Caturday felids: Books about cats in space; missing cat found when owner recognizes its voice over a vet’s phone ; and wonderful fox photos (Honorary Cats)—plus lagniappe

February 19, 2022 • 10:30 am

From The Portalist we have this appearing article (click on screenshots):

The intro:

Any cat lover knows that having a cat is like owning your own little alien. They defy gravity with leaps that scale kitchen counters in a single bound. Their eyes almost glow in the dark, flickering in your peripheral vision as you wake up to for a midnight drink of water. They go boneless in your arms as if they can control their own state of matter.

Cat lovers also know that the best reading environment always includes a kitty snuggled up on your lap. If you’re looking for a good story to read when curling up with your feline friend, we’re letting the cat out of the bag—these books about cats in space are purrfect for any cat-loving science fiction fan.

JAC: I’m not a science-fiction fan, but these books sound most suitable for young readers.

Here are the five books (click on the image to buy), and a few words about each (indented words are from the site; flush left are my own)

Life on Earth is bleak. The only animals seen anymore are in zoos. Travel to the wilderness requires dealing with bureaucratic red tape. Riots abound in overcrowded cities. To make matters worse, an alien spacecraft has recently entered the solar system, and nobody knows what it wants.

12-year-old Barbary has always dreamed of going to space. Shuffled between foster families since the death of her mother, she finally has the chance to escape orbit, as her latest foster father lives on the Einstein, an outer space research station. However, pets are expressly forbidden on the space station, and Barbary can’t bear to leave behind her cat Mickey.

With the help of some unlikely allies, Barbary finds a way to smuggle her cat aboard, but how long she’s able to keep her cat a secret on the small space station is anyone’s guess. Mickey is a curious cat, and his mischievous antics put him at increasing risk of getting discovered—and Barbary returned to Earth. Meanwhile, the alien spaceship drifts closer every day…

Far, far away from Earth exists the planet Korwar, and on this planet exists a young orphaned boy, Troy Horan. His home planet conquered and his parents murdered, Troy scrapes a living together at an exotic pet store catering to the upperclass.

Something about the job unlocks mysterious telepathic powers in the boy. As soon as Troy begins work, he receives warnings from cats, foxes, even a rare kinkajou about the danger he’s stumbled into. When Troy’s boss is killed, Troy is framed for his murder, and he must escape with all five Earth animals to the Wild, where he encounters alien ruins and a vast conspiracy.

Troy becomes enmeshed in a perilous adventure, one that will leave many dead and an entire government in jeopardy. With breakneck pacing and a plot full of wild twists and turns, this vintage read will be sure to intrigue.

Captain George Lutobo finds his regular interstellar flightpath disrupted when he’s ordered by his emperor to pick up unexpected, valuable cargo. His luxury cruiser, the Valkyrie, now hosts four huge, blue-furred lionlike creatures, with razor-sharp claws and teeth, not to mention mystical psychic abilities.

This new shipment unsettles Captain Lutobo, but as these cats are worshipped as on their home planet, he must ensure their safe transport along with the vulnerable humans aboard.

When a passenger is found dead with a clump of blue fur in their hand, Captain Lutobo is ready to call the cat’s shipment off. It’s only when one of the cats is found dead too that Captain Lutobo realizes something more sinister is going on, and he must discover the cause if any of them are going to survive the journey.

Felicette was rescued from the streets of Paris to undergo training, testing, and spaceflight with the French Space Program. One of 14 cats tested, Felicette was the only cat who could successfully transmit results back to Mission Control.

With electrodes implanted into her brain, Felicette showed French astronauts how mammals would react to high g-forces and weightlessness. After becoming the first and only cat successfully launched into space, Felicette then safely parachuted back to Earth.

This picture book, with adorable illustrations, details Felicette’s real-life journey to assist humans on their interstellar adventures. It is an artfully told true story about how even the smallest creatures can achieve great things—and how sometimes science fiction and reality are closer than we think.

As I’ve written several times, Félicette was a real cat, and the story above is true in the main, but I bet it leaves out the fact the she was euthanized two months after the flight so they could examine her brain. What kind of cruel people would do that?

Here’s the real Félicette:

In this novelization of the classic film Alien, Warrant Officer Ripley has been in hypersleep with her orange cat, Jones, and other crew of spaceship Nostromo. The ship’s computer awakens them all to investigate a distress signal rising from a nearby moon. It’s only when crash-landing on the moon that Ripley discovers the distress signal is actually a warning of something menacing lurking the rocky landscape.

