A man and his pet cougar

This Russian couple has a pet cougar named Messi (after the soccer player). As the introductory video explains, Messi was born in a zoo, has health problems, and requires close care.  He’s been a pet for three years now, and seems to be doing well. There’s a YouTube channel devoted to his exploits (I_am_puma), and, in this video, Messi squalls as he waits for his male staff to come home:

I’m not sure if these people feel 100% safe, but I’d be a bit scared having this giant cat around. . . .

One thing is for sure: if you take an animal like this on, it’s a huge commitment, and you really can’t go anywhere and leave it alone. For one thing, its bladder problems mean that Messi needs walkies twice a day.

A genomic and evolutionary analysis of an extinct saber-toothed cat

A recent article in Current Biology, which you should be able get for free by clicking on the screenshot below, describes sequencing the entire genome of an extinct saber-toothed cat, thereby gaining some insight into its evolutionary history. (You can get the pdf here, and the full reference is at the bottom. If you can’t see the piece, make a judicious inquiry.)

The cat is Homotherium latidens, also known as the European saber-toothed cat (it’s also called a “scimitar-toothed cat” because its teeth were smaller than true sabertooths like Smilodon), and it probably lived from a few million years ago until fairly recently (the late Pleistocene, about 12,000 years ago). It may thus have encountered modern humans. It was about the size of a male African lion, and a reconstruction from Prehistoric Fauna looks like this (note the saber teeth and very short bobtail).

The species was also widespread: as the article below notes, “it once spanned from southern Africa, across Eurasia and North America, to South America, arguably the largest geographical range of all the saber-toothed cats.” Although it was clearly a hunter, like all sabertooths, we know nothing about its social life, or whether it was social—nor about whether it hunted by day, night, or twilight (“crepuscular”). Some of these issues were addressed by the authors using the DNA sequence.

Click to read:

The data come from a single specimen found in the Yukon and in the possession of the Yukon Government paleontology program. A section of humerus was used for dating (the fossil was about 47,000 years old), and then was crushed up to extract DNA. The authors were able to get a substantial amount of sequence from the bone, and they compared that sequence to DNA taken from living lions, sand cats, fishing cats, leopard cats, and caracals.

The conclusions about where this cat fits on the evolutionary tree of felids are pretty sound, based as they are on lots of DNA sequence. However, the conclusions about what genes may have propelled its evolution are a lot more speculative. Here are the main conclusions.

1.) The species was long diverged from the lineage that led to modern cats.  The lineage that led to this species diverged from that of all living cats a long time ago: about 22.5 million years. We knew of this substantial age from mitochondrial DNA sequencing in previous work, but it’s dicey to make conclusions about family trees from mitochondrial DNA alone. The date above is one that we can rely on, though, as it’s based on DNA divergence in the whole genome that’s been calibrated from the fossil record.

Here’s the deduced phylogeny, showing where H. latidens (in red) fits in with 17 cats and two hyenas. You can see that it diverged from living cats over 20 million years ago.

2.) There doesn’t seem to have been much hybridization between this species and the ancestors of living cats, which began diverging from each other about 14 million years ago (see phylogeny above). The authors could have detected such hybridization by finding sections of the genome that were discordant in divergence from living cats—perhaps sections of DNA that got into the saber-toothed tiger from species after the divergence of modern cats about 14 million years ago. That is, most genes would show similar amounts of divergence from the same genes in the modern-cat lineage, but a few would be much less diverged, suggesting that those genes got into the H. latidens genome after hybridization with cats that diverged much later.

They didn’t find any such discordance, suggesting that H. latidens simply didn’t hybridize with cats that evolved in the last 14 million years. For some reason this absence caused a lot of consternation for the authors.  I guess they expected to find some evidence of hybridization and “introgression” (transfer of genes between species after speciation had occurred), and they go on at great length to speculate about this absence. They mention things like low population density (so members of different species don’t meet), ecological or behavioral isolation, and so on. But the most obvious possibility, which they don’t mention, is simply that speciation between the scimitar cat and its relatives had been completed by the time they encountered each other, so that no gene flow was possible. Yes, sometimes reproductive barriers are complete, as they are now between our own species and every other species on the planet.  And this is true for lots of species. Just because hybridization is more common than we thought doesn’t mean that nearly every species occasionally exchanges genes with others.

