Since the dawn of the internet, cats have quickly grown to take prominence over dogs as the world’s favorite pet. Whether they are sweet, social, or a little bit mischievous, cats always have a way of keeping us on our toes and our attention rapt on them. But how much do you really know about cats?
Did you know that cats can free dive without a parachute or that they are they have a similar ability as snakes? In this article, we will cover some of the weirdest and most unusual strange cat facts that you probably did not know.
With all of the internet fame that cats have achieved, it only makes sense that a couple of the more savvy felines would eventually make it to some of the highest bureaucratic and political offices in the land. For instance, cat engineers are fairly popular in Japan where popular felines are given official titles at various metro stations.
Generally, they are given the title of official “Ratter”–yes, that is a real thing–but a few have even risen to prominence by becoming an honorary engineer.
On the other side of the pond, as Meena Duerson reports, cats have had even more success in the political arena where they have won multiple mayorships and almost won the mayorship of Mexico City, which has a population of almost 9 million people.
Friends in High Places
Aside from being fairly influential in their own right, cats have also attracted the admiration of some of history’s most famous humans as well.
For instance, the Great Emancipator himself, Abraham Lincoln has noted for his deep love of cats to the point that Mary Todd, his wife noted that was his only past time as told by the Lincoln Estate.
Lincoln’s love of felines was such that he adopted nearly every stray cat that wandered onto the White House grounds while he was president.
The famed, gruff author, Ernest Hemingway, loved cats so much that he left his estate to them–at least so they could live freely without worry–which still hosts 45 such cats to this very day.
In fact, Hemingway’s appreciation for cats was such that polydactyl cats, those cats with an extra toe on their forepaws, are even colloquially called Hemingway cats.
No, we are not talking about the famed Smilodon or the Saber-Toothed Tiger, but about fully domesticated cats. While initial estimates have cats being domesticated by the ancient Egyptians and were revised to stretch back to Ancient China, domestic cats have actually been around since before written history.
Currently, the oldest site of a domestic cat’s grave sits off the coast of Greece in Cyprus in a grave that dates back 9500 years ago–well before the Egyptian Pharaohs or Chinese dynasties rose to power.
Coincidentally as Wim Van Neer highlights, the domestication of cats occurred roughly around the same time and in the same regions where humans first developed sustained agriculture.
Unlike dogs which can roughly trace their ancestry back over 35000 years ago and includes numerous different early domesticated breeds, cats actually have a far more narrow lineage.
In fact, every domestic cat that we see can be traced back to one of five different Wildcats that were native to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions roughly 10000 years ago.
The most common ancestor is the Near East Wildcat which is also known as the African Wildcat but quickly branched to the European Wildcat, the Chinese Mountain Cat, and the Middle Eastern Sand Cat.
History buffs will recognize this as the time of the Fertile Crescent and the rise of the agricultural revolution. Not surprisingly, Felis catus, the scientific name for the species of cat that makes up domestic breeds, found its footing as a natural ratter hunting vermin and other pests that were drawn to the newly erected granaries.
Get a Job
As has been alluded to before, cats were initially domesticated for the same reason that all domesticated animals were: to work. Whereas dogs were domesticated primarily for hunting and guarding purposes, cats were put to work doing what they do best: catching rodents and other smaller pests and vermin.
Of course, once the greatness of cats was unleashed, people began putting them to work in many of the same capacities as dogs.
For instance, Michelle Dinh notes, the great families of multiple Chinese dynasties actually trained and owned guard cats. While these guard cats were trained primarily to raise the alarm should they find an intruder, there are more than a few stories of Chinese guard cats actually fighting off an intruder or would-be assassin by itself.
While these days the guard cats of the fabled Forbidden City are mostly strays, they were once a fairly well-trained group of Siamese that would prowl the corridors looking for any intruders, big or small.
Sinner and Saint
The West has a bit of a fair-weather relationship with cats with our feline friends currently enjoying arguably their greatest wave of popularity since the internet showed us how amazing our fur babies truly are.
However, cats have long entranced human civilizations with their unique blend of sociability and aloofness. The love of cat by Ancient Egyptians is fairly well-known, but other ancient cultures venerated cats as well.
Ancient Hindu stories in India actually hold a similar opinion of cats that the Egyptians did–through the Indian peoples venerated bovines above cats.
In the west, it was Pope Innocent the XIII that first codified the superstition that cats were evil or demonic in nature as Michael Moore writes.
The origin of this belief has more to do with the migration of people from the fields to the cities and the fact that the people who remained often kept cats for the same reasons people always did but were seen as antisocial.
Most of the time, we think of cats as either playful rascals, lazy companions, or even tiny panthers, but cats can be incredibly caring. In fact, it is built into the very fabric that they provide a healing benefit not only to themselves but to those around them as well.
Coming from Elizabeth Palermo, Cats accomplish this by purring which is used not only to communicate their mood and physical state but to also kickstart the healing process.
In fact, scientists have uncovered that cats purr at the same frequency that stimulates bone and muscle repair by activating the piezoelectric effect. On top of that, some cats have even demonstrated the ability to smell terminal disease in patients as well as identify when a patient is nearing death.
Such Picky Eaters
Most of what we think about cats in terms of their diets are either wrong or misunderstood. First, in contrast to most other domesticated animals, cats are obligate carnivores which means that they cannot digest plant matter.
This can create many issues with modern cat care since most cat food includes large amounts of grains which can lead to a number of dietary diseases and disorders.
That said Skyesville Veterinarian Clinic points out that cat digestion is even more unusual than we commonly know such as the fact that cats have super kidneys which can even process saltwater–something that will kill humans in the same situation.
Oh, and cats eat grass, not for nutritional value but because they will throw it up. Much like how we use ipecac, cats eat grass to induce vomiting to clean out any other digestive issues.
Humans’ closest animal relative may be the chimpanzee, but cats are actually far more similar to humans than first meets the eye. In fact, cats are incredibly intelligent and, by all physical measurements, are some of the smartest domestic animals we know of.
The debate is long over, by the way, cats are more intelligent than dogs with nearly twice as many neuron connections in their brains.
On top of that, the actual physical structure of a cat’s brain is surprisingly similar to ours too. Even more shocking, one of the most notable similarities between cats’ brains and ours is the emotional lobe of the brain as noted by Gayle Hickman.
It is an eternal shock to even cat lovers everywhere that a cat’s brain is far more similar to ours, 90 percent similar than it is to a dog’s brain.
This YouTube video highlights many, though not all, of the strange facts we present you.
One of the biggest complaints that cat-haters have is that cats are not friendly or that they are too aloof. What it really amounts to is that cat-haters simply want an animal to fawn over them to make them feel better about themselves. Cats, as solitary creatures, have no need to make anyone or anything feel good except themselves.
That said, cats are especially adept conversationalists as they only meow to communicate with us, as Melissa Dahl states.
As impressive as this adaptation is in comparison to other domesticated animals, cats one up that ability by producing a wide range of sounds just to communicate with us.
This social intelligence extends even to the point of manipulation as cats will make their meows sound like a child’s cry to elicit help from us, dumb humans.
It’s All Greek to Me
While cats may have pretty much developed an entire language just to speak with us–a language that includes up to 100 different types of utterance– they generally prefer to communicate non-verbally.
In fact, if you understand how to read a cat’s body language, you can likely have just as meaningful interactions and even communication without ever making a sound.
Things like posture, facial expression, and movement are all primary forms of communication for cats to inform those around them–regardless of the species–to how they are feeling.
As Jane Kelly shows, the ears, eyes, tails, and back are all the main forms that cats use to communicate how they feel. Interestingly enough, cats are so effective at communicating that virtually all animals can understand their signals even if they have never encountered cats prior.
Predator and Prey
It is important to remember that despite how much they might look like a large apex predator cat, domestic cats have never been apex predators.
For all their prowling, hunting, and pouncing, domestic cats have always been prey to a number of different predators in their natural habitat.
As the NPS notes, the biggest threat that cats have had to deal with over time are snakes, which can match a cat’s speed and slow them down with venom, and raptors, who use their ability to dive from the sky as well as their razor talons and beaks.
This is actually why cats will often show predatory behavior one minutes and then get spooked and act like a “scaredy cat” the next.
Most people are aware that both cats and dogs have enhanced senses compared to humans, but cats have some unusual abilities well above and beyond that of even dogs. For instance, neither dogs nor cats have the best daytime or color vision, with cats being completely color-blind, but cats have insanely acute nighttime vision.
This is due to the fact that cats have up to 8 times as many rods–the cell used for detecting light in most mammals–as humans.
However, cats also have a layer of tissue called the tapetum which likely increases the light that they do receive further.
Another interesting sense of cats is their ability to actually taste smells in a fairly similar way to snakes with a special organ in their nose that is chemically sensitive as told by Franny Syufy. Of course, nothing really compares to a cat’s hearing ability.
I Can Hear You
While cats often get the most praise for their ability to see in the dark, it is their sense of hearing that they rely on the most.
This is most notably observed by the fact that cats have over 20 different muscles for controlling the movement of their ears and no muscles to change the shape of their eye’s lens as reported by Animal Planet.
These muscles allow the cat to position its ears to best hear noise no matter where it comes from. This is what allows a cat to actually rotate its ear a complete 180-degrees to provide a complete circumaural experience. This is actually one of the biggest reasons it is so hard to sneak up on fluffy–he can hear you coming a mile away.
No matter how long you have had cats, no matter how many different cats you have cared for, there is a pretty good chance that cats still have something to teach you.
Whether it is their impact over the course of ancient history, some of the more unusual physical traits they have, or even their surprising intellect, there is a reason that the world over has fallen in love with the feline.
In fact, just recently cats overtook dogs as the most owned pet in the world and the lead just keeps growing. The good news is that the more we spend time with cats the more strange cat facts we learn.