Caturday felid trifecta: The perfection of cats; man builds house expressly to cater to his two cats; self-aggrandizing “hero cat” saves staff’s house from fire

October 21, 2023 • 10:15 am

Well, I had to take this one from Scientific American, and of course the headline is somewhat misleading. And contra the subheading, cats (for all their wonderfulness) have NOT attained “evolutionary perfection, but have all kinds of design flaws, just like every creature. But why are they “perfect”?  Click to read; the evolutionary biologist explaining their faux perfection is Anjali Goswami, “an evolutionary biologist at the Natural History Museum in London who studies large-scale patterns of evolution in vertebrate animals through time.”

It’s a Q&A article. First Goswami explains that all cats, from little ones to tigers, have the same basic carnivore design. So far so good: it’s a good design for hunting prey. But why are they perfect?:

What does this have to do with being perfect?

Cats have nailed this one thing so well that they all do it and just come up with slightly different sizes. That’s why they’re perfect, evolutionarily. They don’t need variation. They might get bigger or smaller, but they don’t change anything else because they’re doing it just right otherwise. They’re not jacks-of-all-trades; they’re masters of one.

Bears are the anticats. There are only a few species of bear, and they do different things. You’ve got your superspecialized, weird herbivore, the panda [which basically only eats bamboo]. And then you’ve got spectacled bears [which favor fruits and bromeliads]. You’ve got polar bears, which are hypercarnivorous marine mammals, and the omnivorous black bears and grizzlies. And then there are sloth bears, which mostly eat social insects. So almost every single species of bear does something totally different. And they’re just okay at all of it [laughs]. I really do like bears a lot because of that opposite side of things. They’re interesting because they’re so ecologically diverse.

But of course cats do more than one thing. First, there are 41 species in the family felidae.  Fishing cats are adapted to eat fish, the fur of the 41 species varies tremendously in thickness, density. length, color, and pattern. They live in different places (the manul, for example, lives in cold areas of Asia that could never harbor tigers).  Most cat species are solitary but lions are social, and have complex behavioral and reproductive adaptations to reflect that.  It’s not just size that varies. Granted, cats haven’t diverged as much as bears over rather similar evolutionary times, but neither have wombats, which diverged from each other at about the same time as cats and bears (25-40 million years).

And if you talk about “perfection”, using lack of evolutionary divergence among species, why not include “living fossils”: species that haven’t changed much over time? Couldn’t that reflect a “perfec”t match to a static environment, so that evolutionary change is small. Note that are two species of coelocanth that look pretty much the same as their ancestors 400 million years ago, and the one living species of ginkgo tree hasn’t changed much in form in 300 million years, and resembles a small group of species that themselves didn’t diverge much (“living fossils” are often found to be descended from groups that weren’t very diverse when they existed).

Here’s another group that is “perfect”:

People usually talk about a group’s diversity as a mark of success. But you’re saying it’s the sameness of cat species, their lack of variation, that indicates that they’re evolutionarily successful, or “perfect.”

Cats challenge standard biases in evolutionary biology. People have said to me, “What about bats? What about rodents? These groups have so many species doing all kinds of things.” And I’m like, “Yeah, because they suck.” They haven’t figured out how to do anything well, so they keep trying different things.

Do any other vertebrate groups measure up to cats in this way?

Monitor lizards are as awesome as cats. They are the cats of the reptile world. They vary hugely in body size—they have maybe an even bigger body size range than cats do—and they are all utterly identical. They’re also hard-core carnivores.

As an evolutionary biologist, I don’t think that cats “challenge our biases”. Nobody is surprised that a group hits on a good design for its way of life and then various species in the group don’t diverge as much as members of other groups. (There could also be developmental constraints in cat species.)  And the idea that bats and rodents “suck” because “they haven’t figured out how to do anything well, so they keep trying different things,” is naive and misleading. If species find themselves in a different environment, they adapt to it, so that whales are very different from their terrestrial ancestors. Does that mean that whales “suck”? Do tapeworms “suck” because they’re very different from their flatworm ancestors, and have lost their reproductive, digestive, and sensory systems? Not at all! They’re pretty “perfectly” adapted to be intestinal parasites!

The whole article is premised on the fallacy that “perfection” is finding a design that works in all environments, and on the idea that “the theory of evolution predicts that everything must evolve”.

I love cats, but they’re not perfect.

This is just another Scientific American clickbait article, one that disappointed me because it misstates what evolutionary biologists believe, and neglects several groups containing species that haven’t diverged as much as species in other groups. Does lack of differences between species in a monophyletic group (a group descended from a common ancestor) denote “greater perfection”? If so, we’re back to the old scala naturae with respect to groups.

