Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biology Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for biology researchers, academics, and students. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've recently heard a podcast, in which a professor describes one of the theories as to why we like abstract art. In his talk, he mentions an experiment with seagull chicks, in which the seagull chicks mistake a stick with a red dot for their mother's beak, and in the case of stick with 3 stripes actually preferred it to their mother's beak. When a stick like that is waved around a chick, it starts to peck at it, believing it is mother bird:

chick beak stick seagull

This experiment suggests that birds are imprinted to recognize specific patterns and interpret them as mother.

I'm in trying to create a similar experiment for cats. To do so I'm trying to understand if cats other small predators (ferrets,etc) are imprinted in a similar way - do cats recognize specific features of a bird to identify it as "bird", "prey" or "can hunt and eat"? I'm talking about stuff like - do they recognize eyes, beaks, wings or tail in a special way?

To paraphrase the question: If I'm to create a stick like above, but for cats, what features would be painted on the stick?

I know that butterflies, caterpillars and other insects have evolved to mimick "eyes" on non-vital organs to confuse birds. I'm interested if same stuff exists for small mammal predators. enter image description here

share|improve this question
Heh, what an interesting idea! I suspect you won't succeed (though I hope I'm wrong), I think that cats are more attracted to movement than anything else. They seem to jump at anything that moves. –  terdon Mar 24 at 18:08
insects and birds with tiny brains are easier since they have small brains. larger brained creatures are harder to hack. cats might not be so easy to fool. also depends on where the wiring is. bats use scent primarily, which is hard to hack. –  shigeta Mar 24 at 18:33
@shigeta they do? I would have guessed they use their echolocation. –  terdon Mar 24 at 19:54
Texture might be a part of it. Cat responded with surprise to a still piece of artificial fur. It seems the cat knew that fur might be an animal. –  Alex Stone Aug 17 at 2:01
Maybe a random approach could get some answers, if you had a computer program output random patterns to a screen and some method to watch the cat and record when it's interested. –  user137 Aug 20 at 16:27

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.