On the surface of the moon, Ripley’s crewmate Kane discovers a cache of alien eggs. One of the eggs attaches itself to Kane’s face, and the team drags him back to the ship against quarantine regulations. When the egg detaches on its own, they think everything is safe, until a baby alien bursts free from Kane’s stomach and runs rampant through the ship.

The alien ambushes and kills the crewmates one by one, leaving Ripley and Jones to fend for themselves as they attempt to repair the spaceship and flee to safety. Throughout, Jones alternatively leads the crew astray and warns them of incoming danger.

If you want your cats to become ailurophiles, these are the books to get, but do not get the one on Félicette without checking out how the author deals with the cat’s death.


This is a heartwarming story, and an improbable one. Click on the screenshot to see the BBC article:

Here’s the whole (short) story:

A cat missing for eight months has been reunited with its owner after she recognised his familiar meow on the other end of the telephone while on a call to her vet.

Rachael Lawrence, from Braintree, Essex, was talking to the vet about her other cat when she heard Barnaby’s distinctive cry in the background.

She was told it was a stray but phoned back later and asked for details of the cat as “it was bugging me”, she said.

Barnaby is now back with his family.

Ms Lawrence said she was so sure she could recognise her cat’s meow that she called the vet again asking if the “stray” she had heard over the phone was black, with a white patch on one of his back feet.

When the surgery confirmed the description she took in photographs of Barnaby to show to staff.

She said she “knew it was him” as soon as he was brought into the room.

“I cried,” she said. “We hadn’t seen him for eight months.”

Her three children had nicknamed Barnaby “Fatman”, but when he was brought in he had “loads of scabs” and was “all skinny and missing fur”, Ms Lawrence said.

However, the family’s wayward pet was “more than happy to be picked up and cuddled”.

She added: “We just need to fatten him up to get him back to Fatman.”

Ms Lawrence said she had paid to have Barnaby chipped before he went missing but questioned whether the procedure had been “done properly”.

All’s well that ends well, but Barnaby must have had a rough time of it for eight months! And they’d better check his chip!


Foxes are Honorary Cats®, and so I’m featuring a wonderful collection of fox photos from My Modern Met. Click on the screenshot to see them all; I’ll put up just six portraits.

Many photographers have a muse, or a subject that inspires their passion for image-making. For Roeselien Raimond, it’s foxes. It’s been over a decade since she first began photographing the wild creatures, and during that time, she’s snapped 64 fox faces. To demonstrate the breadth of her portraiture, she’s arranged them all in a dazzling eight-by-eight photo mosaic. Some of the portraits show foxes giving a steely-eyed stare while there are others who have clearly found their moment of zen. Together, the many images represent the nuances found among the fascinating creatures.

Raimond’s passion for foxes has inspired her to contemplate the idiosyncrasies of each portrait. In looking at her impressive collection of images, there are personality archetypes that the foxes fall into. The photographer even identified 12 “types” of foxes and wrote about their character traits in 2016. Since then, she’s expanded on that and has lovingly begun to sort them into even more groups. One is The Flatheads, which don’t have anything flat about them at all; they have very round features. The other group is The Longnoses, which have “exceptionally long noses” along with elongated pointy ears.

To our untrained eye, all foxes might look the same. But for Raimond, it’s as easy to tell them apart as people. “Just as you don’t usually confuse your neighbor with your uncle, the fox in the coastal area looks different from the fox in the forest. Each fox has its own face,” she says. “One has chocolate eyes, the other golden yellow. Some foxes have the cutest little eyebrows or very long whiskers, beautiful eyeliner, or strikingly white cheeks. But above all, they all have different expressions.”

There are a lot more foxes on that page, and tons more on Roeselien Raimond’s personal page, where you can buy lovely prints of foxes, and not just their faces. She also writes, and her “about me” page shows her and gives her philosophy:

Whatever creature she captures, one central theme rules throughout her entire portfolio: Happy Animals are the Best Animals. If you want to see for yourself what she means by that, her Zen Fox Series speaks volumes.

Do look at the Zen foxes. Here’s Raimond, a Dutch photographer living in the Netherlands:


Lagniappe: Sprinter cat learns the treadmill:

h/t: Gary, Ginger K.


Readers’ wildlife photos

August 18, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today we have photos of owl-banding from Robert Placier. And not just any owl, but the second smallest owl in America: the Northern Saw-Whet Owl, Aegolius acadicus. (The smallest and lightest owl in America, as well as the world, is the elf owl).  Robert’s commentary is indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

These impossibly cute and feisty little birds are a joy to work with. I started in 2003, working with partners, and have handled hundreds. So I can get carried away easily. I’ll try to send enough pictures to give an idea what I/we do, and hold text to a minimum.

