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“It Was A Dark & Stormy Month" rises from its grave once more to deliver knowledge so good... it's scary!Hank accidentally buried himself alive again, so we are once again joined by Deboki Chakravarti to learn about Earth's little buddy, the Moon! This one's guaranteed to have you howling!Need more Deboki in your life? Follow her on Twitter: @okidoki_boki! There you can find links to the myriad of projects she's involved in!Head to to find out how you can help support SciShow Tangents, and see all the cool perks you’ll get in return, like bonus episodes and a monthly newsletter!A big thank you to Patreon subscribers Eclectic Bunny and Garth Riley for helping to make the show possible!Follow us on Twitter @SciShowTangents, where we’ll tweet out topics for upcoming episodes and you can ask the science couch questions! While you're at it, check out the Tangents crew on Twitter: Ceri: @ceriley Sam: @im_sam_schultz Hank: @hankgreen[Fact Off]Coral reef spawning by moonlight on the Moon is less than before[Ask the Science Couch]Moon drifting away from the Earth[Butt One More Thing]Defecation collection devices on the Moon
[Halloween SciShow Tangents Intro theme music]


Sam: [In an exaggerated scary voice] Hello and welcome to SciShow Tangents, the frightly competitive science knowledge screamcase! I'm your ghost for this week, Sam Skulls, and joining me this week, as always, is mad scientist, Scary Riley!


Ceri: Ruh roh! [Laughs]


Sam: And our very scary special guest, Deboki Shockravarti!


Deboki: Hello! [Laughs] I realized I was supposed to come up with a scary way to say hi, but...


Sam: [Laughs] Deboki is Tangents's, uh, editorial assistant and she's here sitting in for me and I'm sitting in for Hank 'cause it's Pizzamas in—in addition to Halloween, so Hank doesn't have the time of day for us. He's too busy helpin' charity. So that's why I'm here being the host! And this is my introduction question: Do you have any nice memories of Halloween as children?


Ceri: Oh, that's such a wholesome question! Hank's always come out of left field.


Sam: [Doing a Hank impression] "Uhhh, how does your butt feel on Halloween?" That's something he could say.


[Ceri, Deboki, and Sam all laugh]


Ceri: Yeah, [also doing a Hank impression], "What is the oldest and most rancid piece of candy you've ever eaten?"


Sam: [Laughs] Yeah, that is a Hank—that's a really good Hank question. Did you do Halloween as—as children?


Deboki: Yeah. I mean, mostly my memory is just, like, the spreading-out of candy with friends after and trading, which is a happy memory. I feel like efficient consumption of candy, making sure everyone's optimized what candy they get is very—very happy.


Sam: [Overlapping] So you went out with, like, a big crew trick-or-treating?


Deboki: It was like a three or four person crew. And one of my friends lived in, y'know, the good neighborhood to get candy from, so...


Sam: How late did you trick-or-treat? How old were you when you stopped?


Deboki: I feel like the last time I went was maybe when I was in eighth grade.


Sam: Okay. That's a good time to stop.


Deboki: Yeah.


Sam: You can't go trick-or-treat in high school, or else you're going to get your ass kicked.


[Ceri and Deboki laugh]


Ceri: So my wholesome story—maybe it's not so wholesome—is the one time I went not quite trick-or-treating in high school. Me and four or five friends—you can tell we were a bunch of nerds—dressed up as Christmas carolers. And so we would ring doorbells on Halloween, [laughs a little embarrassed] and sing a Christmas carol.


Deboki: That's amazing. [Laughs]


Sam: I hate this and I hate you. [Laughs] That's pretty good, though. How did people react?


Ceri: They were very surprised for the most part. I think they reacted exactly like you did at first—they were, like, mad and then they were like, "Oh, this is actually kind of funny."


