Bonus Felid: Wallace and the Bornean Bay Cat

February 24, 2013 • 9:37 am

by Greg Mayer

As part of our observations of the Alfred Russel Wallace Centenary, we have an extra felid this weekend, the Bornean Bay Cat (Catopuma [or Pardofelis] badia). It’s one the world’s rarest species of cat (see the IUCN Red List), endemic to the island of Borneo, and known (as of 2007) from only 15 localities and 10 specimens (some of the localities are sight records or photos), mostly in the center and north of the island.

Illustration of Felis badia from Gray's original description (1874).
Illustration of Felis badia from Gray’s original description (1874).

Jerry has noted them here at WEIT before (here and here). Wallace’s connection to the species is that he collected the holotype specimen in Sarawak, and sent it to the British Museum in 1856, where it was received by J.E. Gray (who was also a scientific acquaintance of Darwin). Gray hoped to study further specimens before describing it, but having received none, he finally described it in 1874 (from the wonderful Wallace Online).

To my knowledge, Wallace made only one published statement about the Bay Cat. In the second edition of Island Life (1892), he analyzed the mammalian fauna of Borneo and concluded that its fauna must have been derived by a land connection:

Nearly a hundred and forty species of mammalia have been discovered in Borneo, and of these more than three-fourths are identical with those of the surrounding countries, and more than one half with those of the continent. Among these are two lemurs, nine civets, five cats, five deer, the tapir, the elephant, the rhinoceros, and many squirrels, an assemblage which could certainly only have reached the country by land.

He goes on to list Felis badia among the relatively few mammal species peculiar to Borneo. He infers, however, that these endemic forms do not indicate a long separation of Borneo from the Asian mainland:

These peculiar forms do not, however, imply that the separation of the island from the continent is of very ancient date, for the country is so vast and so much of the once connecting land is covered with water, that the amount of speciality is hardly, if at all, greater than occurs in many continental areas of equal extent and remoteness. This will be more evident if we consider that Borneo is as large as the Indo-Chinese Peninsula, or as the Indian Peninsula south of Bombay, and if either of these countries were separated from the continent by the submergence of the whole area north of them as far as the Himalayas, they would be found to contain quite as many peculiar genera and species as Borneo actually does now.

Wallace’s zoogeographical conclusions regarding Borneo have been abundantly confirmed by subsequent discoveries, most especially in geology. It is now known that the lowering of sea level by the sequestration of water in glaciers during the most recent glaciation amounted to a worldwide lowering of about 120 m in sea level, an amount quite sufficient to drain the broad yet shallow Sunda Shelf, thus firmly uniting Borneo to the Asian mainland. According to the exquisite paleogeographic reconstructions of Harold Voris of the Field Museum and colleagues, the rising postglacial waters did not sever Borneo’s connection to the main till between 10,550 and 10,210 years ago.

The Sunda Shelf with the sea level at -30 m, 10,210 years ago (from Sathiamurthy and Voris, 2006).
The Sunda Shelf with the sea level at -30 m, 10,210 years ago; Borneo has just barely detached from the Malayo-Sumatran peninsula (from Sathiamurthy and Voris, 2006).

JAC addendum: I’ve embedded a video (nb: cheesy music) below; it has photos of the cat and some very rare video footage:


Azlan, M.J. and J. Sanderson. 2007. Geographic distribution and conservation status of the bay cat Catopuma badia, a Bornean endemic. Oryx 41:394-397. (pdf)

Gray, J.E. 1874. Description of a new Species of Cat (Felis badia) from Borneo. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1874:322-323. (pdf)

Kitchener, A.C, S. Yasuma, M. Andau, and P. Quillen. 2004. Three bay cats (Catopuma badia) from Borneo Mammalian Biology  69:349-353.  (pdf)

Sathiamurthy, E. and Voris, H. K. 2006. Maps of Holocene sea level transgression and submerged lakes on the Sunda Shelf. The Natural History Journal of Chulalongkorn University. Supplement 2:1-43.(pdf)

Wallace, A. R. 1892. Island Life. Second and revised edition. London: Macmillan and Co. (text and pdf)

Caturday felid– No.3, the snow leopard

November 13, 2010 • 4:15 pm

by Greg Mayer

As an extra bonus felid for today, and continuing the theme of cat coat patterns as camouflage, here’s the snow leopard (Panthera uncia).

You can’t see the snow leopard or it’s pattern very well, but, of course, that’s the point. Its head is to the right.

(BTW, is anyone getting the Monty Python reference?)

Caturday felid– No. 1, the jaguar

November 13, 2010 • 8:34 am

by Greg Mayer

Jerry recently posted about a new analysis of cat coat color patterns by William Allen and colleagues from the University of Bristol that is in press in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B, so I thought it might be interesting to take a look at one of the species in the analysis, that I was able to photograph recently: the jaguar, Panthera onca.