3.) The authors found genes in the H. latidens genome that apparently underwent natural selection. The way geneticists judge this is to look for which regions of a gene have changed relative to the genes of its relatives. This is expressed in what’s called the dN/dS ratio. That ratio gives the frequency of evolutionary changes in “non-silent” parts of proteins (dN: those parts where a mutation changes the protein sequence of the gene) to the changes in “silent” parts of genes (dS: those parts where a mutation is in a noncoding part of the gene or in a third position of a “codon”, where a mutation doesn’t usually change the protein sequence).

If genes just change randomly, without selection, this ratio should be about one. If the ratio is higher than one, protein sequences are changing faster than they would under a “neutral” process in which no changes in the gene alter its effect on reproduction (“fitness”). The authors used a cutoff ratio of dN/dS of between 2 and 5 as a criterion for selection, and they found 31 genes in this range out of the 2,191 analyzed. Eighteen of these genes, potential targets for selection in this cat, are shown in the diagram below (They don’t mention what the other 13 genes do.)

You can see they fall into four general classes, and into subclasses as well, like genes affecting vision fitting into the the “diurnal” class. The authors note that while dN/dS ratios are only suggestions of what genes in the lineage of this species may have been subject to positive natural selection, they do speculate at length about the form of selection. The cats, for example, could have been selected to adapt to daylight hunting (as opposed to most cats), with consequently improved vision. Selection on “endurance” genes may have facilitated “cursorial” hunting (i.e., running down prey). And there may have been positive selection on genes known to involve social behavior—in mice. From that they speculate that this cat may have become more social and thus able to hunt down big prey in groups.

I call this kind of speculation “genomic sociobiology”, because it involves making up “just so” stories about how genetic change impacted an extinct creature. It’s fine to single out genes like this for further examination, but one has to realize that if you see selection acting on a gene affecting social behavior, for instance, it could be reducing social behavior instead of increasing it. How do we know that the ancestors of this cat weren’t social, but then there was selection on those genes to reduce sociality in favor of a more solitary lifestyle? Ditto for all the other genes. That is, showing selection itself, even if these ratios do show selection, doesn’t mean you know the direction of selection. In fact, some media outlets, like this one, have bought uncritically the notion that this study has revealed that the cat evolved to become more social.

4.) This individual, and thus its species, was very genetically diverse. That is, if you looked at the two copies of a gene in the H. latidens genome—remember, we all carry two copies of nearly all our genes except for those on mitochondria and sex chromosomes in the heterogametic sex—there was a high probability that they would be different. This “heterozygosity” would not be the case if the species were in small populations that would lose genetic variation, or in an inbred species. We can conclude that the species was genetically diverse—no surprise given how wide ranging it was.

As to why H. latidens went extinct, well, we just don’t know. Given its genetic diversity, it probably wasn’t inbreeding, and could have been stuff like competition with cats that were better hunters, a disease or parasite, climate change, or any number of things.

Overall, this is a decent paper, and a good one insofar as doing whole-genome sequencing and phylogenetic analysis of a long-extinct species. The conclusions about natural selection are speculative, and the authors realize that. If there’s a flaw in the paper, I think it’s that the authors do go on too long with the natural selection business, especially given that it’s purely guesswork based on ratios of substitutions in DNA, and because we’re totally ignorant about what these genetic changes really meant for the evolution of these cats.

Oh, and I’m disappointed that they didn’t see positive selection in “tooth genes”!

