Caturday felid trifecta: Are cat breeders sexist?; cats learn names of cat friends; a new Parliamentary cat; and lagniappe

August 6, 2022 • 9:30 am

From McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, we have an official report: Are cat breeders sexist? (Click on screenshot below to read.) It’s a phony title and I have no idea why they used it.

The author first explains why virtually all tortoiseshell and calico cats are females: they have two X’s (females in cats), the relevant coat-color genes are on the sex chromosomes, and, well, here you go:

Given that the Y chromosome is so much smaller than the X, there is a potential here for a gene dosage problem. Genes code for proteins. A female has two long X chromosomes, whereas a male has one long X chromosome and one tiny, atrophied Y chromosome. If a female has twice as many copies of the genes on her sex chromosomes as a male, she will make twice as many proteins from those chromosomes, which from a biological standpoint might cause problems. Nature’s solution? To partially silence one of these X chromosomes in females. And this takes us back to those cats with two- or three-coloured coats.

The different colourings in a calico or tortoise shell are due to a different chromosome being inactivated in different parts of their body. These two cat breeds have the black fur version of the gene on one X chromosome and the orange version on the other. So, a cat’s ears might be black because the X chromosome containing the orange trait is silenced there, and her tail may be orange from the opposite effect.

You should all know this, and when you see a parti-colored cat like these, you can impress your friends not just with the “gender reveal,” but also bore them by explaining why. But it’s good genetics, and ensures that if there’s a deleterious recessive gene on one X, it’s expressed in only about half the cells, which means its deleterious effect doesn’t show.

By the way, other animals have other ways to effect this “dosage compensation.” In fruit flies, for instance, the males with one X simply double the output of genes on that chromosome, equalizing the amount of gene products in both sexes.

BUT. . . there’s NOTHING about sexism in this article: it’s a clickbait headline—by a university! What we read about is sex and coat color, not sexism.

Oh, and about those rare male calicos?

Bottom line: that’s why these cats are almost always female, because they need to have two X chromosomes. But there are some exceptions. For a male to be a calico or tortoise shell, he must have three sex chromosomes (two Xs and one Y), a condition which is called Klinefelter syndrome. However, they tend not to live as long due to complications that arise from the extra sex chromosome. These boys are quite rare – one in 3,000. But we try not to play favourites — be sure to give them all lots of cuddles!


This article from Nature Scientific Reports (click on screenshot below, or find the pdf here)

In short, the experimenters presented cats with photos on a computer screen of cats with whom they lived. At the same time, either the real name of the companion cat was called out by the voice of the staff, or a fake name was called out.

The results: cats paid attention to the picture longer when the ‘incongruent’ name was uttered, supporting the idea that cats do learn the names of “friend cats”. (The assumption is that the cats are befuddled and keep looking at the screen, an assumption that may not be justified.)

There was another experiment when the same kind of experiment was done with pictures of humans who staffed the cat, and in families of different sizes. The real name of the staff member was called out (by a different staff member), as well as a fake name in a control experiment.

The results were the same as above: cats paid attention to the human faces longer when an incongruent, unfamiliar human name was used. Moreover, the “incongruent” effect was stronger in staff families of larger size, as well as in families that had lived with the cat longer.  This suggests that cats not only learn the names of their “friend cats”, but also of their staff, and the learning effect of staff is reinforced through humans calling each other the names that the cats heard. The larger the family, the more times a human name is called, and so it is with length of time that the cat is staffed.

The upshot: cats can learn names, both of their staff and of friend cats. I don’t know if that would surprise you. They certainly learn names like “dinner” and “tuna”!


The Guardian reports that Lindsay Hoyle, MP and Speaker of the Commons, has brought yet another cat into Downing Street, joining Larry (the Official Mouser to the Cabinet office) and Palmerston, the Official Cat of the Foreign Office. Click to read:

And Clement is a lovely Maine Coon kitten:

An excerpt:

For the past few months, Westminster has been abuzz with little else other than Boris Johnson and his nine lives. Now, however, he may have a rival in that particular field: Lindsay Hoyle’s new cat, Attlee.

The feline will follow in the steps of other parliamentary moggies including the Foreign Office’s Palmerston, Treasury’s Gladstone and Downing Street’s Larry.

Although the Speaker has to resign his political allegiance, Hoyle has named the cat after the Labour prime minister from 1945 to 1951, Clement Attlee. Like many modern pet owners, he has set up an Instagram account for his cat.

