Popular science

A purring cat is not always contented

Large cats cannot miaow. (Lions and tigers, I mean, not moggies who have overindulged on Whiskers Meaty Selection in Gravy.) The largest feline ever to have lived was a sabre-toothed cat in South America, which weighed nearly half a tonne. Female house cats can copulate up to 20 times a day when in the mood. Male cats have a bone in their penis. Cats are green-red colour blind. There are probably more than half a billion cats alive in the world at this moment. These are gleanings merely from the footnotes of Jonathan Losos’s The Age of Cats, which is portly with information. The book, surveying cats’ evolutionary history, behavioural

Is it true that men navigate better than women?

Some years ago I participated in a late-night Radio 3 show on exploration and travel. When I left the studio with my fellow contributors, both distinguished explorers, we got lost in the bowels of Broadcasting House. Round and round the dimly lit corridors we trudged, and only after talk of bivouacking did we finally reach a lift and escape. Michael Bond, formerly the senior editor at New Scientist, has produced Wayfinding, an excellently researched popular science book which explains how people — including experienced travellers — get lost, and why some individuals have superior navigational skills than others. ‘Most importantly,’ he writes at the outset, ‘the book is about our