Monday, January 26, 2009

Energy Conservation:Observation of an Elder Cat.

A Lesson in Energy Conservation Obtained by Observation: The Hunting Methods of an Elder Cat.

There are many lessons that young folk must learn before they make the transition to adulthood and by looking about themselves they can easily obtain examples to follow from life without necessarily having to learn everything the hard way.

One of these lessons isn’t necessarily the "most” important but is important nonetheless and herein I’ll try to explain it in such a manner as to be helpful to whomever reads this because it’s not just the young people that don’t study their lessons well and need them re-explained.

This particular lesson is about conservation of energy and how it can be learned by watching an elder cat hunt as opposed to the methods of a very young cat.

First: I’ll describe the hunting method of a young cat so that we’ll have a comparison for when we get to the real lesson which is that which we wish to pay attention to and remember.

When a young cat, with boundless energy and enthusiasm, sets out to catch his breakfast or lunch or in-between snack he’ll chase about until he finds a likely place to hunt and then he slows down until he spots a likely prey. He’ll hunker down in the grass and watch closely to see what his prospective food is doing before he makes any overt move, but if you’ll watch then you’ll see his tail always moving, twitching from side to side, waving out behind him like a low flying flag and his hind feet may be dancing in place even if the rest of his lithe body isn’t doing much. As often as not the prospective food, not being stupid, will be looking about as well and at the first sighted tail twitch will try to make a fast escape. At this point a young cat will probably leap from his or her (not usually very well chosen) hiding place and by sheer application of energy will try to catch the escaping food as it makes its getaway.

The reason I’ve drawn this picture in your mind is so that I can point out that the whole time that a young cat is out looking for something to catch he’s spending energy. He runs to his hunting area, he stays in motion the entire time he’s hunting (even if it’s just his tail) and he puts everything he has left into the final chase, leap or whatever he or she has to do to make up the distance he’s already lost by not being still to begin with. He’s already used up part of his energy allowance before he ever tries to make the final effort and if he misses then he’s wasted all that energy and is tired before he can try again. If he doesn’t learn better then his best hope of food is to trudge home and hope that the nice people will feed him out of a bowl that won’t try to run away when he attacks it.

About the best thing that can come out of this method is that the kitty will sleep well than night because he’s tired from all that energy expenditure. If he doesn’t have a home where nice people will feed him then he’ll not only be tired when he wakes but hungry as well and that little bit just might make him over-eager and careless when he goes hunting tomorrow. Hopefully he’ll capture something before he completely exhausts himself.

Now, an older cat has a much more economical method for hunting. One that saves energy, only takes a little longer, is just as satisfactory in the end and provides more success in the long run.

The young and old all have a finite amount of energy. If you’ve ever watched children at play then you can admire how they run and leap and seem never to slow down. We older folk all think on how we wish we had that much energy but the truth is that the young and old have the same amount of energy.

A child who weighs 50 pounds has exactly the same amount of energy as the average adult but weighs 1/3 to 1/4 as much so the energy goes farther as does the child. Explained in this manner it’s easily seen that a 200 pound adult has no chance to keep up with a fifty pound child. Oh sure, the adult can catch a child in a straightaway race but then too the adult has longer legs. If, however, the adult misses his or her grab at the errant child then the child will quickly outdistance said adult because although they have both used a significant amount of energy, the adult is using 3 or 4 times as much energy in the same endeavor and quickly reaches their limit while the child still has a lot of reserve energy left to use. It’s all a matter of weight, mass, and finite energy. As two variables increase then the finite number is spread more thinly in order to accomplish the same endeavor.

So, using the above as an example of energy expenditure and a short lesson in physics to explain why this is so, it’s time to examine the energy conservation methods of an adult cat.

First: An elder cat has had a longer lifetime to study how things work and realize that if it works a certain way for them then it probably works a similar way for others as well. This is how experience can be gained most easily. Therefore, adult cats, being naturally curious creatures, will attribute inquisitiveness to other creatures based on the premise that if they are curious by nature then surely others must also be possessed of a certain amount of curiosity as well.

We all use the tools at hand at times in lieu of the proper tools so this can be considered a common occurrence of life. An example of this might be that a rock can be sometimes used as an acceptable hammer if one doesn’t have a proper hammer handy (an extra bit of advice that the reader can tuck away against need).

Using this bit of knowledge combined with previous observation and experience, an older cat will casually approach their chosen hunting spot and instead of casting about to find prey will settle in a comfortable place or position and wait for prey to come to them. The cat, in this example will then lie, sit, nap or wash itself to occupy time while it waits, all the while listening and observing the area around its chosen spot. Listening and watching aren’t exactly labor intensive so it’s not using the finite amount of energy it has uselessly.

Once prey is detected, the next item on the agenda is to make it come to itself instead of having to go to the detected prey.

Using the previously mentioned theory concerning “what works for one probably works for all”, the elder cat will then began to act in a curious manner with the intent of bringing the prey (also known as food) nearer (drawn by the prey's own curiosity).

It is reasonably well accepted (by cats) that birds are possessed by an active curiosity as well as being reasonably good eating (by cat standards) so the above described tactic works very well on birds and with lesser success on smaller creatures that also occupy the definition of food for a cat. Lesser success is still success no matter how it looks to the observer. Lunch is lunch no matter how it’s served.