_______________

Barnett, R., M. V. Westbury, M. Sandoval-Velasco, F. G. Vieira, S. Jeon, G. Zazula, M. D. Martin, S. Y. W. Ho, N. Mather, S. Gopalakrishnan, J. Ramos-Madrigal, M. de Manuel, M. L. Zepeda-Mendoza, A. Antunes, A. C. Baez, B. De Cahsan, G. Larson, S. J. O’Brien, E. Eizirik, W. E. Johnson, K.-P. Koepfli, A. Wilting, J. Fickel, L. Dalén, E. D. Lorenzen, T. Marques-Bonet, A. J. Hansen, G. Zhang, J. Bhak, N. Yamaguchi, and M. T. P. Gilbert. 2020. Genomic Adaptations and Evolutionary History of the Extinct Scimitar-Toothed Cat, Homotherium latidens. Current Biology.

Readers’ wildlife photos

Get those wildlife photos, in, folks! (And remember, landscapes and general high-quality photos count as “wildlife”.) Today’s photos come from Kevin Elsken, who lives in Arkansas. I’ve indented his captions and IDs.

So many of your reader submitted wildlife photos are so remarkable and so well done, I use them as aspirational motivation for the photos I take. Hopefully these photos will be of interest to you and your readers.

The first three photos are of everyone’s favorite black and yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia. Truly a gorgeous animal, though I wouldn’t want to be a small critter on the receiving ends of those fangs.

The second spider I think is a Mabel Orchard Orb WeaverLeucauge argyrobapta. Much smaller than the yellow garden spider, but almost iridescent and gleams in the sunlight. Loves to build webs in and about the compost piles—great place to catch a fly or two.

The last spider I would like to share is the Hentz’s (sometimes called Spotted) Orb WeaverNeoscona crucifera. These spiders become very active in late summer and are nocturnal, so I thought I would share photos that depict both their magnificent orb webs and their propensity to scare the beejeebers out of you at night.

On to the snake portion of the program. The first one is a RIng-necked snakeDiadophis punctatus. My brother spotted this guy on a recent bike ride, and let me tell you he may look tough but this guy was all of about 2 inches long.  According to Wikipedia these snakes are secretive and nocturnal (my 82 year old father in law has lived here his entire life and had never seen one).  While they are believed to be abundant, the author of the Wikipedia article suggests detailed research on this snake is lacking.

The second snake will get your attention: the Eastern Copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix. This two-foot-long specimen was lazing in the middle of a country road on a different bike ride. Again according to Wikipedia, these snakes are not aggressive and their bites rarely fatal (I will take their word on the matter).

If I may indulge you with a cat story (I know, twisting your arm!):

It was the second day of July, 2019. I was sitting in our backyard reading when I became aware that the robins were raising a fuss – something was bothering them. It was then I became aware of another sound. . . mew, mew, mew, mew.  I peeked through the fence and you can guess what I saw. I called my wife and after a little work and few bleeding cuts, we brought this guy home:

He appeared to be only 5 or 6 weeks old, but we have no idea where he came from (we did check around the neighborhood). He was a little rough around the edges, hungry, but he did not have fleas but only a few ear mites. He seemed well socialized, did not mind being picked up or petted, and he has used the litter box from day one. We named him Rocket, in honor of either a) the best friend of Bullwinkle J. Moose or b) the best friend of Groot. He can exhibit characteristics of either of his namesakes.

Well he both grew and grew on us, as cats can do. Our last cat, Simba, who had graced the pages of your esteemed blog, passed away before we moved back to Arkansas. We were not sure we wanted another cat, but when a cat like Rocket shows up, what can one do?

But unbeknownst to us, about one month before Rocket appeared to us, a stray tabby with a severely broken back leg was brought to the attention of Keely’s Fund, a charity which assists pets in need in Northwest Arkansas.

With a grant from a local trucking company, JB Hunt, the one year old cat had the surgery he needed to repair his leg. And he earned a name: JB. But he had no home except for the local vet’s office where he spent nights and weekends alone in his cage.

Fast forward to December of 2019. We had gone on a trip and boarded Rocket with his vet. We went to pick him up and the technician, with a bit of a tear in her eye, told us that they had this tabby who had never really been friendly with any cats who came in, but Rocket was different, and would we want to take home a friend? Well who could resist this lovable tabby?

