The Science of Spots

Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories ‘How the leopard got it spots’ tells us that the feline had them painted on so it could blend into the forest ‘full of trees and bushes and stripy, speckly, patchy-blatchy shadows’. While we know that this is not true, he was close in his assumption in that the coat pattern is reflective of the cats primary environment – cats that hunt in open areas and are active mainly during the day, like lions, tend to have plain coats. Ones that dwell and hunt from trees, forested areas or at night, like leopards or jaguars, tend to have dappled, spotted coats, or in the case of tigers stripy coats.

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Connect the spots – Image – M-H JeevesChemistry World

It is known that coat and colors patterns like the leopards evolved for camouflage and, William Allen a researcher at the University of Bristol reinforced this theory after completing a study of coat pattern images from 37 different types of wild cats. The data from the images along with “information concerning the size of each species, its habitat, characteristic behaviors and more, was then plugged into a mathematical model of pattern development. ” It was determined that spots were most common in species that spend greater amounts of time moving in trees, and in those that are active at lower light levels.

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – It’s all about genetics. Every leopard has a different pattern – female South Luangwa NP, Zambia

Beside environment, there are likely more factors involved which influence the coat patterns of wild cats as they don’t always exactly mirror the animals surroundings. A few anomalies include the cheetah, which prefer open habitats but have retained their spots, this is thought to be the case because they rely mostly on speed, as opposed to camouflage, for hunting. The overall consensus is that coat patterns seem to have evolved to correspond to environments as well as how the wild cats behave within their specific environments.

Allen told BBC News that “When you place cat patterning over the evolutionary tree of cats, you can see that patterning emerges and disappears very frequently within the cat family, which is kind of interesting – it suggests that perhaps particular genetic mechanisms can solve very different appearances of cats.”

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Image ©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Clever cats at home in trees and perfectly camouflaged in low, shady light – Male Leopard South Luangwa NP, Zambia

The leopards beautiful spots are more than skin deep and the mechanism responsible may have a lot to do with chemistry. Alan Turing a mathematician and founder of computer sciences, proposed that chemistry had a role in forming patterns like those on a leopards coat. In Turings only published paper on chemistry, he put forth a set of equations which attempted to explain the patterns seen on leopards. The elements in this process contained and ‘activator’ whose presence caused cells to produce pigmented black hairs and, an ‘inhibitor’ that would cause cells to create white hairs. If they were strongly different it would enable a pattern to grow. Turing was able to demonstrate mathematically that these “simple components could account for a wide range of patterns and, a subtle tweaking of the parameters could alter the pattern to create spots, stripes, swirls, splodges or other markings.”

Much later on Turing’s theory would be used by biologists to support the hypothesis about other patterned animals. Chemists would eventually recreate an example of Turing’s pattern in a lab using a gel which developed a pattern of “yellow dots on a blue background”. It is now acknowledged that the science of spots has turned out to be more complicated than first presented and researchers admit that it does not fully solve the riddle of how the leopard got its spots, even though the theory is still considered a major contributor to determining how patterns form.

For more on the science of spots I highly recommend taking a listen to the BBC Radio 4 Just So Science episode which talks about the science and math behind the patterns and reading Plus Magazine’s Some Just So Stories of animal patterning.

Paper Wildlife

For your caturday viewing pleasure – a miniature world of paper wildlife with an important message.

From the National Geographic Short Film Showcase: “Paper predators and prey spring to life in this visually stunning short from directors Dávid Ringeisen & László Ruska. An ordinary desk and typical office supplies are the backdrop for this micro-universe that carries the macromessage of wildlife conservation. While humans are left out of the piece, their impact is still present in a discarded cigarette butt that sparks an imaginary forest fire and an overflowing wastebasket that pollutes a fantastical rolling-chair river. This piece is part of the filmmakers’ MOME thesis project, the animation department at Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest, Hungary and was created for WWF Hungary.”

Click here or on image to view video

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Image: National Geographic. Short Film Showcase: Step Into a Miniature World of Animated Paper Wildlife

Let’s Talk About Your Cat!

