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AkronHistory.org

Kiddo, the Airborne Cat

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AkronHistory.org

In 1910, American journalist, airman, and adventurer Walter Wellman attempted to be the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air. One October day, he and a crew of five boarded the dirigible America in Atlantic City, New Jersey and took the to air, bound for Europe. 

The America carried two interesting pieces of equipment. One was one of the earliest radio sets ever carried on an aircraft, and the other was Kiddo, a stray cat one of the crewmen had scooped up from the hangar and brought on board for good luck. 

Kiddo didn’t take to air travel very well. Less than 20 minutes into the journey, the navigator, F. Murray Simon, noted in his log, “I am chiefly worried by our cat, which is rushing around the airship like a squirrel in a cage.”

The radio operator, Jack Irwin, sitting at his station—which, because of space constraints, was in the lifeboat hanging from the bottom of the ship’s cabin—yelled up to Simon at one point that the cat was “raising hell” and “driving him mad,” and that they should probably leave it behind before they got too far out. 

Simon disagreed, saying, “We must keep the cat at all costs; we can never have luck without a cat aboard.”

The crew soon convened to talk about the animal and voted to get rid of it. They put it in a canvas bag and began to lower it down to a group of journalists who were covering the ship’s flight from a motorboat, but the water was too rough for the tiny boat to get near the bag and the cat was hauled aboard again. 

After that, Simon noted that Kiddo must have realized that “he could have been in a worse place than an airship, and henceforth began to behave himself fairly well.” The rest of the crew, though, never came around on him. Irwin was so annoyed with the cat that in his first communication with the radio operator in Atlantic City—what might have been the first air-to-ground radio transmission in history*—was “Roy, come and get this goddamn cat!” 

A little more than a day into the flight and well short of their destination, the crew ran into bigger problems than Kiddo. The weather took a turn for the worse, and the engines, clogged with sand from the Atlantic City beach, began to fail. Spotting a mail ship below them, the crew and Kiddo piled into the lifeboat and abandoned the America, which drifted away and was never seen again. 

Despite not crossing the Atlantic, the America broke records for both time aloft and distance traveled by air, and the whole crew gained celebrity status when they returned to shore. This included Kiddo, who was displayed at Gimbel’s in New York City, lounging in a gilded cage filled with pillows. He retired from the public eye not long after that and lived the rest of his life with Wellman’s daughter. 

* There’s some disagreement about this, with a few sources pointing to Canadian pilot J.D.A. McCurdy sending the first transmission just a few months earlier. 

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Animals
Australian Charity Releases Album of Cat-Themed Ballads to Promote Feline Welfare
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An Australian animal charity is helping save the nation’s kitties one torch song at a time, releasing a feline-focused musical album that educates pet owners about how to properly care for their cats.

Around 35,000 cats end up in pounds, shelters, and rescue programs every year in the Australian state of New South Wales, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Microchipping and fixing cats, along with keeping closer tabs on them, could help reduce this number. To get this message out, the RSPCA’s New South Wales chapter created Cat Ballads: Music To Improve The Lives Of Cats.

The five-track recording is campy and fur-filled, with titles like "Desex Me Before I Do Something Crazy" and "Meow Meow." But songs like “I Need You” might tug the heartstrings of ailurophiles with lyrics like “I guess that’s goodbye then/but you’ve done this before/the window's wide open/and so’s the back door/you might think I’m independent/but you’d be wrong.” There's also a special version of the song that's specifically designed for cats’ ears, featuring purring, bird tweets, and other feline-friendly noises.

Together, the tunes remind us how vulnerable our kitties really are, and provide a timely reminder for cat owners to be responsible parents to their furry friends.

“The Cat Ballads campaign coincides with kitten season, which is when our shelters receive a significantly higher number of unwanted kittens as the seasons change,” Dr. Jade Norris, a veterinary scientist with the RSPCA, tells Mental Floss. “Desexing cats is a critical strategy to reduce unwanted kittens.”

Listen to a song from Cat Ballads below, and visit the project’s website for the full rundown.

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Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
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Animals
Scientists Discover 'Octlantis,' a Bustling Octopus City
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Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Octopuses are insanely talented: They’ve been observed building forts, playing games, and even walking on dry land. But one area where the cephalopods come up short is in the social department. At least that’s what marine biologists used to believe. Now a newly discovered underwater community, dubbed Octlantis, is prompting scientists to call their characterization of octopuses as loners into question.

As Quartz reports, the so-called octopus city is located in Jervis Bay off Australia’s east coast. The patch of seafloor is populated by as many as 15 gloomy octopuses, a.k.a. common Sydney octopuses (octopus tetricus). Previous observations of the creatures led scientists to think they were strictly solitary, not counting their yearly mating rituals. But in Octlantis, octopuses communicate by changing colors, evict each other from dens, and live side by side. In addition to interacting with their neighbors, the gloomy octopuses have helped build the infrastructure of the city itself. On top of the rock formation they call home, they’ve stored mounds of clam and scallop shells and shaped them into shelters.

There is one other known gloomy octopus community similar to this one, and it may help scientists understand how and why they form. The original site, called Octopolis, was discovered in the same bay in 2009. Unlike Octlantis, Octopolis was centered around a manmade object that had sunk to the seabed and provided dens for up to 16 octopuses at a time. The researchers studying it had assumed it was a freak occurrence. But this new city, built around a natural habitat, shows that gloomy octopuses in the area may be evolving to be more social.

If that's the case, it's unclear why such octo-cities are so uncommon. "Relative to the more typical solitary life, the costs and benefits of living in aggregations and investing in interactions remain to be documented," the researchers who discovered the group wrote in a paper published in Marine and Freshwater Behavior and Physiology [PDF].

It’s also possible that for the first time in history humans have the resources to see octopus villages that perhaps have always been bustling beneath the sea surface.

[h/t Quartz]

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