Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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Nature vs. Nurture?

As you may know, we have a cat and two gerbils here in the apartment. The cat rarely seems to notice the gerbils, but today was an exception. As a part of CC’s regular cage cleaning, Gerbilann (sister to Gerbilee) was temporarily being kept in a small extra cage that was set on the table next to the computer. Since that location is far more accessible than the corner table where the gerbils normally reside, she quickly garnered the attention of the cat. By the way, the latest nominated name for the cat is Rawlings, on account of her uncanny resemblance to a football, as well as the fact that a football should probably be considered her intellectual peer. Anyway, the cat showed quite an interest in the gerbil. As I watched, she went this way and that around the cage, batting at the gerbil against the bars. There can be little doubt that Gerbilann would have met a swift and cruel fate had the cat gotten a hold of her.

What I found interesting was that the gerbil showed no fear of the cat at all. She sniffed with interest at the cat even as Rawlings was swatting her paw in vain against the bars. Several possibilities occurred to me. I suppose I should allow for the possibility that Gerbilann was aware that she was in a cage and was therefore safe from the cat, but this strikes me as perhaps too sophisticated a concept for the humble gerbil. I wonder if it might be that fear of such a creature is more of a learned concept than an instinct among gerbils, though it seems that an animal such as a cat would be such a natural predator of gerbils that there ought to be some sort of instinct at work here. It could be something as simple as the fact that these creatures have been coexisting for some months now without the cat eating the gerbils, so they may have lost their fear that way. I’m open to other theories if you have any!

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