Peyton, the Philosophical Cat, is not much moved by the holidays, except that, with someone at home during the day more frequently, she’ll be able to have her midday treat more often—her choice between salmon snacks or a paté.
Unusually, she’s not taken to sleeping under the tree this year, but she has found a spot on the dining room table amongst the accoutrements of the holidays. Her eyes are very bright, which I attributed to the flash, but another viewer of the photo thought it was because Peyton can stare into your soul.
I’m cat-sitting over Christmas, so I can also share a second cat, Delilah, a longhair, who has both the hair and the cranial structure typical of the breed.
Delilah gave me a present, which she disdainfully glanced at in order to bring it to my attention, preferring for herself canned cat food to fine Belgian chocolates.
And even though he’s a d-g, here’s Peyton’s nephew, Q-Tip, taking more advantage of the under-tree space at his house. (And, yes, obviously, he’s her nephew by adoption.)
JAC: Here’s the second installment of Greg’s travelogue about his recent trip to Japan. This one touches a subject dear to our hearts.
by Greg Mayer
Cats are an important element in Japanese culture. In Japan, images of cats, and, in some places, actual cats, are everywhere. While in Kyoto, we saw flyers announcing two cat based museum exhibitions, and we were able to go to one of them, at Museum ⌈EKi⌋ KYOTO, located on the seventh floor of the Isetan department store in the Kyoto train station.
The exhibit, on the cats of Kyoto, was of photographs by Mitsuaki Iwago, one of Japan’s greatest wildlife photographers, who specializes in cats (both wild and domestic). He discusses some of his earlier work in this written interview in English. The photos were presented in very large format, and organized around the theme of the four seasons. Many photos were repeat views of the same cats, often in different seasons, and often in association with people.
Iwago describes the exhibit (the translation may be imperfect) :
We look at Kyoto through cat.
We live in climate of Kyoto
If we photograph cat,
If it is difficult to approach all too soon
This capital which we should have thought of,
It became comfortable.
Their way of life
We let culture of the old no capital breathe.
Here that goes
Kyoto for cat
The exhibit has also been shown in Tokyo (native English version). It seemed odd to me that a department store should have a museum within it, but Museum ⌈EKi⌋ KYOTO seems to have a regular series of exhibitions, and the Tokyo exhibit also seemed to be associated with or promoted by a group of restaurants and shops (one of them a cat cafe). (I should perhaps also add that department stores in Japan provide the full service attention and amenities that disappeared in America decades ago [but still exist in the UK ,at least at Harrod’s, if James Corden is to be believed], so an in-house museum is not as big a step up for a Japanese department store as it would be for a Walmart.) Iwago has published many books, including one based on this latest exhibition. A number of his books are available in English, though not this latest one.
There was also a cat exhibit at The Museum of Kyoto, but unfortunately we were not able to get to it. The flyer shows many older images of cats, but also some modern ones, some statuary, and (on the reverse) a very interesting looking board game with a cat piece and several mouse pieces. The exhibit was entitled “Yes, We love cats anytime!” This was a substantial exhibition, of over 200 items. Do have a look at the exhibition details page, as it gives a concise summary of many aspects of cats in Japanese culture.
On the reverse of the flyer, note the Maneki-Neko statues (beckoning cats, for good luck) on the left, and the cat and mice board game on the middle right (click on the image to enlarge).
Australia is a zoogeographer’s dream world—it’s the most spectacularly distinctive place on Earth, and we know why. Around 250 million years ago, most of the world’s continental plates amalgamated into a single super-continent—Pangaea. During the Mesozoic (the “Age of Reptiles”), Pangaea began breaking up, with many of today’s southern continents (South America, Africa, Antarctica, Australia, and India) pulling away to form the somewhat smaller super-continent of Gondwanaland.
The continental breakup continued, with the various parts of Gondwana separating from one another (hence the traditional rallying cry of irredentist geologists, “Reunite Gondwanaland!”). Africa, India, and, most recently, South America eventually bumped into the northern continental masses, making for interesting geology, and—of the greatest importance for zoogeography—allowing large land animals to move between the major land masses. Such animals are not, in general, susceptible to “occasional means of transport”, as Darwin called them, that allow birds, bats, and smaller animals to traverse greater or lesser expanses of the sea, and thus large land animals require a dryshod path to disperse.