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The first Let’s Talk About Your Cat of 2017 is sure to help get your new year started off on the right paw. It features one of Purr and Roar’s followers, and fellow blogger’s, cats from San Diego, California. Thanks to Lisa for sharing the story and photo’s of her beautiful cats Dimitri and Milo!

Dimitri is a 4 years old, classic tabby and white Norwegian Forest Cat and, Milo is a 4 years old, black and white Norwegian Forest Cat.

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Dimitri (left) and Milo (right) hanging out on the kitchen counter

Describe your cats personalities

Milo is Dimitri’s “brother from another mother”—literally! They have two different moms, born 3 months apart, but they have the same father. Milo looks just like their dad. Norwegian Forest Cats are a naturally large breed, and Dimitri is a perfect example of this at 15 pounds.

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Milo (top) with his paw on Dimitri (bottom)

Milo is a little more petite and dainty at 12 pounds. My husband and I forget how big they appear to people (especially Dimitri) because we are so used to their size after living with them for 4 years. The other day at the vet the parents of a little Shih Tzu couldn’t believe the size of Dimitri…he was way bigger than their dog! We’ve also noticed that “regular” cats seem very small to us now. I don’t know if we’ll ever get used to all that fur…especially when they “molt” their winter coats in the spring!

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Dimitri in full winter coat

In addition to their size differences, they definitely have different personalities. Both are very sweet and gentle, but while Dimitri is more independent, Milo is very people-oriented. Dimitri is content to go off and sleep in a quiet spot for hours. He always wakes up in a happy mood and comes looking for rubs and pets. He carries his fluffy tail high like a plume when he walks around. He also likes to sleep flat on his back and curl his paws. All that fluffy white belly fur is pretty irresistible, but he’s likely to flip over and go “brrr” if you try to pet it.

While Dimitri is a cat’s cat, Milo is more like a puppy. He’s very vocal and affectionate…if you talk to him he’s likely to talk back, and if you pet him he’ll start purring. He loves getting pets while he eats his food, and jumping onto laps for a cuddle session…whether it’s a good time for us or not. He’s not shy around strangers, and many workmen who have come to the house have been totally charmed by Milo. He will follow them around, lie on their stuff, and just generally make a cat person out of everyone he meets.

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Milo relaxing in his chair

We live in a warm climate and have a sun room at the back of our house (renamed “the cat room”) where we put their cat trees and a toy basket. They love to sit in the tops of their trees and enjoy the breeze from all the windows. Our back yard is home to lots of little lizards and we’ve planted flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies, so they keep busy watching the wildlife all year-round. San Diego is not exactly Norway, but they seem to enjoy the Southern California lifestyle!

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Dimitri (top) and Milo (bottom) checking out the view from the “cat room”

How did your cats come into your life?

All of my previous cats have been rescues, but Norwegian Forest Cats have been my “dream cat” ever since I first learned about them many years ago. I was fascinated by their story…an old, natural breed literally from the forests of Norway. They were always somewhat rare and in danger of vanishing due to interbreeding with domestic short hairs in their surroundings. Cat lovers in Norway began making a concerted effort to save the breed from disappearing, beginning in the 1970s. They’ve been around for centuries (they’re said to have traveled the world with the Vikings on their boats…maybe even to North America, becoming the Maine Coon) but have been an officially recognized breed for only a relatively short time.

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Dimitri as a kitten

It’s very hard to find a rescued Norwegian. They’re rare to begin with and many breeders ask that owners return the cats to them if they can no longer care for them. As much as I admired them, I never thought I’d ever actually have one. After my last rescue kitty passed away, I began looking into the feasibility of getting one…or as it turned out, two. Careful research led me to a highly regarded breeder who was just as discriminating as I was. We flew cross-country so she could meet us and—just as importantly—we could see her home and meet her cats. Then we got on the kitten waiting list. Then we flew cross-country again two more times to pick up each kitten in person (many reputable breeders won’t ship). Getting our boys was definitely a labor of love. It pays to do your research, be patient, and yes, spend a bit of money to work with someone you’re comfortable with and get the cats you want. You kind of have to be a little obsessed to go this route, and while it’s not for everyone, the stars really did align for us.