But I’ve run on too long.


From the Japanese site Spoon and Tomago we have the story of an architect who designed his home in Japan around his two cats. It’s a fantastic place, and you can read about it by clicking on the screenshot below:

Excerpts are indented:

Ever wondered what your home might look like if it were custom-designed to cater to the tastes of your beloved feline companions? Well, the architect Tan Yamanouchi (previously) of AWGL has designed a purr-fect home, prioritizing his two cats over himself and his partner. Instead of adhering to typical human requirements, the architect decided to treat their furry companions as esteemed clients.

The house from the outside (all images © Lamberto Rubino courtesy Tan Yamanouchi & AWGL):

And the specs:

So, what were these cats’ distinctive requests ? As it turns out, our feline friends have rather refined tastes when it comes to their living space :

Temperature Tier Supreme: Cats are known for their knack for detecting subtle temperature variations. They relish the freedom to roam and select their ideal comfort zone, so the architect envisioned a house that would allow them to effortlessly find their preferred temperature at any given moment.

Proximity, Yet with Space to Spare: Cats adore being in close proximity to their human family members, but they also cherish having their personal space. Thus, the home has to allow cozy snuggling while maintaining a comfortable and respectful distance.

Safe Havens Abound: Our furry companions thrive on variety. They crave multiple snug spots to call their own, with a penchant for changing things up with the seasons.

The outcome? A house that essentially doubles as an oversized cat tree. The architect placed a central atrium, complete with a skylight, enveloped by spiral steps. The natural light filtering through gently illuminates each step throughout the day. The stair dimensions were meticulously calculated based on the body measurements of these cats, resulting in a whopping 23 distinct floor levels. Consequently, the entire residence is divided into fine temperature layers, offering the cats a diverse landscape to explore and enjoy.

The spiral staircase was designed to allow the occupants a panoramic view of the entire house from any vantage point, without obstructing the line of sight. Each step is generously sized at 900 millimeters, providing our cats the option to  hide from people downstairs, maintain a certain sense of separation from others, or peacefully nap in their chosen nooks.

The house’s architectural form consists of two interlocking L-shaped volumes, each featuring a distinct shed roof with varying angles. This not only simplifies construction but also blends with the surroundings of Kamakura’s mountains. Moreover, it prevents the house from becoming a commonplace structure we’ve all seen before. The strategically placed windows were meticulously designed in terms of height and positioning, allowing passersby and visitors to delight at the sight of these adorable cats as an integral part of the architectural elevation.

I see no cat doors, so these must be indoor cats. Go to the site to see more of the house.


Finally, a Hero Cat in Newfoundland wakes up its owners, preventing fire and perhaps death. Meanwhile, the d*g does nothing. Story from the CBC, click below or on preceding link to read.

The tail:

A Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s couple is happy their house is intact and they’re thanking the feline firefighter that saved them.

Scott White awoke in the early hours of Sunday morning to his cat purring and pacing around the bedroom. The cat, a shelter rescue named Joey, even stood on his chest to get his attention.

White quickly realized something was wrong, and went to the kitchen to find the room filling with smoke from a slow cooker he had set hours earlier.

“We went to bed around midnight and it was fine,” White said of the Crock-Pot. “And then it wasn’t fine when Joey found it.”

White turned off the pot before it became a full-on fire, and could rest easily knowing his cat had his back.

Joey was adopted from a rescue group in Toronto about 2½ years ago. He came from a shelter in Quebec where cats are euthanized.

He’s not the only pet in the house, however.

White’s 10-month-old puppy — who they had believed to be a solid guard dog — slept in their bed through the entire incident.

“I guess we found out the real hero is the cat,” White said.

Here’s Joey taking a well deserved nap after his grueling rescue (photo by Scott White):

h/t: Matthew, Fred

13 thoughts on “Caturday felid trifecta: The perfection of cats; man builds house expressly to cater to his two cats; self-aggrandizing “hero cat” saves staff’s house from fire

  1. “But I’ve run on too long.”

    Not at all.

    I think there was some opportunistic sprinkling of hip language in there for the audience – for entertainment value – for all the feelz (shudder)…

  2. We have a display cabinet in our living room above the media center. When John finished the cabinets, he put a strip of carpeting across the top of the display cabinet, and then three shelves going up to the top so that the cats had a way to get up there. It turned out that they only required two shelves, so I put a toy stuffed cat on the third one for decoration.

