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10 Furry Facts About Norwegian Forest Cats

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Norwegian Forest cats are known for their fluffy coats, large builds, and social dispositions. Here are a few other furry facts about the Scandinavian feline. 

1. THEY’RE WARRIOR CATS.

The breed's origins are a source of mystery. Norwegian Forest cats could be related to black-and-white short-haired cats from Great Britain, which the Vikings used as mousers on their ships. But they might also be descendants of long-haired cats brought to Scandinavia by the Crusaders.

These early relatives roamed Norway’s forests, breeding with feral felines and barn cats. Over the years, they evolved into the large, dense-coated animal we know and love today. 

2. THEY’RE MYTHICAL CREATURES.

Norwegian Forest cats aren’t just any pedestrian pet—they’re the stuff of legend. Norwegian myths tell of the skogkatt, a large, long-haired "mountain-dwelling fairy cat with an ability to climb sheer rock faces that other cats could not manage.” Thanks to their size, coats, and tree-climbing prowess, the Norwegian Forest cat may have served as the real-life inspiration for the skogkatt (which translates to “forest cat”).  

The skogkatt was beloved by Freya, the Norse goddess of love and beauty, who some say traveled in a feline-drawn chariot. And in one Norwegian tale, Thor loses a contest of strength to the tricky god Jormungand, who’s disguised as a skogkatt. Thanks to these legends, some breeders today refer to the Norwegian Forest cat as the “Norse skogkatt.”

3. THEY'RE NORWAY'S NATIONAL CAT.

King Olaf V of Norway designated the Norwegian Forest cat the country’s national cat. No word on whether America will ever gain its own national feline, although it’s likely that Grumpy Cat will vie for the title. 

4. THEY NEARLY BECAME EXTINCT.

Farmers and sailors prized the Norwegian Forest cat for its mousing skills. However, fanciers didn’t start noticing and showing the breed until the 1930s.

During World War II, attention paid toward the Norwegian Forest cat waned, and the breed came dangerously close to becoming extinct thanks to crossbreeding. However, an official breeding program helped preserve the furry cat’s lineage for future generations.

In 1977, the Norwegian Forest cat breed was officially accepted as a recognized breed by the Fédération Internationale Féline. Two years later, the first breeding pair of Norwegian Forest cats arrived in America. And in 1987, the breed was officially accepted by the Cat Fanciers' Association. 

5. THEY’RE BIG IN EUROPE.

While Norwegian Forest cats don’t crack the top 10 most popular cat breeds in America, they do have a legion of loyal fans in Europe. It’s not surprising that the breed is well-loved in—you guessed it—Scandinavia. (In fact, Norwegian Forest cats are nicknamed “Wegies,” which is short for “Norwegians.”) They’re also popular in France.

6. THEY’RE HUGE.

Norwegian Forest cats are way larger than most cats—and some small dogs, for that matter. Typical male Norwegian Forest cats can range anywhere from 13 to 22 pounds.

7. THEY HAVE BUILT-IN WINTER CLOTHES.

Although Norwegian Forest cats can be any color or pattern, they do have one thing in common: a long, double-layered coat that repels water. (They also have tufted ears and toes, which work like built-in earmuffs and boots.) These handy physical traits helped the breed survive snowy Scandinavian winters.

8. THEY’RE PRONE TO HEALTH PROBLEMS.

Sadly, Norwegian Forest cats aren't as hardy as their ancient Viking owners. They’re prone to hereditary heart problems, hip dysplasia, and a condition called glycogen storage disease type IV, which causes a harmful build-up of a complex sugar called glycogen in the body's cells. 

9. THEY’RE RELATED TO MAINE COONS.

With their big bodies and bushy tails, the Maine Coon and the Norwegian Forest cat look like cousins. Appearances aren’t deceiving. Genetic testing indicates that the Maine Coon is descendent of both the Norwegian Forest Cat and an unknown—and now-extinct—domestic breed.

Can't tell the two apart? Look at their features. Norwegian Forest cats have a triangle-shaped face, whereas Maine Coons have a wedge-shaped head with high cheekbones. 

10. THEY’RE GREAT TREE-CLIMBERS.

Ever seen a cat run down a tree headfirst? If you have, it was most likely a Norwegian Forest cat. The cats have sturdier claws than most breeds, allowing them to achieve impressive climbing feats.

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Animals
How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
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Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Honey Bees Can Understand the Concept of Zero
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The concept of zero—less than one, nothing, nada—is deceptively complex. The first placeholder zero dates back to around 300 BCE, and the notion didn’t make its way to Western Europe until the 12th century. It takes children until preschool to wrap their brains around the concept. But scientists in Australia recently discovered a new animal capable of understanding zero: the honey bee. According to Vox, a new study finds that the insects can be taught the concept of nothing.

A few other animals can understand zero, according to current research. Dolphins, parrots, and monkeys can all understand the difference between something and nothing, but honey bees are the first insects proven to be able to do it.

The new study, published in the journal Science, finds that honey bees can rank quantities based on “greater than” and “less than,” and can understand that nothing is less than one.

Left: A photo of a bee choosing between images with black dots on them. Right: an illustration of a bee choosing the image with fewer dots
© Scarlett Howard & Aurore Avarguès-Weber

The researchers trained bees to identify images in the lab that showed the fewest number of elements (in this case, dots). If they chose the image with the fewest circles from a set, they received sweetened water, whereas if they chose another image, they received bitter quinine.

Once the insects got that concept down, the researchers introduced another challenge: The bees had to choose between a blank image and one with dots on it. More than 60 percent of the time, the insects were successfully able to extrapolate that if they needed to choose the fewest dots between an image with a few dots and an image with no dots at all, no dots was the correct answer. They could grasp the concept that nothing can still be a numerical quantity.

It’s not entirely surprising that bees are capable of such feats of intelligence. We already know that they can count, teach each other skills, communicate via the “waggle dance,” and think abstractly. This is just more evidence that bees are strikingly intelligent creatures, despite the fact that their insect brains look nothing like our own.

Considering how far apart bees and primates are on the evolutionary tree, and how different their brains are from ours—they have fewer than 1 million neurons, while we have about 86 billion—this finding raises a lot of new questions about the neural basis of understanding numbers, and will no doubt lead to further research on how the brain processes concepts like zero.

[h/t Vox]

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