Justifying Judgement or Choosing to Compassionately Face Fears?

The Cherokee Wolf Legend invites us to ask: Which Wolf Are We Feeding?

“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.”
– Gandhi

🎙NOTE: This can be listened to as an audio recording here.🎙


Hello, Friends!

Happy mid-March!  What are you up to this weekend?  I hope you’re up to something that brings you joy. I’m sure you’re aware that St. Patrick’s Day (Lá Fhéile Pádraig) is today, but did you know …?

  • The real St. Patrick wasn’t Irish.
  • He didn’t drive the snakes out of Ireland; many see this as symbolism for banishing the Celtic “heathens”.
  • Adding green dye to food/beer symbolizes not only the green countryside, but also the time of the Great Famine, when Irish people were so deprived of food they resorted to eating grass; their mouths were green as they died.
  • March 17th is also the feast day of the original Cat Lady (St. Gertrude, the Patron Saint of Cats).

➡ You can get all the Deetz about AllaDat in This Post


Hugging a new friend I met at New Grange, Ireland

We stand somewhere between the mountain and the ant. 
-Native American (Onondaga) Proverb


I share those St. Patrick Day facts with you because it’s just one of the many ways that we continue to follow traditions without questioning them. We let ancient beliefs and centuries of practices go unquestioned. Sometimes it’s harmless; other times it’s quite harmful. One particularly harmful example is the unquestioned belief in being superior to any species or group within a species is a belief to be undone.

That unquestioned belief is at the heart of this heartfelt post.

Speaking of judgey-judgements and blindly following the masses, I’d like to ask you about a common one that comes up in communities around the world. How do you feel when you read, hear, or see the word “Spider”? What does the sight of an insect do to you? What are your thoughts about Arachnids?

I ask because yesterday was Save A Spider Day.  Seriously, it’s a real day. And frankly, it should be.  It may seem as nonsensical to you as celebrating an unquestioned evangelical saint and green-food-dye-day is to me, but it’s important.

Hear me out …

In a previous post I explained the importance of questioning our thoughts, judgements, and beliefs.  I explained how it ripples out to the universe and how taking responsibility for this matters.  But questioning our thoughts and beliefs and judgments doesn’t end with our little lives.  

I believe it should extend to everything our eyes see.


This includes every being; strangers, spiders and such. This questioning of thoughts, emotions, and beliefs should include ALL beings with whom we share the universe.

Here’s an easy example: Yesterday, on our Conscious Companion Facebook page, I shared a wonderful teaching moment that Hocus Pocus & I had with some lovely Canada Geese. You can check that out here. That respectful experience between three species is just one example of how we can choose to change they way we treat others in every moment.

All creatures have value whether we find them cuddly, affectionate, beautiful or otherwise.  Our own perspective–in a way–is neither here nor there.  Theology, at its best, can help to liberate us from our own anthropocentric limitations.  – Rev. Dr. Andrew Linzey

I get it. Not all species are easy on the eye of the beholder.  And physical characteristics set aside, not everyone has had a positive experience with every species on the planet.  But the looming fact remains:  Whether you’re a person or pet, those early life experiences with any species (or lack thereof) need to be positive ones.

For example, if I were to choose to hang onto a grudge for the guard geese who used to attack me (while I was riding my bike to school) every day, I would be cruel or careless to the Canada Geese whom we encounter every day. And if I were never exposed to snakes early in life in a positive light, I would have never become a herpetologist who taught people to set aside their fear for the Slithering Ones.

Every experience adds up.
And so does every judgement, thought, and belief.

We don’t need to look far to see how hateful judgements and unquestioned beliefs deeply affect lives. Just this week we witnessed another attack, based in fear. This can end. But it has to begin within.

Taking responsibility for your beliefs and judgments gives you the power to change them. ~ Byron Katie

I believe change begins with changing the way we see the seemingly little things that scare us. The little frights are merely symbolic of greater fears. What scares us is an invitation to question our fear. What frightens us is an invitation to fearlessly look within. What evokes revulsion, terror, or hatred is an invitation.

What we are a afraid of is an invitation to inquire.

Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears. – Rudyard Kipling

Last Night’s Fright Night

So, let’s get to the fearful fright we had last night. Do you follow synchronicity in your life?  I never understood what that meant until I learned about how powerful and transformative it can be.  Now I love how things are always In Sync.  Last night, there was a frightful sight in our house.  Then yesterday, I discovered it was Save a Spider Day!  That’s why I am so inspired to share with you now!

Ok, friend, find your comfy spot.  Grab a yummy drink. Invite a Cuddle Buddy. Settle in. It’s gonna get Real … and also funny. 😉


If we are to use our tools in the service of fitting in on Earth, our basic relationship to nature–even the story we tell ourselves about who we are in the universe–has to change.  – Janine M. Benyus


Okay so here’s the rundown.  Last night I had been in my office for a couple of hours working on my new website and participating in a soul sister’s live Q&A call for her chakra series. You can check out her program here.   Mr. Beaux was with me.  Hocus Pocus was sound asleep in her bed next to us.  Knox, was strangely not in the vicinity. 

After the call ended, I went downstairs to pour myself a glass of wine and begin the process of winding down.  When I entered the kitchen, not only did I discover that all of my chips and queso had been devoured to my dismay, but Knox was wide-eyed, low to the ground, looking crazed.  (I was honestly less concerned about Knox looking crazed than my shock at how and why my carefully cached chips and queso had been devoured.  I felt like the dude in this French Fry scene from the movie “Men At Work”.

Seriously. 

Knox being a naughty boy on the counter, cleaning his paws after stealing my pizza. With cuteness like this, how can I get upset?

After I realized Knox couldn’t have possibly eaten the chips and queso because the lid to the queso had been replaced (and he lacks opposable thumbs) 😉  I went to ask my husband about the thievery.   As I was leaving the kitchen, I looked over and saw Knox frantically pawing at something under the dishwasher.   Knox has a great recall so I called him to come over to me.  Rather than coming quickly as usual, Knox stayed put, but glanced back at me.  I could see that his eyes were fully dilated.

At this point I realize he has something cornered. A critter.

So, I go to investigate.  I look underneath the dishwasher where he’s crouching but I see nothing.  I call Knox away from the area, reward him for coming, and get down on the ground for a closer look.  I see nothing still.  Hoping it wasn’t another mouse, I leave the kitchen and head back upstairs do discuss The Chip Incident with the suspected thief. 

A few minutes later, I come back down to discover Knox playing with something at the foot of the stairs. He’s frantically pawing at something again, but this time he takes a several swat-breaks to shake his head, spit and salivate as if he has something poisonous in his mouth.  Then he goes back to pawing at something in the crevice of the stairs.  I quickly recall him away from whatever he’s attacking. He complies.

Hocus is intently watching all of this go down, anticipating when she can intervene.  I ask Hocus for a down-stay and she complies.  Now cat and canine are watching intently as I creep towards the critter.

I can see it.

The House Centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata) trying to survive in our house 

Doing its best to make itself a small target as possible, a gigantic alien-like insect sat motionless at the bottom of the stairs.  Now I am doing my best to work up the courage to capture it. At this point, I am aware that my attitude and actions will either elicit an aggressive or calm response from both feline and canine, so I keep my cool.

