36 Cat Facts for International Cat Day

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Hi, I'm John Green. Welcome to my salon. This is mental_floss on YouTube. And this is Lyla. You know, Lyla, we have a lot in common: we're both friends with Meredith, we both live in Indiana, we both hate mice. The major difference is that you do your own grooming, whereas I rely upon Mark for my makeup.

1. Anyway, did you know that Mary Todd Lincoln was once asked if Abe Lincoln had any hobbies? And her reply was "cats."

2. Since I'm talking about historical figures who loved cats, Charles Dickens once said, "What greater gift than the love of a cat?" You have to remember he lived before the Xbox One.

3. John Lennon was also a big fan of cats. Over the years, he had cats named Salt and Pepper, Major and Minor, Tim, Sam, Mimi, Bernard, Sally, Elvis, and Jesus. Do you think Jesus walked around just thinking he was, you know … Jesus? Of course he did, he was a cat.

4. Polydactyl felines are sometimes called Hemingway cats because Ernest Hemingway once had a six-toed cat named Snowball. He let it run wild outside his Key West home and now some 40-50 six-toed descendants of Snowball who are still allowed to roam around his house.

5. Speaking of which, outdoor cats somehow time-share areas to prevent fights. Like, even if multiple cats like going to the same place, they seem to have some way of knowing how to avoid each other.

6. In 1884, Thomas Edison reportedly made the first viral cat video. He filmed two cats hashing it out in a tiny boxing ring, with a bit of help from human handlers of course. It's a great video, but I'm gonna stick with keyboard cat.

7. The cat who played Crookshanks in Harry Potter endured a great indignity in service to his work. His trainers would gather bits of his shed fur, roll it into balls, and clip them back onto him in order to really pump up his rough and and slightly mangy appearance.

8. Onto another famous cat—Mr. Bigglesworth, the hairless sphinx from the Austin Powers movies, is named SGC Belfry Ted Nude-Gent.

Anybody—Nude-Gent? Eh? 'Cause he's a sphinx.

9. Some cats who had nothing to do with the film industry still managed to get famous—for example, Humphrey was the first feline to be named "Chief Government Mouser" in the United Kingdom.

The black-and-white cat wandered into number 10 Downing Street in 1989, and was quickly employed by the cabinet office. He remained in the esteemed position for three successive Prime Ministers, proving that while it's hard out there for a cat, it's harder out there for a Prime Minister.

10. Anyway, nowadays, the British Government employs over 100,000 cats to keep mice away—that's almost double the population of Greenland.

11. Bill Clinton's cat, Socks, didn't love the family's Labrador Retriever, Buddy, which is an example of irony, because his name was literally Buddy.

12. A cat named Tibbles, along with several other cats, caused the Stephens Island Wren to go extinct as a result of over-hunting, which leads to the question—who would name their cat Tibbles?

No wonder he acted out in anger and hunted down all those Stephens Island Wrens!

13. The mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska, is a cat named Stubbs. He is now responsible for the town's steady stream of around 30-40 tourists daily, which is pretty good, or a town of just 900 people.
Some of us know Talkeetna, Alaska because of the Talkeetna Bluegrass festival, which is famous because that's where I got dumped one time.

14. In 1963, France sent the first cat into space, but in the two years prior, they had sent several rats into space. No word on whether the cat was able to you know, like, track down the rats. Probably not, though—I've seen Gravity.

This cat's on its way to space, but I don't see George Clooney so I'm a little nervous.

15. In the early 1800s, Trim the cat, along with his owner, Captain Matthew Flinders, completed the first ever circumnavigation of Australia.

16. And since we're talking about history, scientists once believed that cats were domesticated in ancient Egypt, approximately 4,000 years ago. But new research, published in 2013, shows that a breed of once wild cats lived in close proximity to farmers in China some 5300 years ago.

17. Hairballs were once though to cure epilepsy, the plague, and poisoning; like, during the Middle Ages, hairballs were even set in gold. You can also set a cat in gold.

18. In the 1870s, a Belgian village trained 37 mail cats to deliver letters. Conceived by the esteemed Belgian Society for the Elevation of the Domestic Cat, the plan was to wrap waterproof mail bags around each feline's neck … and the plan failed.

19. But some cats have jobs that they're actually pretty successful at, like Tama, the cat who's a station master at the Wakayama Electric Rail Station in Japan, and has two assistants who are also cats.

A study done in 2008 found that Tama helped bring in annually 1.1 billion yen, or $10.44 million, to the local economy thanks to tourism, because who doesn't wanna go to a station that's run by a cat?

20. Russia loses about $800 million a year from illegal sturgeon fishing. So in 2003, police in Stavropol hired a cat named Rusik to sniff out sturgeon smugglers.

