Krazy Kats

The way things are going, the cats with the greatest reproductive success will be feral, and the cats best adapted to living with people will have low fitness. Razib Khan has talked about this.  There are a number of other cases in which humans are inadvertently selecting for outcomes they don’t like: deer are getting smaller antlers, we’re seeing more and more jack salmon, etc.  And of course we’re selecting ourselves for this and that, none of it good.

Yet Carlos Driscoll, a University of Oxford biologist, says there’s nothing to worry about re cats. “The population of domestic cats has been stable for a very long time,” Driscoll said.
“There’s a lot of genetic inertia there.”

The thing is, there’s no such thing as genetic inertia.   You can change any species with selection. Horseshoe crabs have been around for something like 450 million years – they’re older than most mountain ranges –  but if you started selecting them for size, or a different reproductive schedule, or the ability to live in brackish water, or the ability to play Go  – change would come.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Krazy Kats

  1. Tibetan crabs? So, we could reverse 450 million years of horseshoe crab inertia in, what, 16 generations? And without indulgent humans, domesticated cats could find themselves in trouble in, say, one generation?

  2. rightsaidfred says:

    Time for a small group of like minded humans to break away from the declining mainstream and establish a more “fitter” union?

    But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute dysfunctional selective practices, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such an “effed up state of affairs, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

  3. dave chamberlin says:

    It has long been noted by cat owners that some of them are nearly as loving to their owners as dogs. Well of course this can be bred for, and if cat owners had the common sense of a farm boy it would have been done successfully already. Someone will pipe up with examples of cats that are already bred to be “doglike”, I have heard of it. The famous Russian fox experiment where Russian silver foxes were breed to be friendly as dogs in eight generations has pretty much proved that we could successfully make docile pets out of quite a few wild animals. Not that i want to share my house with a Persian lap monkey but or a guard cat (one eighth mountain lion) but somehow in this world of 7 billion fools I think it is coming.

  4. It would really suck to be beaten at Go by a crab of any description. I imagine they’ll call the breeding program Deep Grey or something. I’m glad I’m not going to live to have to face that.

    Wait, how long is a horseshoe crab generation?

  5. NobleHipsterSlayerOfDeath says:

    This was brought up in a comment on Razib`s blog; in the Belayev fox breeding experiment selection was exclusively for tameness. Yet this resulted also in the bred, tame population exhibiting cute (neotenous?) characteristics. Is it not possible that similar selection may be occuring in reverse at shelters? People pick out the cutest cats, which could be the tamest cats. Of course that is if there is a correlation at all.

    • SMERSH says:

      No. In the United States cats from shelters are almost always required to be spayed or neutered before they are taken home. No more breeding for them.

      It doesn’t matter if they’re gassed or taken home and loved up for 15 years, from an evolutionary point of view, it is almost always GG for them once they check into the shelter.

      But cats running around on the loose often do manage to breed before they’re nabbed by animal control or hit by a car. Those cats are driving kitty evolution somewhere, although they may not be the sole drivers of kitty evolution.

      • Edmund McRofling says:

        On the other hand, feral cats semi-tame enough to cadge meals have an advantage in staying fed. I would guess the shelter has a greater effect, overall.

        I’m waiting for squirrels to develop behaviors that reduce their chance of getting hit by cars. As it is, their evasion routine seems pretty bad. It’s hard to miss them. Maybe it works on a fox, but there are more cars than foxes in my town.

  6. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    I blame the Egyptians.

  7. scarcomere says:

    Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda is mainly if not entirely estuarine (it ascends the Hooghly River – or used to – up to Calcutta, 90 miles from the sea).

    It shouldn’t be that hard to get an entirely freshwater horseshoe crab; at the very least, it’d be a lot easier than making a freshwater echinoderm or cephalopod. As it so happens, it seems to have been done before (witness <a href="“>Dubbolimulus from the Middle Triassic of Australia).

  8. Anthony says:

    I recall reading somewhere that cats were somehow genetically more resistant to breeding selection than, say, dogs, and adducing as evidence, the fact that weight variation between cat breeds has a factor of four from smallest to largest, while dog breeds show weight variation of well over an order of magnitude.

    Is this real? I can conceive of mechanisms that would restrict the rate of change possible under selection, but I don’t know whether this actually happens. (Also consider that size variation among feline species is greater than among canine species.)

    • misdreavus says:

      Has anyone tried teaching cats to do anything? Jesus. I mean things other than using the litterbox, which they do instinctively. I understand it has been done but those crafty devils seem to have a mind of their own.

      It took me less than an hour to teach a shih tzu to bark on command — and shih tzus rank among the dumbest of dog breeds. Now you try teaching your cat to do anything similar, no matter what its level of intelligence.

      • dearieme says:

        The actor Hugh Grant claims that his father tried to teach cats to wink.

      • My cats can distinguish between several concepts; when I say “fish” or “snacks” instead of just “food” (indicating the type of treat they are to receive) they become much louder and more eager than usual.

        The problem is getting them to do useful stuff. It is supposedly possible:, but I’m not enough of a crazy cat person to have tried it. However, for the tasks cats are good at (catching rodents) they work “right out of the box”. I don’t know if the same can be said for dogs.