Internally, I’m experiencing full on heebie-jeebies.

Jason Bateman’s expression perfectly exemplifies how I felt.

Stay with me here.

Suppressing the visceral reaction I’m experiencing just looking at this thing, I am aware that I need to act quickly. Hocus, being the ever protector, will go after something if she thinks it is a threat.  Knox, being the ever hunter, will kill something if he thinks he can eat it.  Neither of these are options.

Not only do I not know how toxic this creature is if consumed by cat or canine, I am doing my best to keep everybody calm and safe.  Including myself! And including this creature who is now huddled in a corner.  As I creep closer, doing my best to work up courage to investigate this alien insect, I was surprised to notice that I wasn’t afraid.

I felt compassion.

Crouched in a corner, exposed and vulnerable, this little critter was just trying to survive.  It was absolutely terrified.  I could intuitively tell by its body posture.  And I could feel it.  I was moved even more when my suspicions and senses about its fear and the harmlessness of its nature were confirmed. 

Acting quickly, I grabbed a conch shell.   My intention was to carefully scoop up the creepy critter without harming it, letting it escape, and lawd help us all in the house — without it actually touching me.  (If any of my entomologist friends are reading this, I know they are laughing). 

I set aside my fears and went to work.

Based on the behavior and structure of this alien insect, I assumed capturing it would be a challenge. Thankfully I was incorrect.  I had to coax it into the conch shell.  Rather than fighting back or fleeing, this long legged being shut down.  It wouldn’t move.  It put up no fight.

It was terrified.

And when I knew this, I was no longer afraid.  I saw it differently.  My heart began to open, and all I wanted to do was help it.  I saw it as someone who needed help.  And I was willing to be of assistance to this long-legged alien.

Funny how that happens when we can see clearly.  Funny how fear blocks the truth.  Funny how an open heart allows us to see others as they really are.  -Not as monsters, but as beings just trying to get by.  

When the fear leaves, love walks in.

I felt like the Grinch when his heart grew 3 sizes after seeing the Whos, who he once hated.

With an open heart and questioned mind, a carefully navigated the creature into the conch shell.  While simultaneously telling him he’s safe, I thanked Hocus and Knox for allowing that to go as smoothly as it did.

I then brought the little being down into our basement, intending to release him in a safe spot.  Slowly and carefully he crawled out of the conch shell.  He took a moment to pause where I had placed him. Then he slowly walked away.  I wished him well and thanked him for teaching me.     


A good deed done to an animal is as meritorious as a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as an act of cruelty to a human being.  -Mohammed

The centipede & conch capture reminded me of sweet, misunderstood Remi of Ratatouille when he was captured and nearly killed.


Seeing Species In A New Light

I would be doing all species a dis-service if I wasn’t honest in sharing this with you:  Just googling for an image of that creature gave me the full on hee-bee-jeebee chills.  But that’s normal considering it’s only the second time I’ve seen it, and via my PC I’m looking at an image of it magnified 50 times bigger than it is in real life. So yeah, it’s still a little creepy to look at up close. And unless I continue to have positive associations with that creature again, I may recoil a bit. Like any person or pet, until we change the underlying emotional response to a perceived threat, we will respond fearfully.

Although it was a really moving experience, I have not been completely desensitized to this species yet. But give me some chips, queso, and a Guinnes while I observe it again and I’ll be feeling much more comfortable with this critter skittering! But the next time I encounter one, my response will be filled with kindness because now I know better.

By ethical conduct toward all creatures, we enter into a spiritual relationship with the universe.
Albert Schweitzer, The Teaching of Reverence for Life


If you aren’t feeling compassion for “creepy crawlies” yet, I understand.   For as long as I can remember I’ve been terrified of roaches of all shapes and sizes. In fact, I was so afraid of them, I hated them. So I killed them.

It was only through my career at the Audubon Zoo, that I began to have compassion for creatures who I once killed as soon as they came into my sight.  My fear of them was so intense my immediate reaction was to kill them.  Destroying them did not stem from anger.  It stemmed from a deep-seated fear.

But since all fears are learned, all fears can be undone.

“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.”
– Gandhi

Each of us has the ability to remain fearful or become empowered.  This includes every species in the universe.  Once the root of the fear is recognized, we can change the underlining emotion.  Some fears take longer to undo than others but it is possible.  Again, this does not pertain to specific species; All is One.  The scientific principles behind this pertain to every species on the planet.

If we try to get rid of fear or anger without knowing their meaning, they will grow stronger and return.Deepak Chopra

I am forever grateful to my entomologist friends for teaching me to see even roaches in a new light. Through witnessing their kindness and compassion towards “creepy critters”, and their unending patience with helping me to unravel my deeply rooted fears, I learned to see insects of all shapes and sizes in a new light.  

I even “adopted” an 8 inch centipede as my first venomous pet while doing field research with the Louisiana pine snake project.  (Looking back, I realize I actually stole a viable female from the wild, and should have left her where I found her; lesson learned.) Although, she was initially unsettling to look at, and her venom is wicked powerful, I fell in love with her.  She was a fierce, brilliant, and beautiful bug.  I began to see her this way when I was no longer afraid of her. 

Blinded by fear initially, I could not see her beauty.

If we are willing to be still and open enough to listen, wilderness itself will teach us.  Steven Harper


Fear Binds. Love Unfolds.

Speaking of beautiful and brilliant, the image above is of my closest Soul Sister utilizing her joy, love light, compassion, kindness, and beauty to contrast the scariness of creepy crawlies to kids.  Liberty was the Super Hero Bug Lady who ran the Bug Mobile at Audubon where we worked together.  She was beyond amazing at her job with bugs.  She could transform children’s fears of insects into curiosity. The curiosity transformed aggression into kindness towards these creatures.  Kids came forward instead of recoiling.  They were open to learning.  They were open to changing their limited perspective about all insects.

And so was I.

I learned how sensitive they are.  I learned they can experience fear.  I learned they have personalities.  I learned they care for their young.  I learned they all serve a very important purpose.  I learned that the human species would not survive without them.  But mainly, I learned they’re not out to get me. 😉

You have to hear this.

One of my favorite entomologist friends shared this today, and I promise you will learn something amazing about Arachnids:

I always liked to talk about the Amblypygids (Tailess Whip Scorpions) and kin recognition. These are the arachnids that most people will recognize from Harry Potter when he was being taught the curses. They actually not only recognize family members, but prefer to spend time with them, especially in stressful situations. Siblings will huddle together with mom and stroke each other with their whips to calm down when they are put into new environments. -Matt Thorne

You read that, right? Please take a moment and let that sink in. Even the scariest looking insects are not what we believe them to be; they are capable of concern for their young. They provide comfort to their family when they are scared. How is that not unlike us?

This is the scene Matt is referring to; you can view a short clip of it HERE.

Matt continues: As a personal story, I’ve had many arachnids that are total sweethearts and completely handleable. My giant Asian forest scorpion, Beatrice, was definitely more like a dog with a crunchy exterior. She would walk right onto my hand and nuzzle my palm, and she would eat crickets right out of my hand. She was so gentle and looked like she genuinely liked to be held.

