11 Spunky Facts About the Maltese

istock
istock

Everyone loves to pamper these little white dogs—one look at their expressive eyes and button noses and it's easy to see why. Learn more about one of the world's oldest lap dogs. 

1. ITS NAME (PROBABLY) REFLECTS ITS PROVENANCE. 

Vicki Terry

Unlike some breeds (looking at you, Labradors), the Maltese probably does come from its namesake, Malta. They were bred down from a spitz-like dog that was native to the area and was used for hunting rodents. Some suggest the little dogs actually have a pawhold in Asia, but evidence is murky. The history of the Maltese has been difficult to tease out, as the term was often used as a catchall for several breeds of toy dogs; many historical references to "Maltese" dogs, it turns out, were actually descriptions of Pomeranians.

The most compelling theory so far is that the dogs were bred in Malta, but were quickly snatched up by the Romans. In 1804, a knight of Malta wrote that, "There was formerly a breed of dogs in Malta with long silky hair, which were in great request in the time of the Romans; but have for some years past greatly dwindled, and indeed are become almost extinct." 

2. MALTESE ISN’T THE ONLY NAME THEY’VE HAD. 

Over the course of its existence, the breed has had a number of different monikers. Some include comforter dog, Maltese lion dog, Maltese terrier, Melitaie dog, Roman ladies' dog, shock dog, and the Spaniel gentle. 

3. THEY’VE BEEN AROUND A WHILE.   

The Maltese is one of the oldest-known breeds of dogs, and is said to be over 2800 years old. The small dogs happily sat on the laps of the Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. 

4. ROYALTY LOVED THEM.

These lap dogs were a hit among royalty; queens especially would cherish these pooches, feeding them out of gold dishes. The dog's likeness has been found on ceramics and other pieces of artwork in Egypt and in Greece, where owners would construct elaborate tombs for their deceased canines. Publius, the governor of Rome in the first century, had a little Maltese named Issa that was endlessly spoiled. Her likeness was captured in a painting and the poet Martial wrote a poem praising her beauty. Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots both had and adored their little Maltese pups. 

More recently, the dogs have become a favorite with Hollywood royalty (famous fans include Halle Berry and Elizabeth Taylor).

5. THE WHITE FUR IS NO ACCIDENT.

Vicki Terry

The dogs were specially bred by Roman emperors to have that white coat we know today. The color white was sacred to the Romans, who wanted their pets to exhibit an air of divinity. 

6. THEY DON’T SHED …

Sporting a thick coat of hair instead of fur, these little dogs don’t shed. Instead, they need occasional haircuts to keep their mops in check. Their white tufts are hypoallergenic, making them great for families with allergies. 

7. … BUT THERE IS SOME MAINTENANCE REQUIRED. 

Maltese have profuse coats, meaning they need a lot of attention. To keep their fur silky and white, they need to be brushed daily. Most non-show owners prefer to keep their dogs in a puppy cut to avoid having to constantly groom them. 

8. IT'S BEST TO KEEP YOUR FAVORITE THINGS UP HIGH. 

Though they be but little, they can jump. They also seem to have no fear of gravity and have no problem leaping out of your arms or off high ledges. 

9. THEY MAKE GREAT THERAPY DOGS. 

At Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center in Florida, Riley the Maltese is helping people every day. He has been working as a therapy dog since 2009, participating in more than 400 therapy sessions. Dogs like Riley are a wonderful help at nursing homes, hospitals, disaster areas, and underprivileged schools. Petting an animal can reduce stress, encourage empathy, and decrease bullying (just to name a few of the many ways dogs can make our days brighter). Maltese make great therapy dogs because they’re loving and small, which means they can cuddle right up to whomever they're trying to help. 

10. THEY’VE GOT YOUR BACK. 

The Maltese standards describe these dogs as loving and gentle, but also fearless and loyal. You can count on yours to come to your aid no matter what. 

11. ONE WAS A MILLIONAIRE. 

Meet Take Trouble, the Maltese worth $2 million. When real estate developer Leona Helmsley died in 2007, she left $12 million to her pooch in her will. The government eventually trimmed the inheritance down to a measly two million, but that didn’t stop the dog from living it up until her death in 2011.

Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

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iStock

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Intense Staring Contest Between a Squirrel and a Bald Eagle Caught on Camera

iStock.com/StefanoVenturi
iStock.com/StefanoVenturi

Wildlife photographers have an eye for the majestic beauty of life on planet Earth, but they also know that nature has a silly side. This picture, captured by Maine photographer Roger Stevens Jr., shows a bald eagle and a gray squirrel locked in an epic staring match.

As WMTW Portland reports, the image has been shared more than 8000 times since Stevens posted it on his Facebook page. According to the post, the photo was taken behind a Rite Aid store in Lincoln, Maine. "I couldn't have made this up!!" Stevens wrote.

Bald eagles eat small rodents like squirrels, which is likely why the creatures were so interested in one another. But the staring contest didn't end with the bird getting his meal; after the photo was snapped, the squirrel escaped down a hole in the tree to safety.

What was a life-or-death moment for the animals made for an entertaining picture. The photograph has over 400 comments, with Facebook users praising the photographer's timing and the squirrel's apparent bravery.

Funny nature photos are common enough that there's an entire contest devoted to them. Here are some of past winners of the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

[h/t WMTW]

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