[Deboki and Sam laugh]


Sam: Okay. Well, great. Thanks for talking to me about Halloween. Every week on Tangents, we get together to try to unnerve, disgust, and horrify each other with science facts, while trying to stay on topic. Our panelists are playing for gory and they're also playing for Sam Bucks, which I will be awarding as we play. And at the end of the episode, one of them will be crowned the winner. And for this most horrible, awful, bone-chilling month of all, we'll be focusing on some traditionally eerie topics. We talked about storms last week, and this week it's a surprise what we're talking about, if you didn't read the title. But also each week, we will all collaborate on an exquisite corpse science poem. If you don't know what exquisite corpses are and you didn't listen to the last episode, they're collaborative poems where everyone takes turns adding the next word of a poem without being able to see the words that were added previously. So then you unfold the piece of paper and it's a big surprise poem. I cheat it a little bit and I make ours sound a little bit better than maybe they otherwise would. But we'll—we'll get there.


Ceri: [Laughs] Does it rhyme this week? I guess we'll find out.


Sam: It rhymes a little bit! We tried! We tried out rhyming and it—you know what? It kind of worked in a few different places, mostly because we all accidentally picked words that rhymed with each other. This one's much better. So buckle your seat belts. And now we introduce this week's topic of terror with our exquisite corpse science poem, read to us by... Deboki.


[Science Incantation theme music plays behind Sam saying "exquisite corpse science poem”]


Deboki: A whisker twitch, a tricky mouse. With a purr, the predator waits. Swipe of a paw, the house is quiet. Hunter of the domestic realm, its claw raw peril. A hiss from a fish-stinking maw. A ball of smelly, yowling, snack-wanting belly boy attacks its dish with fangs made for meat. Beans careening through the room, blank eyes hide an evil mind, curled at the witch’s feet, thinking of murder.


Sam: That was a scary voice, Deboki!


Ceri: Yeah, very sinister!


Sam: That was like a murder podcast. Well, great job. So the topic this week is cats. Ceri, what is cats?


[Deboki laughs]


Ceri: Scientifically speaking, the word cat refers to generally any member of the Felidae family of mammals. Um, so, like, carnivores get split into cat-like carnivores and dog-like carnivores.


Sam: Mmm. The classic divide.


Ceri: Yeah. But "cat" can also refer more specifically nowadays to the domestic cat, which is the species Felis catus. We all have cats. So I'll just keep describing my cat. She's kind of chunky. She has a primordial pouch...


Sam: Wait, what is a primordial pouch? That—that is to—to keep their guts safe? Is that true?


Ceri: I think so. Uh, I didn't actually research this. My partner Silvia always tells me this fact.


Sam: [Sarcastically] So a really reliable source.


Ceri: A really [laughs] concrete source. It's, like, a flap of skin that holds all their guts together. But more importantly, I think, it's like the loose belly that hangs below a cat, both male and female—um, and kind of swings around. And it's so that if they get attacked, they have all this loose skin that can be jostled around before a predator can get to their organs, I think. So it's, like, uh, bullfighting? They have the red cape, cats have their little swishy primordial pouch to stay safe.


Sam: Aw, that's so cute. But it, like all things on a cat, help it to murder better. Right? And—and not be murdered in return.


Ceri: Yeah, help them twist around.


Deboki: Yeah.


Sam: Okay. And where does the word "cat" come from?


Ceri: So, the word "cat" is thought to be from the late Latin "cattus," uh, which was first used around the 700s. So, like, the sixth century. And before that, I think because it wasn't white people, [laughs] we—we don't really know. And by we, I mean the online dictionary that I look at for these etymologies. Uh, I'm sure some people know. But it is probably derived from an Afro-Asiatic or, um, Nubian or Arabic word. Uh, because there's like a similar word I think in Arabic it's—it basically sounds like "qaṭṭ," I just can't pronounce the—the letters correctly. Which makes sense because that's where domestic cats originated, and so they would have the word for "cat" and then talk about it. And by the time Greeks and Romans learned about it, they were like, "Oh, that's a cat. I'll—I'm going to take that word now."


Deboki: Yeah.


Sam: Have you—did you look at all into why we think cats are spooky?


Deboki: Yeah, like, how did the—the cat-witch thing come about?


Ceri: It seems like the Catholics [laughs] were just looking up things to blame because, like we've mentioned, cats were domesticated in, like, the Fertile Crescent region and Egyptians had rituals involving cats and thought of them with high esteem. Um, and so those rituals could have evolved or morphed through cultural exchange to Pagan rituals. And Christians didn't like that because, like, there's gotta be opposing forces. So when Pope Gregory IX, uh, [laughs]—but probably other Popes too—were warning against witchcraft and Pagan-ness. They started associating black cats with Lucifer and the devil and just started, like, decrying random witchy-type animals, like frogs and ducks and cats.


