Saber-toothed cats’ illnesses, new research


This video from the USA is about the La Brea Tar Pits and Natural History Museum and a saber-toothed cat.

From Science News in the USA:

Surgeon aims to diagnose deformities of extinct saber-toothed cats

By Lesley Evans Ogden

9:00am, October 13, 2017

Robert Klapper has examined scores of damaged and diseased human knees, hips and shoulders. But a visit to the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum introduced the orthopedic surgeon to the suffering of an extinct cat — and a scientific mystery. In 2000, Klapper took a break from his patients at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to visit the nearby tar pits, where myriad mammals and other animals (SN: 5/17/14, p. 18) have been getting stuck for the last 40,000 years. (Yes, modern birds and insects still wander in).

After examining a museum display of broad-snouted dire wolf (Canis dirus) skulls, Klapper made a beeline for the security guard and asked to see a curator. He badgered then collections manager Chris Shaw with questions about why the skulls looked so perfect — no signs of cancers, fractures or arthritis.

“Instead of throwing me out,” Klapper says, Shaw took Klapper into the bowels of the museum and pulled out a drawer of bones from saber-toothed cats (Smilodon fatalis), one of the abundant prehistoric animals preserved in the pits about 14,000 years ago. Klapper noticed a pelvis with a surface that reminded him of a medieval mace: One hip socket was spiky with sharp edges, a telltale sign of arthritis. At the healthy hip socket, the bone was billiard ball smooth.

That kind of bone damage did not happen overnight. The arthritic animal had been disabled for years, Klapper estimated, perhaps even from birth. The surgeon asked a favor: “I’d love to get a CT scan.” Signing out the ancient cat’s pelvis, he says, was a thrill.

Paleontologists have long debated whether saber-toothed cats were solitary or social hunters. If this lame cat had been unable to hunt for years, which is what its traumatized hip bone indicated to Klapper, it could have survived only with help from other cats.

Klapper scanned that fossilized cat pelvis but left the images untouched for years, occupied with his hospital job and hosting ESPN Radio’s Weekend Warrior, a health and sports program. Now, collaborating with Emily Lindsey, a paleoecologist at La Brea, Klapper plans to use more sophisticated radiology techniques to diagnose the deformity and possibly deduce clues about the cat’s lifestyle.

It’s still early days for the revitalized project, Lindsey cautions, but “I’m really excited about it.” The museum houses some 2,000 fossils of saber-toothed cats, several of which the two plan to scan in the months ahead.

Advertisements

Cougars, social animals, new study


This video from the USA says about itself:

Bizarre experiment studies pumas reacting to political talk shows

21 June 2017

Scientists from University of California at Santa Cruz researched mountain lions‘ fear of humans by exposing them to clips of political talk shows. Here’s what happened.

From the Panthera organisation:

Pumas found to exhibit behaviors like social animals

Findings could raise questions about all solitary carnivores

October 12, 2017

Pumas, long known as solitary carnivores, are more social than previously thought, according to a new Panthera study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances. The findings provide the first evidence of complex social strategies in any solitary carnivore — and may have implications for multiple species, including other wild cats around the world.

“It’s the complete opposite of what we’ve been saying about pumas and solitary species for over 60 years,” said lead author and Panthera Puma Program Lead Scientist Mark Elbroch, Ph.D. “We were shocked — this research allows us to break down mythologies and question what we thought we knew.”

Usually termed “solitary carnivores,” pumas have been assumed to avoid each other, except during mating, territorial encounters, or when raising young. The population studied interacted every 11-12 days during winter — very infrequently compared to more gregarious species like meerkats, African lions, or wolves, which interact as often as every few minutes. So to document social behavior, Dr. Elbroch and his field research team had to follow pumas over longer time spans.

Using GPS technology and motion-triggered cameras in northwest Wyoming, the team collected thousands of locations from GPS-equipped collars and documented the social interactions of pumas over 1,000 prey carcasses (242 with motion-triggered cameras that filmed interactions). Then, they used cutting-edge analyses of puma networks to reveal that the species exhibits social strategies like more social animals, just over longer timescales. The research is the first to quantify complex, enduring, and “friendly” interactions of these secretive animals, revealing a rich puma society far more tolerant and social than previously thought.

