How to: Deactivate a cat

via io9

I just found out that most cats suddenly become nearly immobile when you pinch the backs of their necks.

I knew you could pick them up that way, but I haven’t done it because it seemed like a mean thing to do. But it turns out that the back of a cat’s neck is kind of like your elbow: Try pinching your elbow and see if it hurts. Unless you pinch and twist really hard, it won’t. Even then it hurts much less than any other area of skin. Cats are like that on part of the back of the neck.

It doesn’t hurt the cat; if it did, it would loudly let you know.

Some scientists think the reason why the Vulcan Nerve Pinch works for cats might have something to do with the fact that that’s the way their mothers carry them.

The effect is amazing. This might make it easier to give a cat a bath or some medicine. An important consideration is that you have to be sure to hit the right spot on the back of the neck, and it may not work on all cats.

Is it cruel? Would you try this with your cat?


See a flock of endangered birds led to safety by a daring pilot – Live!


Sometimes a species is so endangered their numbers can only be increased by raising some of them in captivity. Birds raised this way never learn to migrate right.

Operation Migration is a project to help endangered birds learn to migrate by leading them along the right path with an ultralight aircraft they’ve been taught to follow.

They’re in the middle of a flight right now and you can watch them in action:

Live streaming video by Ustream

So I stepped on a giant prehistoric snail on the way to work.

Cities around the world have the fossilized remains of ancient life embedded in their infrastricture. The builders usually didn’t even know it.


People just walk over this cross-section of a giant snail in the floor of the Smithsonian Arts & Industries building without even thinking about it. (Photo credit: Christopher Barr)

If you look closely at the stones of certain buildings in your area, you might find fossils stuck in the walls or floors. Or in a bridge or paving stone or any other stonework. We use huge amounts of rock in constructing our cities, and often they just happen to have fossils embedded in them.

Sometimes it’s deliberate, but sometimes it’s only later that we notice that some of the stones have fossils. There’s probably many times more hidden beneath the surface.


The floor of the National Gallery of Art is full of these weird extinct nautiloids. (Photo credit: Christopher Barr)

There’s fossils built into the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. Not just that, of course. They’re everywhere. You just have to look for them. A good geologist can often tell a sedimentary rock (the kind more likely to have fossils) just by looking.

Christopher Barr, a geology expert in Washington, D.C., has been hard at work obsessively cataloging the fossils you can find just by walking around in public in the nation’s capital. No museum required.

The BBC has video showing these ancient treasures hidden in plain sight in London.

Here’s where to find a few in Manhattan. They can also be found in a bathroom in Florida, a church in England, and a department store in Tokyo.

They’re everywhere!

Have you ever seen a fossil hidden in plain sight? Keep an eye out and maybe you will.

Let us know if you do.

Why talking birds are taking over the world

The common starling is everywhere in America and Europe. I’ve seen them zillions of times in Wichita, but I never realized they can talk.

Starlings are native to Europe, but are now found in all hemispheres because of a weird British society dedicated to helping invasive species spread around the world. The Acclimatization Societies devoted themselves to exporting European plants and animals to European colonies around the world, thinking that native species weren’t as good as European species. In America, they made a special point of bringing in every type of bird mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. (Why? It was a lark.) They’re everywhere now.

I always thought a talking bird had to be something exotic, but it turns out they’ve been pooping on my windshield all this time.

Anyway, a captured wild starling apparently makes a surprisingly good pet. In the first link of this post, a New Zealand preschool teacher rescued a baby starling and it grew up learning phrases from her. Now she uses it in class with her preschoolers.

Ravens, which are also found in North America, can also speak. I always thought Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Raven was just about a guy hallucinating as he descended into madness, but ravens actually can talk.

Who needs parrots?

(Hat tip to Jerry Coyne for the first link.)

4 jaw-dropping things that happened when no one was watching

Cameras are everywhere these days. So things that would have been missed in the past are today more likely to be caught on camera.

Things like:

1. Deer sometimes like to stand up when no one’s looking and have bouts of fisticuffs.

2. A couple weeks ago in Connecticut, a police officer’s private vehicle was vandalized… By a miniature tornado that blew into a crowded parking lot, ripped off one mirror from one car, kicked it around the lot, then laid it back down right beside the vehicle. Some people think it’s a ghost.

3. …Bears secretly dream of becoming pole-dancing strippers? (Skip to about 25 seconds in, and it gets better and better from there).

4. Lastly, as I posted before, in the past few months the world learned that asteroid impacts are more common than we ever thought before. This is bizarre, but it has always been this way: Huge rocks can at any moment fall out of the sky and blow up with the power of a nuclear bomb while still in the air… or cause devastation if they actually hit the ground. A team of scientists examined records from monitoring devices that listen for actual nuclear blasts, and they found about 60 blasts since 1990 that could only have been major asteroids exploding in the atmosphere. Despite the Earth’s 7 billion people, most of the planet’s surface is still uninhabited and we just don’t see most of what’s going on.

The other body part you never knew existed.

Belgian doctors have just announced that the leg has a part that nobody had noticed before. The researchers say that the anteriolateral ligament, a tiny band of connecting tissue on the back of the knee, explains certain knee injuries. It also explains why some people don’t get better after surgery: This whole time surgeons have been missing this tiny but crucial piece of tissue. (UPDATE: It had been noticed before, but never considered important enough to actually make it into any anatomy books)

Last year, doctors announced that they’d discovered a razor-thin sixth layer of the cornea that had gone unnoticed through all of human history before that.

Part of the reason why these things can continue to escape our notice is that too often, we assume that everything important has already been mapped. Things look so clean and obvious in a textbook diagram, but the real world is messy and bizarre. We’re still just beginning to open our eyes.

Weird National Cat Day facts: Your cat has 3 eyelids and can outrun Usain Bolt

For National Cat Day (a holiday made up in 2005), the smartphone-enabled taxi service Uber teamed up with to bring kittens on demand to people in Seattle, New York, and Los Angeles. You’d just ask using an app, and they’d bring one out for you to pet and enjoy for a while, then leave for the next person.

People love their cats, and cats love to be loved.


Hey, get back here.

But still, cats are so dang weird.

Another weird cat, named Bubs

Another weird cat, named Lil Bub

The top speed of an ordinary house cat is faster than the top speed of the fastest person in history, Usain Bolt.

usain bolt speed compared to other land animals_595x237

Not only that, but cats’ eyes have three eyelids — two normal outer ones, and a third one underneath that moves sideways. It works as a windshield wiper.

Is that weird?

No, it turns out that you’re weird for not having three. Most mammals and most birds have a third eyelid, but primates only have a vestigial remnant of it. It’s just like our tailbones are a reminder that many many generations ago, our ancestors had tails.


Most mammals and birds have these creepy secret sideways eyelids. This is how chickens blink.