Sam: Ducks?! Why ducks?


[Deboki laughs]


Ceri: Uh, I don't know!


Sam: They're kind of an outlier there. They aren't spooky at all!


Deboki: Oh no, I think I—I would be pretty scared. I don't—maybe I'm just lumping them in with geese, but I—I don't—I don't know if I would trust 'em.


Sam: No, I guess if you ran into a duck at night, that might be kind of a different story.


Deboki: Yeah.


Ceri: Anyway, so I think a powerful person was just like, "Ooh, cats bad! Cats!" And then everyone took that idea and ran with it to the point where even today, like, people are less likely to adopt black cats and especially around Halloween times are, like, really mean to black cats on the street.


Sam: Yeah. Okay, well now it's time to move into the—our game for the week. So cats are one of the greatest animals of all time, in my opinion. And they inspired one of the greatest musicals of all time: CATS. Unfortunately, I have never seen CATS, but I have seen the movie, which was also pretty good. So this week, to celebrate cats and CATS, I present to you Truth or Fail: Cats, the musical, the movie, the game. So it's just Truth or Fail.


[Halloween Spook or Fail theme music plays]


Sam: So I will present you with three facts about cats, but two of them are not real. Two of them are dirty cat lies, and one of them is a dirty cat truth. And you will have to decipher and divine from my trickery, which one is the true fact. So here's fact number one: Macavity, The Napoleon of Crime, is a world-class deceiver, but he and his cat kin may be able to tell when they're being deceived as well. Earlier this year, a study found that cats knew when a human that they had been trained to trust started to lie to them about which of two containers held a hidden treat. Other animals tended to continue to trust the human, even when they saw the treat be put into the bowl that the human was not calling them to. The animal would see them doing it in all of the studies, so they knew which one it was. And then the person would be like, "This one!" And then they'd have to see if they trusted them or not still. Fact number two: Bustopher Jones, The Cat About Town, is known for his love of a free meal. But a recent study found that, contrary to cats' reputation as moochers, they're actually one of the most likely of all animals to turn their nose up at a free meal. When given the option between a free meal, just like it's sitting in a bowl out and easy to get, and one that they had to work for by solving a food puzzle, cats almost always went for the puzzle first. Many animals, when given the choice, will tend to go for the free meal first. The researchers theorized that by leaving the free meal alone, the cats are assuring that they will have a meal if the harder-to-get meal disappears. So they're saving their easy food for later. Fact number three: the cats in the movie CATS were uncanny valley nightmares, part-cat, part-man! And real-world cats, uh, are maybe a little more similar to people than you'd think too. Recent genetic sequencing suggests that the cat genome might be closer to the human genome in terms of structure than any animal outside of apes. A cat is not a dog, but they ain't too far away from humans in some ways.


[Ceri and Deboki laugh]


Sam: So the three facts are: number one, cats know when they're being lied to. Number two, cats will turn their nose up at a free meal. Number three, cats and humans have very similar genetic structure. Which is the true fact?


Deboki: This is one of those ones where, even if the first one is a lie—like, if you're making up that cats, like, can tell a lie, like, I know that my cat knows when I'm lying. It's—he knows when he's gonna go to the vet. And he knows when I am trying to, like, bait him. He knows when I'm gonna try to grab him, like, he knows. And he just has a deeply suspicious nature.


Ceri: Does he trust you in good times? Like, does he know when you actually have a treat and just, like, want to hang out?


Deboki: Yeah. He knows when, like, I have a treat for him. Like, he can't figure out my lies. So sometimes I'll, like, hold up my fist as if I have a treat in it and kind of, like, make a throwing motion. And he'll be, like, really mad [laughing].


Sam: How was he supposed to know??


Deboki: I know, yeah. So I feel like it's fair. Um, but that's not enough for me to feel necessarily—'cause I don't know that he trusts anyone else either. Like, so that's the thing is, like, I don't know if this is an issue of, like, being taught to trust a specific person versus just, like, his general untrusting nature.


