How much of animal "Favorite foods" is folklore?

Reading the recent thread about mouse-flavored cat food reminded me of a question I’ve been wondering for a while. Ask any kid what mice eat, and they will naturally say cheese, even though mice have been around a lot longer than actual cheese has, and I’m pretty sure mice eat whatever they can get. Several other animals have similar “favorites” but I wonder how much of this is due to cartoons/folklore and how much is actually true.

For starters:[ul]
[li]monkeys eat bananas (I’ve seen a monkey eat a banana, but do they in the wild?)[/li][li]elephants eat peanuts/peanut butter (seems unlikely, are there even peanuts in their natural habitat?)[/li][li]mice eat cheese[/li][li]cats eat mice[/li][li]dogs eat cats or at least hate them (the ones I’ve seen tend to get along ok)[/li][li]birds eat worms[/li][li]rabbits eat carrots[/li][li]squirrels eat acorns[/li][li]horses eat apples and sugar cubes[/li][li]bears like honey (not just Pooh. They make the honey bottles bear shaped, no?)[/ul][/li]
Are any of these based in fact? If not, where did they come from?

No cite because this is something I remeber reading as a very young Celyn in my little book of “how to Look After Your Pet Mice”, but I recall the book said "no kiddies, thou shalt not feed the mouse cheese " … the mouse and cheese thing, (said book) was due to cheese having a strong smell.

Well, cats definately hunt rodents. Even your smaller “wild” cats such as bobcats, lynxes, various African cats etc hunt rodents on a consistant basis.

Anyone who has ever seen a robin hopping along the lawn looking for dinner knows that they’re very happy to eat worms. I was actually more suprised to see one attacking a small toad once since past experience led me to believe that worms were about all they ate.

Likewise with squirrels and acorns. It’s not that they eat acorns exclusively, but they’re happy to eat and hide many kinds of nuts and seeds.

I believe that rabbits may eat planted carrots but they’re after the foliage on the top when they’re out in the wild, not the orange root part.

There was a thread once about where the mice/cheese comes from since, if mice were waiting for a block of cheese to form naturally, they’d be waiting a long time :smiley:

Cats are supposed to be lactose intolerant (though I’ve heard good thing about active culture yoghurt).
How about fish eating worms? I seriously doubt that the habitats of fish and worms naturally co-incide to any great degree. :dubious:

Mice & Cheese

Cats and dogs both are lactose intolerant. I’ve never understood why it’s commom “knowledge” that cats need to have saucers of milk. If you want a diarrhea-cat sure, give them their saucer.

I’d say most animal food preference folklore is solidly rooted in fact. Mice are omnivores who favor high protein, high fat foods, and most cheese fits this bill very well. Cats are instinctively geared to pursue small animals and birds, although they also learn some hunting behaviors from their mothers, so yes, they undoubtedly eat rodents and presumably enjoy them as far as we can project the human idea of food cravings onto our four-footed friends. And yes, many nonhuman primate species are almost if not completely frugivorous.

Rabbits enjoy the carrot part too. Its hard, so it can help wear their teeth down a bit. And people often forget that rabbits are burrowers, so they could dig down to get the good carroty part!

People always think that rabbits love to eat lettuce. The thing is, they don’t hate it, but its usually bad for them. Remember Peter Rabbit? He snuck into the garden patch and ate all the lettuce… and ended up sick and being cared for by his mother. Bet you never knew that there was a moral in there for bunnies, eh?

This has come up in the past; I believe the mice/cheese stereotype derives from pre-refrigeration times; cheese was a common long-term storage item, it is also stored in discrete chunks, so it’s around for long enough for the mice to find it; it’s left alone in places where they won’t be disturbed and when they do eat it, they leave obvious traces of having done so (unlike, say, grains or beans - where they can just grab a few without anyone noticing they’re missing).