21. Speaking of Russia, in the 1960s America deployed the first cat ever used to spy on the Russians. It cost 20 million dollars, and was immediately hit by a taxi after leaving the CIA van. This cat had recording devices surgically implanted into it, and it made it, like, one minute into Russia.

22. In 1997, Ketzel the cat jumped on a piano and created a song. The cat's owner transcribed that tune and submitted the piece to a Parisian music competition, where it won a prize! That's awesome, even cats are less tone deaf than I am.

23. Then of course we have fictional cats, like Hello Kitty, who was actually partially named after Alice's cat, Kitty, from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. The creator added the "Hello" later. Why is Hello Kitty in a jar by the way?

24. Speaking of name origins, Tom, of the Tom and Jerry cartoons, was originally named Jasper.

25. Nyan cat was created by 25-year-old Christopher Torres while he was participating in a donation drive for the Red Cross. One person suggested he draw a pop-tart, and another person suggested that he draw a cat. He ended up creating the first hybrid pop-tart-cat.

26. Some cats are actually allergic to humans. Like, 1 in every 200 cats is diagnosed with cat asthma, which is worse when they come into contact with humans. Some people are allergic to cats, of course, but I find that 1 in 200 people lie and say they have a cat allergy, when in fact, they just don't like cats.

27. According to Psychology Today, quote, "The brains of cats have an amazing surface folding and a structure that is about 90% similar to ours." The cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that's responsible for cognitive information processing, is actually more complex in cats than it is in dogs and cats have some 300 million neurons, whereas dogs only have about 160 million.

28. Speaking of cat brains, cats also have their own form of Alzheimer's disease. Also like us, they can get fat. In fact 55% of American cats are either overweight or obese.

29. Cats also can't taste sweet food, which makes me wonder—how are they getting obese?!

30. Cats purr when they're content, but they also purr then they're giving birth, or sick, or nursing, or wounded, or in a stressful situation.

Ugh! Cats! Can't you be straight-forward about any of your feelings?! They're astonishingly emotionally complex. Or maybe they just hate me. I can't tell, actually.

31. Speaking of how complicated a creature the cat is, some cats prefer licking their paws to drinking out of a water bowl if they don't like the shape of the water bowl. Some also experience what's called "Whisker Stress". They may not like the pressure of their whiskers while they eat or drink.

32. Cats spend between 30 and 50% of their days cleaning themselves, which means that even though your cat poops in the house, it's still cleaner than most hipsters. Meredith, we can't say bad things about hipsters, that's our core audience!

33. Hairballs, by the the way, aren't just for cats. Cows and rabbits are especially prone to hairballs, but their bodies aren't designed to vomit them up.

34. How do you keep future generations away from nuclear waste? This might be a job for cats.

35. Fascinatingly, it seems that cats that tumble from great heights have a much better chance of survival than those who fall from 5 stories or fewer. Obviously, don't try this at home, but it may be because terminal velocity for a cat isn't that high and if it comes from really high up it has some more time to like get ready for the fall. Don't try it at home!

36. And finally I return to my salon to tell you, and also Lyla, the record for a cat surviving a fall, 43 stories. Lyla, I think that's taller than the tallest building in Indianapolis, so you should be fine.

Pig Island: Sun, Sand, and Swine Await You in the Bahamas

When most people visit the Bahamas, they’re thinking about a vacation filled with sun, sand, and swimming—not swine. But you can get all four of those things if you visit Big Major Cay.

Big Major Cay, also now known as “Pig Island” for obvious reasons, is part of the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas. Exuma includes private islands owned by Johnny Depp, Tyler Perry, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, and David Copperfield. Despite all of the local star power, the real attraction seems to be the family of feral pigs that has established Big Major Cay as their own. It’s hard to say how many are there—some reports say it’s a family of eight, while others say the numbers are up to 40. However big the band of roaming pigs is, none of them are shy: Their chief means of survival seems to be to swim right up to boats and beg for food, which the charmed tourists are happy to provide (although there are guidelines about the best way of feeding the pigs).

No one knows exactly how the pigs got there, but there are plenty of theories. Among them: 1) A nearby resort purposely released them more than a decade ago, hoping to attract tourists. 2) Sailors dropped them off on the island, intending to dine on pork once they were able to dock for a longer of period of time. For one reason or another, the sailors never returned. 3) They’re descendants of domesticated pigs from a nearby island. When residents complained about the original domesticated pigs, their owners solved the problem by dropping them off at Big Major Cay, which was uninhabited. 4) The pigs survived a shipwreck. The ship’s passengers did not.

The purposeful tourist trap theory is probably the least likely—VICE reports that the James Bond movie Thunderball was shot on a neighboring island in the 1960s, and the swimming swine were there then.

