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Coffee time: How cats court mice

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This coffee time is dedicated to: animal mind

File:A small cup of coffee.JPG Urine: Surely not an incentive one would expect, if one must clean litter boxes. But this just in from From BBC News:

Cats ‘control mice’ with chemicals in their urine

Researchers found that when very young mice were exposed to a chemical in cat urine, they were less likely to avoid the scent of cats later in life.

This new study revealed that baby mice exposed to the compound during a “critical period” in their development would, as adults, react quite differently to their arch enemy’s smell.

The team exposed one-month-old mice to the chemical over two weeks. When they were tested later for their reaction, they were much less likely to flee the same scent. More.

Curiously, there was a higher stress response to the urine, but less likelihood of fleeing.

Most interesting, especially in the light to this from National Geographic (2007):

The parasite Toxoplasma gondii uses a remarkable trick to spread from rodents to cats: It alters the brains of infected rats and mice so that they become attracted to—rather than repelled by—the scent of their predators.

The parasite can only sexually reproduce in the feline gut, so it’s advantageous for it to get from a rodent into a cat—if necessary, by helping the latter eat the former.

In rodents, “brain circuits for many behaviors overlap with the brain circuits responsible for fear,” said Ajai Vyas of Stanford University, who led the new study.

“One would thus assume that if something messes up fear of cat pee, it will also mess up a variety of related behaviors.”

But Vyas’s experiments showed that not to be the case.

In fact, his test demonstrated just how precise and efficient the mind-bending parasite is. While manipulating rodents’ innate fear of felines, T. gondii leaves other behaviors intact.

He called it “astonishing that [T. gondii] may be able to target specifically the neural pathways responsible for processing cat odors.

“It’s incredible that the parasite would be able to alter a response—cat aversion—that is so ingrained in the rats’ psyche,” Berdoy said.

In a universe governed by intelligence rather than blind forces, we probably ain’t seen nothin’ yet. We just haven’t looked.

Note: This post was sponsored by UD News research assistants, Tom, Dick, and Harry, who think that cats should be better rewarded for their industry in these matters.

From (O’Leary for News) Worth researching anyway, if one can deal with the smell…

On a serious note: Toxoplasmosis can be dangerous.

See also: Matching Darwin’s “Tree of Life,” the “Tree of Intelligence”comes crashing down It’s not like we were raised to think.

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Also, cats are not “programmed” to “hate” mice. Nature is not just a machine.

3 Replies to “Coffee time: How cats court mice

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    Mung says:

    I think I must have been exposed to cat pee as an infant.

  3. 3
    anthropic says:

    For UD readers who love felines, urine luck!

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