Matt also shared this humors but poignant example of how his compassion and care was witnessed by a stranger:
While evacuating for a Hurricane, I was sitting outside of my motel room holding her, letting her get some exercise crawling from hand to hand, and giving her a mealworm to snack on. In the middle of this, a man staggers out of the bar down the street and walks my way. He gets closer and then stops, trying to focus on my hand.
“Is that a scorpion?” he slurs in disbelief.
“Yep.”
He leans in a little closer and in a conspiratorial whisper asks, “Are you a wizard?”
I nodded in the affirmative and he hurried away.


Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.
– James Stephens


Species Serving a Purpose

All life is valuable. All species serve a purpose. There is a connection and interdependence within the Whole. But are we open to accepting this? Can we become compassionate to all life?

Even after everything my entomologist friends taught me over the years, I was amazed to discover that the creature we captured in our house is considered a very beneficial insect. An entomologist has a great write up about the species on his website. You can check it out here.

It turns out, this particular critter in question is called a house centipede.  He refers to them as curious. They are docile to non-prey items (you and me and our pets). He explains that the venom of house centipedes is not particularly toxic (to humans/pets) and they seldom bite.  He further explains they prey on tons of unwanted house “pests” such as clothes moths and cockroaches. How cool is that?!?

And this species does all of this without charging a dime for their services. 😉


Kindness & Compassion Connects Us All.

Kindness or Cruelty is a Choice.  
And Choices Allow for Change.

The really cool thing about changing the way we perceive something is that it brings the power back to the observer.  The power of perception lies within.   We have the ability to change the way we perceive something.  No one else has that power over us.  When we change the way we perceive something, change occurs on all levels.  

Change Is a Choice.

People aren’t the only ones that learn from observing.  How we choose to react to, and how we treat other creatures with cruelty or kindness does not go unnoticed.  I’m convinced that our cat and dog learn something from observing me and not experience with the creature.  Had I finally reacted towards it, you can bet their response would’ve been similar in the future.

If emotions can change, so can behavior.

models of emotion suggest all the feelings we experience as being discrete emotions vary in how they feel to us/how helpful they are.

If we want to change the behavior of any being, we gotta dig. Aggression in all species does stem from fears, but the details are complicated. Today we will keep this simple.

Both people and animals learn that aggressive behavior gets them what they want. This can be social status, resources, or a sense of safety. Behaving aggressively comes in many forms; bullying other school kids to biting someone who tries to pet you without permission. Both of these behaviors receive desired results. Quite effectively actually. The bully feels powerful and the impinged upon pet gets the pushy person to go away. Aggression towards an Archind serves the same purpose; I kill the spider. Now he/she can’t crawl on me. Attacks on other people have the same results; I shoot them; now they can’t impinge upon me.

But until we look at the underlying emotions and beliefs or prior experiences that have created the fear, we cannot undo the fear that’s led to the aggressive behavior.

Harm no other beings.  They are your brothers and sisters.
– Buddha

 


Spider Symbolism

So, all of this discussion about “creepy crawlies” is now coming back full circle.  This brings us back to the eight-legged species of the day:  The Spider!  A souls sis shared that spider meme with me yesterday and it made me laugh out loud. As silly as it seems, now you’ll think twice before you kill your 8-legged roommate. 😉 And let’s not forget what our entomologist friend Matt shared with us about spiders having social behavior!

Bottom line: Spiders are awesome. Spiders deserve respect.

As do all insects in every corner and crevice of the world.  Bugs are doin’ the best they can, man. And they’re doing a damn good job at what they do. Let’s do our damnedest to be better to them.

We are the earth, made of the same stuff; there is no other, no division between us and “lower” or “higher” forms of being. 
Estella Lauder

Have you seen Ellen Degenere’s stand-up comedy bit about how quick we are to kill “creepy crawlies” and other critters? You can check it out here. It’s so true! And if you really think about it, we see humans doing this with other humans, too.

Fear is Fear. Love is Love. With whom we love or fear, the species does not matter. It’s all the same.


I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.  -Mahatma Gandhi

Ok, so here’s something you may not know about spiders:  Their symbolism is astonishing.   If you have never heard about Nature symbolism, please let me explain.  This tool was utilized by all of our ancestors, most of whom were deeply connected to Mother Earth and Mother Nature.  My Cherokee and Celtic ancestors recognized important communication and clues that surrounded symbolic patterns in nature.  In our modern-day society, we have forgotten this, and we often miss the signs, but we can learn to use our intuition to recognize these subtle messages from Spirit.

All we need is a little willingness to learn.

You can see the short post about Spider Symbolism here.


Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to a man.  Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures.  –The Dalai Lama

Compassion for Fears with A Willingness to Change

How would we see things in a new light if we weren’t judging them as bad, wrong, evil, or scary?  How would everyone’s experience change if we weren’t afraid?  This pertains to every species on the planet.  As the title of this post asks us, are we Justifying Judgement or Choosing to Compassionately Face Fears?

I choose compassion. I choose to face every fear.

Find out what you’re afraid of and live there.
Chuck Palahniuk

Once we remove the fear, the underlining emotion changes.  When the underlining emotion changes, the behavior changes as a consequence. This is not woo; it’s actually based in science. Thoughts, beliefs, judgments and emotions are intrinsically linked.

It’s All Connected.

The fear we have about a species, person, place, idea, or experience is not our fear alone.  It ripples out. It is shared. This is why we all have so much responsibility to each other.

But there’s a flip-side; the fear we have about something that scares us can give us compassion and understanding for what another soul is experiencing. We don’t have to fully understand their fear, but we can respect it and then help them to undo it. This is true for both people and pets!

Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough.  We have a higher mission — to be of service to them wherever they require it.  St. Francis of Assisi

If we understand what it feels like to experience revulsion, fear, and even anger towards something that frightens us, we can show compassion to the one who is afraid. We can understand that fear is at the root of all anger and aggression. This includes every person, animal, and insect.

Those who are not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I discussed in my last post about the power of our thoughts, the power to change our thoughts brings the power back to us. When we question our upset, angry, hateful, and fearful beliefs we open the door to compassion, empathy and understanding. We move out of fearful or reactive energy and shift into a loving presence. This allows gratitude and love to enter our mind.

This is what transforms worlds.

These are not trite sayings, my friend. They are true. And Love is who we all are without our stories, beliefs, judgments, and justifications. When we can tap into the compassionate side of ourselves, we will ripple that out to the world. Like a stone tossed into a pond the impact of the stone penetrating the surface of the water eventually reaches the shore.

We Are One.

Looking closely at our disgust or dismay for something frightening or unfamiliar is a doorway to a new way of seeing all beings in a new light. Finding compassion for the smallest-sized critters is no small feat, my friend. If we can show compassion to a ant, spider, or centipede that once annoyed, scared, or creeped us out, imagine how we would begin to see other communities, other nations, and other worlds of life. One seemingly small shift in perception from fear to love is the beginning to peace within and without. Empathy is the first step in conquering fear.

We are all in this together.

It will take time. It will take a little willingness on our part. When we lead by example, others learn. But will we teach and lead with love? I Am hopeful we will. I have faith in you.

