Two accounts suggest that whilst Isaac Newton was at the University of Cambridge busily studying and experimenting he was frequently disturbed by a queen and her kittens scratching at the door of his office. As this was disrupting his work, it is said that he asked the Cambridge carpenter to saw a couple of holes in the door to allow his feline friends access at will. One account bore witness of the holes, and the story was repeated many years later by an anonymous author. Whilst this is possibly anecdotal it would be nice to think that despite being such a busy mathematician and physicist that Isaac Newton took the time to ensure that the cats were able to come and go from his office as they pleased through this very simple yet effective early “cat flap”.
Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor; best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current electricity supply system. Quite how he came to first investigate electricity is an extraordinary tale involving his cat “Macak”. One cold evening, the three year old Tesla was stroking the cat, and was astonished to find that the contact of his hand on Macak’s fur produced a shower of sparks and a sheet of light. Tesla’s father attributed the phenomenon to electricity describing it as “the same thing you see through the trees in a storm. Tesla went on to work for Thomas Edison in 1884 in New York, but soon struck out on his own setting up laboratories and companies to develop a range of electrical devices including a patented AC induction motor and transformer. Whilst Edison is generally more widely acclaimed than Tesla for his electrical engineering achievements, we shouldn’t forget the little boy and his cat who were early pioneers.
In 2009, a study entitled “Lateralized behaviour in the domestic cat,Felis silvestris catus” was published in the Journal of Animal Behaviour. The behaviour of 42 domestic cats (21 male and 21 female) was observed by Deborah Wells and Sarah Millsopp, who concluded that when performing dexterous tasks, male cats favour their left paw, and females their right. The cats were encouraged to extract some tuna from a jar that was too small for their heads, and 20 of the female cats used their right paw. Of the males, 20 used their left paw, whilst one proved ambidextrous! In an easier task (pawing at a suspended or dragged toy), all of the cats wielded their right and left paws almost equally. Wells believes that hormonal differences may explain the sex differences in the more complex task as previous research has linked prenatal testosterone exposure to left-handedness. Studies of horses and dogs have also revealed similar sex biases.
Although cats cannot see distant objects as well as people, and they are not able to see in such high resolution or distinguish as many colours as we can, their night vision is far better than ours. This is partly because their eyes have 6 to 8 times more rod cells, which are more sensitive to low light, than us. Kerry Ketring (a veterinary surgeon at the All Animal Eye Clinic in Whitehall, Michegan) explains: “Their elliptical eye shape and larger corneas and tapetum (a layer of tissue that may reflect light back to the retina) help gather more light as well. The tapetum may also shift the wavelengths of light that cats see, making prey or other objects silhouetted against a night sky more prominent.”
It’s quite well known that cats cannot taste sweetness. This is believed to be due to the lack of 247 base pairs of amino acids that make up the DNA of the Tas1r2 gene, but it may be that because cats choose not to eat sweet food they no longer have this code. Interestingly, cats appear to be alone here. Other carnivores including the mongoose and hyena do have the sweet gene. Cats have far fewer taste buds than people (only around 470 compared to our 9000), but they do have a special ability to taste something that we can’t – a compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which supplies the energy in every living cell. Joe Brand, biochemist and associate director at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia says: “Although meat does not contain very much ATP, it is a signal for meat.”
Feline sightings at Disneyland go back to 1955 soon after the park opened. In fact, Walt Disney himself discovered a large population of flea-ridden cats inhabiting Sleeing Beauty’s castle when he was inspecting it with a view to creating an attraction inside it. Cats were probably not quite what he had in mind! The Disney company decided that the cats should be offered to the cast as this was more humane (and acceptable to the general public) than “eliminating” them. Some cats remained who lived outside of the castle, and numbers grew again as they bred, and others joined them to hunt on the mice who also inhabited the park. Since the mice were more of a problem than the cats, it was decided that the cats could stay so that they could hunt the rodents. Guests are not encouraged to get too close to the cats, but any that become too tame are adopted by staff, as are litters of kittens. There are feeding stations for the cats at various locations, and cat spotting is most likely at the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Disneyland, Taste Pilot’s Grill at DCA and White Water Snacks at the Grand Californian.
Cats purr for several reasons:
Nobel Literature Prize writer Ernest Hemingway was given a white polydactyl cat by a ship's captain. This started off quite an obsession for Hemingway, and he collected some 50 of these 6 toed felines. Today, some of the descendents remain in the house, grounds and museum, and they are very popular with visitors. The cats are well cared for by the museum staff, and receive regular veterinary care, but they have courted some controversy over the years with the Department of Agriculture ruling that a federal license was required since they deemed the cats a “living, breathing exhibit”. The cats however remain, and they even have their own cemetery.