Sam: Sure.


Ceri: I also immediately was like, "Oh one must be true." Because Inky can also tell when I'm trying to get her to do something. Uh, and I can sort of trick her into—she takes a pill every morning and now it's, like, a routine where if I give her other treats in addition to, like, the pill pocket treat, then she'll eat it. But if not, she just won't eat the pill plain or—


Sam: —You gotta buy her off.


Ceri: Yeah, I've got to pay her off to do the thing that I want her to do. And sometimes she still betrays me. She, like, will eat around—she'll eat the pill pocket around the pill and then spit it out so that she can get more treats because I'll give her more. But that's just—that's just being wily, that's not, like, a criminal mastermind. Um, but I could see cats being distrustful. The second one about turning their nose up at food... In my experience, cats are really lazy. So I don't know—I don't think there's ever a time.


Sam: You think so! But maybe not!


Ceri: Well, okay.


[Sam laughs]


Deboki: Would your cat turn down a free meal? Is what I want to know.


Ceri: Yeah, would Leeloo?


Sam: You can't ask me questions like that! That's illegal.


[Ceri and Deboki laugh]


Ceri: I know for a fact that she eats so fast that she pukes 'cause she loves food. So that's a no from Sam. Two, absolutely fake. [Laughs] If it's the real one, I'll go eat some cat food. And the third one—


Sam: —Wow. Okay. Wait. Are you willing to lock down that statement?


[Deboki and Sam laugh]


Ceri: I'll eat one piece of cat food, if—if it is—if it's the real one.


Sam: Okay.


Deboki: I feel like one rings so true to my experience that I'm going to overthink myself out of it. So I just gotta go with it.


Ceri: I'm also gonna go with one!


Deboki: We're gonna under-think it and that's gonna be how we lose.


Sam: [Laughs] Well, you're a couple of, uh, dopes, 'cause that's—one is fake! Fact number one is about dogs! Ptooey, ptooey! The opposite of a cat.


Ceri: Oh!


Sam: Uh, the experiment presented the dogs with two bowls, one empty, one containing a treat. The dog saw which one the treat was in. Uh, the human led them to the correct bowl a bunch of times, and then started trying to lead them to the wrong bowl, but the dogs did not fall for it. And, asterisk, I don't think they've tested cats on this, but...


Ceri: [Laughing] If you tested our cats then they would absolutely distrust you.


Sam: But monkeys and even human children were more likely to follow the advice of the liar than dogs were. So dogs are smart, I guess! Here's number two... [building suspense]. This one's...


Ceri: [Outraged but also laughing] Oh no! RUDE! You knew it!


Sam: This one's not true. This one's not true. You don't have to eat cat food.


Ceri: [Relieved] Oh, thank goodness! Okay. [Laughs].


Sam: Cats have actually been found to be the most lazy of all animals in looking for food. Almost every single other animal, including pets, including pet dogs—like, pets and pet dogs and giraffes and all kinds of stuff will tend to favor a meal that they have to work for, which is a behavior called contra-freeloading. Uh, and people are not—like, scientists aren't entirely sure why animals prefer to work for their food, but they think that it might be because animals need to test the reliability of harder-to-get food. And they just are instantly suspicious of easy-to-get food. Uh, so just in case food becomes unavailable, they know really well how to get the harder-to-get food. Cats, on the other hand, are huge freeloaders. Uh, and in a home environment, cats studied chose free food every single time that they were given the option and they never would ever try to solve a puzzle. 'Cause why would you? They're smart. A puzzle is—that's stupid!


Deboki: Why would they!?


Ceri: That—that's, like, the whole reason they got domesticated in the first place. They were like, "Oh, food over here?"


Sam: [Pretending to be a cat] "This guy is gonna give me food, so I don't have to do this shit anymore."


Ceri: Yeah. [Laughs].


