It crept up under the loose covers at the bottom of the bed and
grabbed Jessie's toes. Jessie jolted awake, reached under the
covers, and found the kitten. "What do you think you are, a shark?"
she asked it. "A bed shark, I suppose?"
The kitten mewed softly and batted at Jessie's scolding finger.
This furry critter was no smooth, wakeful eating machine. When he's
not sleeping, he's playing.
Calling Gurgi a "bed shark" made us think of the differences
among animals. It also started us thinking about how animals from
very different species can be similar. The house cat you've lived
with all your life is just as splendid as the tiger in the zoo or
the sea otters that swim and play constantly at the aquarium. The
squirrels in the backyard, the pigeons in the park, the goldfish in
the bowl, and the dog that chases a ball may seem ordinary only
because we're used to them. But each is astonishing in its own way.
The trick is learning to see them with fresh eyes. Each one of us
can become an amateur animal behaviorist - a scientist who studies
the behavior of animals. It's all a matter of watching animals
carefully, patiently, and then asking ourselves why. Why is this
cat rubbing up against my leg? Why does she meow? Why do kittens
sneak up under the covers to bat at unsuspecting human toes?
Denver's Ocean Journey aquarium has real tigers in a habitat
designed to give them lots of climbing and swimming space (tigers
like to swim!). The big cats have great soft heads and beautiful
eyes. But humans can't go near them, no matter how playful they
seem. They are wild.
Big cats have lots in common with your cat, though. Big or small,
cats can see much better than humans can in the dark. Have you
noticed cats' eyes? In the daytime, the pupils of a cat's eyes (the
dark part) are long narrow slits. But at night, the pupil dilates
(gets big and round) to let in more light. That's because cats are
actually nocturnal (nighttime) animals. Have you ever noticed that
a cat's pupils dilate when it's playing hard chasing a feather or
string? Why do you think that is?
"When animals are excited, their pupils dilate," says Fred
Bercovitch, animal behaviorist of the San Diego Zoo. [See story on
next page.] So there are different reasons for a cat's eyes to look
Why otters need whiskers
What about those whiskers? Cats' whiskers, you probably know
already, help them find their way in the dark, too. Cats use their
whiskers to feel whether they can fit through an opening, Mr.
Bercovitch says. Tigers also need sensitive whiskers to get around
the jungle at night.
But what about those whiskers on the sea otters at the zoo or
aquarium? "We believe the whiskers of otters help them detect
vibrations in the water when they are gliding," Bercovitch says.
Feeling vibrations in the water could help them catch fish or warn
them about predators or boats coming near. …