In the human world there are cultures that eat bugs. I’m not an advocate of having bugs for lunch but if it was a choice of bugs or starvation then I suppose I could learn to eat bugs even if I never learned to like eating bugs. Some people eat oysters. I rate that delicacy right up alongside bugs but the people that do this think I’m just contributing to their welfare by leaving them more oysters that they can eat instead of reducing the overall amount by what, I suppose, might be called my rightful share. Good for them. The more they eat then the less that I have to plan on how to avoid.

Birds also have the advantage of fairly good eyesight and a higher point of vantage than ground bound creatures. Any military type will be happy to explain the advantage of higher ground when it pertains to observation. My advice is not to get the military types started on this discussion unless you’re seriously interested in the emplacement of artillery.

Cats have several aspects that I won’t go into in depth in this essay because the purpose of this essay is to teach readers about energy conservation and these aforementioned aspects all have to do with circumventing the laws of physics as are generally accepted and taught in schools. In point of fact these aspects are so upsetting to the school of physics that if you’ve studied physics at all you’ll notice that cats are never mentioned. If a thing is out of sight then it’s out of mind and can be safely ignored is the (false) working premise behind this failure.

Amongst these aspects is variable weight to mass ration. This aspect is important to the rest of this discussion. If you’ve ever wondered how your cat can reach the top of your refrigerator from a flatfooted start on the floor then this would help explain it. The cat is capable of adjusting its weight to mass ration so that instead of lifting a heavy object to any given height, it simply adjusts its weight and is only lifting a light object (i.e. itself). The end result is that by using a given amount of energy it can jump higher than would normally be expected. It’s a simple solution to the cat although it might seem perplexing to a human. They can also hover using the same method although cats usually endeavor to disguise this fact lest someone pay attention to it.

Why I’ve mentioned this aspect is that it’s very useful during the elder cat’s foray into the acquisition of lunch.

I once had the pleasure of close acquaintance with a cat who could control this aspect of his existence so well that upon jumping from the floor he could casually hover at the apogee of his jump while deciding where to step across to his chosen landing point. I have observed him do this upon jumping from the floor to the top of a six foot tall refrigerator numerous times.

I have had people tell me that what they were seeing was just hang time but I observed this feat so many times that I knew it was denial of actual observation on their part. My friend, the cat, knew this would happen so he carried on in the manner to which he’d become accustomed with no further regard for the opinions of people.

A ordinary cat is fully capable of attaining a height of about 3 feet or more in the air from a reclining position through the application of this useful aspect. This can be hazardous to anything occupying the airspace directly above the cat when this happens whether it’s a bird, your hand or some other object or extremity.

If you’ve ever tried to step over a reclining cat only to trip when it attained altitude then you now know how it’s done and why you found yourself lying on your nose on the carpet. A cat’s space includes not only the space horizontally around itself but the airspace above it. Imagine that space as a bubble. You invade that bubble either with the granting of largess on the part of the cat or at your own peril.

To concentrate on the actual point of this essay for a moment, the elder cat will wait until it has attention of a potential candidate for lunch and then began to act curiously. It may flop about, engage in some manner of play resembling an epileptic fit or whatever it might take to fully engage the potential meal’s attention, all the while observing the potential lunch entre and its reactions to the cat’s behavior.

Once the cat has identified the behavior that attracts the most reaction then it will continue that behavior until the prey decides to examine the cat's activities more closely.

A bird may fly over the cat a few times then retreat to a safe distance to observe but in the fullness of time it will decide that the cat has made no hostile move and the situation needs yet another, better and closer examination of what might be ailing the creature it is currently watching, all the while announcing to the world at large that a curious thing is happening and thereby attracting other potential food to the area.

If the potential food first spotted does not get careless and make a low strafing run at an incautious altitude it is quite possible that some other equally enticing morsel will do so after exercising too little caution and forethought. These second choices are often younger birds who lack life experience. When this event occurs, the cat will burst from the ground as though rocket propelled and with a careful eye to interception and interdiction will be right in the flight path of the curiosity stricken potential food as it enters into a permanent new avocation (albeit short lived) as food. If a ground borne bit of food comes within reach first, called by the newscast of the original airborne food, then it might suffer a similar fate before it is actually necessary for the cat to exercise itself in airborne gymnastics It is of some interest to note that this strategy will often sometimes work in favor of the cat by attracting the attention of a human who will sometimes feed the cat rather than allowing it to acquire sustenance through the deaths of other birds or animals. With either result the elder cat has used a single method to obtain a meal showing good forethought and initiative in planning ahead.

All this is accomplished with a minimal amount of energy expenditure and, perhaps. includes a nap in the process.

In summation: A great deal can be learned from the observation of how an elder cat hunts, conserves energy, and eats well as opposed to the method that the energy profligate exuberance of a young cat displays.

It benefits us to be mindful of this masterful display as shown by the elder cat.

Conserve energy, plan ahead, and execute that plan with minimal flourish and wasted time. It’s a lesson that all can profit by through the energy saving method of observing one’s elders before wearing one's self out trying something that might not work. After all, if it works with time for a nap thrown in, what could be more enticing?

For humans, chocolate or ice cream would be an added bonus but the young of humans have already learned and taught their peers that they can pester the older folks to achieve that goal without the necessity of having to provide it themselves simply by offering to share once it’s been obtained. Do not trust this premise. It’s often false. Just as the elder cat practices deception to achieve its ends so do the youth of adult humans to achieve theirs. This they “do” learn early. Not all lessons are wasted on the youth of any species. Some are well learned at a very early age. Conservation of energy just doesn’t seem to be amongst those well learned early lessons.

Go forth and put into practice what you have learned herein today.

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