All cat owners know that every animal has its own personality. Some are shy, some are bold, and some constantly bring “presents.” Scientists also know that cats vary in their hunting interests and ability, meaning that certain individuals might be a much bigger problem for native wildlife than others. The research team at Cat Tracker, a citizen science project coordinated by North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, is looking for a link between cat personality and the amount of wildlife they kill and eat using a comparison of information from three projects.
The first is a cat personality survey. Thanks to help from colleagues at Discover Circle in Australia, there is now a survey you can take to evaluate your cat’s personality. For example, how often is your cat vigilant, i.e. spending time paying very careful attention to its surroundings? Using 51 other traits, the Cat Tracker team can generate a report showing your cat’s personality within a week or so after the test is complete. (Not a cat owner? The survey has questions for you too, designed to help judge the attitude of people toward cats.)
Second, there is a diet study relying on the principal “you are what you eat.” The goal is to compare the isotopic makeup of a cat with its food. If there is a perfect match, the cat has only been eating what it is given. If there is a mismatch in the isotopic signatures, the cat may have been out hunting birds and mice. The only things necessary for this study are a hair sample from an outdoor cat, and a bit of its kibble in a baggie.
Finally, if you do let your cat out, the Cat Tracker team would love to know exactly where your cat is going for their GPS tracking study. You need to buy a $60 GPS unit, but your payoff will be seeing amazing maps of where your cat is going when it’s outside as well as contributing important data to an international effort to study cat movement.
Participation in all projects gives the best information, but all contributions are helpful. The information obtained will help uncover more about how pet personalities may affect populations of native species, and may help you discover how crazy your cat is!
You can find more information about the Cat Tracker projects and learn how to participate on their website: http://cats.yourwildlife.org/.
Brandon McDonald is a summer intern in the Biodiversity Lab at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.