      • Edmund McRofling says:

        @Endure, we have a cat who has learned that her late co-cat’s name means “pastrami”. But she needs reinforcement at least once a month or she forgets and has to be taught again.

        She loves pastrami above all things, but is too dumb to associate it reliably with a sound she’s been hearing all her life. Cats are stupid.

      • Richard Harper says:

        Back around the time of The Misbehavior of Animals paper, in trying to train animals to do tricks for films, there arose the observation it’s easy to teach cats to climb ladders but far more difficult to teach dogs the same. It’s the evolutionary history of tree-climbing.

  9. Jaim Jota says:

    No self respecting cat will do any useful stuff. They are not alone: chimp strength was never measured because they refuse to pull a rope (they feel it may be construed as work…).

  10. neilfutureboy says:

    We have done that for dogs – most breeds are unfit for the wild. However we have been so successful at cutting down the feral versions versions that now we have to protect them from us.

    I remember hearing of a Japanese bay where the locals have, for centuries, had the habit of, for luck, throwing back any crab whose carapace carries the image of the Buddha. They throw back quite a lot now.

    So when is somebody going to try breeding dogs, or pigs or elephants or bonbonos for 8 generations for intelligence?

    • misdreavus says:

      Elephants have an absurdly long generation time (roughly 25 years or so), which makes domestication cost prohibitive. Besides, it’s easy enough to capture Asian elephants in the wild and train them.

      Chimps are just violent, disgusting, and temperamental. Also I’m not sure how feasible it is to breed a creature that will literally f*** everything (and anything)

    • misdreavus says:

      Of course, with our current state of technology we could probably tame every creature on Earth (if we really wanted to), but where’s the money in that?

      • dave chamberlin says:

        America needs monkeys. We love our ornamental plants, why not ornamental wildlife. We take a monkey that can take the cold and is cute, the Japanese snow monkey, and we put it through generations of selection exactly like the Russian fox experiment to make them domesticated. We don’t want them in our house and we don’t want them escaping to the wild or terrorizing the neighborhood. So we put collars on them which shock them when they leave our property and we build for them a nice and proper monkey house, maybe in a tree or on our roof. Yessiree it’s a sure fire winner, we will make millions! Cute happy friendly monkeys, well rarely do they bite or throw their shit at you when you walk out the front door, but hey, it’s a money maker, buyer beware.

  11. Philip Neal says:

    Where on the web did I read about the big eyes and ‘slient miaow’ of domestic cats begging their owners to feed them meat out of tin cans? These qualities are selected for, and it is not the people who feel protective about their pets who drowned the millions of more aggressive kittens who lacked the desired characteristics. Will carp get more aggressive the more goldfish proliferate?

    And is it really the cats who rid the streets of vermin? Where I live, urban foxes appear at night and are not aggressive towards man. To the best of my knowledge they are a managed species (like game birds on Scottish moors), owing their existence to gamekeepers who could exterminate them in a generation if they did not serve some useful purpose.

    • Anthony says:

      Cats I had with an ex-girlfriend came running at the sound of a can opener, even though we *never* fed them from a can requiring a can opener, and we’d gotten them from a shelter as kittens. (When they got canned food, it was from a pull-top can, which makes a different sound. Can openers were for the food the humans ate.) I can only conclude that those cats with the gene for instinctively coming to the sound of a can opener outbred those without that gene.

      On the other hand, while chasing smaller animals is instinctive to cats, the quick kill by biting to sever the spinal column is learned behavior – most kittens who do not learn to hunt from their mothers will not do that, though some small number of cats figure it out on their own.

  12. TWS says:

    I knew when I was a boy we were breeding smaller game animals. Kill the runts. Mature but runts give limited permits for the big ones by lottery.

    Game animals should be managed for quality and quanity. That’s good conservation right there.

    I read the dog was more mallable than the cat . Maybe because they have been domestic for so long. Other animals are seemingly easy to domesticate or perhaps tame the reindeer for instance or camel. I wonder if many or most of their ancestors had been tamed in pre-history and current populations are from feral stock.

    • Ziel says:

      Wolves are highly sociable pack animals and so the behaviors we find in dogs were already there for us to refine and exploit , but with cats not so much. Complex behaviors are not so easily developed, taking ages to evolve. I think I read that somewhere, in some book I got a few years back, written by a couple of crazy guys out west…

  13. Jim says:

    Domestic dogs are derived from Eurasian wolves which are social animals. Domestic cats are derived from the North Africam wildcat which is non-social. Maybe that helps explain why dogs are more intgrated into human society than cats. Also dogs have been domesticated longer than cats so there has been more time for selection.

    In general most cats seem better at training their owners than their owners are at training them. My cat Winston likes me to shake his teasers at him so he can jump up at them. At night when I’m asleep he drags his teasers into my bed and lies them down beside me so that he can beg me to play with him as soon as I get up.

    My vet told me that feral cats are very important in the control of vermin.

