For some reason, humans are endlessly intrigued by cats—and anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas is no exception. Read on for seven fascinating facts about the furry felines that have taken over the internet.
1. Cats see far better in the dark than we do. A special membrane in their eyes bounces light back to the retina, so they get twice as much. In bright light, we see better than cats do. Cats favor dawn and dusk for hunting when the light is medium and the daylight animals are out and about. The big cats favor the darkest nights when the daylight animals can't see them.
2. Lions may have caused us to fear the dark. A scientific study shows that lions prey successfully on our species after the full moon when the moon rises long after sunset, leaving a period of darkness, which improves the lions' success. The scientists point out that when our ancestors lived as hunter/gatherers, they were in danger from lions during those dark periods, and the fear they acquired is with us still.
3. Domestic cats joined our species during the Neolithic, after we domesticated grains. We stored the grain in granaries, the mice and rats who ate the wild grains followed their food indoors, and the small wildcats who preyed on the mice and rats followed right behind them. We now have the whole little ecosystem in our houses; the same species of grains, mice, rats, and cats that began in the Middle East are now all over the world.
4. As of now, most cats choose their own mates, looking for strength, health, and high status. That's why cats have far fewer health problems than dogs and live almost twice as long. Cat breeders select for appearance, such as fluffy fur or pushed-in faces, much as dog breeders do. If cats aren't free to choose mates for themselves, cats may go the way of dogs with shorter life expectancy and multiple health problems.
5. We tend to see cats as somewhat antisocial, as Kipling did when he wrote of the cat who walked by himself, waving his wet wild tail in the wet wild woods. In fact, it's their prey that determines their social behavior. Domestic cats descend from little wildcats who hunted small animals, not big enough to feed a group, so the wildcats tended to live and hunt alone. Tigers do the same; the deer and pigs they hunt are too small to feed many tigers. Lions hunt animals bigger than themselves and can afford to live in groups. All cats have social inclinations, and house cats serve theirs by bonding with us.
6. Normally, cats don't purr when they're alone, because purring is used for communication. It also relieves stress, so if a cat is in pain, she may purr for relief. Interestingly, their purring has a beneficial effect on those who hear it. In our case, our serotonin levels rise in our brains, and we feel soothed and peaceful.
7. All kinds of cats bond with people. I knew a wonderful woman who owned a puma she raised from a cub, and although the puma had a pen, she preferred to live in the house and sleep on the bed with her owner. I knew a man who had a big, black-maned African lion and a Great Dane with whom he performed for events, such as store openings. He told me the three of them slept together in his trailer. I asked if the lion didn't have a cage, and the man said he did, but he preferred to sleep in the trailer with him and the dog. I knew a group of circus tigers who bonded tightly with their trainer, and I knew a woman with a pet named Bob Cat. You'll have to guess what kind of cat he was. She said he was the most delightful creature, loving and playful, and as loyal to her as she was to him. Those of us with house cats get the picture.