It’s a well known fact that cats are quite good at manipulating people. They meow loudly, jump on the bed and start biting your feet, and you get up, go to the kitchen and feed the fury feline. They do something they’re not supposed to, then look at you with those big eyes, curved whiskers and pointy ears, and you forgive them pretty much instantly.
But a new paper, presented earlier this year, in Prague, at the annual meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB), has revealed that cats are not bad at manipulating mice either. Although their mind games are a little less adorable when applied to mice, they are every bit as effective.
It turns out that cats can control the way a mouse behaves by simply exposing them to their urine. They can’t order him around like you’d imagine if this was the plot of a cartoon, however the chemicals in the cat’s urine will forever change the way the tiny rodent reacts to felines everywhere.
The research has shown that when very young mice are exposed to cat pee, they will most likely not avoid cats late in their life. This is because of a chemical found in the cat’s urine, which essentially teaches young mice that a cat’s scent is nothing worth avoiding.
Experts from the AN Severtov Institute of Ecology and Evolution (Moscow) are not only responsible for this finding, but they’ve previously also written a paper on how the very same compound, known as “felinine”, is responsible for causing pregnant mice to have abortions, as a defense mechanism.
Dr Vera Voznessenskaya from the AN Severtov Institute of Ecology and Evolution gave a statement explaining that mice go through a physiological response when they presented with the felinine compound. There are certain neurons in the mouse’s brain designed to pick up on the scent, and this causes the mouse’s level of stress hormones to increase.
She went on to inform that this connection has existed for thousands of years in the relationship between cats and mice. What’s new about it is the human knowledge of it.
For their study, Dr Voznessenskaya and her team took mice that were no older than one month and exposed them to the mind controlling chemical for two (2) whole weeks.
The results showed that putting baby mice in contact with felinine at such a critical period of time in their development affects them profoundly. When the subjects were tested for reactions later in life, the researchers noticed that the mice were very unlikely to run away from the scent of the compound. The working theory is that the mice experience positive reinforcement when exposed to the chemical compound while they are still being fed milk.
Dr Voznessenskaya explained that the consequences aren’t necessarily what you might expect. She said that “Their physical sensitivity [to the chemical] was actually much higher. More of their receptors detect the compound and they produce higher levels of stress hormone”.
However, in spite of all of this, the mice exposed to the chemical early on in life don’t have the habit of avoiding the scent of cat pee, nor do they have the habit of showing signs of fear to their arch nemesis.
What happens is that the mice feel the response internally on a higher level, but show less of it on the outside, as Dr Voznessenskaya shared that “You get a higher response, but less behavior”.
But this is not necessarily a disadvantage. The researcher explained that mice can’t leave their habitat because they need to stay close to humans in order to find food, but cats also have a habit of staying close to humans.
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