Caturday felid trifecta: Medieval cat armor; Russian mother cat raises baby hedgehogs; “talking” cat helps scientists; and lagniappe

December 18, 2021 • 10:30 am

Today we have our usual trifecta of cat-related items—and lagniappe as well.

First, some wonderful cat armor. What is it used for? Well, I don’t know, but I suppose it’s useful against armed mice or unarmed but vicious rats. Click on the screenshot to read:

The text is short, but there are many pictures of these fantastic suits of armor. The text:

Jeff de Boer is a Calgary-based multi-media artist with an international reputation for producing some of the world’s most original and well-crafted works of art.

He decided to create glorious suits of armor for cats and even mice, which we’ve shared some of our favorites with you below.

He has said that he was inspired to create these stunning pieces from his own kitty.

And here’s a sample. Aren’t they swell?

Helmets! Look at the whiskers!

Mouse armor for defense against cats:

. . . and the artist with his creation:

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From Cole and Marmalade we get the story of a cat who, despite the prickles, nursed hedgehogs in a Russian zoo.

Zoo Cat Musya Becomes World Famous ‘Mother of Hedgehogs’

The details:

Musya, or Muska the cat, became a sensation at the Sadgorod Zooin southeastern Russia. On the zoo’s Instagram page, she is seen nursing a littler of hoglets, the name for baby hedgehogs. Due to her strong maternal instinct, she cared for them as her own. Amazingly, Musya didn’t mind that these “kittens” were covered in little spiky quills.

But how did Musya become a mother to hedgehogs?

Ain’t she a beaut? More text:

One day, someone brought the zoo a litter of eight tiny hoglets. Unfortunately, their mother had likely been killed in a lawnmower accident, but the babies survived. However, they were tiny and still blind, requiring their mother’s milk.

Now, the zookeepers had to find a way to take care of the babies, but they were so small. Unfortunately, the hedgehogs refused milk from a bottle, saucer, or syringe.

According to the zoo’s Instagram, Musya happened to be in the room and saw the hoglets. (Translation via Google)

“We thought what to do, how to feed them so many little ones, and at that moment Musya passed by, it became interesting to her to look at the new residents. And after some time, her maternal instinct woke up. We knew that this happens, but to be honest, we were very surprised at this. Musya is sterilized, but milk has appeared,” states the zoo’s Instagram.

According to the BBC, Musya had recently raised a litter of foster kittens. Therefore, she had milk to offer, and the zookeepers decided to see if she would raise the hoglets. And she obliged, raising them as if they were her kittens for over a week! At night, she kept them warm. 

In the pictures below, you can see that Musya is incredibly patient as the hoglets crawl everywhere.

I guess cat milk is sufficient to raise hoglets to the weaning stage:

After people saw the images of Musya, she became a star. She even appeared on popular shows on Russian TV, becoming known as “Musya, the famous Mother of Hedgehogs,” long after “Game of Thrones,” and the Mother of Dragons.

Visitors to the zoo were encouraged to pet her and say, “Musya, beauty.” 

Soon, the hedgehogs were able to feed on their own. As you can imagine, visitors to the zoo wanted to see them, and they enjoyed a natural enclose with plantings and a hedgehog lair, caves made just for them. 

All’s well that ends well!

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From the woke site Salon, but I couldn’t resist. Click on screenshot.  The headline is a bit overblown.

The upshot is that a 13-year-old Florida cat named Billi was given a panel of 50 buttons, each of which speak a word when pressed. There’s a symbol for Billi to see. The question was, would Billi learn to “speak”?

I’d expect that Billi would be able to associate objects with buttons, and she did (she was especially proficient in the use of the “food” button), but cats don’t have semantic language, so while they may be able to put buttons together, like Koko the gorilla, the cat wouldn’t ever be able to speak the way we do. And that’s what happened. Excerpts:

Billi, a 13-year-old domestic cat in Florida, presses a button that voices the word “dog” — twice.

She proceeds to sit as if she’s waiting for her human parent, Kendra Baker, to respond.

“Dog outside, hmm?” Baker asks Billi, via the buttons. A few minutes later, Billi presses another button for “tummy,” twice.

“Accident or premeditated murder? You decide,” Baker writes on the caption of the video on Instagram.

Those who follow the travails of internet-famous “talking” animals may be familiar with Bunny the Talking Dog, a TikTok– and Instagram-famous pet. Just like Bunny, Billi the cat uses an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device — essentially, a sound board made up of buttons with a different word vocally recorded on each — to “talk” to her human, Baker. Baker, like Bunny’s human parent, was inspired to attempt this means of animal-human communication after she observed Christina Hunger, a speech-language pathologist, who taught her dog Stella to use an AAC device.

. . .That didn’t stop Baker. At the start of the pandemic, when she found herself with extra time on her hands, Baker decided to order an AAC device to see if Billi could “talk,” too.

“At that point Billi was the first cat that I knew of to try it,” Baker tells Salon. “I hadn’t seen any cats do it.”

Considering Billi’s feline status, Baker was naturally a bit skeptical at first.

“I was concerned because they [the buttons] were quite large for a little tiny kitty, and I was not sure that she was actually going to be heavy enough to press them,” Baker said. “So I started with a word that I’d really not recommend that you start with, which is ‘food,’ because it becomes very motivating for them. And Billi loves food.”

