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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Feline fears, confirmed

Posted By on 02.09.12 at 02:17 PM

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Holy fuck, it’s true—my cat might be the end of me. And yours, perhaps, could be the end of you. In the March 2012 issue of the Atlantic (h/t the Awl, number one source for cat news on the Internet), Kathleen McAuliffe reports on Czech scientist Jaroslav Flegr, who researches Toxoplasma gondii—you know, the cat shit-borne parasite that causes toxoplasmosis? Flegr is unusually intimate with the parasite because he’s got it. It occurred to him that this might be the case 30 years ago, when he read about a flatworm parasite that uses an ant to get itself inside a sheep’s stomache. Jagr realized that his behavior “shared similarities with that of the reckless ant,” writes McAuliffe: He stepped into moving traffic. He spoke his mind in a communist country. He wasn’t bothered by gunfire.

Was he infected with a mind-controlling parasite? He was!

He’s since studied, among other things, the ways that the parasite’s hosts’ behaviors are differentiated by sex. One of Flegr’s claims is that “infected men like the smell of cat pee,” at least more than do uninfected men. His work builds off that of another researcher, Joanne Webster, who demonstrated that Toxo-infected rats were less cautious around the scent of predator cats—even drawn to it. She called this, of course, “fatal feline attraction.” Read the whole article here! It's repulsive and fascinating.

Science is, admittedly, an abstruse and thorny pursuit. In order to aid your understanding, Reader design staffers Andrea Bauer and Jennifer McLaughlin have created a graphic detailing the feline life cycle.

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