Horses Might Be Smarter Than You Think

horse-in-a-field

Ask any horse-lover if horses can communicate, and they will tell you “Of course!”  Horses have many ways of doing this.  They have various sounds, body language, and movement patterns.  Their ears are especially expressive.

However, what most horse-owners don’t know that horses can communicate with signs.

You heard me.  Horses can point to a sign and communicate their wants!

This incredible fact was reported by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in September of 2016.  (And it was brought to my attention by listening to the Brant Hansen show.)    The university had conducted a study involving 23 horses of all different types and ages, who were trained for 10-15 minutes a day, over a period of 2 weeks.

The researchers trained each horse to point at one of 3 signs: one was pure white, the next was white with a vertical, black line on it, and another was white with a horizontal, black line.

Horses were supposed to point to a sign depending on their wants: should the blanket be put on, removed, or should things stay the same? 

And they did!

Whenever it was warm out, the horses would point to the sign for the blanket to be removed.  When it was cold, they would ask for it to be put on.

In this way, after only 11 days, most of the horses understood the connection between the signs and the blankets.  The equines recognized not only the symbols, but also their affect on the horse’s world, which is a “form of higher learning”, according to Bob Yirka of Phys.org.

This is fascinating.  I wonder: what the implications of this will be?  Can horse owners use this to have a horse, say, choose the saddle which is the most comfortable for him?  Or perhaps indicate when he is in pain?  What do you think?

 

Reference

Phys.org.  “Horses found able to use symbols to convey their desire for a blanket” by Bob Yirka, published on September 26, 2016.  Link = http://phys.org/news/2016-09-horses-convey-desire-blanket.html.

A Coat of Many Colors: How Feline Fur Gets Its Hues

A few weeks ago, I was researching cat genetics and how it affects coat color.  The reason for this research was that I needed to know what kind of kittens that my main character, Ginger, would give birth to.  And let me tell you, I’ve uncovered some fascinating info.

Don’t worry, I am not going to get all technical about it.  Far too many articles that I read did this, and they usually lost me when they did.  However, after my deep dive into genetics, I believe that I have surfaced with some pearls of knowledge that are worthy of the showcase, and here they are…

cat-1474271887TkxCalico Cats

First, I searched for information about calico cats, since Ginger is a calico.  I discovered that almost all calicoes are females.  This is because the genes that create black and orange fur are each on a certain, separate gene.  Females get two of this gene, while males receive only one.

Therefore, she-cats can be black and orange (calico), yet tom cats can never be that way.  

There are exceptions to this rule, but I promised to keep it simple, so let’s just ignore those.

But what about Ginger’s kittens? you might ask.  Well, I figured out that the kittens of a calico cat might be black, orange, or a combination of both, which is calico.  Of course, the exact chance of each color depends on what color the father was.  For example, if the father was black, then more kittens will probably be born black.

DSCN1513Tortoiseshell Cats 

Calico cats and tortoiseshell cats (“torties”) are very similar.  Both have black and orange fur.  Both are female only.  The reason for this is the same as it was for calicoes– the colors are on genes that only females get two of.

Really, the only difference between the two is that calicoes have white fur, while torties don’t.  If you examine the above picture of my tortie, Autumn, you’ll see that this is true.

On a side note, is it just me, or does the tortoiseshell coat look like marble?  Like a beautiful blend of black, dark brown, orange and cream fur.

For more information, check out my blog “11 Weird Cat Facts”, where I also discuss the following feature of white cats.

italiain-white-cat

White Cats 

According to the ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats, white cats are like a whitewashed wall.  They have a gene which over-rides the other color genes.  These “hidden genes” can be seen in the kittens of a white cat.

Furthermore, it is a little known fact that white cats have health problems.  They are often born blind, deaf, or both.

Although, come to think of it, owning a cat that is deaf is not such a terrible thing, really.  After all, it’s not like they come when they’re called anyway.

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Tabby Cats

Striped cats are called tabby cats.  Technically, you could call a tiger a tabby.  The tiger’s stripes act as camouflage, since the alternating pattern of light and dark blends well with the random sequences of light and shadow that one finds under the jungle canopy.

But back to house-cats.  All pussies have the tabby gene, states the ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats, just they don’t all show it.

If you want proof of this, place a black kitty under a bright light.  You will probably see faint stripes.  These “ghost markings” show that all felines carry the tabby gene.

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Colorpoint Cats

Notice how in the picture the ends of the limbs and tail, as well as the tips of the ears, are all dark brown, while the body is lighter?  This is called point coloration.  It is most common in Siamese cats, but other breeds can have it, too.  Even other animals, like horses and bunnies, can have point coloration.

