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Researchers are Tracking House Cats with Tiny Harnesses

GPS measurements and collar cameras will tell them where, exactly, kitty goes all day

smithsonian.com

Where does your outdoor cat go all day? 

No idea? That's okay. No one else really knows either. 

Researchers at the Nort Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina State University are trying to pull back the veil a little bit, and get to the bottom of cats' "secret lives." Per the project's website

Cats are mysterious, dangerous and far more unpredictable than one might expect from an animal that is, theoretically, domesticated. Some of the mysteries of cats relate to where they go and what they do; this is especially true of cats that go outdoors. We open our doors. They leave. Just where they go, we can’t be sure. 

Since cats can't fill out questionnaries (and they probably wouldn't, even if they could), the researchers are putting trackers on cats and letting them go about their business. The team wants to know: "Where do they go? What are they eating?" But also, curiously, "What do they bring home, microbially speaking?"

The Charlotte Observer reports that the cats participating in the study will be outfitted with "tiny satellite tracking harnesses." Daily fecal analysis will help with those last two questions.

In a test, one of the researcher's own cats "was tracked wandering over a mile to the family's previous home," reports Earth Touch. Some of the early data reveals more obvious facts of life: "cats don’t go into the woods as much in areas with coyotes," reports the Charlotte Observer

The Cat Tracker project is currently keeping tabs on dozens of house cats. With the help of citizen science cats, they hope to get that number into the thousands. 

If you're interested in decoding kitty's secret ways, you can sign your cat up to participate here. (The project's FAQ specifies that "you must own the cat," though "multi-cat households" are welcome to participate.) The Charlotte Observer reports that the fecal collection portion of the experiment is voluntary. If you are concerned about your cat's privacy, you can have the data published under a cat alias.

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About Shannon Palus

Shannon Palus is a science writer, and a researcher for Popular Science. Her work has appeared in Discover, Slate, Ars Technica, and elsewhere. She is based in Philadelphia.

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