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Why your cat is so weird, explained by an actual scientist

Why are cats so weird?

It's something I consistently find myself asking when I watch my cat. Thankfully, a new video from TED Ed, narrated by cat guru Tony Buffington, gives a scientific explanation.

"Cats today retain many of the same instincts that allowed them to thrive in the wild for millions of years," Buffington explained. "This explains some of their seemingly strange behaviors: To them, our homes are their jungles."

Here are the explanations from the video, based on the hypothetical life of Grizmo the cat:

  • Why cats love the highest spot in the house: "Enabled by their unique muscular structure and keen balancing abilities, cats climbed to high vantage points to survey their territory and spot prey in the wild. Grizmo doesn't need these particular skills to find and hunt down dinner in her food bowl today, but, instinctually, viewing the living room from the top of the bookcase is exactly what she's evolved to do."
  • Why they are always ready to attack small objects: "As wild predators, cats are opportunistic and hunt whenever prey is available. Since most cat prey are small, cats in the wild need to eat many times each day, and use a stalk-pounce-kill-eat strategy to stay fed. This is why Grizmo prefers to chase and pounce on little toys, and eats small meals over the course of the day and night."
  • Why they peer and go into small spaces: "Small prey tend to hide in tiny spaces in their natural environments. So one explanation for Grizmo's propensity to reach into containers and openings is that she's compelled by the same curiosity that helped ensure the continuation of her species for millions of years before."
  • Why cats sharpen their claws on the couch: "In the wild, cats needed sharp claws for climbing, hunting, and self-defense. Sharpening their claws on nearby surfaces kept them conditioned and ready, helped stretch their back and leg muscles, and relieved some stress, too. So it's not that Grizmo hates your couch, chair, ottoman, pillows, curtains, and everything else you put in her environment. She's ripping these things to shreds and keeping her claws in tip-top shape because this is exactly what her ancestors did in order to survive."
  • Why they are always finding strange places to sleep: "As animals that were preyed upon, cats evolved to not get caught. And in the wild, the cats that were the best at avoiding predators thrived. So at your house today, Grizmo is an expert at squeezing into small spaces and seeking out and hiding in unconventional spots. It also explains why she prefers a clean and odor-free litter box; that's less likely to give away her location to any predators that may be sniffing around nearby."
  • Why cats purr: "Considering everything we do know about cats, it seems that one of their most predominant behaviors is still one of the most mysterious. Cats may purr for any number of reasons, such as happiness, stress, and hunger. But curiously, the frequency of their purrs — between 25 and 150 hertz — is within a range that can promote tissue regeneration. So while her purring makes Grizmo an excellent nap companion, it is also possible that her purr is healing her muscles and bones — and maybe even yours, too."

So cats are essentially wild animals adapting to unusual domestic environments built mainly for humans. Not surprisingly, that can get a little weird along the way.

Watch: The best cat videos come from the wild