iStock
iStock

13 Sleek Facts About Siamese Cats

iStock
iStock

As their name suggests, Siamese cats are descended from felines born in Siam, or modern-day Thailand. No one quite knows how the sleek feline made its way to American shores during the late 19th century. However, thanks to its sociable nature, lithe body, and dark-tipped creamy coat, the Siamese became one of the country's most beloved cat breeds. In 2014, it was the ninth most popular kitty in the U.S., according to registration statistics compiled by the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA). Curious to learn more? Impress ailurophiles with these 13 bits of trivia about the blue-eyed beauties.

1. THE SIAMESE IS AN OLD BREED.

Like most cat breeds, the Siamese’s true origins are cloaked in mystery. Some people say the cats were the pets of royalty, while others believe they were raised by Buddhist monks. However, a Thai manuscript called the Tamra Maew, or 'The Cat Book Poems,' provides an early depiction of the country's dark-pointed cats. The work was produced sometime between the 14th and 18th centuries. This suggests that the Siamese is a very old breed—even if we don't quite know where it came from.

2. A U.S. PRESIDENT OWNED A SIAMESE CAT.

Cat lovers brought the Siamese to America in the late 19th century, but there are mixed reports about when—and how—it traveled across the pond. Some say the Siamese first appeared in the U.S. courtesy of an American naval officer, who picked up two cats while on a tour of duty in Southeast Asia. Others claim an American friend of the King of Siam was given Siamese cats as a gift, or that renowned opera singer Blanche Arral brought them back to America after touring Siam. And from 1889-1890, a Chicago cat club lists several registered Siamese cats, one of which was "imported from Siam" by its founder.

But what really put Siamese cats on the map was when U.S. Consul David Stickles, a diplomat at the consulate in Bangkok, gave President Rutherford B. Hayes's wife Lucy a Siamese cat named Siam in the late 1870s. "I have taken the liberty of forwarding you one of the finest specimens of Siamese cats that I have been able to procure in this country," he wrote to the First Lady. "I am informed that it is the first attempt ever made to send a Siamese cat to America."

Sadly, Siam fell ill and died after less than a year in the White House. According to legend, the president's steward requested that the cat's body be preserved. However, no stuffed kitties were ever discovered, suggesting that the tale might be more fanciful than fact-based.

3. SIAMESE CATS SUPPOSEDLY MADE AN APPEARANCE AT THE WORLD'S FIRST MAJOR CAT SHOW.

According to some sources, Siamese cats were showcased at the world’s first major cat show, a national competition at London’s Crystal Palace in July 1871. The occasion reportedly marked the first time anyone in England had ever seen a Siamese cat. Harper’s Weekly described the exotic animals as “…soft, fawn-colored creatures, with jet-black legs—an unnatural, nightmare kind of cat, singular and elegant in their smooth skins, and ears tipped with black, and blue eyes with red pupils.”

However, other historians argue that the dark-tipped cats described by onlookers weren't true Siamese cats, and that the breed didn't make an appearance in England until much later. All parties, however, agree that British Consul-General Owen Gould brought two Siamese cats, Pho and Mia, from Thailand to London in 1894. The pair gave birth to kittens, and the cat family was displayed at the Crystal Palace cat show of 1895.

4. SIAMESE CATS ONCE HAD CROSSED EYES AND CROOKED TAILS ...

Many Siamese cats once had kinked tails and crossed eyes. Cat fanciers viewed these traits as undesirable, and gradually eliminated them via selective breeding. However, these physical quirks were once the stuff of myth. According to legend, a Siamese cat was tasked with guarding a golden goblet for the king. Ever the loyal subject, the feline clutched the cup so hard with her tail that it bent, and stared at it for so long that her pupils lost focus.

Today, you'll occasionally still come across a cross-eyed Siamese, or one with a crooked tail. If you do, make sure to salute it for its honorable service.

5. ... AND STOCKIER BODIES AND ROUNDER FACES.

The Siamese originally had a heavier body, and a face that was more round than triangular. However, mid-20th century cat fanciers favored an exaggerated silhouette, and gradually bred the Siamese into the lean, fine-boned feline it is today. You’ll only see this new variety in cat shows, but some breeders continue to produce Siamese kittens with a more "traditional" look. The International Cat Association also accepts a new breed called the Thai, which looks like an old-school Siamese with its soft cheekbones and stocky frame.