First, Northern Saw-whet Owls are the smallest in eastern North America. But they don’t nest anywhere near my southeastern Ohio home. They start showing up here about the middle of October, and generally few “new” (unbanded) birds are captured by the first week of December. Some do overwinter in my area, others are apparently just passing through.

They are, like most owls, nocturnal. So Saw-whet banders open nets at dusk. Some folks operate all night, I generally shut down by midnight. Here’s me removing an owl from a net. Photo by my brother-in-law. I don’t have a photo of the apparatus, but we use a battery powered audio-lure to bring in the owls. We play the male display call, going continuously from beginning to end of the session.

Some banders do all the work of capture, data collection, and release outside. But most have some place to take the birds inside for the banding and data gathering. Before releasing the owls, I place them in a holding bag hung up in a safe and dark spot for at least 15 minutes to allow their eyes to readjust.

Installing a band.

Measuring wing chord (length of folded wing)

We use a discriminant function to determine sex of Saw-whets. This combines the mass of a bird and its wing chord. About 70% of Saw-whets can be sexed this way at the 95% confidence level, at least in my area. I have never had a Saw-whet that weighed as much as 120g. They must be heavier out west; I don’t know the provenance of the data in this scattergram. As in all owls, females are on average larger. Banders at my latitude catch very few males, who apparently try to stay farther north.

Dscriminant function chart.

The next part is pretty cool! All owls (and some other birds, such as parrots) incorporate a bile pigment, porphyrin, in their newly grown feathers. In owls, at least, the porphyrins generate shades of brown. And, interestingly for our purposes, the freshly deposited porphyrins glow bright pink under a black light. They also break down over time and exposure to sunlight, and older feathers contain less. Combined with the fact that Saw-whets replace only part of their flight (wing) feathers each Fall, it is possible to age Saw-whets, within limits.

This is the wing of a “hatch year” (born this year) Saw-whet captured in the Fall. No flight feathers are replaced in young of the year, so they glow uniformly pink.

Explaining the feather replacement pattern would take too much text, but this owl would be aged as “after second year” in the Fall, in its third year of life. There are three, at least, ages of feathers visible.

I will close by noting that these owls are predominantly residents of the boreal forest region during their nesting season. And, like some other residents of that region, they exhibit a marked population cycle, generally of 4-5 years. This is tied to the cyclic abundance of small mammals, their predominant food source. Last year (2020) was a peak year of the cycle, I captured 95 Saw-whets at my place that Fall. The previous year, with the same effort, I captured 16.

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 29, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your wildlife photos! I’ve also branched out in my pleadings. Matt Young, a founder of the estimable Panda’s Thumb site about evolution whose photos were posted here the other day, has put up one of my own nature photos on that site. It had penguins, of course, and I’ve requested that Matt ask Panda’s Thumb readers to submit photos to my site. Thanks, Matt!

Our contribution today comes from Steve Adams, who hails from Rush, New York. Steve sent some adorable pictures of baby foxes born in his back yard. His description is indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. 

Here are some baby red fox (Vulpes vulpes) photos that I have photographed over the past month. A fox family has denned, once again, in our backyard near the edge of the woods. They have been a joy to observe and photograph! There were 4 babies of which we know. Two were more reddish like their mother, and two were more blondish like their father.

Rescued fox cub befriends his saviors

December 8, 2020 • 2:30 pm

It’s time for a heartwarming animal video—actually, three of them, all involving the same animal. The first and third are longer (about 20 minutes), but the middle one is a shorter summary. They all document the rescue of a tiny fox cub who apparently lost its mom, and I think it takes place in Russia. The bedraggled baby is transformed, with food, a bath, and love into a playful and gorgeous miniature fox.

As they say at the end of the NBC Evening News, after presenting a litany of woes, realizing that the viewer is depressed, and then winding up with a feel-good story, “There’s good news tonight!”



Man builds nut bar for squirrels

August 31, 2020 • 2:30 pm

Reader Barry called my attention to this video and the article about the Nutty Bar from station KDKA in Pittsburgh. An excerpt (my emphasis):

People are going nuts for an Ohio woodworker’s latest creation: A bar that caters to neighborhood squirrels.

Michael Dutko, a 35-year-old hobbyist, has been creating art and household items from wood for most of his life, and even chronicles it on his YouTube channel Duke Harmon Woodworking. But it’s his fun twist on a squirrel feeder that’s made him Internet famous.