There were a few tears shed at the vet’s office when we took JB home, but when we sent them this photo they cried for joy:

Can Biden win with the cat-owner vote?

It’s always been my unsupported belief that both atheists and Democrats prefer cats over dogs.  For cats I have a reason: cats are themselves atheists, as they live in the moment, enjoying this life, and worship nobody. As for Democrats, well, I’m a Democrat and I’d like to think that Democrats like independent animals, while Republicans prefer sycophantic animals like dogs. But I have no data supporting either of these beliefs, and I wouldn’t stake a lot of money on them.

But R. J. Lehmann, director of finance, insurance and trade policy at the R Street Institute, got my interest renewed with this tweet (h/t Matthew). He implicitly assumed that Democrats are cat-lovers, and based an electoral college model on the assumptions that states with more cats than dogs would go Democratic, while the reverse kind of state would go Republican.

Under that scenario, Biden wins big time, getting 349 electoral votes as opposed to Trump getting 182. I’ve put the enlarged cat/dog breakdown below the tweet.

Enlargement of the above:

So how does this compare to the electoral college vote predicted now? Here’s the electoral-college map from 270ToWin (interactive on the site; click on screenshot) showing how the states are shaking out as of today:

Well, all the “safe” Biden states are cat-dominant states save Hawaii, but so are some of the safe Trump states, like Indiana and Idaho. Two of the three “likely Biden” states (Colorado and New Mexico) are dog states, with only one—Virginia—being a cat state.

I can’t see a definite pattern here in votes, though there is a pattern for animal ownership: the South is definitely more dog-friendly than the North. Since the South is also more Trump-friendly than the North, perhaps a reader with too much time on their hands can see if there’s a correlation here.

At any rate, both maps predict a Biden win, though the animal prediction is higher on Biden than the political prediction. So far, so good. Now if only cats could vote. . .

 

Readers’ wildlife photos

Although John Avise contributes the Sunday Duck o’ the Week, he’s sent me a lot of other photos as well, and they’ve been on the back burner. Today I’ll move some to the front, as we’ll see some of the felids John’s photographs, namely bobcats. His words are indented:

You don’t necessarily have to visit zoos or travel to remote locations to encounter free-living felid species.  I took these photos of wild Bobcats (Lynx rufus) in the quintessentially suburban environment of Irvine in Southern California, where these secretive animals are not exceedingly rare (though infrequently seen).  Wildlife biologists have outfitted some of our local Bobcats with transmitting collars (see the third photo) so their movements can be tracked.  A few years ago, one Bobcat “nested” (raised her kittens) in our neighborhood near a busy street.  So, remarkably, some of these beautiful felids manage to eke out a living even in densely human-populated settings.

In one of my photos, another Bobcat is carrying an American Coot (Fulica americana) that she just captured from a nearby marsh.  Bobcats are native to North America and occur as the most common wild felid throughout most of the continent.

For a treat, see this news video of bobcat kittens frolicking in a Vancouver back yard, with the link sent by Liz last year.

Caturday felid trifecta: The epicenter of Turkish Van cats; “what’s wrong with my cat?” photos; best of cats on “Q” (and lagniappe)

It’s Caturday again (and International Cat Day!), and during the pandemic, when all the days blend together, I have to remind myself to post the cats, as I haven’t missed a Caturday in years.

We have three items and lagniappe. The first is a video of Turkish Van cats, a breed developed in England from Turkish stock. They are mostly or fully white, and the best ones have heterochromia, or odd eyes. I saw many of these in Istanbul.  Here is the Van Cat Research Center and Cat House in Van, in Eastern Turkey. (“Cat” in Turkish is “kedi”.)

Not many of us will make it to Van (I haven’t yet), but it costs only 28 US cents to get in, and an additional $5 if you want to feed and pet the cats. They also sell cats, and there’s a premium for cats with different-colored eyes. If you want to visit the Center’s website (in Turkish), go here.

Look at those beautiful white cats!

