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Cats are apparently terrible at catching rats

Published Sep 27th, 2018 3:33PM EDT
cats and rats
Image: rainerstropek

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Cats are good at so many thing — napping, chasing laser pointer dots around the room, napping, eating, and napping, just to name a few — but apparently they’re really, really bad at catching rats. A new study published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution explains just how terrible they are at doing one of the things they’re supposed to be good at.

As Wired reports, researchers led by Michael Parsons set up shop at a waste disposal facility in New York City in the hopes of studying urban rats in their natural environment. The original plan was to catch and release the rats and then study their behavior so that they could come up with more efficient ways of curbing rat populations. That’s when the cats spoiled their party… well, sort of.

Not content to just throw in the towel, the team decided to observe how the rats interacted with a group of feral cats which had made the facility their home. The felines, which are well-known as rodent hunters, would surely make life difficult for the rats, right?

Apparently not.

Using cameras to document the happenings inside the dump’s walls, the researchers found plenty of instances of the cats and rats being in the same place at the same time. They recorded over 300 instances of both cats and rats within close proximity of each other.

However, only 20 times did a cat actually attempt to hunt its rodent prey, and almost never actually followed through. In fact, only two rats were killed during the entirety of the observation period. Most of the time the cats just kind of watched the rodents from afar or ignored them completely.

But while the cats were clearly not adept at killing the rats, they did affect how the rats behaved in other ways. When the cats were present, the rats were more careful about their movements, sneaking around rather than trotting out in plain sight. This, as it turns out, does more harm than good, since stealthy rats are harder for humans to control and eliminate.

Feral cats have proven to be troublesome pests in their own right. In Australia, cats which hunt birds are such a massive problem that huge “cat-free zones” are under construction that will serve as a haven for bird populations to recover.

Coming up with new ways of controlling rats in urban environments is certainly a noble effort, but cats are apparently not the answer.