Cats Make Facial Expressions, But Not Everyone Can Read Them

takoburito/iStock via Getty Images
takoburito/iStock via Getty Images

Science has finally confirmed what humans have suspected for centuries: Cats are inscrutable creatures prone to peculiar behavior. Some of us, however, are still capable of picking up on their subtle emotional cues, including facial expressions, without relying on clues like tails, ears, or whiskers.

This new evidence of a cat’s slightly malleable face comes from a study in the journal Animal Welfare. Researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, recruited 6329 participants to watch a series of 20 video clips featuring cats reacting to either a positive or negative event. A positive interaction was defined as a feline approaching a human for a treat or an owner-identified action the cat traditionally found pleasant, like climbing into a favorite spot. A negative response was when a cat was confronted with something it wanted to avoid, was prevented from going into an area or outside, or was displaying an obvious sign of distress, like growling. (Sounds were edited out.) Most clips were from YouTube, though some were submitted by veterinarians and university colleagues. Breeds with long hair that might obscure facial changes were omitted. Most respondents were cat owners, and 74 percent were women 18 to 44 years old.

Using these brief clips, the researchers asked subjects to classify the cats as exhibiting positive or negative behavior by relying only on closely cropped footage of a cat’s face. They couldn’t rely on the tail or any other body language. The result? The average score was just 59 percent correct, accurately identifying a cat’s mood in an average of 12 out of the 20 clips. These humans, in other words, had little idea what a cat was experiencing based solely on their faces.

So why do researchers think they have any expression at all? Roughly 13 percent of subjects scored well on the test, getting at least 15 of the 20 questions correct. Those that did well were generally people who had extensive experience with cats, like veterinarians. That led researchers to conclude that people can become more attuned to the subtle flickers of emotion that may pass over a cat’s face.

“They could be naturally brilliant, and that’s why they become veterinarians,” Georgia Mason, a behavioral biologist and the study’s senior author, told The Washington Post. “But they also have a lot of opportunity to learn, and they’ve got a motivation to learn, because they’re constantly deciding: Is this cat better? Do we need to change the treatment? Does this cat need to go home? Is this cat about to take a chunk out of my throat?”

The paper appears to offer encouraging evidence that “cat whisperers” really do exist. If you’re curious whether you could be one of them, you can take a shortened version of the video test online.

[h/t Washington Post]

One of the World’s Most Dangerous Spiders Could Invade Homes after Australia's Recent Rainfall

Ian Waldie, Getty Images
Ian Waldie, Getty Images

While recent rainfall has been a welcome change in Australia after destructive bushfires caused a widespread crisis, it hasn’t come without an asterisk. According to the Australian Reptile Park, the wet and warm conditions have made Sydney funnel web spiders highly active—and the funnel web spider happens to be one of the most venomous arachnids on the planet.

In a video the park shared on Facebook, officials warn that the weather might cause a marked increase in the spiders' activity, as males cover territory in search of a mate. They might be found in shoes, in laundry, or in yards. Fortunately, Atrax robustus is easy to identify, with its shiny body providing a helpful visual cue to immediately begin walking in the other direction.

Male funnel webs are thought to have venom up to six times more dangerous than females and also tend to move around more, making human encounters with them more likely. Because they can’t climb smooth surfaces, funnel webs are also prone to burrowing in piled-up clothing or other hiding spaces, providing an unwelcome surprise for anyone looking to retrieve their discarded shirt or socks.

The funnel web is also aggressive, quick to attack when provoked, and packs a powerful enough bite to pierce shoes. After being bitten, pain, muscle spasms, and pulmonary edema follow. Victims should use a compression bandage and limb immobilization to compress surface tissue until they receive medical attention.

Though the species is believed to have caused 13 human deaths, there haven’t been any fatalities attributable to a funnel web bite since 1981. That’s due in large part to antivenom made from milked spiders, an advancement that saved the life of a 10-year-old boy, Matthew Mitchell, bitten by the spider in 2017. The spider was loitering in his shoe and bit him on the finger. After 12 vials of antivenom, Mitchell made a complete recovery.

The Australian Reptile Park is actually encouraging citizens to trap the spiders and bring them in to drop-off sites to aid in the antivenom production effort. They advise nudging the spider into a plastic or glass container with a spoon. Extreme caution should be exercised, but you knew that.

[h/t CNET]

Perdita, the ‘World’s Worst Cat,’ Is Looking for Her Forever Home

Brittany Taylor
Brittany Taylor

"We thought she was sick, turns out she's just a jerk."

That's the opening line of Mitchell County Animal Rescue's adoption listing for Perdita the cat. Shelters usually try to paint the animals in their care in a positive light, but this organization isn't mincing words: Perdita is being advertised as the "world's worst cat."

As The News & Observer reports, the 4-year-old cat arrived at the North Carolina animal rescue on Christmas Eve. She quickly earned a reputation for drawing people to her cage with her cute, kitten-like behavior, then batting their hands away the moment they go in for a pet. The shelter thought Perdita might be in pain, but after taking her to a vet, they realized she just had an evil streak.

According to her adoption listing on Mitchell County Animal Rescue's Facebook page, Perdita is "not for the faint of heart." Her likes include "staring into your soul until you feel as if you may never be cheerful again," "lurking in dark corners," and "being queen of her domicile." Her dislikes are "the color pink, kittens (yuk they are so chipper), dogs, children, the Dixie Chicks, Disney movies, Christmas, and last but NOT least ... HUGS." If someone is willing to take the antisocial cat into their home, the shelter will waive all adoption fees.

Her caretakers admit that while Perdita may not win over everyone, there's plenty about her to love. According to Mitchell County Animal Rescue director Amber Dale Lowery, she arrived at the shelter after her previous owner died. "We understand that she has earned every right to be a jerk and meant the post as tongue-in-cheek," Lowery tells Mental Floss. "We adore her strong personality and hope that by shedding light on her 'cattitude,' the perfect home will step forward to adopt her."

The response to the listing has been positive so far. Facebook users have commented, "I love how she looks like she is plotting world domination," "My soulmate kitty," and "I don’t even like cats and I want this cat!!"

Perdita may be a celebrity on the internet, but at the shelter she hasn't changed. "Perdita is not fazed by her fame. Just this morning she allowed me to scratch her head, admire her good looks and then promptly growled at me," Lowery says.

To inquire about becoming the owner of the world's worst cat, you can call 828-765-6952 or head to mitchellcountyanimalrescue.org to fill out an adoption application. You may want to invest in some scratch-proof furniture covers in the meantime.

[h/t The News & Observer]

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