6. THEIR TIPS ARE "TEMPERATURE-CONTROLLED ..."

Ever wondered why a Siamese cat has a white coat and dark-tipped paws, ears, and facial features? It stems from a temperature-sensitive enzyme, which causes the cat to develop the color on the cooler parts of its body and stay pale on its warmer torso. Siamese kittens are born with all-white fur, and develop their points when they’re several weeks old.

7. ... AND VARY IN COLOR.

Originally, cat fanciers' organizations only recognized Siamese cats with dark brown points, called Seal Points. Today, they accept a range of color points, include blue, chocolate, and lilac.

8. A SIAMESE WAS ONCE THE WORLD'S "FATTEST CAT."

The Guinness World Records doesn’t keep tabs on the world’s fattest living animals, since officials don’t want to encourage people to overfeed their pets. But a Siamese cat named Katy could have easily claimed the title in 2003. The 5-year-old kitty hailed from Asbest, a Russian city in the Ural mountains. She was given hormones to stop her mating, which caused her to develop a voracious appetite. Katy ended up ballooning to 50 pounds, making her weigh a tad more than a 6-year-old human. (The average male Siamese runs between 11 and 15 pounds, and females between 8 and 12 pounds.)

It’s unclear whether Katy is still alive today, but one thing’s for sure: She tipped the scales way more than Elvis, a 7-year-old male cat from Germany that social media labeled “the world’s fattest cat” in 2015.

9. SIAMESE CATS HAVE SHINED ON THE SILVER SCREEN.

The 1965 film That Darn Cat! features Hayley Mills as a suburban teen named Patricia “Patti" Randall, but the movie's real star is Darn Cat, or "DC," a Siamese tomcat that helps Patti foil two robbers’ kidnapping plot.

DC was played by a Seal Point Siamese named Syn. He was left at an animal shelter at the age of two because he was “standoffish,” and an animal trainer adopted him for $5. The orphaned Syn became the first cat to win a PATSY Award, an honor granted to animal performers by the Hollywood office of the American Humane Association. (Due to a lack of funding, the PATSY Awards were discontinued in 1986.)

Siamese cats have also graced the silver screen in The Incredible Journey (1963) and Bell, Book and Candle (1958), and have appeared in animated form in Lady and the Tramp (1955).

10. SIAMESE CATS FOILED AN ESPIONAGE PLOT.

In the 1960s, two Siamese cats at the Dutch Embassy in Moscow, Russia, knew that something wasn't quite right. The pet kitties were asleep in then-ambassador Henri Helb's study when they suddenly woke up and began arching their backs and clawing at a wall. Helb suspected that the agitated felines heard a noise that didn't register with the human ear. He was correct: An investigation revealed 30 tiny microphones hidden behind the wall.

Instead of protesting the Russian government's espionage, Helb and his staff decided to use it to their advantage. They lingered in front of the microphones and strategically complained about delays in embassy repairs, or packages stuck in customs. Within 24 hours, these problems would mysteriously become resolved.

11. A SIAMESE CAT ONCE GAVE BIRTH TO 19 KITTENS.

iStock

On August 7, 1970, a Burmese/Siamese cat in Oxfordshire, U.K., gave birth to 19 kittens. (Four, sadly, were stillborn.) According to Guinness World Records, Siamese cats typically only have four to six babies. The massive brood was recorded as the world's largest litter of domestic cats, and remains so to this day.

12. JAMES DEAN OWNED A SIAMESE CAT.

Shortly before his death in 1955, James Dean met Elizabeth Taylor on the set of the film Giant (1956). The co-stars became friends, and Taylor gave Dean a gift: a Siamese kitten, which Dean named Marcus after his uncle. Dean fed Marcus a strange diet, which Taylor had reportedly developed for her own cats: a liquid mixture that consisted of 1 teaspoon white Karo syrup, one large can of evaporated milk, one egg yolk, and equal parts boiled or distilled water—combined and chilled.

13. SIAMESE CATS HAVE A POETIC NAME IN THEIR NATIVE LAND.

In Thailand, Siamese cats are called the wichien-matt, which is roughly translated to “Moon Diamond.”

Additional Source: The Cat Encyclopedia: The Definitive Visual Guide

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
12 Furry Facts About Red Pandas
iStock
iStock

Red pandas have always lived in the shadow of the other, more famous panda. But now it's time to give the little guy its due.