  14. Rifleman says:

    Are you two old farts going to get around to writing about this?:

    A Cold War Fought by Women

    Now that researchers have been looking more closely, they say that this “intrasexual competition” is the most important factor explaining the pressures that young women feel to meet standards of sexual conduct and physical appearance.

    Maybe Greg can make some calculations and show mathematically that this is idiotic nonsense and only a FOOL!!! could believe this idiocy!!!

  15. Patrick Boyle says:

    My email is out so I’ve fallen behind. Greg is certainly right about the evolution of crabs. As I remember there is a classic anecdote about the speed of selection with Japanese crabs (not horse shoe crabs but close enough). There was some sort of samurai battle near the shore. The dead warriors were eaten by crabs. Since then the locals refuse to eat those crabs that have a shell that looks like a human face. In consequence the crabs in that area have evolved to have better and better ‘faces’ on their carapaces.

    This is such a cute story I wonder if it’s true.

    There is a kind of aborted pseudo selection that takes place everyday on cats. When my former cat died I went to the pound to choose a kitten. There is a room with kittens in cages. Many are cute. Many are playful but most of the kittens ignored me. There was one kitten however who seemed to go crazy with his need for me. He was inconsolable if I looked away. Of course I chose him and he was soon neutered. That was twenty years ago. He still needs to be in my lap constantly or he howls.

    The point is that with just a few simple animal shelter policy changes we could have cats as affectionate as anyone could possibly want. The whole ‘cats are aloof’ notion is just short sighted. Anyone could breed cats to any degree of affection towards humans in just a few years.

    My dog for example is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Blenheim. There was no such dog only a century ago. The little spaniels seen in the portraits of Charles II had died out. Breeders recreated them (or something like them) in only a few decades from cocker spaniels.

    We know the Egyptians tried to domesticate hyenas and failed. I wonder what that means?

  16. RS says:

    > We know the Egyptians tried to domesticate hyenas and failed. I wonder what that means?

    Unless they documented their methods well, we will never know. Some religious scruple might have reduced the efficiency of what they were doing. With 4-10x more effort it may well have started snowballing.

    • engleberg says:

      Peter Capstick Death in the Long Grass claimed George Rushby shot a hyena wearing khaki shorts, as well as others with identifying beads and tattoos. Social animal already: kill a mom with kits and raise them, kill the uppity ones, breed the ones you love. I’d wear body armor if I tried it.

    • Patrick Boyle says:

      I think we do know how the Egyptians tried to domesticate hyenas. The reason we know they tried at all is because there is depiction on some temple wall of Egyptians trying to force feed a hyena. The idea is quite simple. You feed the animal and it becomes dependent on you.

      Some Republicans think this is the same technique that Obama is using with Food Stamps.

      Domesticating animals can’t have been very tricky. It was done very early in the Neolithic by many groups in many places with almost no technology. Jared Diamond is almost certainly wrong about animal domestication.

  17. Bagel says:

    The problem is a lack of old wealthy eccentrics living out in the country with the time and resources for breeding pets. My dog (a Westie), for example, owes its existence entirely to Edward Donald Malcolm, 16th Laird of Poltalloch.

    I bet all the best modern dog breeds were created by similar characters.

  18. Pingback: linkfest – 11/19/13 | hbd* chick

  19. Hans Olo says:

    Anyone here have experience with farm cats? They aren’t that different from feral cats. They get fed, but otherwise basically fend for themselves. The farmer isn’t keeping them around to be his friends, he’s keeping them around to control the rodent population. Every so often a bunch of them get sick and die, but since they aren’t neutered the population soon bounces back.

    This is the main role cats have played through most of the history of domestication. Dogs were used for things like hunting and herding and whatnot, which involved close interaction with humans. Cats, on the other hand, went around killing rodents on their own. Add to this the fact that dogs had a pack psychology that was probably easier to adapt towards close interaction with humans, and there you have why dogs are more affectionate and people-focused than cats.

  20. linsee says:

    I have a Ragdoll cat — newish breed, look like Himalayans; that is, Siamese coloring, long-haired (but the fur is more like bunny fur, it doesn’t mat so you don’t have to comb them) and exceptionally people-oriented. If you’ve met a cat in a bookstore or a hotel lobby, there’s a good chance it was a Ragdoll. Pretty smart, too; mine would be trainable if I had the patience.

  21. Simon in London says:

    At least here in the UK it is still common for a feral or stray cat that exhibits calm, amenable behaviour to be taken into a household. If it’s male, and calm, the household has little incentive to neuter it, so it will continue to be able to breed. This is the case with a large tomcat my wife took in a couple years ago – if he was aggressive he’d have been neutered or expelled. This is much what has been happening for thousands of years.
    In the US where cats are often kept indoors this may be less likely to happen, so the dysgenic impetus may be stronger.

  22. Steven C. says:

    I’ve seen Youtube videos of cats that have been trained by their owners to use speech buttons, try “billispeaks”. I once lived with a cat (belonging to a room-mate) who would obey these voice commands: “Come here, Gaea”, “Get down, Gaea” and “Leave the room, Gaea”. Very remarkable because she wasn’t trained. On the other hand “Get off my book, Gaea” only elicited puzzled looks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s