What has been your experience with fears, limiting beliefs, and judgments? Has something occurred in your life where compassion became the focal point instead of fear? We would LOVE to hear❣


And it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much, much too late
Well, maybe we should all be praying for time
These are the days of the empty hand
Oh, you…

Listen without Judgement …
🎥 — George Michael, “Praying for Time”


Recommended & Related Reading:

🔸Animal Emotions and That Icky Sticky Fear

🔸How Fear Becomes Aggression in Dogs and Humans

🔸Looking At Fear

🔸 Be Kind.

🔸The Many Faces of Feline Fear: ​​Kittens, Adults, Adolescents, Seniors

🔸Aggression in Canines

🔸How Cats Learn – ​The Hierarchy of Learning by Cat Stages: ​Kittens, Adolescents, Adults, Seniors ​

🔸Amazing Arachnids

🔸Social Behavior in Amblypygids

🔸The Matters of The Mind … It Matters.

🔹 3 Words to Change Your Neural Pathway: I love You.

🔹 The Empowered Path: Tools & Tips for Empaths with Pets!


Conscious Companion®
Life with Your Companion, Improved.


Amazing Arachnids

Teach them a spider does not spin a web. Spiders spin meaning. Cut one strand and the web holds. Cut many, the web falls. With the web’s fall, so too falls the spider. Break the web. Break the spider. So breaks the circle of life. – Frederic M. Perrin

Spiders. They either invoke reverence or revulsion in the eye of the beholder.

But what if the presence of Spider is much more than meets the human eye???

Spider energy, (or as my Cherokee ancestors refer to it, “spider medicine”) is a sign that your higher self is guiding you toward a deeper understanding of your place and purpose in this life. Grandmother Spider spins the web of time and knows all aspects of the future and the past. In Shamanism the Spider is an inventor. The creature’s 8 legs represent the medicine wheel, and Spider spirit was the sacred keeper of Native American history.

As the weaver of the web, the spider symbolizes the spirit of creation. In several traditions, she’s the totemic symbol of the Mother, strong feminine energy. To the Egyptians, Spider was sacred, and associated with the Goddess Neith – a mother figure. Similarly Native Americans see Spider as a creator and a symbol of the divine Feminine aspect. This creative energy is central to Spider’s lessons.

Spider says, “Haste makes waste. Go slow and steady and wait for the right time.” As you do, you’ll achieve greater understanding of all your aptitudes and traits and pull them together as a cohesive whole. Spider reminds us that planning and taking your time with a heartfelt project is the key to success.

Spider as a spiritual guide and mentor encourages you to try looking at a problem from different angles. Follow one strand – where does it take you? Try another – where are you then? Stay flexible and don’t be afraid to test out a new Path.

Spider asks us to ask ourselves, “Where do you want to build your web/network so that it’s strong?”

Most spider webs are round-ish spirals which unite at a central point. In this, Spider webs are mandalas! As the center of your own “web”, are you focused on what you truly want or are you spending time concentrating on negative energy?

Great things to consider as we celebrate Save a Spider Day !

“What’s miraculous about a spider’s web?”, said Mrs. Arable.

“I don’t see why you say a web is a miracle–it’s just a web.”

“Ever try to spin one?”, asked Mr. Dorian.

–Charlotte’s Web

Learn more about incredible creatures at Conscious Companion.

Covert Cougars!

Puma_wild cats_cat behavior_house cat ancestors_wild cats_exotic cats
The cougar (Puma concolor)

 

Hello, gorgeous!

I am talking to both you and that cougar 😉

I hope you are enjoying life, while remembering to give yourself as much unconditional love as your furry, finned, scaled, and feathered companion give to you.  In my last post I went waaaaay up into the heart, so today I am going to switch gears and talk about three things I freaking love: Big Cats, Wildlife Ecology, and Sleep!

sleepingPuma_bigcats_catadvice_conservation

 

The other day I was taking a break from writing our book trilogy  by tweetering around on twitter (another one of my best displacement behaviors).  😉   While I was out there I came across a very cool post from Panthera, so I was inspired to learn more.  I’ve been following their great work ever since a dear friend became their C.O.O., but this particular project really got my attention.  It was not only about who cougars are choosing to cuddle with, but where and why.

If you are not yet aware, Panthera is not only the name of the genus within the Felidae family; Panthera is also the only organization in the world that is devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s 40 wild cat species and their landscapes!  Seriously.  How amazing is that!?  You will be stunned at the incredible conservation work they are doing around the globe, so be sure to check them out!  Below is their mission statement.

Panthera’s mission is to ensure the future of wild cats through scientific leadership and global conservation action.  We have brought together the world’s leading wild cat experts to direct and implement effective conservation strategies for the world’s largest and most endangered cats: tigers, lions, jaguars and snow leopards.  Our approach to wild cat conservation is rooted in science and based upon decades of first hand field experience. We seek a future in which the world’s 37 wild cat species have the necessary and ongoing protection from human and environmental threats to persist and thrive in the wild. Our vision sees endangered wild cat populations rebounded, critical habitats and core populations connected by genetic and biological corridors, and a global commitment to protect these iconic species through near and distant futures.


 

Fabulous Felidae! 

Ever since I began working around and managing captive groups of exotic cats back in the day, I have been head over heels in love with every species of wild feline.  They never cease to teach me something new and incredible.  And since I happen to adore house cats and appreciate the powerful genetic link, I thought this would be a fun post to share!

GARTH 2
Our beloved Garth at Audubon, may he rest in peace always

 

Now, if you are not familiar with the word Felidae, I can explain.  Think of your family. You may not be close, but you are of the same lineage.  Felidae is a lineage of carnivorans colloquially referred to as “cats.”   Members of this family are called “felids.”  So the term “cat” refers both to felids in general and domestic cats.  Your house cat belongs to the Felidae family, just like Garth, the African lion, pictured above! Pretty cool, huh?

Felids are separated into two distinct subgroups: large cats and small cats.  Some of these small cats, due to a hardening of the hyoid bone, have an inability to roar. But many of them purr (as you might have read about before).  Felidae consists of 2 subfamilies: Pantherinae and Felinae.  We humans don’t have subfamilies, (although I am sure some people view their younger, annoying siblings this way 😉  There are a number of genus within the Felidae family.  Some feline biologists only acknowledge a few genera of felids, but most agree there are 18 genera (genus) and 36 species of Felidae.

Note: A “genus” is a rank in the biological classification/taxonomy. It stands above species, and below families. A genus can include more than one species. When biologists talk about a genus, they mean one or more species of animals or plants that are closely related to each other.  Below is an easy rundown of the classification of the cougar which includes genus and family.

concolor. Puma concolor.
Chapter 18 Classification by E.Stone

 


 

Beyond Cool Cats

But as cool as these wild cats are, it’s important to note that if we want to understand how to provide proper conditions for house cats, we need to look at the species as a whole.  And if we want to support conservation efforts, it helps to understand and appreciate the species as a whole.  This post serves to do just that.  So grab your coffee, tea, water, or wine, and get comfy with your cuddle-bug!  We are going to take a peek at one of the house cat’s kin: The Cougar!