But, unlike those other Gondwanan remnants, Australia has not—yet, anyway—bumped into the northern land masses, and thus has undergone a long and and continuing period of splendiferous isolation, during which time many unique endemic forms have arisen, and radiated into the great variety of ecological niches occupied by different lineages in the rest of the world. Most famous of these are the Australian marsupials, which have undergone a continental-scale adaptive radiation, which Jerry highlighted in chapter 4 of WEIT.
This radiation has brought marsupials into most of the ecological niches inhabited by placental mammals in the rest of the world—predators, herbivores, gnawers, burrowers, insectivores, gliders, etc. Two things are evident in the radiation of Australian marsupials. First, that convergence can lead to remarkable similarity when distantly related lineages adapt to similar environments—Jerry highlights this in the figure above; but, second, that sometimes forms inhabiting the same ecological niches can be quite different.
We can see both of these by thinking about which animals are the big, dominant, mammalian carnivores and herbivores. Everywhere on Earth but Australia, these animals are cats, dogs, cattle, and deer (taking cattle in the sense of the family Bovidae, including antelope, goats, etc.). In Australia, the dominant carnivores are the thylacine (or Tasmanian wolf or tiger), native cats (hence, placental cats in the post title, to make clear who I meant), and devils. The skull of the thylacine is remarkably wolf-like, showing a close convergence in shape and dentition to the placental wolf. Native cats have the name, but are less similar to cats; and devils are pretty much sui generis. The dominant big herbivores in Australia are kangaroos: instead of plains full of buffalo and antelope, Australia is full of kangaroos. Although they eat similar types of plants, the modes of locomotion are startlingly distinct, showing that close convergence is not inevitable. (There were some more ungulate-like marsupials in the past, but they are now extinct.)
All this was brought to mind by a new article in BMC Evolutionary Biology by Katrin Koch and colleagues on the placental cats of Australia. For some millennia now, in addition to Darwin’s occasional means of transport, another factor has allowed animals to cross the seas—human transport. And for thousands of years, man has broken Australia’s tens of millions of years of isolation by bringing in a diversity of placental mammals. Most famous is the dingo, the feral descendants of dogs brought from southeast Asia about 4,500 years ago. Since European settlement, the number of mammalian imports—both wild and domestic—has increased dramatically.
In a careful review of historical records (which includes this memorable sentence in his methods section: “Incidentally, I discovered that indexers of books rarely index ‘cat’.”), Ian Abbott (2002) showed that, despite the potential for cats to have been brought to Australia earlier by Aborigines, Malay trepangers (sea cucumber fishermen—it’s great that there’s a word for that!), or shipwrecks, the first cats seem to have been brought in by the earliest European settlers in the late 18th century. The map below shows places where cats were presumed to have been introduced (arrows) and dated records of cat appearance (dots):
Koch and colleagues looked at microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA—both rapidly evolving parts of the genome, and thus good for studying infraspecific phylogeny—in over 200 feral cats from Western Australia and a number of islands round Australia, including the outlying territories of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (an island group where cat control is an issue, due to their depredations on wildlife: Algar et al., 2003) and Christmas Island.
What they found was that the cats of mainland Western Australia, and the big island of Tasmania, were all genetically fairly similar (the red areas in the figure), while the smaller islands were more distinct genetically, including an island very close to the mainland (Dirk Hartog Island, DHI–green), as well as the two outlying islands of Cocos (yellow) and Christmas (blue). Curiously, two smaller islands off southeastern Australia grouped with Christmas. Small island populations can diverge due to random genetic effects (founder effect and genetic drift), historic phenomena (founded from different sources), and selective differences (distinct environments on islands). But it’s hard to tease these apart from these data alone.
This paper has made a minor splash in the media (see Jerry’s mention here about NY Times coverage), with most places proclaiming that it shows that Australian cats came from Europe as opposed to southeast Asia. Now, the paper does show that of the 63 mitochondrial haplotypes that they found, 25 are also present in Europe (the European data are from a paper by another group). But to distinguish sources of colonization, you need to have samples from all the potential sources, find out if the source populations have any diagnostic or characteristic alleles or mutations, and then see if these are found in the colonized (i.e., Australian) populations. But Koch et al. had only three non-Australian cats—apparently one from Sulawesi, and two from Borneo. (Curiously, they refer to these as “Malaysian”, and also use that term for 17th century Malay trepangers. But Malaysia is a 20th century political construct, and Sulawesi is in Indonesia, not Malaysia, so Malay would be a better term that covers the cultural/linguistic/geographic region.)
