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

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.

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.

We’re living in slow-motion


Dogs don’t watch much TV.

The first televisions sold refreshed the image on the screen about 60 times per second. The way humans perceive time, that looks like a continuously moving image. To a dog and most other animals, that looks like a flickering series of still images. Predator and prey animals process information faster than we do;  that’s why they have such good reflexes. (Newer TVs have much faster refresh rates, so they can look realistic to animals).

From The Economist:

It is called the critical flicker-fusion frequency, or CFF, and it is the lowest frequency at which a flickering light appears to be a constant source of illumination. It measures, in other words, how fast an animal’s eyes can refresh an image and thus process information.

For people, the average CFF is 60 hertz (ie, 60 times a second). This is why the refresh-rate on a television screen is usually set at that value. Dogs have a CFF of 80Hz, which is probably why they do not seem to like watching television. To a dog a TV programme looks like a series of rapidly changing stills.

You may think you’re smarter than your dog, and maybe you are, but your dog processes information much faster.

It’s relativity of a different sort. Consciousness is a weird thing, and it’s even weirder when you consider what consciousness is like for other living things. You are to a deer as a turtle is to you.

Why a goldfish appreciates art more than you do

The link: The Perfect Yellow, and more

The Story:

There are colors we can’t see.  All around us, every day we’re missing out on something that certain other members of the animal kingdom take for granted.

Just like dogs can hear sounds outside our range of hearing, animals like birds and the boring old goldfish can see colors beyond what’s visible to us.

In terms of the full spectrum of light, we’re practically blind.  The light that’s visible to us is a tiny part of what’s out there.

Electromagnetic radiation

From ultraviolet to visible light to radio waves, they’re all different kinds of the same thing.

Some of the birds you see outside might look drab, but actually have brilliant colors in the part of the spectrum beyond what we can see.  They’re seeing something we can’t even imagine.

The NPR show RadioLab has an awesome story on this unseen rainbow.

Key points are:

  • An American scientist, Jay Neitz, has succeeded in giving the ability to see the color red to an animal formerly unable to see it.
  • He’s working on ways to bring color to colorblind people.
  • Neitz also says it might be possible to give people the ability to perceive colors beyond the normal human range.
  • But there may already be such people in the world.  There are some rare women (normal-looking mutants called tetrachromats) who were born with extra color receptors in their eyes, enabling them at least in principle to see extra color.

The Internet has allowed the discovery of such people to happen.  Before, it was much harder for researchers to connect with the small percentage of the population with this genetic variation.  British neuroscientist Gabriele Jordan has been searching for such people for two decades.  If you think you might be one, and ever plan to be in England, you can contact her.

Megan Arquette is a blogger and possible tetrachromat who was featured on a Japanese science show earlier this year.

Another is an Australian artist named Concetta Antico, whose genetics Jay Neitz is studying.

Study of tetrachromacy is still in its infancy.  Someday within our lifetimes, it may be possible for ordinary people to see what’s been right in front of us all along.  The limits of our perceptions represent a clear and definable limit to the human imagination. You can’t imagine what a bird sees any more than a congenitally blind person can imagine the color blue.

But we’re beginning to push those limits.