Since the miniaturization of cameras, zoologists have been putting them on all sorts of wild animals to track movements and behaviors. Surprisingly, however, Felis catus has been relatively neglected, but this has now been rectified, and the true lifestyle of the domestic cat (when humans are not around) revealed.
Dr Maren Huck of the University of Derby told Science Mag the inspiration for putting cameras on cats came because her cat Treacle brought home a merlin as big as herself. Huck wondered if Treacle was a big game hunter, or a scavenger passing off others’ work as her own.
Applying a camera to Treacle suggested she was big-noting herself, as she only managed to catch a single woodmouse in six months of surveillance. However, she was observed to behave differently outdoors, particularly being less vocal.
That incident led to the attachment of what Huck calls “catcams” to 16 cats and a paper published in Applied Animal Behavior Science.
Previous studies using catcams had been conducted to look only at individual behaviors, such as crossing roads, whereas Huck sought to gain a broad view of what cats spend the most time doing.
Other cats became distressed at wearing the catcam and were removed from the study. One mother cat, perhaps concerned about privacy, took to repeatedly striking her son when he wore a camera.
This failure aside, all participating cats had been neutered, cutting down on the diversity of activities. Nevertheless, almost 40 categories of behavior are described, our favorite being “social staring”.
Cats’ activities changed when not around humans, with some showing more relaxed behavior outdoors when a human was nearby than when on their own.
Naturally, the cats spent the largest share of their time (44 percent) resting, while a tenth as much was devoted to the hunt. Walking took up just 11 percent of their time and running less than 1 percent. Personal hygiene standards varied widely, from 8 percent devoted to grooming by one very clean cat, down to almost zero for others.
Huck hopes the work will assist in mitigating the devastating toll domestic moggies can have on wildlife, but millions of people owned by cats just want to know what their masters get up to in their human servant’s absence. No truly unexpected behavior was observed, but the camera batteries only last for a maximum of 2.5 hours, so perhaps the cats were waiting for them to run out to pull the really shocking stuff.
The paper acknowledges the cats’ cooperation with a section that reads: “We are very grateful to the cats, for their patient data collection, and their humans.” There are also specific references to individual feline participants, but none were elevated to the rank of the cat given co-authoring credit on a physics paper.