Waiting patiently the big cat stalks its prey, focusing on it with an intensity it does not use in any other situation. This intensity and perfect form which is a combination of stealth and cunning has been a part of the genetics of this predator for generations and it has practiced this technique since it was a kitten. The prey moves slightly, as if it might detect impending danger, this movement causes the cat to react, “winding up” its spring like back legs and finally IT STRIKES! The brightly colored toy mouse never saw it coming, as the mighty Oreo strikes the killing blow and carries his pink, purple, and blue striped toy in his mouth like a prize. He pads off through the house looking for me, and drops his prize at my feet so that I can eat it. While eating a stuffed toy mouse may not be a part of my diet, if I were out in the wild and I were another cat, Oreo would have just contributed to the family food supply and he would have provided food for a cat who may be younger or not as good of a hunter.
With feline hunters, there are two general types of hunting technique which can be applied by most cats and there are other cats which have developed very specialized techniques to help them with their particular prey. The two general hunting techniques are ambush hunting and stalk and pounce hunting. My cats Oreo and Tigger have both used these techniques on me during our play time together. If I am using a laser pointer toy or a more traditional toy like a mouse with a string tied to it, the cats will use the stalk and pounce technique and peek around a corner with their bodies very low to the ground until the prey object moves in just the right way to trigger the attach. The ambush technique is usually used on me, when one of the cats is in a playful mood and he hears me coming or I am intentionally trying to get him to ambush me he will jump out and tag my leg before running off. While these skills are viewed by those of us who are cat owners as play, they are actually the product of thousands of years of evolution.
When any cat hunts, be it a cheetah or a domestic cat its primary sensory tool for the hunt is the animal’s eye. A cat’s vision works well in both normal light and very low light, making it an excellent night time hunter. Cats do see colors, but not the way that humans do. It is believed that cats see a greater number of shades of gray than a human does, and it seems that the colors cats see the strongest are blue and green but they do respond to other colors as well. It is also believed that cats do not see color as saturated as humans do, meaning a color we see as a really strong solid color may be more washed out to a cat. The secondary hunting tool of the feline is its hearing. With directional ears, a cat’s hearing is very sensitive and finely tuned, and that sense of hearing will lead the cat to an area where there is prey that it can use its keen sight to lock on to.
The next time you are playing with your cat, think about some of these things and take a moment to appreciate how he or she has evolved into such an amazing predator and yet makes such a fantastic companion and source of fun around the house.
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