1. THEY HAVE TWO EXTINCT RELATIVES.

Red panda in a tree.
iStock

Currently, red pandas live in the Eastern Himalayas. But the first red panda fossil was found a little bit further afield than that—in the United Kingdom. In 1888, a fossil molar and lower jaw of a cougar-sized animal called the Giant Panda (unrelated to the modern giant panda) were discovered. More fossils have been found in Spain, Eastern Europe, and even the United States. Around 5 million years ago, Tennessee was home to a giant red panda that probably went extinct with the arrival of raccoons.

2. THEY'RE VEGETARIAN CARNIVORES.

Red panda eating bamboo.
iStock

It might seem like an oxymoron, but carnivore in this case doesn't mean meat eater. Carnivore is a biological order that includes groups like bears, dogs, and cats, and while these animals are generally carnivores, some are omnivores, and some are vegetarians. Red pandas are classified as carnivores because they're descended from the same ancestors as the other carnivores, but they rarely eat anything other than bamboo and a few insects. And while giant pandas eat all of a bamboo plant, red pandas eat only the young leaves. Because this is such a nutritionally poor food source, they need to spend 13 hours a day eating and looking for food and can lose upwards of 15 percent of their body weight in winter.

3. THEY'RE SLIGHTLY BIGGER THAN A DOMESTIC CAT.

Red panda sleeping on a branch.
iStock

But their tails add as much as 18 inches to their length. Red pandas live solitary lives in trees, high up in the mountains, so they wrap those big, bushy tails around themselves to keep warm. (They also use them for balance.)

4. THEY HAVE A FALSE THUMB.

Red panda perched on a log.
iStock

This is another feature (along with diet) that red pandas and giant pandas share. Because both pandas have false thumbs—which is actually an extended wrist bone—it was thought that it must be an adaption to eating bamboo. But the red panda's more carnivorous ancestors had this feature as well. According to a 2006 study, what happened was "one of the most dramatic cases of convergence among vertebrates." Convergent evolution is when two unrelated animals faced with similar circumstances evolve to look similar. In this case, the red panda's false thumb evolved to help it climb trees, and only later became adapted for the bamboo diet, while giant pandas evolved this virtually identical feature because of their bamboo diet.

5. THEY'RE ESCAPE ARTISTS.

Red panda climbing across a tree.
iStock

Rusty the red panda had been at the Smithsonian National Zoo for just three weeks when he made a break for it in June 2013. His method of escape? A tree branch that was pushed down over his enclosure's electric fence by heavy rains. The ensuing panda hunt (and endless bad jokes about panda-monium) captivated Twitter (tweeters used the hashtag #findrusty) until he was found in a nearby neighborhood. Soon after his daring escape, Rusty became a father, forcing him to put his wild youth behind him and settle down. But it could have been worse. After a similar escape in Dresden, Germany, the authorities got another red panda down from a tree by using a fire hose to spray it with water. The panda fell 30 feet to the ground, giving it a concussion. (Ultimately, the animal was OK.)

Red pandas have also escaped from zoos in London, Birmingham, and Rotterdam. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums even warn in their official care manual "beware: red pandas are escape artists" [PDF].

6. ONE ESCAPE LED TO SOMETHING CALLED THE RED PANDA EFFECT.

Red panda peeking out from behind some tree branches.
iStock

Sadly, the red panda involved in the 1978 Rotterdam escape was found dead not long after the search for it began. But the event led to a very peculiar psychological observation. Even after the body of the panda was found, more than 100 people reported seeing it, very much alive. These sightings were clearly mistaken; there's no reason to think that multiple red pandas were loose in Rotterdam, and red pandas are distinctive enough that mistaking them for a dog or cat was unlikely. It's believed that people expected to see a red panda, so they saw one, even though there wasn't one there; researchers called it the Red Panda Effect.

7. THERE'S AN INTERNET BROWSER NAMED AFTER THEM.

The Mozilla Firefox logo.
LEON NEAL, AFP/Getty Images

Mozilla's flagship browser, Firefox, means red panda. Originally, Mozilla wanted to name the browser Firebird, but found that another open source project was using that name. Not wanting to upset anyone, they decided to go with Firefox, another name for the red panda. And in a true example of adorableness, in 2010 Mozilla adopted two baby red pandas that had been born at Tennessee's Knoxville Zoo.