The three Malay cats group with Australian mainland cats. But on such a slim basis, we can make no conclusions about the relative importance of the two potential source areas. While concluding their data “indicate a mainly European origin of feral cats in Australia”, the authors do allow that, “However, caution is needed in inferring the involvement of Asian cats in the history of cat colonization in Australia due to the small number of Asian samples.” We can, in fact, be sure that a significant, if not the greatest, part of Australian cat ancestry is European, but that is because of the historical researches of Abbott (2002). The genetic work of Koch et al. lays a basis for further studies of genetic variation in Australian cats and their relation to cats from other regions, but it does not, on its own, really speak to the latter question.
Abbott, I. 2002. Origin and spread of the cat, Felis catus, on mainland Australia, with a discussion of the magnitude of its early impact on native fauna. Wildlife Research 29:51-74. abstract
Algar, D., G. J. Angus, R.I. Brazell, C. Gilbert and D.J. Tonkin. 2003. Feral cats in paradise: focus on Cocos. Atoll Research Bulletin 505. (Actually published in 2004.) pdf
K. Koch, K., D. Algar, J. B. Searle, M. Pfenninger and K. Schwenk. 2015. A voyage to Terra Australis: human-mediated dispersal of cats. BMC Evolutionary Biology 15 (262), 10 pp. pdf
The BBC reports on an abandoned cat with “three ears” found in Norfolk. Shelter staff at Feline Care Cat Rescue in East Harling have named him “Brian”*. [JAC: several readers also sent this to me.]
I can’t recall ever seeing such a cat, and neither could the shelter’s vet, though Jerry had apprised us of the existence of extra-eared cats a while ago. The first thing that struck me is that the cat does not have three ears, but rather three ear pinnae. Ears, in a strict sense, are the paired sensory organs at the back of a vertebrate’s head that detect vibration and movement. The pinnae are the external elaborations for directing sound waves to the ears proper that are found in most mammals. (And also in Vulcans, who are not mammals, but who are renowned for their pointed pinnae, which led to some suggestions for a Star Trek-themed name for Brian.) Most vertebrates have ears, but relatively few have pinnae. Some, such as lizards, just have holes in the sides of their heads (you can look through a lizard’s head from one side to the other by looking into its ear opening), while others, such as frogs, have the tympanum (eardrum) exposed on the surface.
The second thing that occurred to me is that the extra ear pinna is moving in the opposite direction from a famous trait studied by the great geneticist Sewall Wright— otocephaly. Meaning literally “ear head”, in this condition the ear pinnae expand and extend under the ventral side of the head (1-5), the lower jaw fails to develop, and, in extreme cases, the entire front of the head fails to develop as though squeezed in from the sides, the eyes touching (7), merging (to form a cyclops: 8-9), and finally disappearing altogether in the highest grade otocephalic individuals (10-12).
I had read and studied Wright’s paper on otocephaly as a graduate student, as I was interested in the genetics of traits of large phenotypic effect in vertebrates, and Wright had studied otocephaly and polydactylism (extra toes) in guinea pigs. Polydactylism is much more interesting, as changes in digit number have been important in vertebrate evolution, and some rodents also show an approach to hoof development, which is very important in mammalian evolution, and usually involves changes in digit number. Otocephaly, in contrast, has not led to any evolutionary novelties, but rather is lethal in most cases– Wright referred to otocephalic individuals as “monsters”. The late Will Provine, in his masterful scientific biography of Wright, discusses the significance of his work on guinea pigs for the development of Wright’s ideas on the importance of multifactorial inheritance and non-genetic factors. (I should record here my mourning of Provine’s passing this past September, which Jerry first alerted us to. His Origin of Theoretical Population Genetics, recommended to me when I was an undergraduate by then Stony Brook geneticist Dick Koehn, was my first real introduction to the history of science as a serious discipline, and influenced me greatly. I was much pleased when he occasionally joined the discussion on my posts here at WEIT.)
Although not important evolutionarily, otocephaly, which is known to occur in many mammals, had cultural significance, which Wright well knew. In his historical review of theories of the causation of otocephaly, he wrote the following passage, surely one of the most wonderfully erudite in all the literature of genetics:
We may pass rapidly over the theories of ancient times, according to which monsters were looked upon as the result of the play of the Gods, “ sports,” as signs of divine power or anger or as portents. The oldest known publication on the subject seems to be a brick found in ASHURBANIPAL’S library in Nineveh which gives in cuneiform the prognostication appropriate to each of a remarkable list of monsters…
[I should add that Ashubanipal’s name is in all caps because it is the style of the journal Genetics to capitalize the names of cited authorities in its papers: he’s probably one of the few Assyrian emperors cited as a reference in the scientific literature!]
