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I tried to word my question so it will be given serious consideration. Rather than ask in Pets SE (which doesn't have the brightest questions or answers), I feel it's better suited for Biology SE - specifically animal behaviour.

Generally, the play behaviour of adult cats mimic their interaction with siblings when young, and as adults, their hunting behaviour. It's in regard to play mimicking hunting that my question likely fits best.

The stealthy stalk and pounce while playing is almost identical to what's used in actual hunting but with far more playful abandon. Leaping in the air to grab an escaping bird is seen when they leap and grab at a feathered toy that's whipped about. Tossing a small fuzzy weighted toy about mimics how they act when they've caught a mouse. The same with chasing after a small rolling ball.

But there's one play behaviour I can't find an equivalent. It's cats' fascination with a simple dangling string or cord. A person doesn't even need to move it. As long as it hangs and dangles near the ground, many cats can't resist playing with it. (I'm referring to an average active cat, not one of the unfortunate inbred creatures that do little.)

Does anyone know, or can think of, an equivalent natural behaviour that explains this? It's not similar to a mother cat flicking the tip of her tail as that involves tempting movement. But it's the closest thing I can think of. I've given this a lot of thought for a long time. Hopefully, someone else has wondered too and found a reason.

(No tags really fit my question so only one given.)

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    $\begingroup$ I dont have any sources for this, but I'm pretty sure this is somehow connected to a hunting instinct. Even though cats probably don't mistake the cord for actual hunting game, they have to learn and train hunting behaviours - therefore it makes evolutionary sense that they react to small movements in the environment (I'm imagining grass rustling) with hunting like behaviour. $\endgroup$ – Nicolai Jul 1 '17 at 4:52
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I'm quite sure it relates to hunting behaviour too but what? I have a cord tied to my bathroom door handle. The cord doesn't move but my cat plays with it a lot. I've seen photos of cats playing with cords (as the internet is full of cat photos). I've even seen a photo of a cat happily playing with a rope tied to a horse's halter while the horse just stood there. $\endgroup$ – Jude Jul 1 '17 at 5:04
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    $\begingroup$ Your question is very well worded and it suits Bio SE. However, I'm afraid to say that the whole question is based on an wrong assumption: that the play behaviour is a preparation for hunting or that it's related somehow with adult behaviours. That's not the case. Play behaviours are one of the most complex branches of ethology and cognitive ethology in particular, and today we see play behaviours as complex behaviours that have their own reasons and objectives: it does not improve the hunting skills of the cats. A good answer here would be too long, unfortunately. Besides that, ... $\endgroup$ – user24284 Jul 1 '17 at 5:28
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    $\begingroup$ ... since it deals with cognitive ethology, the answerer will spend a lot of time and energy to write an answer that will probably attract a bunch of downvotes, not upvotes. PS: you also have the tag "ethology". $\endgroup$ – user24284 Jul 1 '17 at 5:30
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, Geraldo. I understand that any answer to my question would be very complex. I'm not a scientist, of course, but I've read articles dealing with ethology in wild and domesticated animals (which ones I could without a paid subscription to some of the journals). I can understand not all behaviour would be related to hunting but certain play behaviour, while some fit a range of mammals, many are specific to that species only. Do you have any suggestions that could point me to certain publications about cognitive ethology? Or are you allowed to do so? $\endgroup$ – Jude Jul 1 '17 at 5:52

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