Sam: And fact number three is the true one. The cat genome has recently been mapped thoroughly and it was found to be arranged very similar to the human genome, uh, more so than other common lab animals like mice. Uh, and the similarity may also include DNA that we don't know the function of in our own genome. So that's sometimes called "dark matter DNA." So their—the thought is, if we start messing with cat DNA and turning things on and off, we'll be like, "Ah! That makes the cat be inside-out!" And we'll know that, and we can just assume it makes the human be inside out, and we don't have to actually turn a human inside-out to figure that out. So sorry, cats. Shouldn't made—be so similar to us 'cause now we're going to do bad things to you. But we still love you!


Deboki: That got dark so fast.


Sam: It's a Halloween episode, okay?! So that leaves us with a score... You two big brains got zero to zero.


[Ceri and Deboki laugh]


Sam: Well, now we're gonna take a short break and then it will be time for the Fact Off.


[A snippet of the Halloween SciShow Tangents transition theme music]




[A snippet of the Halloween SciShow Tangents transition theme music plays]


Sam: Welcome back. And now it's time for the Fact Off!


[Halloween Drac Off theme music plays]


Sam: Our panelists have brought science facts to present to me in an attempt to blow my mind. I don't think I've ever been the recipient of a Fact Off before, except back when I used to commonly be the recipient of a Fact Off! After they've presented their facts, I will judge them and award Sam Bucks any way that I see fit. But first, to decide who will present the first fact, here's a trivia question for you: Cats are a known predator of rats. So naturally, researchers put them in a coliseum test box together, incited them to attack, and recorded the results under a variety of conditions. One of those conditions was blindfolding the cats. Compared to trials that just had a cat and a rat in a box, what percentage of attacks were completed when they blindfolded the cat?


Ceri: So, like, 100%... is...


Sam: I imagine you could assume that pretty close to 100% would be the non-blindfolded cat. I was not presented with that information, but—


Ceri: —Compared to that. Well, I don't have good anecdotal data for this one, because my cat—


Sam: —You haven't ever blindfolded your cat and put it in a coliseum with a rat?


[Ceri and Deboki laugh]


Ceri:, 20%?


Sam: 20%. Deboki, what do you think?


Deboki: I feel pretty optimistic about their ability. I'm gonna say 50%.


Sam: The answer is 68%!


Ceri: Oh my gosh!


Sam: Yeah, blind huntin', huh?


Deboki: Wow, I was gonna guess 70%, so I feel...


Sam: Their blood lust cannot be stopped even—under any condition. So Deboki, would you like to go first or would you like to make Ceri go first?


Deboki: I'll go first. So cats are not exempt from the laws of nature, but just like us, that doesn't mean they always understand what those laws are. Uh, researchers have been trying to untangle just how well cats understand causality, which is when you understand that there's some kind of force connecting two events. In 2009, scientists tested this out with baited string, where cats had to pull a string toward them to get food or a treat that was attached at the other end. And they were pretty great at this when there was one string. But if there were two strings, whether those strings were, like, in parallel to each other or if they were criss-crossed, they had a really hard time picking out which was the right string, like, which string actually had the—the treat at the other end, which suggests that they weren't super great at causality at least when it comes to the physical properties of string. But a few years later scientists were like, "Hey, maybe we're looking at the wrong skills. Cats rely heavily on sound to hunt." So a team decided to see if cats could use sound to predict some kind of effect. They decided to test this out by shaking a container in front of a cat. Uh, so the container would either make a rattling sound or not when shaken. So either—when you shake it, either it's rattling or it's quiet. And then there was, like, a turning over phase where the experimenter would turn the container over and either an object would fall out or nothing would fall out. So there's, like, two sets of conditions where, like, the physics makes sense. You can have the case where the container rattles when you shake it and then you turn it over and something falls out. So it, like, feels like there's, like, an object in there and then you actually see the object fall out. And then there's the case where there's no sound and no object. So those are the two, like, physically possible cases. And then you have the two possible conditions that don't make sense physically. So that's where the container makes a sound, but no object falls out. Or the, uh, container doesn't make a sound, but an object falls out. So when they tested out those, um—those four conditions on, uh, 30 domestic cats, they found that when the container was shaken, the cats tended to look longer at containers that made a sound. And when the container was turned over, the cats tended to look longer when the conditions didn't make sense, so when it was those two physically kind of impossible conditions. So to the researchers, these results suggest that cats have some kind of understanding of, uh, the causality around sound that they use to predict the presence of things that they can't actually see, and that they might even have a very basic understanding of gravity that they rely on to hunt.