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Bored Panda has a great series of photos collected from the “What’s Wrong With Your Cat?” reddit site. There are 50 photos of cats that are “malfunctioning”; I’ll put up a few but go over to the site itself (click on screenshot below) to see more. The title come from the site:

Bikinicat.exe Stopped Working

Source

Just As The Prophecy Foretold

Source

He fell asleep like this:

Source

The rare and extremely dangerous trouser cat:

Source

She tried out a new pose on the stairs today:

Source

He’s about to speak Italian:

 

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Here’s a compilation of the best cat moments from the show “QI” (“quite interesting”), featuring Stephen Fry, other hosts, and guests.

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Lagniappe: According to the BBC, Palmerston, the official Foreign Office Cat in Downing Street, is retiring to the country. He’s been on the job for only four years, and I can’t help but wonder if his retirement is due to the frequent dust-ups he got into with Larry, the official Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, who lived at #10. Here’s a news report on one of their battles:

At any rate, Palmerston left with a resignation letter:

Named after the famously interventionist and amorous 19th-Century Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston, Palmerston has often featured in photographs involving visiting officials.

In a distinctly anthropomorphic letter sent to Foreign Office permanent secretary Sir Simon McDonald, Palmerston “writes” that while there, he “pawed numerous memorandums” and set up his own “parallel network” for intelligence gathering.

He adds that, during the pandemic he, like so many other civil servants, has decided to “work from home” rather than in the office, while remaining “as diligent as ever”.

Palmerston:

h/t: Vera, Su, Jeremy

Peyton, the Philosophical Cat, ca. 2006-2020

by Greg Mayer

Peyton, the Philosophical (or Philosophickal) Cat died Wednesday. She was 14-15 years old. Peyton was familiar to WEIT readers, making her first appearance early in WEIT’s history, and her last (save this one) was last Christmas.

Peyton by Jerry
Peyton, taken by Jerry in September, 2009. A copy of this picture hung in Jerry’s lab (I’m not sure if it’s still there).

Peyton had been ill for about a year. The first sign was a behavioral issue—urinating outside her litter box, on carpets and the like. As part of dealing with this, a trip to the veterinarian to check for underlying kidney issues revealed that she had had substantial weight loss, for no evident reason. Various behavioral interventions got her back to the litter box, but the weight loss continued, and eventually became visible. A checkup this spring showed very high white cell counts, and over the last month, her decline in health accelerated, with behavioral changes, lethargy, and a return of urination and defecation issues. She began ignoring her previous favorite foods (except for chicken; our pet shop suggested a food which was able to stimulate her appetite). We adapted, putting in fences in the house and closing doors to keep her on cleanable surfaces, carrying her up and down the stairs at her request, and bringing food and water to her.  After a final consultation with the vet late Wednesday afternoon, we concurred that it was time, and Peyton was euthanized.

Peyton, July 27, 2020. This was taken at a “good” moment, when she was lying a bit upright, with her head up.

I learned a lot from Peyton over the years, and I shared some of this with readers here, from her instantiation of Steve Pinker’s rudimentary moral sentiments (see here for video of her morals; videos of Peyton are gathered here), to her realist stance on the external world. One of the most fascinating, and rewarding, things about living closely with an animal is getting (or at least trying) to understand the sensory and cognitive world of another species.

There was much about that world that differed from ours, and many ways in which our human cognition was superior—I have a vague recollection of Darwin once making a remark to the effect that dogs could not develop the calculus (although they might intuit it). I think it no accident that Darwin, who lived most of his life in the country, raised pigeons, and always had dogs—and children—which he studied carefully (see especially The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals), was able to see that there is a continuity and development of the social, cognitive, and moral worlds within the animal kingdom. I also think it no accident that the animals whose worlds we as humans come closest to sharing are small predators, as we share sensory modalities and “outlook” with them. (One reason I think that anoles are so often studied among lizards is that their world, like ours, is so evidently visual.)  Peyton helped me to see her world, and I’m eternally grateful to her for sharing it with me.

