Domestic cats (Felis catus) prefer freely available food over food that requires effort

Abstract

Contrafreeloading is the willingness of animals to work for food when equivalent food is freely available. This behavior is observed in laboratory, domesticated, and captive animals. However, previous research found that six laboratory cats failed to contrafreeload. We hypothesized that cats would contrafreeload in the home environment when given a choice between a food puzzle and a tray of similar size and shape. We also hypothesized that more active cats would be more likely to contrafreeload. We assessed the behavior of 17 neutered, indoor domestic cats (Felis catus) when presented with both a food puzzle and a tray across ten 30-min trials. Each cat wore an activity tracker, and all sessions were video recorded. Cats ate more food from the free feed tray than the puzzle (t (16) = 6.77, p < 0.001). Cats made more first choices to approach and eat from the tray. There was no relationship between activity and contrafreeloading, and there was no effect of sex, age, or previous food puzzle experience on contrafreeloading. Our results suggest that cats do not show strong tendencies to contrafreeload in the home environment, although some cats (N = 4) ate most food offered in the puzzle or showed weak contrafreeloading tendencies (N = 5). Eight cats did not contrafreeload. Cats who consumed more food from the puzzle, consumed more food in general, suggesting a relationship between hunger and effort. Further research is required to understand why domestic cats, unlike other tested species, do not show a strong preference to work for food.

Are you my mummy? Long-term olfactory memory of mother’s body odour by offspring in the domestic cat

Abstract

Longevity of odour memories, particularly those acquired during early development, has been documented in a wide range of taxa. Here, we report that kittens of the domestic cat retained a memory into adult life of their mother´s body odour experienced before weaning. Kittens from 15 litters were tested when permanently separated from their mother at weaning on postnatal week 8, and tested again when 4 and 6 months and over 1 year of age. When presented with a simultaneous three-way choice between body odour of their own mother, of an unknown female of similar reproductive condition and a blank stimulus, weaning-age kittens sniffed the cotton swab with the odour of an unknown female longer. This preference, however, changed when as adults the subjects sniffed the cotton swab with their own mother’s odour longer. We conclude that kittens form a long-lasting memory of the body odour of their mother, and by implication, that mothers retain an individual odour signature sufficiently stable across age and changes in their reproductive state to be distinguishable by their adult offspring. What this means in functional or cognitive terms is not yet clear. Does such “recognition” have a specific biological function and a specific cognitive representation? Or is it rather part of a more general phenomenon well known in (human) olfaction of odours that are familiar generally being judged more pleasant, and that might then influence olfactory-guided behaviour in a variety of contexts?

Positional inference in rhesus macaques

Abstract

Understanding how organisms make transitive inferences is critical to understanding their general ability to learn serial relationships. In this context, transitive inference (TI) can be understood as a specific heuristic that applies broadly to many different serial learning tasks, which have been the focus of hundreds of studies involving dozens of species. In the present study, monkeys learned the order of 7-item lists of photographic stimuli by trial and error, and were then tested on “derived” lists. These derived test lists combined stimuli from multiple training lists in ambiguous ways, sometimes changing their order relative to training. We found that subjects displayed strong preferences when presented with novel test pairs, even when those pairs were drawn from different training lists. These preferences were helpful when test pairs had an ordering congruent with their ranks during training, but yielded consistently below-chance performance when pairs had an incongruent order relative to training. This behavior can be explained by the joint contributions of transitive inference and another heuristic that we refer to as “positional inference.” Positional inferences play a complementary role to transitive inferences in facilitating choices between novel pairs of stimuli. The theoretical framework that best explains both transitive and positional inferences is a spatial model that represents both the position of each stimulus and its uncertainty. A computational implementation of this framework yields accurate predictions about both correct responses and errors on derived lists.

African elephants can detect water from natural and artificial sources via olfactory cues

Abstract

Water is vital for mammals. Yet, as ephemeral sources can be difficult to find, it raises the question, how do mammals locate water? Elephants (Loxodonta africana) are water-dependent herbivores that possess exceptional olfactory capabilities, and it has been suggested that they may locate water via smell. However, there is no evidence to support this claim. To explore this, we performed two olfactory choice experiments with semi-tame elephants. In the first, we tested whether elephants could locate water using olfactory cues alone. For this, we used water from two natural dams and a drinking trough utilised by the elephants. Distilled water acted as a control. In the second, we explored whether elephants could detect three key volatile organic compounds (VOCs) commonly associated with water (geosmin, 2-methylisoborneol, and dimethyl sulphide). We found that the elephants could locate water olfactorily, but not the distilled water. Moreover, they were also able to detect the three VOCs associated with water. However, these VOCs were not in the odour profiles of the water sources in our experiments. This suggests that the elephants were either able to detect the unique odour profiles of the different water sources or used other VOCs that they associate with water. Ultimately, our findings indicate that elephants can locate water olfactorily at small spatial scales, but the extent to which they, and other mammals, can detect water over larger scales (e.g. km) remains unclear.

Quantitative abilities of invertebrates: a methodological review

Abstract

Quantitative abilities are widely recognized to play important roles in several ecological contexts, such as foraging, mate choice, and social interaction. Indeed, such abilities are widespread among vertebrates, in particular mammals, birds, and fish. Recently, there has been an increasing number of studies on the quantitative abilities of invertebrates. In this review, we present the current knowledge in this field, especially focusing on the ecological relevance of the capacity to process quantitative information, the similarities with vertebrates, and the different methods adopted to investigate this cognitive skill. The literature argues, beyond methodological differences, a substantial similarity between the quantitative abilities of invertebrates and those of vertebrates, supporting the idea that similar ecological pressures may determine the emergence of similar cognitive systems even in distantly related species.

Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) are susceptible to the Kanizsa’s triangle illusion

Abstract

The ability to complete partially missing contours is widespread across the animal kingdom, but whether this extends to dogs is still unknown. To address this gap in knowledge, we assessed dogs’ susceptibility to one of the most common contour illusions, the Kanizsa’s triangle. Six dogs were trained to discriminate a triangle from other geometrical figures using a two-alternative conditioned discrimination task. Once the learning criterion was reached, dogs were presented with the Kanizsa’s triangle and a control stimulus, where inducers were rotated around their centre, so as to disrupt what would be perceived as a triangle by a human observer. As a group, dogs chose the illusory triangle significantly more often than control stimuli. At the individual level, susceptibility to the illusion was shown by five out of six dogs. This is the first study where dogs as a group show susceptibility to a visual illusion in the same manner as humans. Moreover, the analyses revealed a negative effect of age on susceptibility, an effect that was also found in humans. Altogether, this suggests that the underling perceptual mechanisms are similar between dogs and humans, and in sharp contrast with other categories of visual illusions to which the susceptibility of dogs has been previously assessed.

Visual snake aversion in Octodon degus and C57BL/6 mice

Abstract

Phobia against spiders or snakes is common in humans, and similar phobia-like behaviors have been observed in non-human animals. Visual images of snakes elicit phobia in humans, but sensory modalities that cause snake aversion in non-human animals are not well examined. In this study, we examined visually induced snake aversion in two rodent species. Using a three-compartment experimental chamber, reactions to images of snakes were compared between the diurnal precocious rodent Octodon degus and nocturnal laboratory mice. The snakes whose images were presented do not live in the original habitats of degus or mice. Snake aversion was assessed by presenting snake vs. no-image, snake vs. flower, snake vs. degu, and snake vs. mouse images. The time spent in a compartment with the snake image and with the non-snake images were measured. Degus avoided images of snakes in every tests. In contrast, mice did not display snake aversion. Degus are diurnal animals, i.e., visual information is important for their survival. Since mice are nocturnal, visual information is less important for survival. Such behavioral differences in the two species may explain the difference in visually induced aversion to snakes. A principal component analysis of the stimulus images suggests that elementary cues, such as color, do not explain the differences in the species’ aversion to snakes. Finally, snake aversion in degus suggests that aversion is innate, since the animals were born and raised in a laboratory.

Kea (Nestor notabilis) show flexibility and individuality in within-session reversal learning tasks

Abstract

The midsession reversal paradigm confronts an animal with a two-choice discrimination task where the reward contingencies are reversed at the midpoint of the session. Species react to the reversal with either win-stay/lose-shift, using local information of reinforcement, or reversal estimation, using global information, e.g. time, to estimate the point of reversal. Besides pigeons, only mammalian species were tested in this paradigm so far and analyses were conducted on pooled data, not considering possible individually different responses. We tested twelve kea parrots with a 40-trial midsession reversal test and additional shifted reversal tests with a variable point of reversal. Birds were tested in two groups on a touchscreen, with the discrimination task having either only visual or additional spatial information. We used Generalized Linear Mixed Models to control for individual differences when analysing the data. Our results demonstrate that kea can use win-stay/lose-shift independently of local information. The predictors group, session, and trial number as well as their interactions had a significant influence on the response. Furthermore, we discovered notable individual differences not only between birds but also between sessions of individual birds, including the ability to quite accurately estimate the reversal position in alternation to win-stay/lose-shift. Our findings of the kea’s quick and flexible responses contribute to the knowledge of diversity in avian cognitive abilities and emphasize the need to consider individuality as well as the limitation of pooling the data when analysing midsession reversal data.

The effect of dimensional reinforcement prediction on discrimination of compound visual stimuli by pigeons

Abstract

We trained eight pigeons (Columba livia) on a stagewise go/no-go visual discrimination task. A total of 16 visual stimuli were created from all possible combinations of four binary dimensions: brightness (dark/bright), size (large/small), line orientation (vertical/horizontal), and shape (circle/square). In the first stage, we presented S + and four S– stimuli: sharing one (brightness), two (brightness and orientation), three (brightness, orientation, and size), or no dimensional values with S + . In the second stage, all 16 stimuli were presented. In the first stage, stimulus discrimination was controlled by the number of dimensional disparities between non-rewarded stimuli and a rewarded one rather than by stimulus dimensional salience, whereas at the beginning of the second stage, pigeon behaviour was controlled mainly by dimensional reinforcement expectancy learned in the first stage. At the beginning of the second stage, pigeons correctly rejected 6–8 of 11 new added S- stimuli. A significant inverse correlation between the number of S– stimuli sharing dimension values with S + in the first stage and the dimensional discrimination ratios at the beginning of the second stage was found.

An initial exploration of mirror behaviour in the ferret, Mustela putorius furo

Abstract

Responses to mirrors vary in non-human animals. Many species respond socially to mirrors with relatively few species demonstrating self-recognition in mirrors. In this study, we investigated the responses of ferrets to mirrors. Six adult ferrets (3 males, 3 females, all over a year old) were exposed to mirrors and their responses were investigated over three experimental conditions (baseline, mirror preference, mark test) in a repeated measures design. Upon initial presentation, the ferrets showed more approach and sniffing behaviour toward the mirror than the non-reflective surface. The ferrets also showed a preference for the mirror and spent more time in close proximity to the mirror than the non-reflective surface. In the mirror mark test, the ferrets showed more approach, sniffing and self-exploration behaviour when they were marked and presented with the mirror compared to when they were marked and presented with the non-reflective surface, or when they were sham-marked and presented with either surface. Our findings are suggestive that ferrets show interest in mirrors and that further study exploring the responses of ferrets to mirrors is warranted.