Baker’s concerns quickly washed away once it became clear that Billi was able to press the button “food” — which she appeared to enjoy doing perhaps a little too much.

“She was definitely heavy enough for it,” Baker said. “And then I later regretted starting with food because it kind of backfired on me, but it definitely got the ball rolling.”

Today, Billi has 50 words on her board, and — like Bunny — is part of the ongoing research project called TheyCanTalk, whose goal is to understand if animals can communicate with humans through AAC devices. While the study is mostly made up of dogs, about 5 percent of the animals using AAC devices are now felines. It turns out that many cats have been successful at using the device.

Leo Trottier, cognitive scientist and founder of How.TheyCanTalk Research and developer of the FluentPet system Billi uses, admitted to Salon he was “pessimistic” about cats using the buttons, but was pleasantly surprised when they started to see felines catch on. Now, he’s intrigued by the ways in which cats appear to use the buttons differently from dogs.

“What’s interesting is that they [cats] tend to not do that much in the way of multi-button presses, but there’s like a lot of single-button presses,” Trottier tells Salon. “With cats, you kind of have to find things they really want, and there are just fewer of those than with dogs.”

As one expects, d*gs are needier than cats.

Finally:

“She does string words together, but it is much less frequent than what I see some of the dogs doing, and I don’t know exactly why that is but I will say she’s more deliberate in her button presses,” Baker said. “Billi is very, very deliberate when she presses a button and knows exactly which one she’s looking for, she takes her time . . . and if she is going to string a sentence together, she’ll take a thinking loop and then she’ll come back — very rarely does she go from one directly to another.”

No the cat isn’t “speaking” in what we consider true speech: using semantic language and not just stringing symbols together. Still, this would make a great cat toy if you could turn it off! (Otherwise you’d hear “feed me” repeated a gazillion times at 4 a.m.!). The staff has found that Billi seems to be a lot less bored now that she has her speech buttons to play with.

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Lagniappe:  “Towser,” a distillery cat in Scotland who was touted as “the world’s best mouser”, has had her statue erected. Click on screenshot from Atlas Obscura:

:

THE GLENTURRET DISTILLERY MIGHT DATE as far back as 1717 when it is believed that illegal distillation operations took place in the site of the modern distillery. The Hosh was the first official distillery registered in this location in 1775. Both dates place it among the oldest distilleries in Scotland, although the switches between illegal and legal operations, as well as name changes, make the claim one that is highly disputed. What is clear is that the current distillery has a long, rich history. Said history also happens to include a particular cat.

Towser was the distillery’s resident mouser since 1963. Given the large amounts of barley stored for use in whisky production, distilleries are often havens for mice, making cats such as Towser a necessity. A long-haired tortoiseshell, Towser was exceptionally adept at her job with a recognized 28,899 mice killed during her 24 years living in Glenturret. The figure was estimated from her daily average kills. Following her death in 1987, the Guinness World Book of Records classified her as the world mousing champion, a title she retains to this day.

. . . The statue honoring Towser was installed in the distillery when it was part of the Famous Grouse Experience.

And here is the statue of this cat.  I wonder who counted all those dead mice? The record amounts to 1203 mice caught per year, or an average 3.3 per day.

The distillery has had several mousers after Towser, but none came up to snuff, and several died young or vanished.

Distilleries of course need mousers, as there is lots of grain about. To read more about other famous mousers of Scotch distilleries, go here.

h/t: Robert

11 thoughts on “Caturday felid trifecta: Medieval cat armor; Russian mother cat raises baby hedgehogs; “talking” cat helps scientists; and lagniappe

  1. An aside, for no particular reason: Why do cats so love western Pennsylvania? Because one city there is Altoona.

    No, I’m not sorry.

  2. “Towser,” a distillery cat in Scotland who was touted as “the world’s best mouser”, has had her statue erected. Click on screenshot from Atlas Obscura:

    It was there about 5 years ago when I took some German visitors there – and sent you the pix.
    At least, I sent you the pix. Whether they got through is another question.

  3. And after some time, her maternal instinct woke up. We knew that this happens, but to be honest, we were very surprised at this. Musya is sterilized, but milk has appeared,” states the zoo’s Instagram.

    I, for one, am almost daily expecting some medical tinkerer to work out how to get the human male to lactate more-or-less to order. And then market it as a virtue-signal that “the ‘new man’ Dad must equally share the burdens of caring for their child with the mother”.
    Then … next on the to-do list would be nerve to nerve sensation copying from the mother’s epidural injection to a corresponding transmitter implanted in the father’s spine. That is going to be a lot more challenging. But hey, the body modification squad are going to love it.

    I guess cat milk is sufficient to raise hoglets to the weaning stage:

    Does anyone have a consensus mammalian family tree to hand, and can answer if humans are more closely related to cows than cats are to hedgehogs?
    Alternatively, does anyone know of a mammalian species pair where the infants of one species cannot drink (and derive nutrition from) the milk of the other species.

    1. The quick answer from TimeTree is that human and cow split 10 million years earlier than cats versus hedgehogs.

      1. That is just a 10 % difference, so assuming much the same substitution rates it is much the same distances.

      2. Let me be more precise: The substitution distance is twice that, but even with much different substitution rates it wouldn’t be dramatically different between the two pairs.

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