Having checked up on the genetics of the merger and disappearance of the ear pinnae, I got back to our cat with an extra pinna, and turned to my bookshelf for my copy of Genetics for Cat Breeders. There, on page 168, I found the entry for “Four-ears”. It is inherited as a recessive, denominated dp, with affected cats suffering reduced fitness (as determined by a deficiency of affected cats in crosses). The head shape is peculiar, the lower jaw a bit underdeveloped (like low grade otocephaly!), and the affected cats’ behavior is lethargic, suggesting some brain abnormality (again, as found in otocephaly). The authority is Little (1957). So, Brian the cat is doubly odd: he has one extra ear pinna, not the usual two extra (when there are extras). I can’t see his right side in the photo, but I’ll take the BBC’s word that he’s oddly asymmetrical in his ear pinna numbers.
Sarah Hartwell‘s Messybeast Cats website has compiled a number of cases of four eared cats (and other ear anomalies) reported in the media, along with useful explanatory diagrams, and also interesting discussion and illustrations of a number of facets of cat biology (for example, color patterns). In her section on facial deformities, some of the cats pictured look like they are otocephalic. (Although many such enthusiast websites are, at best, unreliable, I have found Messybeast to be quite reliable, for example in its explanation of “winged cats” [I once had a winged cat myself!].)
Little, C.C. 1957. Four-ears, a recessive mutation in the cat. Journal of Heredity 48:57. (not seen; shockingly, the University of Wisconsin, Madison– the ‘public ivy’ research giant, not my home campus– does not have an electronic subscription to this well known, historically important, Oxford University Press, journal)
Provine, W.B. 1971. Origin of Theoretical Population Genetics.University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Provine, W.B. 1986. Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Robinson, R. 1971. Genetics for Cat Breeders. Pergamon Press, Oxford.
Wright, S. 1934. On the genetics of subnormal development of the head (otocephaly) in the guinea pig. Genetics 19: 471–505. pdf
In today’s New York Times, there is a paean to a cast iron skillet with which Jocelyn Cooper, a music industry executive, prepares her grandmother’s traditional dishes. While we may marvel at the breadth of the Times‘ coverage that gives us a profile of a frying pan, what brings this to our attention is that in the accompanying, uncaptioned, photo, Ms. Cooper is joined in a pose exactly parallel to hers by her equally traditional tabby, who apparently has a similar, but appropriately downsized, skillet of its own.
A caption in the online version identifies the cat as Jo Jo Cooper.
Update: An alert reader, has objected to the theory presented below, or at least the specific evidence used; he has proffered what he contends is “much more pertinent evidence”, which I append below.
Jerry posted a couple of days ago on a specimen of an early tetrapod, Ossinodus, which seems to have had a partially healed injury to the radius of its right forearm. The authors who described the injured specimen interpreted the injury as a fracture that could only have occurred on land, arguing that Ossinodus therefore is the oldest tetrapod that can confidently be said to be terrestrial. (The first tetrapods, from the upper Devonian, are considerably older than Ossinodus, which is from the following Mississippian subperiod of the Carboniferous; but these earlier tetrapods, which had caudal fins and functional gills, may not have been terrestrial.) Ossinodus is thus potentially an important point in the transition from fishes to amphibians.
Another major transition in the history of vertebrate life was that from reptiles to mammals, which we have discussed here before at WEIT. As important as the morphological changes which can be seen in the fossils, are the changes in ecology and behavior, which, along with environmental changes, lead to changes in the extent to which one group or another dominates the ecosystems of its time. Although mammals originated in the mid-Mesozoic era, it was not until the Cenozoic (colloquially known as the “Age of Mammals”) that the mammals became the dominant terrestrial vertebrates. Most ideas on the rise of mammals to ecological dominance focus on the fate of dinosaurs and other large reptiles at the end of the Cretaceous, when the disappearance of the latter may have been caused or accelerated by the impact of an extraterrestrial body. I was recently forwarded another theory, visually expressed, about how it was that mammals replaced reptiles as the dominant land animals on Earth.
And now, the more pertinent evidence:
I will allow as the mammal in the new evidence does seem to have a more dominant position over the reptile.