Hoyle posted the announcement alongside a picture of him sat in the Speaker’s chair, holding the four-month-old Maine Coon. Attlee replaces Patrick, a fellow Maine Coon, who was named after Conservative peer Patrick McCormack.

An Instagram post of Attlee:

Isn’t he (I mean the cat!) gorgeous?

Hoyle said: “Introducing Attlee. A bold little kitten who’s brought much joy to my office and team. He brings a smile to the faces of everyone he comes into contact with on the parliamentary estate. Of course I’ll always miss Patrick, and I’m certain they both would have got along very well.”

He went on to tell Sky News: “Attlee is just the boldest, craziest life force you can imagine: he races around my office, much to the amusement of my team, and brings a smile to the face of doorkeepers, police officers, cleaners – and everyone who comes into contact with him.”

Hoyle is a true animal lover, and I can’t help but like him even if he is a Tory! See comments: he’s not a Tory and used to be Labour.

The Chorley MP is a well-known animal lover, naming some of them after political figures. He has a parrot called Boris, a tortoise named Maggie and, like Attlee, his dog Gordon was named in honour of a former Labour prime minister.

By the way, I don’t think you’ve heard much about the White House cat lately. Do you even remember its name? It’s Willow, who has her own Wikipedia page. Here’s Dr. Willow Biden:


Lagniappe: I may have showed this in a tweet, but it’s worth seeing this over and over gain. Look at that agility!


h/t: Ginger K., Matthew, Ken

10 thoughts on “Caturday felid trifecta: Are cat breeders sexist?; cats learn names of cat friends; a new Parliamentary cat; and lagniappe

  1. The bobcat leaping post-to-post has several features the Chrysler Bobcat™ never had – not the least were all-wheel drive, hyper-sensitive traction control, All-Season foot pads plus testicular fortitude.

  2. Aren’t click-bait headlines tiresome? Male tortis can’t reproduce, due to genetics of course which I am not the one to explain.

    Toris have a solid reputation for being more difficult than other cats. I bought several books when I first adopted cats, and one book written by an English writer describes tortis as “naughty”. I was amused by that word choice; as an American we wouldn’t tend to say that. My friend calls them “terrible tortis” and has 3 as she believes they do have aggressive personalities, which obviously she enjoys. I had a tortie and she was endlessly amusing; I called her trouble-making torti. She never outgrew kitten-like behaviors of always getting into anything and everything. She was also very talkative. She made me laugh a lot with her antics.

    Perhaps there are personality characteristics associated with the genetics of these markings, but I doubt it is a high priority for study.

  3. “Hoyle is a true animal lover, and I can’t help but like him even if he is a Tory!”

    As Speaker of the Commons, Lindsay Hoyle is required to renounce his party loyalty, and to act with complete impartiality.

      1. And hence, he is not now, nor has he ever been, a tory.

        I seem to remember his election being somewhat controversial among some in the right wing press because the convention is for successive speakers to alternate between Labour and Conservative. Although Hoyle’s predecessor, John Bercow, was a Conservative, he was highly critical of both May’s and Johnsons Conservative governments and often frustrated their initial efforts to pass Brexit legislation. In addition, there had been discussion about Bercow switching allegiance to the Labour Party before he became speaker, and he did join Labour after finishing his tenure as speaker. I think the right wing press (and some Conservative mps) thought they were owed a ‘true’ Conservative this time around and were somewhat opposed to Hoyle’s appointment (as Hoyle was deputy speaker during Bercow’s tenure this also made him suspect).

  4. The Speaker’s cat hopefully won’t be making an appearance in Downing Street as there’s a very busy and dangerous road between where the Prime Minister lives and the Speaker’s residence in the Palace of Westminster.

  5. Attlee is gorgeous! My cat is 1/4 Maine Coon, which gives him his impressive size, 11 kg (24 lb)! And he’s not fat, just big. Can’t wait to see how big and beautiful Attlee will be in a few months.

  6. Regarding the cat–name paper, had the investigators found the opposite—that cats attended longer in the congruent condition—I suspect that we would be reading a different story about why that result supported their hypothesis. The paper bears the hallmarks of p-hacking and HARKing (Hypothesizing After the Results Are Known): multiple experiments, all of whose main statistical findings are barely significant at the 0.05 level, and a hypotheses that could be rationalized to be successful regardless of the direction of the results.

    I won’t believe these results unless they are independently replicated in a study using a detailed pre-registered experimental protocol and a commitment to a fixed sample size determined in advance.

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