Do you have a cat? Does it not hurt a little inside when you know you have to refuse some of the animal’s commands? Well, you can rejoice – you’re not the only one. Scientists have discovered that cat urine makes mice docile, increasing the likelihood that they will be caught by the meowing micro-predator.
If you have experienced that moment when your cat brings you an offering of one, or more mice in exchange for food, then you will find this interesting. Cats are found near human establishments for obvious reasons. Mice like to hang around them just as much. No, it’s not because of the human’s undying love for the critters, but for the fact that there is food. Always.
Taking this as a presupposed fact, Russian researchers from the A.N. Severtsov Ecology and Evolution Institute have presented a paper in Prague, at the Society for Experimental Biology’s annual meeting. The study conducted further advances on the effects of cohabitation between the two sworn enemies.
It is believed that because of the exposure of the mice at such an early age to the smell of cat urine, they do not automatically associate a negative meaning to it. This is mainly because the smell is persistent and numbing, as you probably know if you have a cat, and because it is present throughout the breastfeeding period, when the smallest of mice are fed by their mothers.
This all may seem like a Clockwork Orange strategy by the cat to assure its capture of the mice from their infancy, and the study shows that it may be just that. The mice that were exposed to cat urine early in life did not feel the need to avoid it later on. The control group, by comparison, which had not been exposed to cat urine, immediately knew the danger and avoided the cat’s domain.
Dr. Vera Voznessenskaya, one of the lead scientists that took part in the project, said that what the mice experience in these early stages of life – the first two weeks – is dubbed positive reinforcement. This may be the reason why some cats catch mice more easily than others.
The team of researchers narrowed their finds to the L-Felinine molecule, the same that is capable of blocking pregnancy in females, as well as reducing litter size.
Scientists warn that the smell of urine still triggers elevated stress levels in the exposed mice, like in the control group, yet the former do not feel the need to avoid it.
Image source: sciencedaily.com