Puma-cougar
image via istock

The puma (Puma concolor) is also commonly known as the mountain lion, cougar, panther, or catamount.  This species is the most widely distributed free-ranging land mammal in the Americas. They are currently found from Northern Canada to the Southern Andes.  At the time of European contact, this species occurred through most of North, Central, and South America.  Today, the cougar has the greatest natural distribution of any mammal in the Western Hemisphere except for man.

The cougar is the largest cat in the genus Felis.  The cougar is comparable in size to the leopard.  Length varies from 59 – 108 inches with a tail length of 21 – 36 inches (I am squealing as I am thinking of such a delightful tail!).  Their height ranges from 23 – 28 inches at the shoulder.  Weight can vary greatly: between 75 and 250 pounds.

cat tails_big cats_why does my cat_panthera
a cougar (puma) using his tail to jump successfully between two caverns

Felis Concolor at a Glance:

Habitat: The cougar thrives in montane, coniferous forests, lowland tropical forests, swamps, grassland, dry brush country, or any other area with adequate cover and prey.

Distribution: Western North America from British Columbia and south Alberta south through west Wyoming to California and west Texas. Also south Texas, Louisiana, south Alabama, Tennessee, and peninsular Florida.

Common Names: Cougar, Puma, Panther, Mountain Lion, Catamount
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata 
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Felidae (Puma)
Species: concolor

Sub-species: 

  • Eastern Texas to Florida – P.c.coryi –IUCN: Endangered, CITES:Appendix I
  • Northeastern US and southeastern Canada Cougar – P.c. couguar – IUCN: Endangered, CITES: Appendix I
  • Central American Cougar – P.c. costaricensis – CITES: Appendix I

Misc: The International Species Information Service lists the current estimated number at 334 in zoos worldwide, with 119 located in the U.S.

mountain lion (1)

 


Common Ancestry of Cats

One of the major lessons I learned from working with wild cats during the day and then coming home at night to my house cats was life changing for us all: I realized was living alongside tiny tigers, wee wildcats, and house panthers. My feral cat was amazingly similar to the African wildcat.  My playful black cat was not that different from the Black Panther.  My sweet orange tabby was much like a tiny tiger.  My grey cat was incredibly similar to the fearless cougar.

Tabby Cat Inner Lion
Genetic evidence indicates that our modern day house cats are descendants from at least five feline founders of a group of Wildcats from nearly 10,000 years ago.

 

Everything from how they hunted, where they preferred to sleep, how they groomed, how they interacted with their species, other species, their prey, and even people were eerily similar. My house cats’ bodies, needs, behavior, choices, and personalities were not worlds away from these wild cats; they were living parallel lives in many ways.

It turns out, feline science shows they are more alike that most people realize.  In fact, results of mitochondrial analysis indicates that all Felidae descended from a common ancestor.  And genetic evidence indicates that our modern day house cats are descendants from at least five feline founders of a group of Wildcats from 9,000 – 10,000 years ago! Cats are considered only a semi-domesticated species, because many populations are not isolated from wildcats.

“We don’t think house cats are truly domesticated. We refer to them as “semi-domesticated. They only recently split off from wild cats, and some even still breed with their wild relatives. We believe we have created the first preliminary evidence that depicts domestic cats as not that far removed from wildcat populations.” – Wes Warren, professor of genomics at the Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis

Copyright Amy Martin_Conscious Companion_nose print_lion_big cats_zoo cats
A nose print from Garth, the African Lion, acquired during one of his physical exams. This beloved nose print is framed in our home.  Does this resemble your cat’s nose??


What You Don’t Know

Now before you get all judgey about exotic cats being kept in captivity, there are facts that most folks don’t know about these felines.  Many are captive born.  Many are rescued.  Some are confiscations from the illegal animal trade, (just like this tiger recently confiscated here in California) and they are now living in zoos.  Some are clones!  Some are on loan from other zoos for very specific breeding purposes to preserve their species.

Some were pets, like Chloe pictured below. She was horribly mutilated through a declawing procedure.  She was unable to walk, stand upright, or put any pressure on her paw pads after the horrible procedure of declawing.  Thankfully, she gained a new life at Audubon after my dear friend and talented veterinarian went to great lengths to reattach her tendons.  Now she is thriving.

cougar
Chloe, the Louisiana cougar who resides at Audubon after being declawed to become a “pet”

 

Animal care facilities, such as zoos are not out there capturing wild cats and bringing them into captivity.  Most are assisting, breeding, and caring for these cats.  They are being cared for in the best way possible in captive conditions.  There is more going on behind the scenes at zoos than most people realize.  100% of these efforts (at AZA accredited zoos) are dedication towards education and conservation.

ALL ZOO PICS FROM WORK PC 1445
Garth getting his choppers checked by our brilliant veterinarian Dr. Bob


Then and Now

Back in the day, we were managing big cat species with the most recent data and research available.  Today, nearly twenty years later, we have learned so much more! Thanks to advances in technology we are dispelling myths, finding new facts, and using field data to better understand these covert creatures (including what happens when a Male Puma Visits a Female & Her Kitten at their recent Kill)! 😮

These tremendous advances in conservation efforts, both in and out of zoos, are contributing to the success of these species in the wild.  Much of these advances are due to the technology that’s now available to capture these elusive cats on camera.

wild cats
cougars caught on film, sharing shelter

 

When I look back to when I was a kid in the 70’s and remember that my go-to handheld device was the Etch A Sketch , I have to laugh.  Now look at what we have available in 2018!  It’s amazing.  As technology has improved, not only have we enabled our society to stay more connected virtually, but our ability to study mysterious and obscure animal behavior has increased.

So this brings us to our focus today:  Covert Cougars & Puma’s Preferred Beds!

puma-sleeping-02
Pumas (Felis concolor) are also referred to as cougars or wild mountain lions.


Strange Feline Bed Fellows

Would it surprise you to learn that house cats choose to sleep in strange places for similar reasons that big cats in the wild choose to sleep in strange places?  If you think about how closely related house cats are to their wild kin, it makes purrrfect sense!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ever wonder why your cat wants to hide in a box, or why she chooses to snooze with a cuddle buddy?  Thanks to folks who are studying wild felines in the field, we know why.  It turns out, there is safety in numbers even with more solitary species, and bed selection sites are not random.  Where wild cats and house cats choose to snooze is based on very particular preferences and the need to stay safe and survive!  And pumas, like our house cats, are more social than previously thought!

Conscious Companion_cats_hiding_dezi and roo tunnel _cat tunnel_why does my cat_why cats love boxes_house panther_coyright Amy martin
Mr. Beaux watching his world while safe and secure in his cat cave                            (This is the “Hide-and-sneak” designed by a veterinarian at Dezi & Roo)


An Extinct Subspecies

As much as I am excited about this post, I am deeply saddened.  Before we go on, there is some sad news to report.  Effective January, 22, 2018, the eastern puma (Felis concolor couguar) is extinct.  My heart sank when I learned this.  Eight decades after the last confirmed sighting, wildlife biologists have concluded that the eastern puma is no more.