Sam: Woooow!


Ceri: I love that. Just, like, you get to look at confused cats. [Laughs].


Deboki: Sadly, when I was looking at these different papers, I could not find, like, videos of these experiments, but I do really want to try one. And the containers that they use for those experiments were cool too. I think they were, like, containers that had a special kind of, like, magnetized lid situation going on. So there were, like, little iron bearing—uh ball-bearings in the container that would, like, either rattle or not rattle. But there was a—there was a switch that would, like, attract the ball-bearings to the lid. So that's, like, how they changed the sound and, like, falling out conditions.


Sam: Oh, you know how else they could've done it? They gotta—got two different cans.


[Ceri and Deboki laugh]


Ceri: But then they would've—the cats would've seen you switch them out! And then it would've been a whole other experiment.


Sam: [Laughing] I guess so, I guess so.


Deboki: Yeah, yeah. Cats, they understand deception!


Sam: Cats are so much better than dogs, I would say.


[Ceri and Deboki laugh]


Ceri: Okay. So when you think of model organisms used in research, things like fruit flies, or mice, or maybe zebrafish come to mind. But here's a weird one—I guess it's a little less weird because of your Truth or Fail fact—um, but cochlear implants probably wouldn't exist without cats. And the basic way a cochlear implant works is by taking sound as input, skipping over damaged parts of the ear and delivering electrical signals to auditory nerves in the cochlea, which is the spiral-shaped inner ear cavity. And experiments where scientists tried to use electricity to stimulate hearing started around the mid-1700s and 1800s with human subjects, including themselves. But eventually we had questions that, as far as I can tell, felt unethical or unanswerable by testing human ears and brains. So by 1930, some researchers had started looking at how cats auditory nerves process sound. So basically the—the question of dark matter DNA, but ears instead.


[Sam laughs]


Ceri: The biggest question I had was: "Why cats?" Because, like, I didn't know that they were genetically similar. I doubt these scientists did. And after reading many of these old papers, I don't have a hugely satisfying answer, but I can relay their written-down logic. The explanation offered in a 1930 paper was: number one, cats are pretty smart or, as they framed it, "stand fairly high in the animal scale." Uh, number two, scientists had experimented on cat ears and brains before, so they kind of knew what they were doing—at least more than other mammals. And number three, cat hearing is similar to human's, which we now know is true on the low end of frequencies, but cats are way better at hearing high frequencies than us. And that's kind of all hand-wavy, but I think it laid the foundation for further cat-based hearing experiments. A "once you pop, you just can't stop" kind of rationale.


[Deboki laughs]


Sam: Oh no. What did they do to 'em?


Ceri: Yeah. So in the 1960s, for example, there was a team at Stanford University who tested some electrical hearing technologies for human ears and coined the term "cochlear implant" in 1967. But whenever there was research on humans, more in-depth cat experiments were just around the corner. So in the 1970s, that same team hooked up a bunch of wires and electrodes into cat inner ears and brains to see what happens if you send electrical signals directly to the cochlea nerves and compare that with sending an acoustic signal to sort of echo around the inner ear. Because of those invasive wires, they pretty directly compared how electrical and acoustic signals got transmitted to the inferior colliculus region of the brain, where sound is processed. And they figured out that the direct nerve stimulation was more effective than the acoustic signals for hearing. And to explain "Why cats?" they mostly repeated the same threads of logic from decades earlier, like using cats as a way to avoid ethical concerns if their test subjects got hurt or died, which did happen, R.I.P. some cats. But from the research angle, cat brains process sound similarly to human brains, integrating information from both ears and having pretty clear pathways from auditory nerves in the cochlea to auditory nerves in the brain. So they could glean useful data and apply their findings pretty directly to human ear systems. So maybe it's just because domestic cats were nearby and had keen ears, or maybe because the scientists secretly knew that cats shared a lot of DNA with humans, they became key players in understanding how we hear, from mapping auditory nerve pathways to testing cochlear implant technology. Thank you, cats!