    Our cats locate with the seasons. Heat rises, so in the summer they prefer the floor, where it’s cool. As summer turns to fall and winter, they go higher and higher, and they spend a good deal of time during the winter on top of the display cabinet. When spring comes and it begins to get warmer, they move down to the back of the couch, and onto our bed. They are back on the floor by summer.

    The same phenomenon happens in the barn, where two of the cat beds are on top of storage cabinets. The barn cats like the floor, and also the sink, in summer, and they go higher as the weather cools. They are currently in the high beds, especially the kittens, as this is their first winter and they are just now discovering the warm places.


  3. That cat friendly, out of the way, architecture will be spurned by a cat just preferring a cardboard box. That is cats, don’t we know?

    1. Yes, there’s something about the idea of meticulously designed houses devoted to their comfort that immediately brings up the image of a cat curled up in the box it came in.

      1. I recall a fairly recent one-panel comic, with a cat who has just received a present in an Amazon box, completely ignoring the present and gushing over the box – “what a perfect present”. Our (indoor) cat has at least a half-dozen places: two folded blankets on sofas (she prefers one of them, perhaps because it’s nearer a window), the back, or seat, or my wife’s recliner, a heated cat pad, window ledges, and “the power spot” – on our bed, just below my pillow.

  4. Of course they’re not perfect; they’re purrfect! (Pardon the transparently obvious response.) Am I really the first to respond in this way? 🙂

    We loved our cats and indulged them joyfully.

  5. Anjali Goswami can’t just discover great things about mammalian evolution. She has to dog whistle that she’s on the right side of history by “[challenging] standard biases in evolutionary biology.”

    Not surprising that she also favours changing “offensive” taxon names because

    “The legacy of colonialism is particularly pervasive in science and natural history, and many recent studies have quantified how biases in gender, race and national origin have affected, and continue to affect, access to data, citations and
    recognition, including the naming of taxa.”

  6. Is the article about cat perfection somehow tongue in cheek? Strange to have it in any case.

    I have the modest proposal that the perfect design must be the crab form, since so many other taxonomic groups have evolved to achieve it.

  7. But if the cat was sleeping in their bed with them, he wouldnt have smelled anything either…..the cat was elsewhere, closer to the source of the fire, whereas the dog
    and the people were further away. Sorry to rain on your purr-ade.

  8. On the perfect uniformity of monitor lizards:
    Monitor lizards aren’t differently-sized versions of the same thing – there are interspecific differences in proportion due to allometry, as you’d expect over the wide body size range of the group, and there are species that show morphological differences, associated with dietary and habitat specialization, from the “standard monitor” body .

    1. I was astonished that the editorial staff at Sci-Am allowed the writer to get away with

      They might get bigger or smaller, but they don’t change anything else because they’re doing it just right otherwise

      Haven’t they (the editors ; I’ve already given up the writer as a lost cause) heard of the square-cube laws of allometry? Surely they’ve winced at 1950s SF movies starring 50ft tall ants. Or even a 100ft tall ape?

      I’m surprised the NL “firefighter cat” didn’t manage to put the dog’s paw-prints all over the attempted human assassination. Or maybe the hoominz didn’t notice the evidence that was put under their metaphorical noses?

  9. A cat house should be self cleaning – I wouldn’t want to clean that house.

    Re the supposed perfection of cats, here’s why cats get more stuck in trees than apes:

    “Mangabeys and other monkeys are built more like quadrupedal animals such as cats and dogs, with deep pear-shaped shoulder sockets and elbows with a protruding olecranon process that make the joint resemble the letter L. While these joints are more stable, they have a much more limited flexibility and range of movement.

    The researchers’ analysis showed that the angle of a chimp’s shoulders was 14 degrees greater during descent than when climbing up. And their arm extended outward at the elbow 34 degrees more when coming down from a tree than going up. The angles at which mangabeys positioned their shoulders and elbows were only marginally different—4 degrees or less—when they were ascending a tree versus downclimbing.

    “If cats could talk, they would tell you that climbing down is trickier than climbing up and many human rock climbers would agree. But the question is why is it so hard,” said study co-author Nathaniel Dominy, the Charles Hansen Professor of Anthropology and Fannin’s adviser.

    “The reason is that you’re not only resisting the pull of gravity, but you also have to decelerate,” Dominy said. “Our study is important for tackling a theoretical problem with formal measurements of how wild primates climb up and down. We found important differences between monkeys and chimpanzees that may explain why the shoulders and elbows of apes evolved greater flexibility.””

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