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Sensor setup stalks wandering house cats for study

Your humble house cat may be more ambitious than you realize, according to a study that used radio telemetry and movement sensors to track feral and pet cats to see how far they roam.

cat tracked for study
This feral cat sports a stylish radio collar for tracking. (Click to enlarge.)
Illinois Natural History Survey

You might wonder where Mr. Whiskerpuffs goes after he's let out the back door. You may imagine that he lounges around in the sun and swats at butterflies in the neighbor's yard. He may actually be holding down a 5-acre territory.

A master's thesis study, led by former University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graduate student Jeff Horn, tracked 42 feral and pet cats as they collectively roamed more than 6,000 acres over the course of two years.

Radio telemetry and movement sensors gave the researchers a pile of interesting data. The largest range for a single cat belonged to a feral male that claimed 1,351 acres of room to roam. Pet cats tended to keep things much closer to home.

One unsurprising (at least to cat owners) finding was that the pet cats were lazy little fluffballs. They were asleep or in a low-activity mode for 97 percent of the time. The feral cats didn't have such cushy situations. They were in high activity mode for 14 percent of the time. It takes extra effort to make a living when you don't have a bowl of Friskies waiting at home.

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Should you want to conduct your own study of where Mr. Whiskerpuffs roams, you'll need to pick up a radio collar and a SignalQuest SQ-SEN-200 series sensor. This omnidirectional vibration and movement sensor catches motion data to go along with the radio telemetry tracking. If all that tech is too much to deal with, you can always hook your feline up with a CatCam instead.

feral and pet cat range comparison
This map compares the range of a feral cat (in red) with the range of a house cat (the little yellow dot). Illinois Natural History Survey