Point coloration occurs when the enzyme (special protein) that controls dye mutates.  This means that something abnormal happens to it, and the enzyme is permanently changed as a result.

Suddenly, the enzyme can only activate at temperatures that are cooler than normal.  If you’ve ever petted a kitty, you’ve most likely noticed that the ears are cold, whereas the tummy is warm (also, after touching the tummy, you probably noticed that the claws are sharp).

But anyway, it is this temperature difference that causes the extremities to turn dark brown, while the warm core stays tan.

However, the temperature in a Siamese cat’s womb is all evenly warm.  Thusly, Siamese kittens are not born with point coloration; they are born all white.

Now, please excuse me while I go look up pictures of adorable Siamese kittens.  So cute…

 

References

– Wikipedia (article title: “Point Coloration”)

– ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats: Everything You Need to Know About Choosing and Caring for Your Pet

http://www.acsh.org (http://www.acsh.org/news/2016/07/27/calico-cats-are-a-walking-genetics-lesson)

10 Things You May Not Have Known About Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura_Ingalls_Wilder_cropped_sepia2
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Next Tuesday, the 23rd of May, is Grace Ingalls’ birthday.  It is the 140th anniversary of this event, which had to have been a special day in Laura’s life.

It’s intriguing to me how time has remember Laura and elevated her to an icon, while essentially forgetting her youngest sister.  Of course, Little House fans recall Grace as the sweet girl from the books.  The really hard-core ones even know that her middle name was “Pearl”, and that she married, but died childless.   Still, the fact remains that everyone, understandably, remembers Laura much better.

However, I did some reading recently, and I realized that there is much about Laura that we didn’t know.  Here are the most surprising ones:

  1. Laura’s family helped run an inn in Iowa. Pa, Ma, and the girls worked like servants in this hotel.  Naturally, they didn’t like this, so Pa soon moved them away.
  2. But while they were helping at the inn, they lived next door to a saloon, and one night, the saloon caught fire.
  3. The mean girl, Nellie Oleson, was actually inspired from 3 girls—Nellie Owens, Genevieve Masters, and Stella Gilbert. Nellie Owens was the inspiration for the mean girl at her father’s store; Genevieve was Laura’s rival at the school in Little Town on the Prairie; and Stella was the girl who tried to force her way into Almanzo’s affections by tagging along for those buggy rides.  Surprising as this is, it makes sense that Laura would change the name, to protect the identity of the actual girls.  Lots of authors who use their life experiences change names, for legal and privacy purposes.  James Harriot did that.  He changed the names of his patients, and he even changed his own name.  James Harriot was just a pen name; his real one was James Wight.
  4. Laura had a baby brother who died before his first birthday. If he had lived, he would have been younger than Carrie but older than Grace.  His name was Freddie.  From birth, he had always been sickly.  Tragically, he died before his first birthday, while the family was living on Aunt Eliza’s farm in Minnesota (Aunt Eliza was the mother of those cousins that Laura played with by falling off stumps to make snow angles back in Little House in the Big Woods).
  5. Pa opened a butcher shop, back when they lived in Minnesota (think On the Banks of Plum Creek).
  6. Laura had her first photograph taken when she was 14. Most kids today have their own phone at 14.  Crazy how much times have changed.
  7. Laura hated Florida. After the end of The First Four Years, Laura, Manly and Rose moved first to Minnesota, then to Florida.  The culture and environment of Florida differed so wildly from Laura’s prairies that it shocked her.  In addition to this, Laura was not welcomed by her neighbors, who stayed away from “those Yankees”.  Another problem for her was the climate.  The warmth and humidity, which was supposed to improve Manly’s health, ironically, made Laura feel ill.  She hated all of it.  After less than a year, they moved back to South Dakota.
  8. Laura and Manly got a car when Laura was in her 60s, and Manly was in her 70s. When I first read this, I was shocked.  I could never imagine Laura riding in anything other than a covered wagon.  That’s silly, I suppose, but it was what I had pictured.  On a side note, the purchase was Rose’s idea.
  9. When the Wilders moved to Rocky Ridge Farm, they rode in a wagon painted black.
  10. And finally, Laura owned and used a small pistol (not on people)While it’s unclear when Manly bought the gun for her, we do know that Laura used this pistol on their journey from South Dakota to Missouri.  It now resides in the museum at Rocky Ridge Farm Historic Site.

So that is my list of unusual things that you may not have known about everyone’s favorite pioneer girl.  Did any of these facts surprise you?  Let me know in the comment section!

 

Resources

  • Little Author in the Big Woods: A Biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Zeldis Yona McDonough
  • The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
  • Wikipedia

11 Weird Cat Facts

We all know that cats love tuna, hate water, and spend most of their time sleeping.  But here are eleven strange facts about our fuzzy feline friends that you may not have known.

