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12 Huge Facts About Maine Coons

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Thanks to their sizeable bodies and sociable natures, Maine Coons are known as the “gentle giants” of cats. Here are 12 facts about one of the world’s largest domesticated felines.

1. THEY ARE MASSIVE ANIMALS.

There’s a reason why some people have mistaken pet Maine Coons for bobcats—they’re huge. Maine Coons tip the scales at anywhere from 9 to 16 pounds (female) and 13 to 18 pounds (male). Some people like to say Maine Coons are the biggest cat breed, but they actually fall somewhere between Norwegian Forest Cats, which weigh up to 16 pounds, and Ragdolls, which can weigh up to 20 pounds.

2. THEY HAVE COLORFUL ORIGIN STORIES. 

As their name suggests, Maine Coon cats are native to the Pine Tree State. Thanks to their brown coats and bushy tails, one popular (but scientifically unsound) explanation for the breed's origin is that it resulted from semi-wild domesticated cats mating with raccoons. Another theory is that Maine Coons are descendants of six pet cats that Queen Marie Antoinette shipped to Wiscasset, Maine, as she was planning her escape from France during the French Revolution.

A less intriguing—but more plausible—story is that the furry kitties originated from short-haired domestic cats breeding with longhaired cats, which may have been brought to America by the Vikings or European sailors who docked in New England during the 1700s. Since genetic testing indicates that Maine Coons are actually a descendent of both the Norwegian Forest Cat and a mysterious extinct domestic breed, the Vikings are likely responsible.

3. THEY'RE "DRESSED" FOR WINTER.

Maine Coons evolved to survive harsh winters by developing characteristics like large, tufted paws that serve as built-in “snowshoes” and a thick, bushy tail they can wrap around their bodies when they're cold.

Their crowning feature is a dense, water-repellant coat that’s longer on the stomach, ruff, and flanks. These shaggy sections keep a Maine Coon’s lower body warm when it sits on or walks across ice or snow. The fur grows shorter on the shoulders, allowing the kitties to romp through the woods without getting snared by tree branches or bushes.

4. NOT ALL MAINE COON CATS ARE BROWN.

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Maine Coons are often thought to be synonymous with their brown, raccoon-like coats. They actually come in all kinds of colors and patterns, including smoke, cream, cameo, mackerel, and tortoiseshell. But Maine Coon owners don't breed cats with lilac, chocolate, or Seal Point Siamese coloring—the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) disqualifies against these colors, since they indicate hybridization.

5. THEY WON AMERICA'S FIRST POPULAR JURIED CAT EXHIBIT.

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One of America’s first well-known cat shows was held in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 1895. There, a brown tabby Maine Coon cat named Cosie won the event’s “Best Cat” award. Today, the silver collar and medal Cosey won at the event are on display at the Cat Fanciers Association headquarters in Alliance, Ohio.

For a long time after, Maine Coons were the country’s most coveted breed until Persian cats came into vogue. After that, cat fanciers stopped breeding the prize-winning Maine Coon. The cat became so scarce that some sources say it was thought to be extinct in the 1950s. Aficionados joined forces to rescue the fluffy feline from obscurity, forming the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association in 1968. In 1976, Maine Coons were accepted for championship status by the CFA.

6. THEY’RE POPULAR IN MAINE—AND EVERYWHERE ELSE.

The Maine Coon was made the official state cat of Maine in 1985—but they're also beloved by cat lovers across America. In 2015, Maine Coons were the third most popular breed in the U.S., according to CFA registration statistics. They're also prized in Japan and Europe.

7. A MAINE COON STARRED IN THE HARRY POTTER MOVIES.

A female Maine Coon named Pebbles was one of three kitties to play Argus Filch’s pet feline, Mrs. Norris, in the Harry Potter films. Pebbles was a neutered mama cat that animal trainers "discovered" in a cattery in southwest England. She reportedly wasn’t as responsive to complex training as the film's other cat actors, but she was great at walking across the set and stopping on command. Remember those shots of Mrs. Norris pacing the halls of Hogwarts? That’s Pebbles.

8. A MAINE COON WAS CLONED COMMERCIALLY.

In 2004, a Maine Coon named Little Nicky became the first pet animal to be cloned commercially. After Little Nicky died at the age of 17, his Dallas-area owner, Julie (who declined to give her full name to media outlets), saved his tissue in a gene bank. She paid $50,000 to have the California-based Genetic Savings & Clone, Inc.—a controversial company dedicated to dog and cat cloning—transplant Little Nicky's DNA into an egg cell. A surrogate mother cat carried the embryo, and gave birth to a kitten that was similar in appearance and temperament to Julie's prized kitty.

According to newspaper interviews, Julie was a happy customer. However, she won't be commissioning a Little Nicky III anytime soon. Genetic Savings & Clone, Inc.—which made global headlines for producing the first cloned cat, CC, in 2001—closed in 2006, reportedly for financial reasons.

9. A MAINE COON WAS THE WORLD'S LONGEST CAT ...

Stewie, an 8-year-old Maine Coon, held the Guinness World Record for world's longest domestic cat before his death from cancer in 2013. When fully stretched out, Stewie measured 48.5 inches from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail bone.

10. ... AND THE WORLD'S OLDEST CAT.

Technically, Corduroy—the feline who currently holds the Guinness World Record for world's oldest living cat—is only half-Maine Coon. However, Corduroy's 26-year lifespan puts his purebred counterparts to shame.

11. THEY LOVE WATER.

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Maybe it's due to their dense, moisture-repellant coats, but for some reason, Maine Coons love water. While other cats will steer clear of a full bathtub, a Maine Coon will likely jump into it.

12. SOME MAINE COONS HAVE SIX TOES.

Jamesishere, Wikipedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

Move over, Hemingway’s cats—Maine Coons sometimes also have six toes [PDF]. Early in the breed’s development, Maine Coons were often polydactyls, meaning they were born with extra appendages on their paws. Some experts estimate that as many as 40 percent of early Maine Coons had this characteristic. It stemmed from a genetic mutation, which some people say helped the cats use their paws as “natural snowshoes” during snowy Maine winters.

Thanks to the rise of cat fanciers' associations, which disqualified polydactyls from competing in the purebred class, the trait was eventually viewed as undesirable. Owners ceased breeding polydactyl Maine Coons, and 6-toed kitties gradually declined in number. However, some non-purebred litters still yield Maine Coons with extra digits.

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Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
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K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
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“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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