I took the picture attached. I took it this morning standing next to the greek flag at the Acropolis in Athens at shortly after 8 in the morning (What to call it? Acropocat? Catcropolis?).
Athens has the owl 🦉 as a symbol since ancient times as you know, but all I see all the time are cats 🐈. I think they ate all the owls… 🙂

h/t: Matthew, Ginger K.

19 thoughts on “Caturday felid trifecta: Cat confused by card trick; how cats were domesticated (twice); why cats wiggle their butts before pouncing; and lagniappe

  1. Another great Caturday! The video about cat domestication is really interesting. I had not heard of the two-domestication scenario. I’ve read a bit about how wild Felis sylvestris populations are being affected by hybridization with domestic cats, and I wonder how they will fare over time.

  2. The video mentioned that the cat buried in Cyprus was only 8 or 9 months old. I wonder if it was a burial sacrifice. This would not be unusual, since even humans were once put to death to accompany other people’s burials. And I also remember that the Egyptians had farms for raising ibises and crocodiles for ritual mummification.

  3. “I am sure we could breed domestic cats to look like dachshunds or to be as large as St. Bernards. It would just take time.” – yes, but doubtless cat staff have more sense…!

  4. Much more recent (relatively) than the Cyprus discovery: Archaeologists in Kent recently found an apparently deliberately buried Roman cat:

    Among the discoveries is a skeleton of a cat, nicknamed Maxipus by the excavation team, which was buried in an area of domestic settlement and is believed to have been a pet.

    “Normally you would expect it to have been dismembered by predators but it’s almost complete, so it looks like it was deliberately placed where it wasn’t disturbed,” said Pattison.

    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/oct/28/amphitheatre-dig-kent-roman-town-richborough

    1. IIRC (I wasn’t paying close attention), there was a cat burial performed by the builders of London’s Natural History Museum. That would have been in about 1860. Turned up when they were building the Darwin Centre, a few years ago.
      Damn. I’m going to have to find the series of programmes I think I remember that from, and check. It may be a concocted memory from two programmes on the same evening. Damn, I should have checked then.

  5. That video was terrific. The detail about the cat with the fracture being cared for by its human companion is so touching. I wonder if the domestication was more about how pretty cats are (I mean to those of us who like them) than about how handy they are with getting rid of pests. I had to get my daughter’s kitten off the kitchen counter about twenty times today, and it should be annoying as hell, but every time I pick Leroy up, my heart melts, especially when he looks at me and purrs. They are charming animals. They also really know what they’re doing. It wouldn’t surprise me if they charmed themselves into domestication on the good looks and the soft fur and the purrs.

    1. more about how pretty cats are […] my heart melts, especially when he looks at me and purrs. They are charming animals.

      Absolute classic description of paedomorphosis – if I remember the term correctly – the retention of juvenile characteristics into the adult. Your last few million generations of ancestors have just been pwned by the catling you’re staff for.

  6. Or did cats ‘domesticate’ humans? Whichever the felines seem to have managed to develop a very comfortable life-style.

    1. A recent paper quotes another paper on “the status of cat as an ‘exploiting captive’.” Which sounds about right to me.

  7. That prompted me to dig around and find the original paper (https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.1095335) and it’s “SOM” (“Supporting Online Material”) ; annoyingly, perhaps because I don’t have a subscription to “Science”, I can’t access the “SOM” – and I don’t think it’s meant to work like that. But the SOM is on Researchgate at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8629197_Early_Taming_of_the_Cat_in_Cyprus
    That has several interesting snippets, including quoting the description of cat domestication as being “an exploiting captive”, which I think a lot of people here would grok the fullness of.
    There’s a bit more detail on the human burial, including that they think it was “buried in a bag” – which is unusual. It also implies that although this is “pre-pottery Neolithic”, they had fabric technologies.
    The cat skeleton has considerably more detail too, including detail of why they assign it to F.s.lybica instead of three alternative taxa. They performed a microscopic search of the bones for cutmarks (either butchery or post mortem preparation) and didn’t find any. But they do describe the position of the head and neck in a way that makes me think the funeral party were handling the body before rigor mortis set in. Makes it hard to be a coincidental death.
    As I say elsewhere – reading the paper is much more interesting than reading a journalist-digested version.
    [PCCE requested me to trim my original post down to size. The original is available if anyone else wants that, instead of RTFP themselves. The links are above.]

  8. Whil looking for the “cat burial” paper (message 11) an interesting thread for someone of an ailurophile turn of mind to follow came up.

    The roseate spoonbill was decapitated and placed beside a double human burial. But the bobcat was a separate, human-like interment wearing a necklace of shell beads and effigy bear canine teeth. To our knowledge, this is the only decorated wild cat burial in the archaeological record.

    (From “A Bobcat Burial and Other Reported Intentional Animal Burials from Illinois” Hopewell Mounds ; September 2015 Midcontinental journal of archaeology, MCJA 40(3) DOI: 10.1179/2327427115Y.0000000007) My emphasis.

    It’s very unlikely to be closely related to this Cyprus burial, but … does it maybe suggest that American First Nations people may have been toying with feline domestication – or a degree of commensialism, at least?
    TTBOMK, American First Nations weren’t strongly dependent on farmed (and stored) grains … but maybe that’s “Plains Indians” and other areas had more farming. So a resident rodent controller may have been tolerated to some degree.
    I’ll leave that rabbit hole for someone who knows more about American First Nations than I do to run down. Beware of cake and bottled potions.

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