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Milo as a kitten, with Hello Kitty

What is your first memory or experience with cats?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t crazy about cats. I’ve loved them ever since I could remember. When I was around 5, some of the neighborhood kids came around asking if my family would take in a little kitten. They said his mother had been hit by a car and he was by her side when they found him. I begged my parents to keep him but they said no. The kitten ended up at another house down the street and my mom and I saw him in the yard one day, looking even scruffier than before (I think he had some bubble gum and grease stuck in his fur). He looked pathetic enough for my mother to change her mind and agree to take him in. He was our only family pet and my close companion all through my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. I’d do my homework on my bedroom floor and he’d always sit on my books and papers…or if I was lying on my stomach, perch on my back. He passed away not long after I graduated from college, as if his death marked both an ending and a beginning.

Anything else people should know? 

I proudly admit to being a cat person, and those “I like cats more than people” t-shirts were definitely made for me! Talk about stereotypes, I was even an academic librarian for many years before switching to freelance writing. Cozying up with a good book and a cat or two is my idea of heaven.  I do love all animals though, and have been known to act like an excited kid when I see a cute dog out for a walk or pass by the hamsters at the local pet store. I’ve volunteered for several animal welfare organizations over the years, some that worked with all animals and some that were specific to cats.

Cat rescue work is important but I’ve taken a bit of a break from it as I have to admit I find it emotionally draining sometimes. I used to work at a small cat shelter and found myself getting a little too upset at some of the things I saw, mostly related to what people are capable of doing to innocent animals.

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Dimitri looking handsome

A move from Colorado to California two years ago offered the opportunity for a fresh start. I heard about a local non-profit called the Foundation for Animal Care and Education (FACE) which provides financial assistance to pet owners who are unable to pay for all or part of their animal’s emergency or critical veterinary care. Urinary blockages are among the most common feline health problems that FACE helps people with. I’ve been writing the FACE Foundation blog on a volunteer basis for a couple of years now…just a small way of contributing to such a worthy cause.

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One of Lisa’s favorite pictures of Milo

Having faced an expensive kitty health crisis or two in my own life—including the dreaded urinary blockage—I can certainly appreciate how overwhelming costly veterinary bills can be while you are in the middle of making very important decisions about your pet’s medical care.

If you would like to have your cat/s featured on Let’s Talk About Your Cat, feel free to contact me at purrandroar(at)gmail(dot)com

Cat Dance

Why go out dancing when you can stay home and watch this? Spanish Dance Troupe Ballet Zoom performs their version of ‘Cats’. Your dose of retro ridiculousness. Can’t figure out if the kittens are very happy though, maybe a little confused. Happy Caturday!

Rescue and Reunion

Animal rescue teams have been hard at work since the Fort McMurray fires broke over a week ago and some wonderful progress has been made in rescuing and reuniting pets with their owners. There were some reports that rescue groups had initially been blocked from entering the city by police causing a concern that pets would not be found in time. Fortunately the situation was rectified and soon the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo took the lead on coordinating all pet rescue in the area.

Both the RCMP and first responders were helping out by giving food and water to animals that they came across and transporting them out to animal control facilities when possible.

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A RCMP officers offers food to a cat in Fort McMurray, Alberta on Friday May 6, 2016. RCMP will do what they can to assist pets they may come across in carrying out search and rescue operations. Image calgaryherald.com

To date a multitude of officials, rescue groups, shelters, veterinarians and volunteers have worked tirelessly together to locate, health check, provide care for and return animals to their owners. Hundreds of animals are being housed by the City of Edmonton Animal Care and Control or fostered until they can be returned to their families.

One happy and tearful reunion via Rescued, Reunited, and Unclaimed Pets Of Fort Mac

 

Today the Alberta SPCA reports that the official count from the Fort McMurray People and Animal Reunion Centre in Edmonton is:

  • 955 animals checked in and health-checked
  • 486 animals reunited with their owners
  • 206 animals scheduled for reunions

One cat named Tux, christened the ‘Miracle Stove Cat’, survived in a house that burnt to the ground. Temperatures reached a thousand degrees, but Tux managed to survive by crawling into the stove. They think the glass in the stove broke from the intensity of the fire and he crawled in to hide, the stove fell over and Tux remained trapped until firefighters found him. Another cat named Sky also survived possibly by escaping from an open door, however two other cats from the same household are still reported missing.