“Our research shows that food sharing among this group of pumas is a social activity, which cannot be explained by ecological and biological factors alone,” said study co-author Mark Lubell, director of the UC Davis Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior.

Here’s a breakdown of the most surprising findings:

1. Every puma participated in a “network” of individuals sharing food with each other. Each puma co-fed with another puma at least once during the study, and many of them fed with other pumas many times.

2. Choosing individuals with whom to share meals was not random or reserved for family members. The pumas seemed to recall who shared food with them in the past — and were 7.7 times more likely to share with those individuals. This is usually only documented with social animals.

3. Males received more free meat than females, and males and females likely benefited differently from social interactions. Males got meat, while females likely received social investments facilitating mating opportunities.

4. Territorial males acted like governors of “fiefdoms,” structuring how all pumas across the landscape interacted with each other. All pumas living inside each male territory typically formed a single network, and were more likely to share their food with each other. Social interactions occurred across these borders, but much less frequently than among cats within the same male territory.

The study emphasizes that puma populations are actually composed of numerous smaller communities ruled by territorial males. The loss of males, whether by natural or human causes, potentially disrupts the entire social network.

Videos and images captured during the study served as “irrefutable” evidence of social behavior, Dr. Elbroch said. “Suddenly, I was able to see what was happening when these animals were coming together. By stepping back, we captured the patterns of behavior that have no doubt been occurring among pumas all along.”

Except for lions and cheetahs (whose males form long-term social groups), all wild cats are typically described as solitary — a strategy characteristic of species living in complex habitats where predators compete for dispersed prey. This study should encourage researchers to study the social behavior of other solitary carnivores.

“This work goes against convention for solitary carnivores, but our evidence is supported by both behavior and genetics,” said co-author Anthony Caragiulo, Assistant Director of Genomic Operations at the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History.

Dr. Elbroch stated, “This opens the door to enormous possibilities. Are pumas everywhere behaving the same, or only in areas with large prey? Are other species like leopards and wolverines and so many others acting the same way? There is so much more to discover about the rich, secret social lives of wild creatures.”

Saber-toothed kittens and other kittens


This video from Los Angeles in California in the USA says about itself:

Saber-toothed cat struts down Wilshire Blvd in L.A. and comes home to the Tar Pits!

On Sept. 5 2012, our Saber-toothed cat took a stroll down to Wilshire Blvd. to announce that Ice Age Encounters will be at the La Brea Tar Pits every Wednesday and Saturday! Our favorite Smilodon even got the CoolHaus ice cream truck to stop by with some delicious Ice Age-themed treats. Ice Age Encounters transports you to the Los Angeles of the Late Pleistocene. While on this journey, you’ll meet the extinct creatures that lived in pre-historic L.A., and witness the natural processes that preserved their remains for thousands of years. You’ll even survive a close encounter with a Saber-Toothed Cat — and meet the scientists who study its fossils at the Page Museum!

By Alan Gilman in the USA:

Saber-toothed kittens may have been born with thicker bones than other contemporary cats

The pattern of bone development for saber-toothed cats mirrors that of contemporary cats

September 28, 2017

Saber-toothed kittens may have been born with thicker bones compared to other contemporary cats, but they have a similar pattern of bone development, according to a study published September 27, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Katherine Long from California State Polytechnic University, USA and colleagues.

Saber-toothed cats (Smilodon fatalis) from the Pleistocene (37,000 to 9,000 years ago) have been previously recognized as having more robust skeletons compared to other wild cats. However, how and when saber-toothed cats developed these strong bones is a mystery.

To better understand the growth of Smilodon bones in comparison to a similar species, Long and colleagues measured and analyzed hundreds of bones at various stages of development from both Smilodon and the contemporary tiger-sized cat Panthera atrox in the La Brea Tar Pits museum.

The researchers found that while Smilodon bones were more robust than the Panthera bones, they did not increase in robustness with age as expected, but were born with more robust bones to begin with. They found that the growth of Smilodon bones followed a similar pattern to other primitive cat species, where the bones actually grow longer and more slender than they grow thick. This finding suggests that the growth and development of feline species is more tightly constrained than previously thought, even with species with very different bone structures.

