July 15th, 2009

My President

Genetics and Interspecies Relations

So, we've all seen the BBC article about how Cats 'exploit' humans by purring.

But there's actually a better article about the tactics used by manipulative felines in New Scientist. This one includes mp3s of the normal purr and the "solicitous" purr. Not only do the sound samples illustrate the differences in purrs, but they're downloadable! So now I have random cat purrs on my iPod. If only I could make them into a ringtone...It would be a ring that could not be ignored!

However, the whole cat purring study made me remember that I'd read somewhere that cats are the only domestic animal that chose to be domesticated. I couldn't find the article I read before, but this is a recent one (last month): "From Wild Animals to Domestic Pets". One of the co-authors is Dr. Stephen J. O'Brien who wrote the "Tears of the Cheetah" book (and whom I emailed about Gun-Hee and his brother...but he never responded). But it makes sense. The other domesticates were exploited by humans...but the humans were exploited by cats.

And reading that article reminded me of a project involving silver foxes in Russia being bred for tameness and spontaneously starting to have white patches, floppy ears and shortened or curled tails after a few generations.

An interesting point about the floppy ears is pointed out in this article, which reminds us that none other than Charles Darwin, in Chapter One of Origin of the Species, noted that “not a single domestic animal can be named which has not in some country drooping ears”. I find it particularly interesting in that he said this long before the folded ear mutation in cats appeared in Scotland in 1961! Although the mutation must have occurred at some point before the Scottish Folds; Darwin references a Chinese lop-eared cat.

And finally, because it kind of fits the theme of genetics and interspecies relations…That's not what "Animal Husbandry" means, Senator. Paging Mr. Smith...Mr. Cordwainer Smith...