The internet loves its cats, and as of late, it especially loves its cats freaking out over some cucumbers. Random… but hilarious.
When a cucumber appears behind a cat or next to it — especially while they’re eating — it often triggers the cat to jump or freak out and flee, causing some extremely popular GIFs and videos.
In case you need proof:
— Nash (@Nasharchy) December 24, 2015
cat, cucumber pic.twitter.com/DhDn2sZgzr
— Diana Mazkalnins (@DianaMazkalnin) December 23, 2015
— Hand Luggage Only (@HLOBlog) November 19, 2016
But it turns out, cats aren’t really afraid of cucumbers. They’re afraid of snakes, predators and random objects sneaking up behind them. Some theorize cucumbers look similar enough to snakes that if one suddenly appears behind them, it’s instinctual for them to jump. The high jump keeps them from getting bitten if the cucumber were, in fact, a snake.
“If a cat sees something slithering over the ground, the cat often will jump a couple of feet up in the air, a behavior that prevents getting bitten by a snake,” animal behaviorist Con Slobodchikoff said during an interview with ABC.
He added, “Cats are genetically hard-wired through instinct to avoid snakes. Cucumbers look enough like a snake to have the cat’s instinctive fear of snakes kick in.”
It isn’t just cucumbers that could trigger this jumping response, though it does seem to be the food item that looks most like the slithery animal. It doesn’t help that cats don’t see color in the same way humans do. They see color as less vibrant than we humans, especially greens and reds, so the green could easily look like the green of a snake.
“Anything that looks like a snake could produce the instinctive fear response,” Slobodchikoff said in the same interview with ABC. “Cucumbers are shaped more like snakes, with their curving sides, than ears of corn or eggplants, so they produce a greater response.”
Dr. Roger Mugford, also an animal behavior expert, told The Telegraph that due to a cat’s suspicious nature, many items could theoretically cause the same response.
“Cats have to be suspicious of the unknown: It could represent the danger of a snake or another predator,” Mugford said. “I suspect that there would be the same reaction to a model spider, a plastic fish or a human face mask.”
And while this cucumber phenomenon is, admittedly, funny to witness, you shouldn’t make a habit of scaring your cat regularly, if ever. Turns out, that constant fear can cause long-term damage.
“Any time you scare an animal, you risk inflicting psychological damage, so that the animal will be afraid not only of cucumbers,” Slobodchikoff said, “but also the surroundings in which the cucumber was presented to the animal.”
Rather than freaking your furry friend out to the point of no return, it’s best to introduce new items slowly and carefully, and not while the cat is eating or has its head in a bowl, which is a vulnerable position. Make sure they have plenty of room to escape if they feel the need so they don’t break any items around the house or hurt themselves.
Suddenly those cat videos seem rather sad. Moral of the story: Leave those cucumbers in the fridge where they belong.