1. The picturesque scene of a cat lapping up a bowl of milk… can lead to a brown stain on your carpet.  It’s true.  It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.  Milk gives most adult cats the runs.  This is because their adult bodies stop producing the enzyme that digests milk sugars.  Instead of being digested and absorbed, the milk just, uh, runs out of the cat.  Onto your carpet.  So you might want to think twice before handing out that saucer of milk. cat_lapping_milk

2. Siamese cats won’t let you get a word in edgewise. The Siamese family of cats includes the breeds Oriental, Colorpoint, Balinese, Javanese, and, clearly, Siamese.  All of them are well-known chatterboxes.  But why, you ask?  Well, various theories exist as to why some cats are more vocal than others.  It may be breed specific; higher energy equals more talking; or it may relate to how much the owner talks to the cat.  The more the human chats, the more the cat meows.  Talkativeness understandably bothers some cat owners, but not me.  (Which is a good thing, considering that my cat, Autumn, meows constantly.)

3. This cat is naked! And covered in grease!  It’s fairly common knowledge that cats can be hairless (think of Fleshy the Cat in the Monty comic strip).  One breed of hairless cats is the Sphynx.  However, what some people don’t know is that a Sphynx’s skin can rapidly become greasy.  This is because the oils that cats normally produce goes into making their hair silky soft.  But the Sphynx has no hair, and so it just gets oily skin, which has to be washed every week.  Sorry for that nasty mental image.

4. A perm. A perm on a cat.  And it’s literally, physically permanent.  I think we can agree that the ‘70s were a dark time for fashion.  Therefore, a lot of us breathed a sigh of relief with the death of ‘70s hairstyles, such as the mullet and the perm.  But the perm is not dead.  It lives on… on cats!  The breed is called, naturally, La PermLa Perm cats have short, curly hair.  This is not a good look for a cat, in my opinion, because it reminds me of an uncombed bed head.  On the other hand, they are reportedly quite the affectionate breed.

5. Tortoiseshells are for females only. Tortoiseshell cats are often mistaken for calico cats.  And they are very similar, except that tortoiseshell cats have no white patches, only black and orange/red.  The black color gene is carried on the X chromosome and the red gene is on another X chromosome.  Female cats have XX chromosomes, while males have XY chromosomes.  Therefore, in general, only females can have both the red and black colors required to be a tortoiseshell cat.  And yes, my cat Autumn (pictured) is a tortoiseshell.

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6. Blue eyes? Pure white coat?  Your cat may be deaf.  This fact surprised me.  My Grandma took in a stray cat named Snowball, who was (you guessed it) white with blue eyes, and she never acted deaf.  But the statistics don’t lie.  17-22% of white cats, and 65-85% of white cats with two blue eyes cannot hear.

7. Speaking of blue eyes, the Charteux cat is born with blue eyes, which turn either gold or orange as adults. This color change while growing up is actually very common among kittens.  Most kittens are born with blue eyes.  Those eyes are immature, and as they develop, melanin pigment is created.  Melanin controls eye color, and how much is created determines what the color will be.  Very little melanin means green eyes, while lots of melanin means brown, or, in this case, orange eyes.   The Charteux cat also has a smoky gray coat.  Combined with the pumpkin orange eyes, this cat is perfectly and petrifingly dressed for any Halloween party.

8. Eyes can be mismatched. Cats can have many combinations of colors for their eyes.  Nevertheless, their vision does not seem to be hindered by the lack of color coordination.   cat mismatched eyes

9. Many toes. Most cats have four toes on each paw, but not all.  Some have one, two, three, even four extra toes per paw.  Despite the weird appearance, many-toed cats seem to suffer no ill effects from it (yes, this is a theme: weird-looking things don’t cause problems, even though they look, well, weird).  Many-toed-ness is called “polydactyly”(poly-dactyl[as in teradactyl]-ly[as in lovely]), which means “many fingers”.  I recommend using this term when you want to impress your friends.

10. The tabby gene is in all cats.  Tabbies are cats with a striped coat.  Yet every cat carries this gene, even if he looks nothing like a tabby.  For example, two recessive genes give black cats their one-color coat.  However, if you examine that solid-color coat under a bright lamp, you can see faint bands.  Those bands are called ghost markings, and are proof of the tabby gene’s universality.

