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11 Not-So-Fluffy Facts About Sphynx Cats

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With their angular faces, big ears, and smooth bodies, Sphynxes are living (and purring) proof that there’s more to a cat than its fur coat. Here are a few facts about the fleshy feline.

1. THEY'RE FROM THE LAND OF ICE AND SNOW. 

You’d think a cat whose ancestors come from the North Country would be equipped with a warm coat. But the modern-day Canadian Sphynx—the hairless breed we know in North America—has been defying expectations since the mid-1960s, when an Ontario cat gave birth to a hairless kitten, the result of a natural genetic mutation. Then, in the mid-1970s, two separate sets of hairless kittens were born to owners in Toronto and Minnesota. Thanks to various breeding efforts, their lineages resulted in the affectionate animal we love today.

Don’t think, though, that the Canadian Sphynx is the only hairless cat out there. Similar breeds exist, and look-alike felines have been reported in countries across the world. For instance, the Sphynx has a hairless doppelganger—the Donskoy—that’s actually a separate breed from Russia. While they look nearly identical, the Sphynx’s lack of long hair is thanks to a recessive gene, whereas the Donskoy’s hairlessness is the result of a dominant gene. 

2. THEY'RE NOT ACTUALLY BALD.

At first glance, the Sphynx might look less like a feline and more like a naked mole rat. If you pet one, however, you’ll discover they’re not actually hairless. Sphynxes are covered with a fine layer of downy fuzz. While they’re not plush to the touch, their coats feel akin to suede.

3. THEY'RE PATTERNED AND COLORED.

Although Sphynxes are “naked” cats, their skin pigment can vary in color and pattern. From tortoiseshells to tabbies, you’re bound to find a Sphynx version of many longer-haired cats.

4. THEY'RE NOT HYPOALLERGENIC.

If you’re a cat-lover who’s allergic to your favorite animal, don't shell out cash for a Sphynx kitten. Despite rumors to the contrary, the breed isn’t actually hypoallergenic. Sphynxes still produce Fel d1, the allergenic protein in cat saliva and skin secretions that causes your eyes to grow itchy and red. 

5. THEY'RE WARMER THAN MOST OTHER CATS.

Four degrees warmer, in fact.

6. THEY NEED A WEEKLY BATH.

Think Sphynx kitties are super-clean because they don’t have fur? Think again. While your cat’s coat might not be a magnet for dust particles, pollen, and other substances, its skin still produces oil. For most cats, oil help keeps their fur sleek. But with Sphynx cats, it can form a greasy film over their bodies—meaning their owners must give them weekly baths. The same goes for the ears: Since there aren’t any hairs to block dirt or dead skin cells from accumulating inside the cavities, owners have to regularly wipe them down with a washcloth or cotton ball to keep ears clear. 

7. THEY HAVE SENSITIVE SKIN.

Don’t slather sunscreen on your Sphynx every time it sits in a sunbeam—but do keep in mind that because it’s not covered in a dense coat, your cat’s skin is more sensitive than other felines. (And yes, they can get sunburnt.) They can get overheated or cold and, though they can go outside, they should be mostly indoor cats.

8. THEY'RE POPULAR ...

While pet owners in America love furry cats like Exotic Shorthairs, Persians, and Maine Coons, Sphynxes are currently ranked the 8th most popular feline breed in the country, according to the Cat Fanciers’ Association registration statistics from 2014. 

9. ... AND FRIENDLY.

While they share a name with the Great Sphinx of Giza, Sphynx cats are nothing like the stoic statue. They’re sociable, loving, and playful animals—so much, in fact, that a recent study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior ranked Sphynxes as the most affectionate cat breed.

Why are Sphynx cats so friendly? Experts have a few theories: It could be because they rely on humans to keep warm; because friendlier cats might be selected for breeding; or because breeders tend to leave Sphynx kittens with their mothers for longer periods of time.

10. THEY EAT A LOT.

Thanks to their fast metabolisms, Sphynx cats need more food than the average feline.

11. THE SPHYNX CATS THAT PLAYED MR. BIGGLESWORTH IN AUSTIN POWERS HAD PUNNY NAMES.

The main Mr. Bigglesworth, Ted Nudegent, was specially trained for the films, sitting still for up to 45 minutes at a time while actors screamed and actor Mike Myers petted him. "It helped that he had been a show cat and was used to having lots of people around," animal trainer Tammy Maples told The Daily News. "And also that he just loved Mike Myers. Mike always took time to talk to Ted. It wasn't just 'sit down, roll cameras.'" And when the filmmakers needed a Bigglesworth kitten for The Spy Who Shagged Me, they used Mel Gibskin. Later, as a grown cat, Mel served as Ted's double.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b
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Here's the First-Ever Video of Sand Cat Kittens Playing in the Wild

Sand cats are as elusive as they are adorable. Native to the isolated deserts of Asia and Africa, the nocturnal felines are adapted to desert life, and can go for long periods without water. They’re stealthy predators of venomous snakes and small rodents, and escape detection thanks to their pale sandy coats and furry paws, the latter of which make their tracks nearly invisible. These reasons, among others, are why sand kittens have never been captured on video—until now.

As The Independent reports, researchers from Panthera France, a wild cat conservation group, recently found and filmed three sand cat kittens in Morocco. Thought to be around two months old, they were hiding among vegetation as they waited for their mother to return.

Led by biologists Alexander Sliwa and Grégory Breton, the managing director of Panthera France, the researchers first embarked on their quest to locate and study the wild cat in 2013. Over the course of multiple expeditions, they encountered adults, but no offspring.

In April 2017, during their fifth expedition, Sliwa and Breton were heading back to camp at night when they spotted three pairs of gleaming eyes in the darkness. "They belonged to young sand cats, yellowish, small wild cats with broader faces and larger ears than domestic cats," Breton recounted on Panthera France's blog. Astonished, the scientists managed to record the kittens and identify and radio-collar their mother.

Experts think this is the first time that sand cat (Felis margarita) kittens have been documented in their African range. Until Sliwa and Breton locate even more baby cats for us to ogle, you can enjoy their video footage below.

[h/t The Independent]

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