Why are mice afraid of cats? Silly question you’re thinking. It’s because cats will eat them (with great joy, I might add). But is that fear genetic or learned? The answer is not at all obvious, since many mothers teach their young to hunt. And this is not simply an academic question, since we often have fears that hold us back needlessly. What if we could learn to control fear.
Researchers at the The Sakano Laboratory at the Universoity of Tokyo have made some amazing strides in understanding the biological origins of fear, using mice and cats.
The scientists bred mice that lacked certain nasal cells, which inhibited their sense of smell. The result was that these mice showed no fear of cats. I assumed that the sight of a cat was enough to trigger a mouse’s fear response. But it ain’t so. Fear of cats is hardwired at birth.
In case you’re wondering whether any mice were injured in this research, the lead scientist is quoted as saying they, “chose domesticated cats that were docile and thus less likely to pounce.” Regardless, my cats ordrered a case of these mice just yesterday.