A headline from the news site Inverse stopped me in my tracks when I read it this week: “Can Cats Tell Time? Yes, But It’s Complicated.”

Now a lot of people who have lived with cats know that they can be very insistent alarm clocks.

If you wake up at 6, they jump on your bed and start howling in your ear at 5:45.

But you could argue that’s really just a learned behavior.

If the household routine is that you feed the cat when you wake up, they’re going to be ready for you.

And they could be responding to other things that happen as part of the morning routine rather than the hours and minutes ticking by.

So the question is: do cats understand the concept of time passing?

There’s not a lot of research on this exact question, but the answer seems to be, kind of.

Humans, of course, perceive the passage of time.

We can also think about real or possible events in terms of time.

When we remember something that’s already happened, we know it’s in the past, and when we imagine something that might happen, we know that’s in the future.

Cats and other non-human animals seem to have some of these same abilities, though probably not to the same degree humans do.

But it appears that their relationship to time is less focused on these “episodic memories,” as they’re called, and more connected to their biological clocks.

Cats have evolved to be most active at dawn and dusk, so they can hunt.

So, no surprise, the answer to whether cats can perceive time, eventually leads back to food.

And honestly, the actual answer is probably that cats can tell time but they just don’t want us to know that they can.

This weekend in Nenana, Alaska, it’s the annual Tripod Days.

There are all kinds of races, games and contests, including the Nenana Ice Classic.

For a $3 ticket, people can predict when a wooden tripod placed on the ice will end up in the river.

And yes, there are prizes for the winners!

Can Cats Tell Time? Yes, But It’s Complicated (Inverse)

Nenana Ice Classic

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Photo by Jonathan McIntosh via Flickr/Creative Commons