The BBC News Magazine has a “Caption Challenge“, and the latest subject is an intriguing picture of a cat.
I hold my own cat like this all the time, but usually I’m lying on my back on the floor, swinging the cat from left to right, and making whooshing noises while singing some made-up song about “Supercat”. If you want to make a caption suggestion to the Beeb, “You can submit captions for this week’s picture by sending us an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org using the subject line Caption.” Do so right away, as there’s a deadline of 12:30 BST Friday. The 6 best suggestions share a prize of a “traditional small quantity of kudos”. If you do submit one, share it with us here at WEIT in the comments, and if you miss the BBC deadline, just put it in the comments here.
Cat Fancy, after nearly 50 years, is about to cease publication. The December 2014 issue, out now, seems to be the last, so you may want to get a copy. Cat Fancy has been for decades the “serious” magazine about cats– cat breeding, cat welfare, and, well, cat fancy. It is going the way of many print magazines (i.e. extinct), but Abraham Riesman of New York magazine also attributes its demise to changing tastes in what people like about cats: once it was grace and breeding, now it’s viral videos of funny things cats do; once people wanted to know how to pick the right flea collar, now it’s how to pick a cat person for dating. The I Can Has Cheezburger and lol cats approach has done in the more more staid point of view of the older magazine.
The publishing company that owns Cat Fancy is going to publish an alternative cat magazine called Catster, which is supposed to appeal to the more modern cat lover. The picture below has appeared widely on the internet as a cover of the new magazine, but it is such an obvious, over-the-top parody of Buzzfeed-style clickbait, that I cannot credit the claim that this is an actual magazine cover, and I assume it’s a mocking knockoff by someone who preferred the old Cat Fancy.
A quick look on the internets shows that there are a number of British cat magazines: Catworld, Your Cat, and The Cat. I cannot really say anything about the content of these, but at least there will be some English-language cat magazines still in existence come the new year.
Cat cafes– places where you can get a cup of coffee, some pastry, and hang out with some cats (not the kind Adam Duritz had in mind, but the real thing)– have been around in Taiwan and Japan for some time, but they’re quite a new thing in North America. Jerry has been following and supporting the progress of one of the first, the Denver Cat Company, and it is now officially open. The owner, Sana Hamelin, has just sent word to us of some coverage they’ve received from Cafe Society, part of Denver Westword, a local news and culture website.
They’ve got coffee, books, art, and, of course, cats. The cats come from a local shelter, and are available for adoption. Far Eastern cat cafes are mostly an opportunity to interact with cats for people who like cats, but can’t have them at home due to lease restrictions. In America, while customers can just enjoy the cats with their coffee, there’s a definite emphasis on adoption, in order to find permanent homes for the cats. In addition to photos accompanying their article, Cafe Society has also posted a slideshow of the cafe.
An article in the New York Times highlights Cat Town Cafe & Adoption Center in Oakland, California, which was apparently the first cat cafe to open in the United States, although beating out Denver Cat Company and others by only a whisker. There’s now a cat cafe– Meow Parlour— in New York, and others have just opened or are in the works in Naples (Fla.), Toronto, Montreal (the first in North America, having opened this past September), Portland (Ore.), San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. Unlike the Denver Cat Company, at the Cat Town Cafe the cats are kept in a separate room (different cities have varying regulations on what you can serve in a room where an animal is), and you pay a fee to visit the cat room (which is the more usual arrangement in Far Eastern cat cafes). They’ve already adopted out over 50 cats.
My local pet shop, Havahart Pets, in addition to its own cats, always has a few cats from the Humane Society living at the store, where they are showcased for adoption. That’s where I met the Philosophickal Cat, Peyton, who after a few visits consented to come home with us. She had been so friendly to all the shop’s customers, that on a couple of occasions people who came to our door for one reason or another, on seeing her come to the door, asked “Is that Peyton?”, having first made her acquaintance at the pet shop. (She already had the name Peyton, and was known by it at the shop.)
So, support your local cat cafe, especially if you’re in or near Denver; Sana tells us that one WEIT reader has already stopped by.
As an envoi for Thanksgiving, a visual composition of a turkey and two kittehs.
While preparing Thanksgiving goodies, my wife found that candy corn is a scarce item after Halloween, but our local 5 and dime came through, with a variety of candy corns to choose from. The blend she selected, “Autumn Mix”, not only had different kinds of candy corn (note beak vs. tail feathers), but also came with candy kittehs, which here guard their soon-to-be dinner.