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Firefighter Alex Jackson after saving ‘Stove Cat’ and bandaging his paws. Image Alberta SPCA

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Sky the cat rescued along with Tux the Stove Cat

One man who stayed behind in Fort McMurray is being called a hero after he took care of dogs, cats and rabbits that he came across, or that people on Facebook had asked him to check on. In an interview Lee Ellis tells CBC Radio that he visited about 20 houses per day for four days, helping about 80 pets. He went around door to door when the requests started coming in via Facebook and says that the animals were starved not just for food but also for attention. He avoided detection by riding around on a bike for the first three days, then on the fourth day while using a vehicle he was caught by the RCMP and escorted out. Lee says that he did manage to rescue a few more animals before leaving for good the following day.

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Lee Ellis with one of the many cats in Fort McMurray that he fed while remaining in the city after it had been evacuated. (Facebook.com/lee.ellis.980) via CBC.ca

Besides cats and dogs other animals like horses, chickens and even a pig named Marshall have been rescued. Michelle Coutu told CBC News that there was no advance notice of the evacuation and the sight of the flames sent her family scrambling. While she was able to cram her daughter, her grandson and her three dogs into the back of her truck, there was no room for the pig. “All I could do is let Marshall out of his pen and put some food down for him and pray for the best.”

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Marshall the “tough little” beer-loving pig – Image – CBC

Michelle reported Marshall missing and social media did the rest. The RCMP found him alive and tweeted a picture of an officer feeding the lucky pig a watermelon. The very resilient Marshall is now staying with friends and animal control until he can be reunited with his family.

While it could be weeks before residents are allowed to start returning home, for some being reunited with their animal companion is an important first step in the healing process.

Important Cat Jobs

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

Cats in a Coal Mine

The term ‘Canary in a Coal Mine’ is a familiar one and refers to the practice of using canaries to help detect dangerous gases while miners worked. Canaries were apparently used right up to the 20th century and phased out in the UK as recently as 1986. Besides these commonly used birds a wide range of other animals were also employed in mine work, including cats.

At first glance it may appear that cats were running around in coal mines, however a little further research revealed that cats in a coal mine were used to help to keep the rodent population under control in the pony stables, thankfully the cats never actually entered the mines.

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Leia, now retired from the UK’s last deep coal mine in Beal, Yorkshire. Leia along with fellow colliery cat Solo went to a nearby farm after the mine closed last month. Image – Your Cat

Four feral cats including Leia, pictured above, who worked at the North Yorkshire mine in the UK kept the stables clear of mice and rats and in turn they received food, shelter, water and care from the miners.

James Hodgkison of the Cats Protection York Adoption Center said the charity was called in to assist, trap and help transition the cats to new homes after the mine was slated to close last month. He said that the cats  were “very much valued by workers for keeping rodents in check…and had been well cared for by the miners…they were in great condition.”

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Florence was re-homed, with Betty pictured below, also to a nearby farm. Image – Pet News today

The new owners, who were very happy to provide homes for the cats, see them as an important part of mining history. They report that they are doing well and are continuing to work hard as mouser’s. Amanda Beal, who named the two cats she adopted Leia and Solo, tells Your Cat that while Solo is still “very feral…Leia very quickly decided that she likes some creature comforts and moved into the house.”

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Betty and Florence were named after two women involved in the miners strikes in the 1980s. – Image Sunday Express UK

While researching this piece I came across an urban legend that says cats were “thrown down closed coal mines in England during the Thatcher years by cruel people wanting to dispose of their pets.” According to the story, many years later, it was found that the cats had survived the fall and had “mutated into a community of blind cats with huge ears who were adapted to living in the complete darkness of the mine shaft.” More on this myth and how it was debunked can be read here under the Blind Coal Mine Kittens.