Why Are Cats Afraid of Water?

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Cats are composed animals, rarely given to emotional outbursts. Get a cat wet, however, and you are likely to witness a total abandonment of any semblance of composure, with the feline going from docile to a windmill of claws, teeth, and flying fur.

The Mogwai (L), another species that develops anxiety when exposed to water (R). Warner Bros

According to John Bradshaw, Ph.D., the Foundation Director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol and the author of Cat Sense, there’s more to the phobia than just matted fur: Cats may have an ancestral fear of getting wet. “Domestic cats were descended from Arabian wild cats,” he says. “Their ancestors lived in an area with very few large bodies of water. They never had to learn how to swim. There was no advantage to it.”

A cat’s displeasure extends to the physical sensation of being doused. According to Shaw, an oily coat doesn’t shed water easily, making it hard for them to return to a dry, warm state quickly. Cats are also used to feeling nimble—in water, their motions become sluggish.

Not all species of cat avoid swimming, however. The van cats that live near the shore of Lake Van in Eastern Turkey are reared to dive in as kittens, with their mothers nudging them in. There’s also the paradoxical behavior of many cats who look at trickling faucets with what appears to be awe. Some dip a paw in the stream; others begin to drink from it.

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But it’s not really the water that the cat is interested in. “That flickering pattern, the light coming off the water, is hard-wired into their brain as a potential sign of prey,” Bradshaw says. “It’s not because it’s wet. It’s because it moves and makes interesting noises. Something moving is a potential thing to eat.” As far as cats are concerned, a little water goes a long way.

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.

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If March 15 Is the Ides of March, What Does That Make March 16?

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iStock.com/bycostello

Everyone knows that the soothsayer in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar was talking about March 15 when he warned the Roman emperor to "beware the Ides of March." We also all know Caesar's response: "Nah, I gotta head into the office that day." But if March 15 is the Ides of March, what does that make March 16?

At the time of Caesar's assassination, Romans were using the Julian calendar (introduced by Julius Caesar himself). This was a modified version of the original Roman calendar, and it is very similar to the one we use today (which is called the Gregorian calendar). A major difference, however, was how Romans talked about the days.

Each month had three important dates: the Kalends (first day of the month), the Ides (the middle of the month), and the Nones (ninth day before the Ides, which corresponded with the first phase of the Moon). Instead of counting up (i.e., March 10, March 11, March 12), Romans kept track by counting backwards and inclusively from the Kalends, Ides, or Nones. March 10 was the sixth day before the Ides of March, March 11 was the fifth day before the Ides of March, and so on.

Because it came after the Ides, March 16 would’ve been referred to in the context of April: "The 17th day before the Kalends of April." The abbreviated form of this was a.d. XVII Kal. Apr., with "a.d." standing for ante diem, meaning roughly "the day before."

So, had Julius Caesar been murdered on March 16, the soothsayer's ominous warning would have been, "Beware the 17th day before the Kalends of April." Doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

This story first ran in 2016.

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