That soft and fluffy ball of fur that is cuddling up on your bed at night may be wreaking carnage in your backyard during the daytime, researchers reported Tuesday. Using cameras attached to the collars of your friendly neighborhood cats, researchers at the University of Georgia found that the feline fighters kill much larger numbers of wildlife than previously thought. That may be because such earlier studies didn’t consider animals that the cats ate or simply left behind, said biologist Kerrie Anne Lloyd, who presented her findings at a Portland, Ore., meeting of the Ecological Society of America.
In cooperation with the National Geographic Society’s CritterCam team, which attaches cameras to animals to record the activities of a variety of species, Lloyd and her colleagues recruited 60 cat owners in Athens, Ga. The owners attached the tiny cameras to the cats’ collars every morning when the animals were let out, then dowloaded the day’s images every night. Each animal was followed for seven to 10 days.
The team found that about 30% of the cats killed prey, an average of two animals per week. The cats brought home nearly a quarter of the animals they killed, ate 30% and left 49% to rot where they died. About 41% of the prey were lizards, snakes and frogs; mammals such as chipmunks and voles accounted for 25%; and birds only 12%. The low percentage of birds may be because they can fly, but with an estimated 74 million cats in the country, the total carnage is high.
The cats were also not very careful. About 45% crossed roadways, 25% ate and drank things they found, 20% entered storm drains and 20% entered crawlspaces where they could easily become trapped. Male cats were more likely to take risks than female cats, and younger animals were more likely to do so than older ones.
Photos and videos from the CritterCam project are available here.