To help you better understand how this came to be, it’s helpful to know this subspecies’ (known) history.  This now extinct cat is a subspecies of puma.  The eastern puma (cougar) was originally listed as an endangered species on June 4, 1973.   Historical literature indicates puma populations were mostly in Eastern North America (except for Florida and perhaps the Smoky Mountains) by the 1870s, and in the Midwest by 1900. Puma records from New Brunswick in 1932 and Maine in 1938 suggest that a population may have persisted in northernmost New England and eastern Canada.  By 1900 they had all but vanished due to systematic hunting and trapping.  The last one on record was killed by a hunter in Maine in 1938.

Although habitat conditions now appear to be suitable for puma presence in various portions of the historical range described for the eastern puma, the many decades of both habitat and prey losses belie the sustained survival and reproduction of this subspecies over that time.

Their disappearance was attributed primarily to persecution stemming from fear of large predators, competition with game species, and occasional depredation of livestock.  Other causes of eastern puma losses during the late 1800s included declining habitat.  The most recent confirmed eastern puma sightings date from the mid-1800s to around 1930. Confirmed reports of pumas in Eastern North America (outside Florida) since then have been shown to be either western puma dispersers, as in Missouri, or released or escaped animals, as in Newfoundland.

mountain lion (2)
A mountain lion (cougar) in the hills of Los Angeles

The agency opened an extensive review in 2011 into the status of the eastern cougar, a genetic cousin of the mountain lions that still inhabit much of the Western United States and of a small, imperiled population of Florida panthers found only in the Everglades.  In 2015, federal wildlife biologists concluded that pumas elsewhere in the Eastern United States were beyond recovery.   States now have juridiction to determine the best way to reintroduce the other subspecies of cougars into society.

811627
A cougar spotted at night via camera “traps”

The puma was documented historically in a variety of eastern habitats from the Everglades in the Southeast to temperate forests in the Northeast.  Aside from presence reports, few historical records exist regarding the natural history of the eastern puma subspecies.   Thankfully, in North America, breeding populations of the Puma species still occupy approximately one-third of their historical range but are now absent from eastern regions outside of Florida.

Below are quotes from the Fish and Wildlife Service explaining their ruling.

We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), determine the eastern puma (=cougar) (Puma (=Felis) concolor couguar) to be extinct, based on the best available scientific and commercial information. This information shows no evidence of the existence of either an extant reproducing population or any individuals of the eastern puma subspecies; it also is highly unlikely that an eastern puma population could remain undetected since the last confirmed sighting in 1938. Therefore, under the authority of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as amended, we remove this subspecies from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.

puma cat
Pumas, also known as mountain lions, cougars, or panthers, historically roamed every state east of the Mississippi River.

Our decision to remove the eastern puma from the List due to extinction is based on information and analysis showing that the eastern puma likely has been extinct for many decades, long before its listing under the Act. Eastern puma sightings have not been confirmed since the 1930s, and genetic and forensic testing has confirmed that recent validated puma sightings in the East, outside Florida, were animals released or escaped from captivity, or wild pumas dispersing eastward from western North America.


Monitoring Covert Cougars

Like other cryptic, covert carnivores with large territories, puma populations are notoriously difficult to study.   These large Felids are typically solitary, elusive, and nocturnal, making spotting them very challenging.  But it’s a necessity.  Being able to gather reliable data on large Felid populations is crucial for effective conservation and management of this species.  Tagging and following cougars with GPS technology is the standard approach, but these methods are expensive and can compromise the animal’s welfare. So scientists are also using indirect signs for monitoring this covert creature.

Indirect signs are footprints, scat, nests. Often these can be the most effective and least expensive way to detect many animals. Animal footprints are much more frequently encountered in the field than the animals themselves, and have served as the basis for population indices and estimators. Footprint surveys are also non-invasive; the animal need not be seen, captured, or handled.

Non-invasive Methods

Researchers are using at least three non-invasive methods to study puma populations:

  • camera traps (used to identify individual animals by analysis of spots and stripes
  • genetic analysis of hair and scat (puma poop!)
  • footprint surveys

But they have learned that camera traps may underestimate accurate numbers because pumas lack distinguishing marks.  The genetic analysis is accurate, but apparently finding puma poop isn’t that easy.  But, thanks to scat detection dogs, biologists are now  locating more scat! 

Another non-invasive method being used to track these covert cougars is identifying puma prints!  This can be done through tracking three signs a puma has left behind after being in an area:  a Trail, Footprint, or Track

  • Trail = an unbroken series of footprints made by one animal
  • Footprint = a single impression made by a foot
  • Track = commonly used to describe both an individual footprint and a trail

Below is a perfect photo of a puma footprint and a puma footprint showing the placement of 25 landmark points (red circles) and 15 points derived from them and generated by the FIT script (yellow circles).  These provide 40 points to enable the scientists to measure each puma’s footprint precisely.

 


Recent Science Reveals Secrets

A relatively recent study that was part of Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project (TCP), which had already shed invaluable light on other puzzling puma behaviors, enabled conservationists to learn more about this secretive species – everything from their ecological effects to their secret social lives.  The study published on Nov 14, 2017 showed the results of research conducted on cougars in Yellowstone.  Their goal was to determine whether a subordinate carnivore (cougar) chose bedding areas with similar characteristics in an ecosystem that supports a multi-species guild of competing predators.  Basically, they wanted to learn about bed site selection among Pumas!

The video below shows curious cougars (a mother and her kittens) investigating a camera trap in the Teton mountains.  In this region, Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project has discovered a great deal about the behavior and ecology of this misunderstood and charismatic cat.

 


 

I should note:  In the world of Ecology,  a guild is a group of species that have similar requirements and play a similar role within a community.  They exploit the same kinds of resources in comparable ways.  Members of a guild within a given ecosystem could be competing for resources (space, shade, or light), while also cooperating in resisting wind stresses, attracting pollinators, or detecting predators. One example of this kind of guild is the Savannah-dwelling antelope and zebra.

water animals zebras antelope drinking africa_guild species
Antelope and Zebra sharing a primary resource

 

The name “guild” emphasizes the fact that these groups are like associations of craftsmen who employ similar techniques in plying their trade.  They often are composed of groups of closely related species that all arose from a common ancestor, and they exploit resources in similar ways as a result of their shared ancestry.  Several species within a single genus may constitute a guild within a community.

Other examples of guilds in nature are different insect species that collect nectar in similar ways, various bird species that employ corresponding insect-foraging techniques, or diverse plant species that have evolved comparable floral shapes with which they attract the same group of pollinators.

howler_monkey_
Mantled Howlers are the most folivorous of the Central American monkeys, meaning they eat large quantities of leaves

Guilds in Nature:

  • Browsers and terrestrial folivores
  • Forest canopy folivores
  • Forest floor scavengers
  • Grazers
  • Forbs ( or “phorb” – an herbaceous flowering plant that is not a graminoid)
  • Graminoids (grasses, rushes and sedges)
  • Plankton
  • Saprophytes (plant, fungus, or microorganism that lives on decaying organic matter)
  • Shrubs
  • Trees
  • Vines
  • Piscivores (carnivorous animal that eats primarily fish)

 

Giant_Otter_(Pteronura_brasiliensis)_with_a_Sailfin_Catfish_(Pterygoplichthys_sp.)_-_Flickr_-_berniedup
Most otters, like this Giant Otter (Pteronura basiliensis), are piscivores; hypercarnivores that specialize in eating fish

 

Because members of a guild engage in similar activities, they are often competitors for the resources they share, especially when those resources are scarce.   So, when it comes to safe bedding sites, and sharing resources in a guild, researches wanted to know more about cougars!  Between 2012-2016 the researchers investigated nearly 600 cougar bed sites in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  They carefully examined both the landscape and the microsite.  These TCP researchers used GPS collars to identify the puma bedding sites, then carefully studied each one.

unnamed
Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) satellite tracking collar, in the Tien Shan Mountains

Microsite

If we are going to learn why and what they are studying exactly, we need to cover the terms.  A “microsite” is a term used in ecology to describe a pocket within an environment with unique features or conditions.  Ecologists and scientists classifying different microsites based on temperature, humidity, sunlight, nutrient availability, soil characteristics, substrate, vegetation cover, etc.  A microsite is basically a sub environment within an environment.