“The Nutty Bar,” which is attached to his backyard fence in Hilliard, looks just like a real bar, and even has a range of nuts on tap.

Dutko said he built it to help his neighbor with her bird-watching hobby.

“The whole reason I even started to make this is because my neighbor bird watches with her daughter and told me all of the squirrels keep getting in her way,” Dutko told CNN. “I didn’t even tell her what I was going to do, I just built it and put it back there and when she saw it, she just started cracking up.”

Lucky squirrels who find their way to the bar get to choose from seven different nuts named after beers: Cashew Dunkel, Peanut Pilsner, Almond Ale, Walnut Stout, Sunflower Saison, Pecan Porter and Pistachio Pale Ale.

Dutko’s favorite part of the bar is its quirky bathroom sign: “Nuts” and “No Nuts.”

The project, which measures about 25 inches wide and 16 inches tall, took him eight hours to design and build.

After posting a video on YouTube showing the build process, Dutko said he was “overwhelmed” with comments and requests to purchase the bar. He immediately applied for a design patent and is now planning to launch a business to sell The Nutty Bar for about $175 – $200.

The video!

Readers’ wildlife videos

June 26, 2020 • 7:45 am

Today we have two—count them, two—videos.

I had forgotten about the backlog of wonderful videos by the late Ecuadorian naturalist and photographer Andreas Kay, but he posted quite a few before he died at only 56. I’ll parcel them out over the coming months.  Here are his notes on a remarkable caterpillar that almost certainly deters predators by mimicking a snake. Note that, relative to the body, the “snake head” is upside down so, when presented by a clinging caterpillar, it looks like a right-side-up head.

Snake-mimic caterpillar, Hemeroplanes triptolemus, Sphingidae from the Amazon rainforest near Puyo, Ecuador. When disturbed this larva of a sphinx moth expands and exposes the underside of the first body segments, mimicking a snake head with black eyes and even light reflections. Sometimes it also strikes like a snake to deter predators such as lizards or birds. Photos here.

And Rick Longworth made this video, complete with music, of a den of foxes (mom plus kits). The play behavior of the kits is adorable. Rick’s notes:

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes). At the end of May, I noticed a group of about 5 or 6 young foxes across the Snake River at a distance of about one third of a mile from my back deck. The mother had dug a den in an earthen mound at the end of a utility road between two farms. At maximum magnification, the uneven heating of the atmosphere made the image quite unsteady.

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 5, 2020 • 7:45 am

Today’s photos come from the western U.S. desert, and were taken and contributed by Charles Peterson. His notes are indented:

I work as a field biologist in the Mojave Desert, helping to keep the U.S. military in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. I got some nice shots over the past few days that I thought you might like (attached).

I was sitting in the shade of a creosote bush crossing the Ts on some paperwork when I looked up to see this desert kit fox (Vulpes macrotis) checking me out. I know you consider foxes to be honorary felines, and this may be the most feline of canids. As evidence I offer:

Exhibit A.:

Our local endangered (officially Threatened) species, in this case a grumpy-looking little subadult Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii):

A chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater, formerly obesus) in the hand. This is a tricolor-phase male, with the brick-red torso characteristic of some populations. I caught him because he was having difficulty with the fence you can see in the background.

After I let him go on the other side I saw the object of his efforts, this female. A nice example of sexual dimorphism in this largest Mojave lizard, a herbivore related to iguanas.

A beautiful gravid female long-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia wislizenii). The red coloration occurs only between ovulation and oviposition.

Finally, a game of Can You Spot the Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos)?

Squirrel-proof bird feeder? Don’t bet on it!

May 28, 2020 • 1:00 pm

Many readers sent me this video made by engineer and inventor Mark Rober about his attempt to build a Rube-Goldberg-like bird feeder that would foil squirrels. (This is the ultimate pandemic project.) Thanks to all who sent this; it’s truly awesome (as the kids say), and “viral”, with over 14 million views in four days! (This may reflect people looking for cute videos while they’re quarantined.)

It’s a truly impressive project, but what impressed me even more was both the agility and the cleverness of the hungry rodents. If you’re one of the rare people who haven’t seen this, do watch. It’s a lot of fun.

You may remember Rober as the guy who devised a glitter/stink bomb package to punish those who steal boxes off people’s porches.

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 23, 2020 • 8:00 am

Today we have part 2 of physicist/origami master Robert Lang‘s series of photos from his California studio (part 1 is here). Robert’s notes and IDs are indented.

