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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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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Gophers and Groundhogs?
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
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Gophers and groundhogs. Groundhogs and gophers. They're both deceptively cuddly woodland rodents that scurry through underground tunnels and chow down on plants. But whether you're a nature nerd, a Golden Gophers football fan, or planning a pre-spring trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might want to know the difference between groundhogs and gophers.

Despite their similar appearances and burrowing habits, groundhogs and gophers don't have a whole lot in common—they don't even belong to the same family. For example, gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, a group that includes pocket gophers (sometimes referred to as "true" gophers), kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.

Groundhogs, meanwhile, are members of the Sciuridae (meaning shadow-tail) family and belong to the genus Marmota. Marmots are diurnal ground squirrels, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA biologist and marmot expert, tells Mental Floss. "There are 15 species of marmot, and groundhogs are one of them," he explains.

Science aside, there are plenty of other visible differences between the two animals. Gophers, for example, have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, and fur-lined cheek pockets for storing food—all traits that make them different from groundhogs. The feet of gophers are often pink, while groundhogs have brown or black feet. And while the tiny gopher tends to weigh around two or so pounds, groundhogs can grow to around 13 pounds.

While both types of rodent eat mostly vegetation, gophers prefer roots and tubers (much to the dismay of gardeners trying to plant new specimens), while groundhogs like vegetation and fruits. This means that the former animals rarely emerge from their burrows, while the latter are more commonly seen out and about.

Groundhogs "have burrows underground they use for safety, and they hibernate in their burrows," Blumstein says. "They're active during the day above ground, eating a variety of plants and running back to their burrows to safety. If it's too hot, they'll go back into their burrow. If the weather gets crappy, they'll go back into their burrow during the day as well."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that gophers are the more reclusive of the two, as groundhogs famously hibernate during the winter. Gophers, on the other hand, remain active—and wreck lawns—year-round.

"What's really interesting is if you go to a place where there's gophers, in the spring, what you'll see are what is called eskers," or winding mounds of soil, Blumstein says [PDF]. "Basically, they dig all winter long through the earth, but then they tunnel through snow, and they leave dirt in these snow tunnels."

If all this rodent talk has you now thinking about woodchucks and other woodland creatures, know that groundhogs have plenty of nicknames, including "whistle-pig" and "woodchuck," while the only nicknames for gophers appear to be bitter monikers coined by Wisconsin Badgers fans.

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

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Animals
Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View
Google
Google

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.
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Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]

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