It’s important to also note that many microsites exist in an environment.  This leads to organisms (plants, insects, animals) basing their selection of habit on the features of the microsite itself.  Being able to choose the best microsite will positively influence the species’ survival, growth and reproduction.  Basically, a good choice of a microsite has a direct relationship to the future generation of that particular species.


Their research discovered that among prey species, bed site selection provides:

  • thermoregulatory benefits
  • mitigates predation risk
  • may directly influence survival

They discovered that pumas gravitate to hidden bed sites where it would be hard for a competitor to see them.  Warmth is also an important factor in bed-site selection, especially during winter.  Their studies also shed light on the fact that these felines face more danger in their natural habitats than most of us realize.

main-qimg-0a4a801746e58f94888394e05c769232-c


1. Landscape Choices

Research concerning the landscape, discovered that in the winter, cougars selected bed sites that were in alignment with the hypotheses of both thermoregulatory AND predator avoidance.

In the winter, cougar “beds” / communal sleeping areas were located:

  • on steeper slopes, but at lower elevations
  • closer to the forest edge
  • on southern, eastern, and western-facing slopes

Research concerning the landscape in the summer, showed that bedding areas were a bit different.  They found that cougars chose predator avoidance over thermoregulation.

Summer Bedding was found to be:

  • closer to forest edges
  • away from sagebrush and meadow habitat classes
  • on steeper slopes.

2. Microsite Choices

At the microsite scale, cougar bed characteristic in BOTH the winter and summer supported BOTH of their hypotheses of predator avoidance and thermoregulatory.

Cougars chose bed sites that included:

  • high canopy cover
  • high vegetative concealment
  • in a rugged habitat class (characterized by cliff bands and talus fields)

Note:  Talus is steep, loose piles of rock, formed by the constant process of erosion, and ubiquitous to the mountains.  Talus deposits typically have a concave upwards form.  To mountain climbers, Talus areas are not technical challenging areas to hike, but climbing Talus can be exhausting—and dangerous as well, due to the possibility of landslides consider this an area.  Cliff bands consist of steep, narrow passages.

 


Puuurfectly Suited for the Terrain

Looking at the two terrains pictured above, most people wonder how and why a mountain lion would choose to navigate those kinds of steep terrains, but these wild cats are designed for this habitat.  Pumas have incredible paws!  Their feet have a unique bone structure that enables them to grip rocks, logs, and slippery substrates.  They are even better at this kind of “hiking” than bears or wolves!

 ….So a precarious bed site can offer an escape advantage if a competitor tries to sneak up mid-nap. You’ll probably never see a puma sleep in an open field, as they typically bed down where trees or other landscape features provide a quick escape. –-TCP member Anna Kusler

puma-sleeping-rocks
This puma has claimed a precarious place that can protect her from less agile enemies (Photo: wplynn/Flickr)

 


Bed Buds

Researchers found that a subordinate predator (pumas) selected bed sites that allowed for both thermoregulatory and anti-predator functions.  Brilliant, eh??  These choices are very similar to what we see occurring in many prey species!  Remember: Cats of all shapes, sizes, and species can be both predator and prey.

It’s also important to recognize that across their range, pumas overlap with six apex predators, including the gray wolf, grizzly bear, American black bear, jaguar, coyote,  and maned wolf.  How’s that for competition for resources and the possibility of become prey?!

“Even though most of us probably think of pumas as top predators with little to fear, that’s not always the case.  In North America, much larger grizzly and black bears steal their hard-earned kills. Wolves, as pack animals, steal their kills AND kill them and their kittens.” -TCP A.Kusler

The biologists now believe that studying bed site characteristics of subordinate predators could provide a new way to measure the use of refugia (an area where a population of organisms can survive through a period of unfavorable conditions).  This would ultimately provide new insights into the habitat requirements and energetics of subordinate carnivores.  Their research highlights some nuances of habitat loss that are easy to overlook.  When trying to protect large predators like pumas, many people — including researchers — focus on the availability of prey.  But this is only part of the puma picture.

“Because the best hunting habitats are not necessarily the safest places to sleep, a puma must find a home range that can provide both types of environment.”

Below is one of the videos they shared with the public, and used in their studies that shed light on where and why pumas chose to bed with other pumas:

 


We often found puma beds tucked underneath the low-lying boughs of a tree, or against the rugged face of an inaccessible cliff.  They seem to prefer steep, rugged terrain, like cliff bands and boulder fields. – A. Kusler


Catnap Connoisseurs

Cats can snooze like no other.  A pussycat can pass out while purring, and some even doze off when bird watching out a window!  Cats never seem to venture far from a nap. The house cat’s pendulum swings between sleeping and stalking so well, we’ve named a version of napping after them!  A cat could be fully aroused one moment, engaging in passionate play or serious stalking, then fall effortlessly back into a catnap.  These cat nappers know what they are doing.  Feline veterinarians agree that if a cat is awake most of 24 hour period of the day, there could be something wrong.  Like their wild ancestors, house cats are programmed for proper sleep; it’s in their DNA.  This instinctual need lets the cat that know that when he/she is not chasing, hunting, eating, or grooming, h/she should be sleeping — or at least searching for a place to sleep.

cat behavior_Beaux and knox_ senior cat_copyright conscious companion.jpg
Much like the cougars, Mr. Beaux and Knox share shelter and safe snoozing places at our home.  Here we are in our enclosed garden together while I write this post!

 

The family of Felidae is made up of solitary predators.  Lions are the exception; they cooperatively hunt.  But new research has shown that female cougars may benefit from tolerating males during feeding, through the maintenance of social niches that support breeding opportunities.  – Who says females don’t have ulterior motives when it comes to survival of their species? 😉   And when it comes to sleeping, not only could all cats in the Felida family compete in sleeping as an Olympic trial, but where they snooze, and with whom they choose to catnap, is quite particular for these felines.

Cat guardians have seen the amusing and strange ways cats sleep. We have noticed how often they sleep, and where they sleep.  But why they are choosing these places, spaces, and bedfellows is linked to their ancestors.  So is the fact that house cats are crepuscular:  They are biologically programmed to be most active/ awake in the twilight hours of dusk and dawn.

knox and beaux (1)
Knox Zydeco and Mr. Beaux catching some zzzzs & rays on their catio

Pumas may not have the option of  passing out on an enclosed patio, but they do have comparable choices about where they sleep in their native, wild habitats.  Pumas, like our house cats, need to find safe sleeping spots. These places must be located where it’s unlikely other predators / potential threats can harm them or disturb them.