Continuing my series of photos shot over the last year from my studio in Altadena, California, on the edge of the Angeles National Forest.

A Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis— see comments below) Southern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata). These are all over the place up here, but they’re both fast and skittish, so it’s hard to get a good picture. This one had found its way into a  large copper kettle on the porch, and the smooth sides of the interior prevented its escape. (Once I got the picture, I tipped it over and let him scram.)

And now, the mammals. On the small side, we have what I think is a Brush Rabbit (Sylvilagus bachmani). We also have Audubon’s Cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii) in and near Altadena, but we’re up in the chaparral at about 1900’ elevation, which is more Brush Rabbit territory. Hard to tell by sight: they look pretty much alike.

Where you have rodents and lagomorphs you have predators, and I get regular visits from several. Coyotes (Canis latrans) are very common up in the chaparral, like this one below. They also range far down into suburban Altadena, where they help control the population of feral and outdoor cats (sorry!), to the benefit of suburban bird life.

About 20 minutes after the coyote wandered through, a Bobcat (Lynx rufus) also stopped by.  It paused to sniff the California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica), which does have a lovely fragrance, but I suspect it was sniffing more for “Coyote” (or other critters) than for the aroma of the plant itself.

A less common canine visitor is the Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). I’ve only seen a few of these in back. They’re delicate little things, very wary.

In the definitely not-wary department, I get tons of California Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus californicus), especially during the Fall dry season, when it’s not uncommon to get multiple visits per day, and in the Spring, when the acorns are falling.

Two young deer in Spring, admiring the origami:

During the fall rut. That’s a dominant buck, sticking close to his doe. A couple of smaller bucks were also hanging around nearby, not getting too close (the buck chased them away), but still sticking close, presumably looking for an opening.

And a close-up of the big guy.

Readers’ wildlife

February 15, 2020 • 8:00 am

We have contributions from two readers today. The first is a stunning leucistic pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), with the photo taken by Peter Thornquist and sent in by his friend, reader Gregory.

The bird is the subject of an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (click on screenshot),

An excerpt:

The leucistic pileated Thornquist photographed Saturday was a male, an identification made possible by the red slash along its bill. Females of the species have a red crown only.

Thornquist said he’s only seen a pileated woodpecker in Milwaukee County three times, and each was leucistic. He believes it’s been the same individual.

The distinctive bird may have been spotted by others in southeastern Wisconsin in recent years, too.

A leucistic pileated has been reported at Cedarburg Bog in Saukville, Mequon Nature Preserve in Mequon and Schiltz Audubon Center in Bayside, according to local birders.

Given its call, appearance and behaviors, if it stays in the area it will likely continue to be observed.

Is it possible the male pileated has been traveling widely looking for a mate?

“If that’s true, I hope he finds one,” Thornquist said. “It would be great to have a family of them gracing the Milwaukee River corridor.”

And today we’ll finish the batch of animals photographed by reader David Hughes on a trip to India. Wild felids! David’s email to me with this group was called “And now your favourite animals”. (His first two sets of photos are here and here.)

And now your favourite animals….


Squirrel: The Indian giant squirrel (Ratufa indica), photographed in Satpura Tiger Reserve. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but this is not far short of a metre long from nose to tail tip. It’s a southern Indian species which reaches its northernmost range limit around Satpura, so it’s used as the emblem of the park.

JAC: I added a picture from Wikipedia because I didn’t know these squirrels existed. Look at that tail!!


Jungle cat (Felis chaus), photographed on a late-evening drive in Satpura. About the size of a domestic cat, and with a similar taste for mice and small birds.


Leopard (Panthera pardus), Pench Tiger Reserve: Of course, it’s the big cats that everyone really wants to see. Leopards are still widespread across much of India, but very elusive, so it’s a real thrill to see one. This individual was perched on a rocky outcrop, enjoying its latest kill, a spotted deer. The photo was taken with my longest lens through a veil of leaves and branches, so it’s not the best quality. The forested terrain makes it hard to get good views and photos of animals, compared with the more open environment of your typical African park.

Tiger (Panthera tigris): and finally, the most sought-after species of all. On my tour we saw tigers in Pench and Kanha, but drew a blank in Satpura. None of the sightings were particularly long duration, or close-range, but they’re still memorable. This is a tigress seen on an early-morning drive in Kanha. The park rangers monitor the tiger population by camera-trapping, and know all the resident adults as individuals. This tigress is T32, the “Umarjhola female”. She was born in mid-2011, so would have been around 7.5 years old when photographed.