Sam: And we only had to cut open their brains.


Ceri: And put electric wires in them and be like, "Can you hear me now?"


[Deboki and Sam laugh]


Sam: Well now I have to award the winner the crown. Uh, and usually Hank's been doing it by what will make a better TikTok. I guess we could do that same, uh, metric, but—no, actually, I can't stand by a, uh, a fact where a cat's brains are getting cut open. That's very cool.


Ceri: [Sighs exasperatedly] I figured. I figured it would make you too sad. It's spooky though! Ooh, brains!


Sam: You can't hurt them! You can only mildly trick them, which is why, Deboki, you are the winner of Fact Off. And thus the winner of the entire show with a score of one to zero!


Deboki: [Laughing] That's true, from our...


Sam: Ceri, you fact was also really, really cool.


Deboki: Yeah.


Sam: I just don't want to think about their little brains getting cut open. Come on!


Ceri: That's fair.


Sam: All right, and now it is time to Ask the Science Couch, where we ask listener questions to our creepy couch of devious scientific minds.


[Halloween Ask the Spider Couch theme music plays]


Sam: This week's question is from @elisamayr who asks, "Do cats move their tails on purpose? And why?" I don't know, my cat just sits there and it swishes all around randomly. I can never divine any kind of intentionality or, like, emotion from what it's doing. But then sometimes she taps it and that always freaks me out.


Deboki: Yeah, isn't there like an—like an angry cat tail tap?


Sam: Oh, is that an anger thing?


Deboki: [Hesitantly] I thought so? I mean, if it's not, I'm going to revise a lot of things.


Sam: Oh no, Leeloo's angry a lot then. 'Cause she just sits there and does that, like, all the time.


Deboki: I mean, presumably it's like any other kind of communication that we're—maybe it's a—an individual thing?


Ceri: I think that's it. So in—in the way that cats use tails for social signals, I think it's a case-by-case basis because your cat communicates in the way that it has learned to and has received feedback from. But generally, uh, from what I was reading, if it's thumping its tail, then it's some sort of, like, very focused or grumpy or, like, thinking about something. And if it's, like, swishing more lazily, then that's, like, relaxed thinking in the same way that we might tap our fingers or scratch our heads when—when we're thinking. So despite how much we would want to know about this question, or like the average person would think about their cat communicating, there isn't a lot of formal scientific literature on it. And that's not to say that people aren't looking into it. It's just, like, my usual ways of researching the Ask the Science Couch question were kind of tapped, as far as, like, using peer reviewed research. But I did learn about one type of voluntary movement, so cats moving their tails on purpose, with respect to balance. Like we would move our arms to get—grab something or, uh, like, to provide a counterweight. So there was one study where they had cats—they described it as, like, climbing on beams and things like that. And when they were walking normally, they wouldn't use their tail. Their tail would just, like, move involuntarily swishing around. But if they jostled the beam to throw the cat off balance, then their tail would go in the opposite direction, uh, that they were falling to, like, provide a counterweight so that they could catch their balance. And there was also another study on falling cats—falling a safe distance—but they would rotate their tail in the opposite direction that their body is rotating to, like, help provide a counterweight as they're flipping around to land on their feet.


Sam: Oh, pretty smart.


Ceri: Yeah. So there is...moving their tails on purpose for balance reasons. Also probably moving their tails on purpose for communication reasons. But then there's also probably a bucket of involuntary, absent-minded tail movement. And it's actually very strange to me that we haven't studied cat tails more and maybe I just don't know anatomy very well, but I looked into the anatomy of a tail to see if I could glean anything from that. But there are 18 to 23 vertebrae or bones. They're bigger at the base and get smaller towards the tip, so, like, the tail tapers. But there are six tail muscles on each side of the tail for very precise movements, like to go back and forth or to curl up or to curl down, um, or to rotate. And that seems like a lot of muscles. So I feel like there is a lot in cat tails that we don't understand and for some reason haven't looked into, probably because behavioral research is really tricky. Um, when the extent of studies you can do is, like, "Does my cat look confused as it's—as it's pouring out—at—at like the scientific can?" But they're capable of very strong and very precise movements of their tail. So yes, they move it on purpose and we don't know why all the time.