“Saber-tooth cats had extraordinarily strong front limbs for tackling and subduing prey before they slashed their throats or bellies with their saber-like canine teeth,” says co-author Don Prothero. “Using the extraordinary collection of limb bones of saber-tooth kittens at La Brea tar pits, we found that their limbs don’t become more robust as they grew up, but instead retain the stereotypical growth pattern where the limbs grow longer more quickly than they grow thick. To compensate, saber-tooth kittens were born with unusually robust limbs and retained that pattern as they grew.”

Dutch wildcat kittens


This 14 June 2017 video shows a wildcat with five kittens in the Vijlenerbos forest near Vaals town in Limburg province in the Netherlands.

Domestic cats’ history


This video says about itself:

20 October 2016

Do you give ancient Egypt credit for the domestication of cats? That’s what many people think! But, with some new evidence, it seems that cats became our cuddly counterparts a little further east and because of an emerging pest problem.

From KU Leuven in Belgium:

Ancient DNA reveals role of Near East and Egypt in cat domestication

June 19, 2017

DNA found at archaeological sites reveals that the origins of our domestic cat are in the Near East and ancient Egypt. Cats were domesticated by the first farmers some 10,000 years ago. They later spread across Europe and other parts of the world via trade hub Egypt. The DNA analysis also revealed that most of these ancient cats had stripes: spotted cats were uncommon until the Middle Ages.

Five subspecies of the wildcat Felis silvestris are known today. All skeletons look exactly alike and are indistinguishable from that of our domestic cat. As a result, it’s impossible to see with the naked eye which of these subspecies was domesticated in a distant past. Paleogeneticist Claudio Ottoni and his colleagues from KU Leuven (University of Leuven) and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences set out to look for the answer in the genetic code. They used the DNA from bones, teeth, skin, and hair of over 200 cats found at archaeological sites in the Near East, Africa, and Europe. These remains were between 100 and 9,000 years old.

The DNA analysis revealed that all domesticated cats descend from the African wildcat or Felis silvestris lybica, a wildcat subspecies found in North Africa and the Near East. Cats were domesticated some 10,000 years ago by the first farmers in the Near East. The first agricultural settlements probably attracted wildcats because they were rife with rodents. The farmers welcomed the wildcats as they kept the stocks of cereal grain free from vermin. Over time, man and animal grew closer, and selection based on behaviour eventually led to the domestication of the wildcat.

Migrating farmers took the domesticated cat with them. At a later stage, the cats also spread across Europe and elsewhere via trade hub Egypt. Used to fight vermin on Egyptian trade ships, the cats travelled to large parts of South West Asia, Africa, and Europe. Bones of cats with an Egyptian signature have even been found at Viking sites near the Baltic Sea.

“It’s still unclear, however, whether the Egyptian domestic cat descends from cats imported from the Near East or whether a separate, second domestication took place in Egypt,” says researcher Claudio Ottoni. “Further research will have to show.” The scientists were also able to determine the coat pattern based on the DNA of the old cat bones and mummies. They found that the striped cat was much more common in ancient times. This is also illustrated by Egyptian murals: they always depict striped cats. The blotched pattern did not become common until the Middle Ages.

See also here.

Magpie helps jackdaw escape from cat


This 13 May 2017 video shows a magpie helping a jackdaw escape from a cat.

Rick Scholtes from the Netherlands made this video.

Magpies and jackdaws may quarrel sometimes about food, but …

For the first time, researchers have observed that birds that fly actively and flap their wings save energy. Biologists have now shown that jackdaws minimize their energy consumption when they lift off and fly, because the feathers on their wing tips create several small vortices instead of a single large one. The discovery could potentially be applied within the aeronautical industry: here.

Bobcats in North Carolina, USA


This video from North Carolina, USA says about itself:

13 May 2017

Bobcats have started showing up in the Bushnell night vision trail camera in Backyard North along with a few other lesser felines and some other large creatures. My goal: find the bobcats’ den and get some video.