6 puuuurfect cat science stories from 2022

I love cats. I love their little toe beans, their grumpy demeanour and their primordial pouches

For a Christmas treat (mostly for me, but also for you dear reader) let’s look at my favourite cat stories from 2022.

Why do domestic cats tolerate each other?

Most feline species are solitary and territorial, but domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) can often end up cohabitating in large groups. So how do they put up with each other?

That’s the question Japanese researchers are exploring, and they started by looking at the relationship between hormone levels, gut microbiomes, and social behaviours in cats living in high densities.

They found that domestic cats with low cortisol and testosterone levels are more tolerant in their interactions with other cats than those with high levels of these hormones, according to their new study published in PLoS ONE.

Read more here.

Catnip kitties

A black and white cat rolls around in catnip
A cat with catnip. Credit: Teresa Lett/Getty Images

In June, researchers published a paper looking at why cats go so buck-wild for catnip and silvervine. These are two plants which are not closely related but do produce similar (but not identical) iridoids.

Now, a new study by the same team has found that the plants’ intoxicative properties aren’t the only thing driving cats’ euphoric reactions – when their leaves are damaged  strong insect repellents, including nepetalactol and nepetalactone, are released.

Read more here.

Feral animal control

We can’t talk about our favourite pet kitties in Australia without also mentioning feral cats.

In July, according to a report from the CSIRO, a survey of nearly 4,000 Australians found most support the idea of using gene drives on feral cats.

Synthetic biology and genetic technology could be a safer, more humane way of curbing invasive species. Feral cat populations, for instance, could be controlled by preventing them from breeding.

Read more here.

New sabre-tooth predator

A new sabre-toothed mammal,
Artistic rendering of Diegoaelurus vanvalkenburghae. Credit: San Diego Natural History Museum.

We’re not just talking about current kitties. Ancient cats are just as good!

In March, palaeontologists described a new species of sabre-toothed mammal (Diegoaelurus vanvalkenburghae) from a fossil originally unearthed in 1988. Dating to the Eocene Epoch, it was alive 42 million years ago – preceding modern cats by millions of years.

This new discovery, published in PeerJ, gives us insight into the behaviour and evolution of some of the first mammals to have an exclusively meat-based diet. The specimen includes a lower jaw and well-preserved teeth and is the earliest known cat-like predator in North America.

Read more here.

Genotyping pedigree cats

In June, the largest ever DNA-based study of domestic cats has found 13 genetic mutations associated with disease are present in more pedigree breeds than was previously thought.

Researchers genotyped over 11,000 domestic cats (including 90 pedigree breeds and breed types and 617 non-pedigree cats) to detect the small differences in genes associated with known diseases, blood type, and physical traits in cats.

They identified 13 disease-associated variants in 47 pedigree breeds or breed types in which the variant had not previously been documented. However, they also found that these variants are declining in frequency in breeds that are regularly screened for the genetic markers.

Read more here.

Are black cats bad luck?

Theresa donahue mcmanus moment getty images

‘Black Cat Bias’ refers to the phenomenon in which cats with black fur are perceived more negatively than their feline friends.

BCB is bad news for American cats. In the US, a study looking at the outcomes for nearly 8,000 cats in an animal shelter in Kentucky, found black cats were more likely to be euthanised and less likely to be adopted, than those with white fur.

And despite their connection to Halloween, black cats did not have an improved chance of adoption during the month of October. Nor do shelter bunnies at Easter, sadly.

Read more here.

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