Though multiple articles reference how “adorable” the pigs are, don’t be fooled. One captain warns, “They’ll eat anything and everything—including fingers.”

Here they are in action in a video from National Geographic:

Christine Colby
job secrets
13 Secrets From the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London
Christine Colby
Christine Colby

Christopher Skaife is a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, an ancient fortress that has been used as a jail, royal residence, and more. There are 37 Yeoman Warders, popularly known as Beefeaters, but Skaife has what might be the coolest title of them all: He is the Ravenmaster. His job is to maintain the health and safety of the flock of ravens (also called an “unkindness” or a “conspiracy”) that live within the Tower walls. According to a foreboding legend with many variations, if there aren’t at least six ravens living within the Tower, both the Tower and the monarchy will fall. (No pressure, Chris!)

Skaife has worked at the Tower for 11 years, and has many stories to tell. Recently, Mental Floss visited him to learn more about his life in service of the ravens.


All Yeoman Warders must have at least 22 years of military service to qualify for the position and have earned a good-conduct medal. Skaife served for 24 years—he was a machine-gun specialist and is an expert in survival and interrogation resistance. He is also a qualified falconer.

Skaife started out as a regular Yeoman Warder who had no particular experience with birds. The Ravenmaster at the time "saw something in him," Skaife says, and introduced him to the ravens, who apparently liked him—and the rest is history. He did, however, have to complete a five-year apprenticeship with the previous Ravenmaster.


The Tower of London photographed at night
Christine Colby

As tradition going back 700 years, all Yeoman Warders and their families live within the Tower walls. Right now about 150 people, including a doctor and a chaplain, claim the Tower of London as their home address.


Skaife used to live next to the Bloody Tower, but had to move to a different apartment within the grounds because his first one was “too haunted.” He doesn’t really believe in ghosts, he says, but does put stock in “echoes of the past.” He once spoke to a little girl who was sitting near the raven cages, and when he turned around, she had disappeared. He also claims that things in his apartment inexplicably move around, particularly Christmas-related items.


The Ravenmaster at the Tower of London bending down to feed one of his ravens
Christine Colby

The birds are fed nuts, berries, fruit, mice, rats, chicken, and blood-soaked biscuits. (“And what they nick off the tourists,” Skaife says.) He has also seen a raven attack and kill a pigeon in three minutes.


Each evening, Skaife whistles a special tone to call the ravens to bed—they’re tucked into spacious, airy cages to protect them from predators such as foxes.


One of the ravens doesn’t join the others in their nighttime lodgings. Merlina, the star raven, is a bit friendlier to humans but doesn’t get on with the rest of the birds. She has her own private box inside the Queen’s House, which she reaches by climbing a tiny ladder.


Ravens normally pair off for life, but one of the birds at the Tower, Munin, has managed to get her first two mates killed. With both, she lured them high atop the White Tower, higher than they were capable of flying down from, since their wings are kept trimmed. Husband #1 fell to his death. The second one had better luck coasting down on his wings, but went too far and fell into the Thames, where he drowned. Munin is now partnered with a much younger male.


Only the Yeoman Warders, their families, and invited guests can go inside a secret pub on the Tower grounds. Naturally, the Yeoman Warder’s Club offers Beefeater Bitter beer and Beefeater gin. It’s lavishly decorated in police and military memorabilia, such as patches from U.S. police departments. There is also an area by the bar where a section of the wall has been dug into and encased in glass, showing items found in an archaeological excavation of the moat, such as soldiers’ discarded clay pipes, a cannonball, and some mouse skeletons.


The Byward Tower, which was built in the 13th century by King Henry III, is now used as the main entrance to the Tower for visitors. It has a secret glass brick set into the wall that most people don’t notice. When you peer inside, you’ll see it contains a human hand (presumably fake). It was put in there at some point as a bit of a joke to scare children, but ended up being walled in from the other side, so is now in there permanently.


Skaife considers himself primarily a storyteller, and loves sharing tales of what he calls “Victorian melodrama.” In addition to his work at the Tower, he also runs Grave Matters, a Facebook page and a blog, as a collaboration with medical historian and writer Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris. Together they post about the history of executions, torture, and punishment.


2013’s Muppets Most Wanted was the first major film to shoot inside the Tower walls. At the Yeoman Warder’s Club, you can still sit in the same booth the Muppets occupied while they were in the pub.


Ravens are very clever and known for stealing things from tourists, especially coins. They will strut around with the coin in their beak and then bury it, while trying to hide the site from the other birds.


Skaife, who’s covered in scars from raven bites, says, “They don’t like humans at all unless they’re dying or dead. Although they do love eyes.” He once had a Twitter follower, who is an organ donor, offer his eyes to the ravens after his death. Skaife declined.

This story first ran in 2015.


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