It kind of looks like he’s about to spring and make a meal of me, but I didn’t take the picture in a tropical American forest, but at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Jaguars are of course spotted cats, with dark rosettes on a lighter background. Leopards (Panthera pardus), found in Africa and Asia, are rather similar, but jaguars have a dot in the middle of many of the rosettes. Jaguars also have a relatively larger head and more muscular forequarters, which are also noticeable in the next picture.As Jerry noted in his post, Allen and colleagues found that spotted patterns were significantly associated with closed or forested habitats. The jaguar is a bit of a problem in this regard, as it is a habitat generalist, found in the semi-desert of the southwestern US and northern Mexico, as well as in Neotropical rainforests. The authors attempted to account for varying degrees of habitat usage and specialization, although they did apparently miss the jaguar’s occurrence in semi-desert.

The physics of kitteh drinking

November 11, 2010 • 11:56 pm

by Greg Mayer (update below)

Pedro Reis of MIT and colleagues are about to publish a paper in Science analyzing high speed films of cats drinking. A preprint is already available. I’m not sure there’s really anything interesting here, other than cool video. You can tell that only the tip of the cat’s tongue contacts the milk, so the ‘brushy’ part of the cat’s tongue is not involved in getting milk into the mouth, which is not what I would have expected. (The brush has a large surface area, which I thought would be involved in liquid adhesion, but it’s not.)

There are more videos at Reis’s website, here and here. Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science has more background on the work, and notes that MIT’s Harold ‘Doc’ Edgerton (of Loch Ness monster fame) made high speed film of cat lapping in 1940. The cat is at about 4:41.

Edgerton (or at least his film’s narrator) thought the back of the tongue cupped the milk, but Reis’s better films show the milk is on the front of the tongue, not the back, curled part of the tongue. The BBC also has a story up.

P.M. Reis, S. Jung, J. Aristoff and R. Stocker. 2010. How Cats Lap: Water uptake by Felis catus. Science in press.

Update. MIT has a press release with more background available here. I mentioned that cats don’t ladle the milk, nor is it the brushy part, and I’ve been queried about what it is they do do. Here’s how the MIT press release puts it:

Cats, unlike dogs, don’t dip their tongues into the liquid like ladles. The cat’s lapping mechanism is far more subtle and elegant. The smooth tip of the tongue barely touches the surface of the liquid before the cat draws its tongue back up. As it does so, a column of liquid forms between the moving tongue and the liquid’s surface. The cat then closes its mouth, pinching off the top of the column for a nice drink, while keeping its chin dry.

When the cat’s tongue touches the liquid surface, some of the liquid sticks to it through liquid adhesion, much as water adheres to a human palm when it touches the surface of a pool. But the cat draws its tongue back up so rapidly that for a fraction of a second, inertia — the tendency of the moving liquid to continue following the tongue — overcomes gravity, which is pulling the liquid back down toward the bowl.

The release goes on to mention that the cat instinctively knows when to close its mouth, but the paper did not in fact address that question, and cats may well learn the timing (much as first basemen learn the perfect time to snap their glove shut). The NY Times has a story up now too. Besides the cool video, the most interesting thing to me about the paper is that they were able to predict a relationship between lapping frequency and body mass, and show that their prediction roughly held (see Fig 4c of the paper; the authors  make only a glancing reference in the text).

Caturday felid: the King Cheetah

March 27, 2010 • 8:42 am

by Greg Mayer

Of interest to both ecological geneticists studying vertebrate polymorphisms and cryptozoologists is the king cheetah.

King Cheetah, by Jurvetson. Source

The king cheetah, known only from southern Africa, is a striking pattern variation of the common cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). Instead of being spotted, the dark markings of the king cheetah coalesce into stripes and vermiculations, especially along the dorsal midline. King cheetahs are to common cheetahs as blotched tabbies are to spotted tabbies, not just in the similarity of the patterns, but in their genetic relationship: the king pattern is a variation within populations of the same species, and both patterns can occur in the same litter.

Common cheetahs, by Picture Taker 2, source

In 1927, R.I. Pocock of the British Museum named the king cheetah as a new species, Acinonyx rex, the holotype being a specimen at the Queen Victoria Memorial Library and Museum in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). In 1932 the zoologist Angel Cabrera suggested that the king cheetah was merely a coat pattern variant of the common cheetah. For many decades after that the question of the status of the king cheetah was unresolved, as few specimens were known, and genetic experiments on cheetahs not possible. Cryptozoologists became interested in the king cheetah as a ‘semi-cryptid’– a not quite undiscovered species of large mammal, but at least a mysterious one.

