What Makes a Cat's Tail Puff Up When It's Scared?

iStock
iStock

Cats wear their emotions on their tails, not their sleeves. They tap their fluffy rear appendages during relaxing naps, thrash them while tense, and hold them stiff and aloft when they’re feeling aggressive, among other behaviors. And in some scary situations (like, say, being surprised by a cucumber), a cat’s tail will actually expand, puffing up to nearly twice its volume as its owner hisses, arches its back, and flattens its ears. What does a super-sized tail signify, and how does it occur naturally without help from hairspray?

Cats with puffed tails are “basically trying to make themselves look as big as possible, and that’s because they detect a threat in the environment," Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. The “threat” in question can be as major as an approaching dog or as minor as an unexpected noise. Even if a cat isn't technically in any real danger, it's still biologically wired to spring to the offensive at a moment’s notice, as it's "not quite at the top of the food chain,” Delgado says. And a big tail is reflexive feline body language for “I’m big and scary, and you wouldn't want to mess with me,” she adds.

A cat’s tail puffs when muscles in its skin (where the hair base is) contract in response to hormone signals from the stress/fight or flight system, or sympathetic nervous system. Occasionally, the hairs on a cat’s back will also puff up along with the tail. That said, not all cats swell up when a startling situation strikes. “I’ve seen some cats that seem unflappable, and they never get poofed up,” Delgado says. “My cats get puffed up pretty easily.”

In addition to cats, other animals also experience piloerection, as this phenomenon is technically called. For example, “some birds puff up when they're encountering an enemy or a threat,” Delgado says. “I think it is a universal response among animals to try to get themselves out of a [potentially dangerous] situation. Really, the idea is that you don't have to fight because if you fight, you might lose an ear or you might get an injury that could be fatal. For most animals, they’re trying to figure out how to scare another animal off without actually going fisticuffs.” In other words, hiss softly, but carry a big tail.

Why Does Wine Only Stain Some People's Teeth?

iStock.com/yula
iStock.com/yula

Maybe getting red wine stains on your teeth would be less embarrassing if it was a universal experience. But as you may have noticed after splitting a bottle of cabernet between friends, wine doesn't have the same tinting effects on everyone. Whether vino leaves your teeth untouched or makes you look like you've been chewing on a purple Sharpie, you can give credit to your genes and hygiene habits.

A mix of components make red wine the perfect drink for staining teeth. It's acidic, which means it degrades your enamel at the microscopic level, making the surface of your teeth less even and more likely to catch pigments. Red wine contains anthocyanins, the pigment that gives wine (and the mouths of some wine-drinkers) a dusky red color, as well as tannins, which encourage those pigments to bind to your teeth. White wine also has acid and tannins (though a much lower level of tannins than reds), but without the dark pigments, drinking white wine alone won't stain your teeth.

Some wine drinkers are better equipped to handle this than others, such as those gifted with healthy, strong enamel. Enamel is the layer of minerals that protects your teeth, and it's the strongest substance in the human body. It's what makes teeth resistant to acidic foods and stains, and how much of it you have is often a product of factors beyond your control, like age and genetics. (Enamel doesn't grow back, so it wears down over a lifetime of use.)

But even if your genes are working against you, that doesn't necessarily mean you have to choose between your favorite drink and a presentable smile. You can prevent wine mouth, or at least make it look less noticeable, by practicing good oral hygiene. Teeth covered in plaque are more likely to stain, and brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing daily helps reduce plaque while keeping your enamel strong.

If you plan on ordering red wine at the bar you're heading to, brush your teeth beforehand: This will get rid of a lot of the plaque that would otherwise act as a magnet for pigments. Because brushing can scratch enamel in the same way that acid does, this should only be done about 30 minutes before you have your first sip of wine, and not in between glasses. Eating while you drink can help as well. By munching on a protein, you can create a sort of stain-blocking barrier for your teeth—just in case you needed an excuse to order a cheese plate with your pinot.

What you choose to drink also factors into how stained your teeth may or may not be by the end of the night. Though wines like chardonnay don't stain your teeth, they do make them more vulnerable to dark pigments, so never start off drinking white wine and move on to red. Dark wines tend to leave the darkest stains. If you absolutely must have a glass of red wine with dinner, opt for a pinot noir over a cabernet (or something lighter-bodied, in wine-speak).

What Happened to the Physical Copy of Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' Speech?

AFP, Getty Images
AFP, Getty Images

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a speech for the ages, delivering the oratorical masterpiece "I Have a Dream" to nearly 250,000 people.

When he was done, King stepped away from the podium, folded his speech, and found himself standing in front of George Raveling, a former Villanova basketball player who, along with his friend Warren Wilson, had been asked to provide extra security around Dr. King while he was speaking. "We were both tall, gangly guys," Raveling told TIME in 2003. "We didn't know what we were doing but we certainly made for a good appearance."

Moved by the speech, Raveling saw the folded papers in King’s hands and asked if he could have them. King gave the young volunteer the speech without hesitation, and that was that.

“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,’” Raveling told Sports Illustrated in 2015. Not realizing he was holding what would become an important piece of history in his hands, Raveling went home and stuck the three sheets of paper into a Harry Truman biography for safekeeping. They sat there for nearly two decades while Raveling developed an impressive career coaching NCAA men’s basketball.

In 1984, he had recently taken over as the head coach at the University of Iowa and was chatting with Bob Denney of the Cedar Rapids Gazette when Denney brought up the March on Washington. That's when Raveling dropped the bomb: “You know, I’ve got a copy of that speech," he said, and dug it out of the Truman book. After writing an article about Raveling's connection, the reporter had the speech professionally framed for the coach.

Though he displayed the framed speech in his house for a few years, Raveling began to realize the value of the piece and moved it to a bank vault in Los Angeles. Though he has received offers for King’s speech—one collector wanted to purchase the speech for $3 million in 2014—Raveling has turned them all down. He has been in talks with various museums and universities and hopes to put the speech on display in the future, but for now, he cherishes having it in his possession.

“That to me is something I’ll always be able to look back and say I was there,” Raveling said in the original Cedar Rapids Gazette article. “And not only out there in that arena of people, but to be within touching distance of him. That’s like when you’re 80 or 90 years old you can look back and say ‘I was in touching distance of Abraham Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Address.’"

“I have no idea why I even asked him for the speech,” Raveling, now CEO of Coaching for Success, has said. “But I’m sure glad that I did.”

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