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The Secret Life of Cats

June 1, 2011

Brit Trogen

 

If you've ever owned an outdoor cat, you've probably wished at one time or another that you could follow them around for a night and see what kind of shenanigans they get up to. Do they go home to a second family? Rehearse for Andrew Lloyd Weber musicals? At the age of seven I dreamed of mounting a miniature camera on my cat's head so that I could answer the question for good. Luckily, scientists are nothing more than seven year olds with grant money.

 

In a study from the University of Illinois, forty-two feral and domestic cats were tracked over the course of two years. They didn't use cameras, (Unfortunately... there were sure to be some Youtube diamonds in there) but radio telemetry and activity-tracking devices did the trick. Twenty-three of the cats were outfitted with tilt and vibration sensors that were used to track their movements, and as you may have guessed, the results of the study were: cats are awesome.

 

The feral cats, as expected, had much larger ranges than the owned kitties, but even so, their domains were much larger than anticipated. One particular mixed-breed male, who we shall hereafter refer to as "Lone Ranger," had a range of 1,351 acres. According to the researchers, this cat somehow survived through urban and rural settings and amidst coyotes and foxes, navigating his way through traffic and parking lots. He was even discovered camped out in a den under a softball field... while the game was in play. 

 

The pampered, "eat-at-home" kitties weren't quite as ambitious, but you might be surprised to hear that the average range of pet cats was 4.9 acres... Quite the trek from your back door. Not as surprisingly, though, is that only 3% of their time is spent in "active" pursuits like stalking prey or running. Just like at home, the other 97% is spent more passively... in other words, sleeping. Domestic cats were also more random in their movements than feral felines, as their nightly adventures weren't a matter of life and death; since they're already well-fed at home, anything they bring from the outside is just gravy.

 

So... is it just me, or have there been a lot of great cat studies coming out recently? Either that or Science in Seconds is showing its stripes. I swear I'm not just looking for a chance to use pictures of Oliver... but he's just so cute! I promise a dog-related study soon. Something about drool.

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