[li]monkeys eat bananas (I’ve seen a monkey eat a banana, but do they in the wild?)[/li][/quote]

Monkeys certainly do love bananas, but may have trouble getting to them in the wild, since they are mostly a crop cultivated away from forests. Wild bananas, of southeast Asia and New Guinea, are rather different from the cultivated varieties.

[li]elephants eat peanuts/peanut butter (seems unlikely, are there even peanuts in their natural habitat?)[/li][/quote]

Peanuts are native to South America, while elephants are native to Africa and Asia Since they grow underground, an elephant wouldn’t be able to gather them very well even where they might be cultivated in Africa and Asia. Elephants probably eat them mainly because that’s what’s offered to them in zoos and circuses.

[li]birds eat worms[/li][/QUOTE]

This stereotype probably originates mainly due to Robins and some other thrushes, which often feed on earthworms (as mentioned previously). Other birds will eat worms, but most do not eat them as frequently as Robins.

[li]bears like honey (not just Pooh. They make the honey bottles bear shaped, no?)[/li][/QUOTE]

Yes, bears like to eat wild honey along with bee larvae in the comb. Because of their sharp claws, strength, and thick fur they are one of the only animals capable of getting at it, too.

In my observation and experience, rodents (mice and squirrels) prefer sweet food when they can get it. Usually they can’t, so they eat cheese or acorns or whatever else is handy. Where there’s an abundance of food (like in the city where I live) and they can exercise choice, they seem to prefer sweets and junk, much like humans.

Once a mouse ate its way into a packaged lunch of mine, ignored the nice healthy apple and whole-wheat bagel, and munched a mouse-stomach-sized hole in a chocolate chip cookie. I’ve seen lots of squirrels ignore acorns on the ground and instead dive into trash cans, emerging with everything from nectarine pits to bakery paper from which the squirrel proceeded to lick the jelly that had oozed from someone’s donut.

“Birds eat worms” is an overgeneralization; some birds eat worms (and insects), but others eat seeds and grain.

“Horses eat apples and sugar cubes” is like saying “kids eat candy”’; horses certainly like apples and sugar cubes, but they won’t do as a steady diet.

What would be telling is if the traditional food for a given animal was different in a different culture: that would suggest a certain selection bias in each.

Of course, consistentcy won’t prove it’s NOT selection bias, as it could be springing from a common source or mutual influence.

I’m not sure that it would, after all, different cultures have different selections of food available; the preference expressed by their local fauna could still be a genuine observation that happens to be different from the equivalent in another region.

I’ve read that when exterminators bait mouse traps they use peanut butter as it attracts mice better than cheese.

The standard bait used by mammalogists in small mammal trapping surveys is rolled oats mixed with peanut butter.

On conventional spring traps, it has the advantage that it must be consumed in situ, increasing the chance that the trap wll be sprung, whereas a piece of cheese can sometimes be pulled off the trap without springing it and then eaten elsewhere.

Most of the exterminators I’ve seen at work now use glue traps which pretty much mean that all bait will be consumed in situ.

Bears eat poo?! :eek:

I’ve heard from folks at the Cleveland Zoo that the elephants’ actual favorite food seems to be pumpkins. It doesn’t seem too surprising: Most herbivores like fruits, when they can get them (liking sweet things is by no means unique to humans), and pumpkins are nice and big. They probably appreciate the texture, too. Mostly, though, they eat various grains.

Another thing to keep in mind is that individual animals may very well have different taste preferences. I’ve met some dogs which absolutely loved bananas and carrots, but other dogs won’t touch either. And what’s a human’s favorite food?

I wouldn’t say that dogs think cats are an ideal food.
I will say that domestic dogs seem to think that anything furry that runs from domestic dogs is fun to chase… even if it’s another dog.
I doubt my 30-lb dogs would use a cat as a food animal unless they were well along the path to starvation… an animal the size of a cat is a little bit big to be easy prey, especially given the built-in can of whoopass your average cat carries around.
Now if we’re talking about a Mastiff or something, I can’t see why a cat wouldn’t be food.