In the 1970s more king cheetahs turned up, and methods of captive breeding of cheetahs, developed for conservation purposes, had advanced to the point where it was possible to investigate the question. In 1986, R.J. van Arde and Ann van Dyk of Pretoria University and the National Zoo in Pretoria, South Africa, showed that the king coat pattern was due to a recessive mutation at a single autosomal locus, thus vindicating Cabrera’s hypothesis from 50 years earlier. King cheetahs are now found in several animal parks in South Africa, and can be easily seen and photographed.

The story of the king cheetah shows that even when a new species is described and named according to the best practices, including insuring a publicly available holotype, it doesn’t guarantee that the species so named is new. It might be a new species, but it might also be a geographic or within-population variation of a known species (the latter in the case of the king cheetah), or in some cases nothing new at all (as when the describer is unaware that a description had been published previously).

BBC wildlife photo winners, felid included

October 22, 2009 • 11:15 am

Some really nice wildlife photos over at the BBC, including the grand prize winner of a leaping wolf (see the BBC page for the stories behind these photos):


But of course I like this one best:

Get off my territory!

(From the BBC) :  With the help of his feisty cat, Igor Shpilenok won the Urban and Garden Wildlife category with this shot.

He spent five months as a ranger in the Kronotsky Nature Reserve in Kamchatka in the east of Russia, and took his cat Ryska with him for company.

“It’s a very remote place and there were lots of animals – bears, foxes, wolverines – living near my cabin,” he told BBC News.

“The cat was really jealous about me. If I started to look at the animals, she would attack them. Just like a woman,” he smiled.

“Maybe she thought I was her pet.”

But the animals were curious about the area’s new residents, and were drawn by cooking smells from the cabin. The foxes in particular would visit every day. “When they came within 20m, that was her boundary and chased them. It was really funny – foxes were climbing trees to get away from the cat.”

Mr Shpilenok’s wife, Laura Williams, selected the category-winning image. “It’s ironic,” she said. “He photographs the wilderness, but the two times he’s won a category [in this competition] it’s been the urban wildlife one. Because the wilderness is his back yard.”

Nikon D3 + 300mm lens; 1/500 sec at f4.5; ISO 640

h/t: Otter

Caturday felids: snow leopard twins

September 5, 2009 • 3:48 am

Okay, the music is cheesy but the cats are adorable. Cubs (a male and female) born on May 25 at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo.

The snow leopard (Panthera uncia), also known as the ounce, is a denizen of the mountains of central Asia. With its camouflaging cream-colored fur, speckled with black rosettes, it’s surely one of the world’s most beautiful cats. Its thick coat (most evident on the tail) and large paws are adaptations to the high-altitude mountain habitat. But these adaptations, and its beauty, have been the ounce’s downfall: hunted heavily to make hats and coats, only about 3500-7000 of these cats remain in the wild.

and when younger:

Just in (thanks to reader Sean): It must be snow leopard week, because there’s a nice video of a newborn snow leopard cub, named Yukichi, in Japan.

If you have a special cat, or just an ordinary moggie, send me a photo and a short description (my email is easily found on the web), and I’ll consider it for a Caturday Felid.

Caturday felids: Sadie and Zöe, militant (c)atheists

August 29, 2009 • 5:15 am

Today’s felids, Sadie and Zoë, come from two readers of this website: John Danley and Lori Anne Parker.  John and Lori Anne live in Nashville, where she is an artist and he a musician (several of John’s public performances are on YouTube).  They describe their cats:

At first their relationship was inauspicious and warlike: Sadie—the older of two with greater house tenure—flattened her ears and hissed at Zoë’s every approach. Nonetheless, a discovered mutual interest eventually acted as an unexpected catalyst for Carnivora solidarity. Beyond a shared lineage of Maine Coon alleles, Sadie and Zoë often collude via literary and gastronomic pursuits in an attempt to satiate their appetite for philosophical materialism and reconstituted albacore tuna.  Being of militant, neo-secular feline dispositions, no unfalsified argument or abstract concept of a metaphysical metazoan has been able to dissuade their New Felis catusism. This week they are engaged in vigorous discussions of A Natural History of the Senses, Why Evolution is True, and The Joy of Philosophy. Zoë, the more cheerful of the two, brought the third book to Sadie’s attention, reminding her that just because a cat is existential doesn’t mean she has to refrain from long cycles of hearty purr.

Sadie and Zoe 1

Figure 1.   Zoë (l.) and Sadie (r.)

The Reading Room Floor 1

Fig. 2.  The reading room, ready for kittehs. A selection of philosophy, science, atheism, and tuna is on offer.

Sadie and Zoe discuss the literature 1

Fig. 3.  Voracious kitteh reading. (They seem to be ignoring WEIT.)