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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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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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