11. The hooks of a cat’s tongue are made up of a bone-like material.  You read that correctly— a cat’s tongue is cover in backward-pointing spikes that are designed to, and I quote, “remove flesh from bone”.   Yikes!  And what does the cat use this fearsome tool for?  A hairbrush, mainly.  Before you laugh, know that some of the earliest hairbrushes were made from bone.  But anyway.  So yeah—bony spikes, which can remove flesh from bone.  Truly, it is a labor of love when an owner puts up with his cat’s licking; it is lovingly meant, but certainly doesn’t feel that way.

cat tongue

Photo Credits:

Resources Used:

– ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats: Everything You Need to Know About Choosing and Caring for Your Pet by James R. Richards

– Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

– Animal Planet.com

– Caster.com

A Dog’s Dream Car

dog-in-the-car

I love Car Talk.  It’s hilarious.  It’s too bad it ended.

But instead of morning Tom’s passing, we should do what he would have wanted everyone to do: laugh.  And this made me do just that.

I listened to a Car Talk episode named “A Big, Beautiful Piece of. Junk” recently, and it had a hysterical canine/car conundrum in it.

Shelley from Colorado called in with a weird car problem.  Whenever she turned on the ac in her Ford Explorer, she heard a rattling noise.  Next, “the air conditioning vent [rains] dog food”, she said.

This was greeted with peals of laughter from Tom and Ray.  Tom demanded: “Doesn’t anyone screen the calls?  Can- can any whacko, from any place in the country [call us]?!”

Once they could speak again, Click and Clack explained that it was probably mice, who are getting into her dog food at home, and “squirreling” it away in her car’s air vents.

Next, they told her how she could get it fixed.

Shelley replied: “Well my dog does like it, he thinks it’s a dog food dispenser. … [And if I’m driving along] and he looks hungry, I just turn on the air conditioning.”

Tom, laughing, yelled:  “And he must be saying: ‘Have I died and gone to heaven?! … [This thing’s] spittin’ out dog food!’”

*Insert more laughter here.*

The dog-food-dispensing car.  Wow.  As Click and Clack say, “Ya can’t make this stuff up!”

This was just one story of several, in yet another hilarious episode of Car Talk.  Check it out here. http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510208/car-talk

 

Photo Credit

“Dog in the Car” by George Hodan.  Pic is in the public domain.  http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=204841&picture=dog-in-the-car

Why Is My Cat (or Dog) Eating Grass?

cat&dogactual

Your pet is a herbivore!

Just kidding.  Cats are not herbivores, and neither are dogs; both are carnivores, meat-lovers, as you may already know.

However, here’s a little known fact: many carnivores need to eat grass as well as meat, because it supplies them with the roughage they need.  Too much grass can make your pet throw up, but the right amount ensures that his digestion is running smoothly.

If you are a dog owner, then congrats!  You don’t need to do anything about this.  Your dog will eat the appropriate amount of grass whenever he needs it.  Even if your dog only goes outside for bathroom breaks or walks, he still will probably get the correct amount.

If you are an outside cat owner (excuse me—a cat’s slave, who is graciously allowed to dwell with his feline master), then, once again, your cat will eat what he needs and you don’t have to do much.  (However, it is a concern that your cat might eat grass that has pesticides or other chemicals on it, so it might be safer to grow cat grass.)

Indoor cats, on the other hand, need you to provide the greenery.

The safest, easiest way to do this is by growing cat grass.  You can buy it at your favorite pet store.  (Fun Fact: cat grass is actually oat sprouts.)

Once you have the seeds, you should follow the directions to plant.  Here are some general directions, but if the directions on the package say otherwise than these, follow the package.

  1. Find a small, shallow pot. It should be no wider than 8 inches, roughly, and no deeper than about 3 inches.
  2. Fill the pot ½ to 2/3 full of generic potting soil. Please, don’t just dig up a shovelful from your yard.  That dirt could have bugs in it that you don’t want in your house.  There may also be pollutants in it, which could get into the grass that your cat is going to eat.  As for potting soils, just use the standard soil.  Avoid soil that was intended for cactuses, or African violets, or some other specialty soil.
  3. Sprinkle in the seeds. Try to get an even distribution, but don’t coat the soil.  Also, note that it doesn’t matter which side of the seed faces up.
  4. Scoop about an inch of soil on top of the seeds. Leave the soil loose.  Do not compact the soil.
  5. Water.  As any houseplant owner knows, it’s hard to give precise directions about how much to water a plant, but here goes.  Just water until the soil is moist.  Remember: you’re starting seeds, not watering a mature plant with an extensive root system.  Also, remember that the pot is small, and a major cause of death in houseplants in over-watering.

And there you have it.  Your cat grass should pop out of the soil in a few days to a week.  Once you see sprouts, move the grass to a sunny location where your cat can reach it.

Bon appatite! 

Photo Credit

By Anna Langova.  Photo is in the public domain.  http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=24076&picture=cat-and-dog