(I’ve always been puzzled by biologists, like Francisco Ayala and Francis Collins, who think there is some unbridgeable gulf between animals and humans. Haven’t they ever had a few pets, or even just a dog? As Darwin wrote in Descent of Man (vol. 1, p. 77): “I have myself seen a dog, who never passed a great friend of his, a cat which lay sick in a basket, with-out giving her a few licks with his tongue, the surest sign of kind feeling in a dog.”)

Peyton preparing to teach me.

Peyton’s final resting place is under a dogwood in our yard, marked with three stones. Her head lies beneath the rounded stone.

Peyton’s final resting place, under a dogwood in our yard, marked with three stones. Her head lies beneath the rounded stone.

Photos of readers

Last September I did a reader’s photo feature on Divy Figueroa, who does veterinary care on exotic animals, and I’m devoting an unprecedented second feature to her because she’s recently sent me photos of one of her new patients. It’s the kitten of a Geoffroy’s cat (Leopardus geoffroyi), a small (house-cat sized) denizen of South America. One of her and her husband’s clients owns one of these, which is apparently legal if you get it the right way), and Divy participated in two visits when the kitten was examined and given its shots. It’s usually unwise to keep wild animals as pets, but I won’t go into that now. Instead, I’ll show the pictures that Divy sent of herself with the kitten.

Her words:

She [the cat] is a pet, but her owners may use her as a pet ambassador down the road, depending on her behavior. Like any normal house cat, she needs to be up to date on her shots, and be free of any intestinal parasites. She likes to be held for a short while, but does not like to be restrained and poked with needles (can’t say I blame her) so it will be interesting to see how she does next year when she is an adult. She also emits a little series of grunts when she is being held, perhaps a type of purr, I’m not sure.

Here’s Divy with the kitten, the latter four months old.

And a month later for the return visit and inoculations:

 

And here’s a photo of an adult from Wikipedia:

 

Paper retracted for title and wording: “Where there are girls, there are cats.”

I haven’t seen the original version of this paper in Biological Conservation, which investigates the correlates of feral cat density in 30 Chinese universities, but a piece in Retraction Watch, below, implies that the title (and perhaps other bits of the paper) caused its retraction by Elsevier (the publisher) until until it was changed. The indictment: sexism—in particular, the frequent use of the term “girls”.

Retraction Watch, and the last link above, imply that the sticking point was indeed the paper’s title:

As promised, Biological Conservation has replaced a controversial paper on feral cats in China whose cringeworthy title — “Where there are girls, there are cats” — prompted an outcry on social media that resulted in a temporary retraction.

The new article boasts a different, non-gendered title: “Understanding how free-ranging cats interact with humans: A case study in China with management implications.” But it makes more or less the same point: Where there are women, there are more cats.

Cringeworthy? Well, why not call it “Where there are women, there are more cats”? Who’s running the railroad at RW?

The new ungendered paper (click on screenshot):

The abstract (with the sex aspect in bold, my emphasis):

The growing population of outdoor free-ranging cats poses increasing threats to biodiversity. While those threats are now well recognized, how human-cat interactions contribute to shape population dynamics have been overlooked. In this study, we explore major variables associated with the distribution of free-ranging cat density in 30 universities in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China. We specifically focus on possible even greater care devoted by women to the free-ranging cats. We found that, as expected, the density of feeding stations is positively associated to the density of free-ranging cats. More interestingly, the density of male students versus female students seemed to be non-randomly associated with the distribution of cats among universities. An online questionnaire confirmed that women were more concerned about the living conditions of free-ranging cats than men in China. Finally, a socialization test focusing on 27 free-ranging cats conducted by female and male observers suggests that cats may have the ability to adopt a friendlier behavior with female students. Our result suggests that human-cat relationships can be understood using multiple angles, including population dynamics, behavioral ecology and conservation psychology. Such a better understanding of human-cat interactions is necessary to develop relevant population management in urban context.