“So, like your housecat loves to sleep in the sunny warmth of a windowsill, pumas like to maximize their exposure to the sun’s rays That meant many bed sites were on south-facing slopes, where the warmth from the sun is strongest.” –  Anna Kusler

puma-sleeping-00.jpg.990x0_q80_crop-smart
Warmth, secrecy and escape routes are key factors for felines when they need rest. (Photo: Tony Campbell/Shutterstock)

 


Considering Cats and Cougars

As we wrap this cougar chat up, I’d like for you to consider something about your cat at home.  The next time you spot your house cat snoozing in a sack, inside an empty box, on a shelf, or any other safe cozy place, consider how this behavior is inextricably linked to their wild ancestors.  Your feline family member has the same innate desire and need to remain silent and hidden, just like the puma napping under the boughs of a tree or the crags of a cliff, perched high above the world.  Once we know this, and recognize the importance of this, we can properly provide our house cats with the safe spaces, and cozy places they need … just like their wild feline ancestors.

81a3dd4a14b938561bf68eca51289290

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”― Anaïs Nin

 


References & Recommended Reading:

Why Cats Like Boxes AND Need Them!

Estimating Abundances of Interacting Species Using Morphological Traits, Foraging Guilds, and Habitat

Felidae Species List by Genus

Adaptive social strategies in a solitary carnivore

About Panthera

“Microsite Selection and the Informed Planter”. http://www.for.gov.bc.ca. Retrieved 2016-12-14.

Bed site selection by a subordinate predator: an example with the cougar (Puma concolor) in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Are pumas subordinate carnivores, and does it matter?

Characterization of puma–livestock conflicts in rangelands of central Argentina

The challenge of monitoring elusive large carnivores: An accurate and cost-effective tool to identify and sex pumas (Puma concolor) from footprints

The work of carnivore biologist Jonatan Borling

International Urban Wildlife Conference, June 4 – 7, 2017 | San Diego, California

A single migrant enhances the genetic diversity of an inbred puma population

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Cross-Species Transmission: Implications for Emergence of New Lentiviral Infections

 Removing the Eastern Puma (=Cougar) From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife- Now Extinct

What Animals Do When They Think No One is Watching

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

coyote pups playing

 

In our family we make a point to be playful and silly as much as we can. We laugh a lot. And we make time to play.  I am also a huge advocate of using play when teaching kids and especially adults.  Play is a powerful tool!

Play can lift a person’s mood. Play relaxes everyone in the room, and eases tension any time things get tense.  Play is a great way to remember to not be so serious.  Play is also great exercise.  We all need a lot of playtime in our lives.

People aren’t the only ones who play. Nature plays, too!

Every once in a while, we are fortunate to get a glimpse into the hidden lives of animals in our homes, and in the wild.  When this happens we are surprised how much animal species are like us.  They love. They protect. And they play.

Every time I think I know enough about a species, I am given another opportunity to learn something new from a new animal teacher, and see life from another’s perspective.

Today my teacher was a wild coyote (Canis latrans).

Check out this new perspective on the importance of play:


Have you ever seen an animal in nature playing like this?

Do you play?

Please share!  I would love to hear your favorite play stories!


Recommended Reading:

Coyote facts

PROJECT COYOTE RESOURCES

Coyote Power Animal

Coyote plays with dog toy

coyote-pups2

We do not quit playing because we grow old; we grow old because we quit playing.― Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

 

 

 

The Deadly Dangers of Lilies

easter lilies cats toxic plants
My collection of lilies on my front porch in New Orleans. I grew them all from seeds.

Easter is almost here!  Right now flowers seem to be everywhere I look.  I want to bring them all home, but I have to resist. Few of my readers know that I am a huge plant lover.  It gives me so much pleasure to grow all kinds of things from seeds. Lilies and orchids are my favorite. Just looking at them makes my heart swell!  But these days, I keep the lilies outside. They are not allowed inside the house – ever. Why?  Because we have cats and a dog


Did you know?

There is another plant far more dangerous to pets than poinsettias.

Meet the beautiful and deadly lily.

easter lily grown from seed_toxic to cats_poisonous plants
I grew this Lily from a seed! Isn’t she beautiful?


Facts about Lilies:

  • Lilies are one of the most dangerous flowers to have around cats.
  • They can send a cat into acute kidney failure (which can be fatal).
  • There are several types of lilies that are toxic to pets.
  • It takes only a nibble on one leaf or stem, or the ingestion of a small amount of lily pollen (easy to do when a cat grooms itself) to send a cat into acute kidney failure and you rushing to the emergency vet.
  • Lily of the valley (Convalaria majalis) affects the heart, causing irregular heartbeat and low blood pressure, and can progress to seizures or coma (in cats and dogs).

There are benign and dangerous lilies. So it’s important to know the difference.  

  • Benign lilies: the Peace, Peruvian, and Calla lilies; these contain insoluble oxalate crystals that cause tissue irritation in the mouth, tongue, pharynx, and esophagus.
  • Dangerous and potentially fatal lilies:  The “true lilies” (the Lilium or Hemerocallis species): the tiger, day, Asiatic hybrid, Easter, Japanese Show, rubrum, stargazer, red, Western, and wood lilies
  • Other types of dangerous lilies include lily of the valley. This type does not cause kidney failure, but can cause life-threatening heart arrhythmias and death when ingested by dogs or cats.

Lilies toxic to cats

Watch this 1 minute video to learn about Lily Toxicity:

The outlook for cats with acute kidney failure resulting from eating lilies can be good, so long as early and aggressive treatment is pursued. But if too much time passes before ingestion is recognized and appropriate treatment is started, the outlook becomes much worse and death from the disease or from euthanasia is more likely. The sad truth is that without treatment, acute kidney failure is going to be fatal.

Common signs to watch for:

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting (pieces of plant in the vomit)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased urination, followed by lack of urination after 1 to 2 days
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Hiding
  • Diarrhea
  • Halitosis
  • Inappropriate urination or thirst
  • Seizures
  • Death

dangers of easter lilies and cats


Safety Tips:

  • If you live with cats, never have lilies in the home. It’s not worth the risk!
  • If you want to send a bouquet to friends or family members with cats, specifically request “no lilies please!”
  • If you love lilies, keep them outside on the porch where cats cannot reach them.
  • Keep your cat indoors.  Lots of folks have lilies growing in their garden, and many grow wild along the roadside. If your cat is outdoors, you have no way to prevent your cat from eating or rubbing up against those wild lilies.
  • Click here for an extensive list of poisonous plants & flowers (and some non-toxic alternatives)

Cats jump, dead leaves fall, vases spill, and pollen travels on breezes – any of these scenarios can kill your cat.

Easter is just around the corner! Please be sure your home does not have these very dangerous flowers. And please share this with your friends, colleagues, and family!

easter lilies and cats
My beautiful but deadly lily plant


Sources and more resources:

Pet Poison Help Hotline

Lesser Known Pet Toxicities: Lily Toxicity in Cats