Sam: And that's okay. If you want to Ask the Science Couch, follow us on Twitter @SciShowTangents, where we'll tweet out the topics for upcoming episodes every week. Thank you to @mirthalia, @CablerKirby, and everyone else who tweeted us your questions for this episode.


[Halloween version of the SciShow Tangents Outro theme music]


Sam: Deboki, thank you so much for being here. We've been saving the cat episode for you for, uh, like a year or something, I feel like.


Deboki: [Laughs]. Thank you for having me. Thank you for saving this episode for me.


Sam: Yes, of course. I hope you enjoyed yourself. Do you have anything to plug?


Deboki: Yeah, I had a podcast series that came out in the month of August. It's, like, a four-episode little pop-up series, um, for Scientific American's Science Talk podcast. Um, and I talked about some science books that I've been reading and just kinda, like, talked about the science I learned and some other things. So, uh, if you wanna check that out again, you can just go to Science Talk and look for the Summer of Science Reading, uh, pop-up series.


Sam: Do you use your—your murder mystery podcast voice?


Deboki: A little less murdery but still, hopefully at least a little mysterious.


[Ceri and Sam laugh]


Sam: And, of course, you can see and hear more Deboki at Journey to the Microcosmos, the YouTube channel.


Deboki: Oh, and also Crash Course Organic Chemistry.


Sam: Yes. You're all over the place!


Deboki: Yeah.


Ceri: Deboki is a much harder get than Hank, so this is why we have to save special episode topics.


Sam: Yeah, and also Hank isn't here, like I said earlier, because it's Pizzamas. So you can go to to find all kinds of Pizzamas merchandise that you can buy that has, uh, Hank's brother John's face on it with a mustache, that says "pizza" underneath. And people love it. And you will too. So go check out Pizzamas. If you like the show and you want to help us out, it's really easy to do that. First, you can go to to become a patron and get access to things like our newsletter and our bonus episodes. Oh, we're so close to watching Cars 2. Please go over there and sign up. We're so damn close. This month's bonus episode is going to be spooky stories that have to do with pee, I guess, according to Hank in the last bonus episode. So.


Ceri: He made it so much harder with, like, a—a throwaway word. Now I have to include piss in my story.


Sam: Second, leave us a review wherever you listen. It's super helpful, and it helps us know what you think about the show. And finally, if you want to show your love for SciShow Tangents, just...


Ceri, Deboki, & Sam: Tell people about us!


Sam: Thank you for joining us, I have been Sam Schultz...


Ceri: I've been Ceri Riley...


Deboki: And I've been Deboki Chakravarti.


Sam: SciShow Tangents is created by all of us and produced by Caitlin Hofmeister and me, Sam Schultz, who edits a lot of these episodes along with the horrible Hiroka Matsushima. Our scary social media organizer is Paola Garcia-Prieto. I forgot I put the scary words in here. Our editorial assistant is Deboki Chakravarti, didn't give you a scary one, I already said a scary one for you earlier. Our sound design is by Joseph "Boona" Metesh. And we couldn't make any of this without our putrid patrons on Patreon. Thank you, and remember: "the mind is not a coffin to be filled, but a jack-o-lantern to be lighted."


[Halloween SciShow Tangents Outro theme music plays]


Deboki: But! One more thing.


[Halloween Butt “Vun” More Thing theme music plays: a witch cackle (which is Caitlin's voice pitch-shifted) followed by a flash powder "poof" that approximates a fart noise.]


Deboki: Cats can get stressed in new environments, but there's ways to help them through it, like giving them a box. Researchers have found that cats with a box to hide in during the first few weeks in a new space have a lower urine cortisol-creatine ratio, which is a biomarker of lower stress levels. And, if they don't have a hiding box, some cats will flip over their litter box to make one. So by giving your new cat something calming to put its butt in, you might have an easier time cleaning what comes out of it.


Ceri: If it fits, it sits and it doesn't shits.


[Deboki and Sam laugh]


Ceri: [Laughing] I'm really trying to get that stinger at the end.


Sam: I think you—I think you did it. I think that's all we need. [Laughs].


Deboki: That was great.