And a bit of the (new paper):

The TIRM model was selected for the analysis and we used the corresponding estimated density of the cats in each campus in the following analysis (Supplementary Table S2). The Pearson correlation test showed that the density of cats was significantly correlated to the student density (N = 30, r = 0.63, p < .001), to the feeding station density (N = 30, r = 0.85, p < .001), to the women density (N = 30, r = 0.78, p < .001) and also to the proportion of women (N = 30, r = 0.65, p < .001). However, it was not correlated to the percentage of greenery coverage of each campus (N = 30, r = 0.13, p = .49), to the density of men (N = 30, r = 0.26, p = .15) or to the survey season (N = 30, r = −0.07, p = .72). The percentage of total explained variance of those factors were ordered as follows: feeding station density (34.06%) > women density (22.44%) > proportion of women (17.78%) > student density (16.65%) > men density (6.52%) > season (1.44%) > percentage of green coverage (1.11%).

And the results from a questionnaire:

The 2038 online questionnaires showed that women had fed or rescued outdoor free-ranging cats more often than men (χ2 = 94.692, p < .001, df = 1, Fig. 1). Similarly, women tend to feed outdoor free-ranging cats more regularly (χ2 = 19.345, p < .001, df = 1, Fig. 1).

All in all, it looks like the authors found a statistically significant correlation between the density of feral cats and the density of women, and they could explain at least some of it, at least in theory, by the tendency of women to rescue and feed feral cats more often than men.

But that’s not good enough. Retraction Watch, which seems outraged by the original title, along with (of course!) social media, applauds the change:

The journal also published an editor’s note — in which they manage to keep the search engine optimization value of “Where there are girls, there are cats,” while disclaiming the title — explaining its actions. The editor, Vincent Devictor, didn’t respond to our request for comment when we reported on the withdrawal, and he is joined on the editorial by Danielle Descoteaux, of Elsevier, which publishes the journal.

Step one: blame language barriers for a poor decision that, as any editor should admit, falls squarely on their shoulders.

Was that decision really that poor? Or was it the “social media outcry” that made the journal retract the paper? You know the answer.

In truth, I am not that bothered by the title, which is pretty cute and, given the data, seems accurate as far as it goes—though had I written it I would have said “women” instead of girls. Nope, the title is dumbed down and gender-purified until it’s just the usual anodyne and tedious title we see so often. And the authors, of course, had to issue an apology:

. . . . we did not realize the topic is so sensitive, although at first we actually have tried our best to wirte [sic] the words… I firstly want to declare that I have not any sexism or even any thought of it, probably it is an English expression and culture difference that misleading readers since we are not native English speaker. For the title, may be catchier in our current version, it is like to say ‘more girls, more cats?’, just to catch readers that maybe cat density is related to sex ratio? In Chinese, it is very easy to understand and accept. I really don’t understand why human sex cannot be discussed in a paper, as we discuss more in animals research, or it is a culture difference…Not sure… 3, Actually in this paper, we just want to show a phenomenon, a point, a possible correlation, that cat density may be related to human social structure especially the sex ratio. I know correlation sometimes is not causation, but sometimes it is. Someone said feeding station is another more influencing factor, but who made these feeding stations? AT least from our observation, most are females in both universities and communities. Tell them more the fact that free ranging cat is invasive and affects biodiversity significantly and don’t feed them is very important. We have not any suggestions or ideas to control human sex, if I did not misunderstand some readers’ thoughts. Our suggestion is just to tell them the possible impact of feeding behavior to free ranging cats.

oooookay. . . .  so we live in a world where a title like that caused a social media outcry. Do these keyboard warriors ever rest? Yes, perhaps the use of the term “girls” was unwise, but really, people?

To wit:

Translation: “I used the term ‘girls’ which is regressive, counterrevolutionary, and contrary to the teachings of Chairman Meow.”

Spot Ollie the Devil Cat!

Matthew Cobb has three cats: Ollie, Pepper, and the latest, Harry.  I met Ollie when I went to Manchester, and he clawed my nose open when I tried to nuzzle him. I was heavily exsanguinated!

But never mind, here’s Ollie hiding in a photo Matthew took. Can you spot him?

The answer is below the fold, but give it a try first. I rate this “fairly easy”.

Click “read more” to see Ollie Continue reading “Spot Ollie the Devil Cat!”