8. THERE IS ONLY ONE TRUE PANDA—AND YOU CAN PROBABLY GUESS WHICH ONE IT IS.

Engraving of a parti-colored bear.
Engraving of a parti-colored bear, from The New Natural History Volume II by Richard Lydekker, 1901.

After the red panda was discovered in the 1820s, it was just called the panda (the origin of the name is controversial, but it probably comes from the Nepali word ponya, meaning "bamboo or plant eating animal"). Forty years later, Europeans found a new animal in China and called it the Parti-Colored bear—because unlike polar bears, black bears, or brown bears it was multi-colored.

9. THERE HAS BEEN A 140-YEAR TAXONOMIC MIX-UP.

A red panda walking toward the camera.
iStock

Prepare to be confused: In the late 19th century, scientists noticed that the parti-colored bear and the (red) panda were very similar. Their jaws were more like each other than they were like any other animal, they lived near each other, they both had false thumbs, and their diets were similar. The decision was made to officially consider the (red) panda as a type of bear.

By the early 20th century, that decision was reversed: Parti-colored bears were declared bears, and (red) pandas were classified as cousins of the raccoon.

Then, in the 1910s, it was decided that parti-colored bears weren't actually bears at all, but were actually large pandas, and also distant relatives of the raccoon. But because parti-colored bears weren't classed as bears anymore, they had to have a name change. They became giant pandas, while the one true panda was renamed the red or lesser panda (to quote a 1920 issue of Popular Science: "Zoologists reverently refer to this rare beast as the "giant panda." Its more popular cognomen is the 'bear-raccoon'").

10. BUT RED PANDAS ARE THEIR OWN THING.

Two red pandas touch noses.
iStock

By the 1980s, genetic evidence indicated that giant pandas actually were a type of bear, and red pandas belonged in their own family, the Ailuridae. They might seem similar, but they're not related.

All of this means that if you're the type of person who rolls their eyes when someone calls a bison a buffalo, or a koala a bear, you need to stop calling the bear a panda and instead refer to it as a "parti-colored bear," the original English name (but if you wanted to call it the bear-raccoon, no one would stop you). Giant pandas are not pandas. There is only one true panda.

11. BUT THIS DOESN'T AFFECT KUNG FU PANDA 3.

Red panda with teeth bared.
iStock

There's still a kung fu panda in the series: Shifu, a red panda.

12. THEY'RE ENDANGERED.

Red panda laying down and sticking his tongue out.
iStock

According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are fewer than 10,000 red pandas left in the wild. Habitat destruction increases the species' chances of extinction.

This story originally ran in 2015.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
There’s No Safe Amount of Time to Leave a Dog in a Hot Car
iStock
iStock

We often think of dogs as indomitable and durable animals who can fend off attackers, tirelessly chase Frisbees, and even eat poop without digestive consequences.

It’s true that dogs generally have a solid constitution, but that shouldn’t lead you to believe they can endure one of the biggest mistakes a pet owner can make: Leaving them in a hot car, even for a few minutes, puts a dog’s life at serious risk.

Even on relatively cool days with temperatures around 71.6°F, the inside of a vehicle can reach 116.6°F within an hour, as Quartz highlights.

If it’s a scorching summer heat wave, an 80-degree day will see temperatures get up to 99°F in just 10 minutes; a 90-degree day can turn the car into an oven at 119°F in the same amount of time.

Dogs can't tolerate this kind of heat. As their bodies struggle to cool down, the temperature is often more than they can expel through panting and opening capillaries in the skin. If their body reaches a temperature of 105.8°F, they're at risk of heatstroke, which only half of dogs survive. At 111.2°F, a lack of blood circulation can cause kidney failure and internal bleeding. Brain damage and death is very likely at this point. Depending on the outside temperature, it can happen in as little as six minutes. Cracking windows won't help.

Unless you plan on leaving your vehicle running with the air conditioning on (and we don't recommend that), there’s really no safe amount of time to leave a pet inside. If you do come back to find a listless dog who is unresponsive, it’s best to get to a veterinarian as soon as possible. And if you’re a bystander who sees a dog trapped inside a car, alert the nearest store to try and make an announcement to get the owner back to the vehicle. You can also phone local law enforcement or animal control. In some states, including California, you’re legally allowed to enter a vehicle to rescue a distressed animal.

[h/t Quartz]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios