When The Vikings Came

Shrouded in myth, the Vikings have been regarded as both explorers and warriors but, much of what we know about them has changed including the role they played in helping  our four-legged feline friends make their way around the world.

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Recent studies into ancient cat DNA has revealed that domestic cats hitched a ride on Viking boats  (Photo: Shutterstock) Image ScienceNordic

Researchers actually know very little about how cats were ‘domesticated’ so the first large-scale study of ancient feline DNA presented this past September in the UK is a big first step towards understanding how our beloved house cats came to be. Eva-Maria Geigl, an evolutionary geneticist at the Institut Jacques Monod in Paris, and her colleagues analyzed mitochondrial DNA from the remains of 209 cats that lived between about 15,000 years ago and the eighteenth century AD, from more than 30 archaeological sites across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The first wave of cat expansion is something that most are familiar with – wild cats from the Middle East moved with early farming communities to the fertile Eastern Mediterranean. The cats were attracted by the rodents, who were attracted by the grains being stored by the farmers, and humans seeing the benefits they provided decided to keep the cats around. The discovery of a 9,500 year-old grave in Cyprus containing a cat buried with a human, suggests that the connection between felines and humans go as far back as 12,000 years.

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(Upper right) A human skeleton in Cyprus in a 9,500-year-old grave. Inches away, a cat was carefully buried, as seen in the lower section of the image.  Image – NBC News

During the second wave of expansion thousands of years later, cats descended from those in Egypt (It is generally thought that Ancient Egyptians tamed wild cats about 6,000 years ago) quickly spread throughout Eurasia and Africa. “A mitochondrial lineage common in Egyptian cat mummies from the end of the fourth century BC to the fourth century AD was also carried by cats in Bulgaria, Turkey and sub-Saharan Africa from around the same time.” It is very likely that sea-faring people like the Vikings kept cats on board their boats to help keep the rodent population down said researchers, who also discovered cat remains, with the same maternal DNA lineage present in the Egyptian cat mummies, at a Viking site in northern Germany dating to between the eighth and eleventh century AD.

Upon seeing the results of the first large-scale study of ancient feline DNA at the conference, Population Geneticist Pontus Skoglund from Harvard Medical School told Nature that he “didn’t even know there were Viking cats.” However, according to conservator Kristian Gregersen from the Natural History Museum of Denmark, the Vikings most certainly had domestic cats and that “people commonly wore cat skins by the late Viking Age.”

Interestingly this evidence seems to support the theory that two very popular and robust breeds the Maine Coon and the Norwegian Forest Cat, could have been brought to America and elsewhere by the Vikings. If you are wondering what that journey may have looked like be sure to click on the link or image below to check out this awesome, we wish it were real, flash-video by Joel Veitch.


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Being Cats

‘Why do cats act so weird’ from TED ED, narrated by Dr. Tony Buffington, veterinarian, researcher, professor and cat guru at Ohio State, tells us why cats act the way they do. These charming, entertaining and mysterious creatures who we share our homes with can reveal a lot about their ancestry and evolution through their seemingly quirky behavior. Are they truly weird or are they just being cats?

Important Cat Jobs

This is why your cat sleeps so much. They are busy, very busy.

Merry Catmas and Happy Holidays!

Hard to believe it’s that time of year again! Wishing all my readers a wonderful Christmas and holiday season. Whether you spend it with friends, family or felines I hope you take the time to sit back and relax. Lil Bub’s Most Magical Yule Log video, complete with guest appearances, a tree, mini couch and some extra special Bub effects, will help you do just that.

Merry Catmas and Happy Holidays!

Panthers in the Backyard

Amazing footage of a family of Florida Panthers captured on camera in a residents backyard. You can hear the cats before you see them. You will also notice some typical cat behavior when they head for the trees. Wait for the 3 minute mark when the action starts, you won’t be disappointed.

The Florida Panther is one of the most endangered mammals on earth, it is estimated that there are approximately 100-180 adults and subadults in south Florida, which is the only known breeding population. “They once lived in woodlands and swamps throughout the Southeast, but when European settlers arrived in the 1600s, the clear-cutting, building and other human activities that destroy, degrade and fragment habitat began, and the fear and misconceptions that led to panther persecution took root.”

“Their historical range was once across the southeastern United States including Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and parts of Tennessee and South Carolina. Now, the breeding population of Florida panthers is found only in the southern tip of Florida, south of the Caloosahatchee River.” – Defenders of Wildlife

Habitat loss, human development, prey loss and inbreeding are some of the challenges the Florida Panther faces.

Big Cat and the Spotted Skunk

Proof that even the big predators, carnivores like Mountain Lions, can be chased off their kills by smaller animals. Watch a tiny Spotted Skunk temporarily send this big cat packing right at about the 4:15 mark.

This is a supplementary video for an article published in The Canadian Field-Naturalist and was taken with a motion-triggered camera.

“Encounter competition occurs frequently over food resources and may include kleptoparasitism, where scavengers usurp prey killed by carnivores. Scavenging may have important adverse effects on carnivores and may result in higher than expected kill rates by predators. We placed a camera trap on a Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) carcass killed by a Cougar (Puma concolor) in California. We then documented a series of encounters in which a Western Spotted Skunk (Spilogale gracilis) temporally usurped the carcass from the Cougar, and also successfully defended the carcass when the Cougar returned and attempted to feed. The Spotted Skunk was about 1% of the mass of the Cougar, and this video documents the largest published size differential of a mammalian species engaging in successful encounter competition.”

The Hammock

“Cats have it all — admiration, an endless sleep, and company only when they want it.”
— poet Rod McKuen