About a month ago, science fully sequenced the cat genome — a fancy way of saying we now have a better idea, on a genetic level, of what makes our feline friends tick. We can also use cat genes to gain a greater understanding of human diseases that have feline counterparts, such as leukemia and AIDS. This is all very good news.
One surprising discovery: Due to domestication and various environmental factors, other species have changed greatly over time, but the cat genome has remained largely the same. This research suggests that even if your cat had been born two centuries ago, she would have been a master manipulator hellbent on scoring a bite of your great-great-great-great grandmother’s breakfast.
In contrast, take the genetic makeup of dogs. Due largely to their relationship with humans, domestic dogs have become docile and dependent, a drastic departure from their original nature. Meanwhile, according to the blog IFL Science, “Cats appear to have stuck with what works … a difference that cannot be explained purely by the shorter period they have been domesticated.”
So perhaps cats were genetically perfect to begin with? Yeah, maybe — or maybe science is sequencing genomes from the wrong cats. My cat Phoenix, for example, is such a sweet, gentle, needy, nervous creature that there is no way she could survive outside the climate-controlled walls of my home — which to me suggests a definite departure from the personality of her fierce, independent ancestors. That said, here are four ways Phoenix singlehandedly disproves science. How does your cat measure up?
I cannot sit on the couch for longer than two minutes without Phoenix jumping up beside me and positioning herself in my lap. Similarly, if my boyfriend and I decide to sleep in on Saturday morning, Phoenix will meow at the bedroom door, starting with a mild “mew” — the equivalent of, “Hey, are you still asleep?” — and progressing to lengthy, multisyllabic wails — the equivalent of, “GET UP NOW OR I’M GOING TO EAT ALL THE BACON.”
I think she thinks we’re dead, maybe? In any case, even though she has my other cat Bubba Lee Kinsey to keep her company, Phoenix cannot go any significant length of time without human interaction, which back in the day would have been a most undesirable trait indeed.
Phoenix is a skilled rhetorician. We have detailed discussions about the state of the union, whether the Royals will win the World Series, and when and how much I’m going to feed her, such as the following:
Me: Are you hungry, Phoenix?
Me: Do you want some food?
Me: When do you want some food?
Me: Okay, here, have some food.
It’s simple, really — Phoenix and I transcend interspecies language barriers to truly understand each other, which indicates evolutionary progress on her part. Right? It does, doesn’t it?
It is probably normal, for purposes of self-preservation, for cats to be afraid of loud noises and sudden movements; after all, our feline friends are experts at the whole predator-prey dynamic, one of the keys of which is knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.
But Phoenix takes concern for her own well-being to another level. If she is sitting beside me on the couch and I get up too quickly, she’ll freak out and camp out under the recliner for the next 30 minutes. If my boyfriend says her name too loudly, her eyes will get wide, and she’ll run for cover in the closet. If I vacuum, I won’t see her for the rest of the afternoon.
In short, she is afraid in an irrational way, which suggests she is not an expert predator playing defense, but merely a scaredy-cat. I do not think she would have developed these traits if evolution had not in some way allowed it.
For several weeks last year, my old apartment was infested with boxelder bugs. They seemed relatively harmless — that is, they kind of resembled lightning bugs, and they didn’t buzz, sting, or bite — so I didn’t call the landlord or demand an exterminator. Instead, I just kind of let the infestation play itself out, during which time I discovered my cats suck at hunting.
Seriously — they are really bad. Phoenix would spot a boxelder bug while she was lying on the floor, and she would watch it for a few seconds before she lazily swiped at it with her spotted paw. Most of the time, she would miss, and instead of trying again, she’d just watch the bug walk away, almost like she found the whole thing amusing. To me, this suggests she sees “hunting” as more of a game than a necessity, which is certainly an evolutionary departure from her ancestors.
How does your cat prove or disprove science? Tell us in the comments!
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About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.