10 Quirky Facts About Manx Cats

A Manx cat looks like your typical feline—that is, until it turns around and you realize it’s missing a tail. Here are 10 facts about the unusual kitty, which hails from an island in the Irish Sea, and its adorably stubby posterior.

1. ITS MISSING TAIL STEMS FROM A GENETIC MUTATION …

Today, the Manx is an international show cat. However, its roots can be traced back to the humble Isle of Man. The remote island sits in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. Hundreds of years ago, a genetic mutation caused one or more kitties on the Isle of Man to be born without a tail. Since the Isle of Man’s feline population is so small, generations of inbreeding caused the trait to become common among the local cats.

Naturally, the Manx is beloved on its native shores. It's been featured on currency, stamps, and company logos, and shops sell merchandise featuring the tailless cat.

2. … BUT MANY CREATIVE LEGENDS CLAIM OTHERWISE.

People once said that the Manx was running late for Noah’s Ark, and Noah slammed the door and severed its tail. Others theorized that Manxes were “cabbits”—the hybrid offspring of a cat and a rabbit—due to their long back legs, short tail, and rounded rump.

3. THE MANX WAS ONE OF THE WORLD’S FIRST SHOW CATS.

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Animal lovers in England began showcasing Manx cats at some of the world’s first cat shows in the late 19th century. When the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA)—the world's largest registry of pedigreed cats—was formed in 1906, the Manx was one of the founding breeds.

4. MANXES CAN GIVE BIRTH TO KITTENS WITH OR WITHOUT TAILS …

Manx cats carry one gene for a full tail, and one for taillessness. This means that two Manx cats can mate and produce a kitten that’s a typical long-tailed feline. Sadly, kittens that inherit the taillessness gene from both parents will likely die before birth. That’s why some people have nicknamed the Manx gene “the lethal gene.”

5. …BUT THEIR TAILS MIGHT BE VARYING LENGTHS.

The Manx gene is an incomplete dominant gene, so kittens that inherit it can be born with full-length tails, stubby tails, or no tails at all—and all of these tail lengths can appear in a single litter.

Due to this variability, Manx cats are classified according to tail lengths. Completely tailless felines are called “rumpy,” whereas cats with short tail stumps that are often curved, knotted, or kinked are known as “stumpy,” and kitties with nearly normal-length tails are called “longy.” Only “rumpies,” or cats called “rumpy risers” that have a slight rise of bone where their tails would start, are eligible to compete in the championship classes in CFA cat shows.

Breeders like to include all four Manx tail types in their breeding programs, since genetic defects are more likely to arise when rumpies are only bred with other rumpies for multiple generations.

6. MANXES COME IN A VARIETY OF SHADES AND PATTERNS.

canong2fan via Flickr// CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

You’ll find Manx cats in hues ranging from red, white, and black to cream, blue, and shaded silver. (The CFA disqualifies against cats with lavender, chocolate, or pointed coloring, since these shades indicate hybridization [PDF].) Typically, a Manx cat's eyes are gold, copper, green, hazel, blue, or odd-eyed.

When it comes to patterns, Manx kitties can be bicolor, tabbies, or tortoiseshells. Some Manx-like cats also have long fur; they're called Cymrics, and most cat fanciers' associations view them as a separate breed.

7. KOKO THE GORILLA LOVED A MANX KITTEN.

Koko, the famous research gorilla that knows more than 1000 words of modified American Sign Language, once owned a Manx cat. In 1984, Koko was allowed to choose a pet kitten from a litter for her 12th birthday present. Koko selected a tailless grey-and-white cat, which she named "All Ball." ("The cat was a Manx and looked like a ball," Ron Cohn, a biologist at the Gorilla Sanctuary, told the LA Times in 1985. "Koko likes to rhyme words in sign language.")

Koko loved All Ball, and cuddled and played with her on a regular basis. Sadly, All Ball was struck by a car later that year and died. A devastated Koko was given a new pet, a red kitty named Lips Lipstick. She later owned a third cat, a gray feline named Smoky; the two animals were companions for nearly 20 years until Smoky died of natural causes.

8. MANX CATS SOMETIMES HAVE HEALTH PROBLEMS.

Like many pedigreed breeds, Manx cats are prone to a set of unique health problems. The mutation responsible for the cat's lack of a tail also affects the development of its spine and spinal cord. As a result, many Manx kitties suffer from a variety of painful symptoms that are collectively referred to as "Manx Syndrome," including spina bifida, a birth defect that prevents the vertebrae from growing around the spinal cord. Other afflictions include incontinence or constipation, an odd stance, a “hopping” walk, a lack of sensation or paralysis in the hind legs, and malformed pelvic or sacral bones. These birth defects can sometimes be fatal.

Be careful picking up your Manx cat, as the nerve endings near where its tail should be are exposed. Also, keep in mind that if you own a “longie” cat that’s five years or older, its tail may ossify and become arthritic.

9. SCIENTISTS WANT TO DECODE THE MANX'S GENOME.

While scientists at the University of Missouri released a rough draft of the cat genome in 2007 and another more complete version in 2014, no one has sequenced the Manx breed. That’s why a group of researchers on the Isle of Man plan to look at the whole genomes of Manx cats and locate breed-specific mutations.

“Sequencing multiple Manx cat genomes has a scientific purpose,” the scientists wrote on their project website. “If we can identify other mutations which are unique to the Manx breed this could possibly lead to diagnostic DNA tests that can be used by breeders to select their cats more appropriately to try and reduce the number of kittens born with Manx Syndrome. The more cats we can sequence the more we can discover!”

The team is currently raising funds for their scientific investigation. They plan to publish results in a peer-reviewed journal, and to submit a copy of the genomes to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

10. THE MANX CAN BALANCE WITHOUT A TAIL.

Since a cat's tail is instrumental for balance, how do Manx cats manage to walk without wobbling? Experts think they have an especially sensitive vestibular apparatus inside their ears to compensate.

Additional Source: The Cat Encyclopedia: The Definitive Visual Guide

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Animal Welfare Groups Are Building a Database of Every Cat in Washington, D.C.
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There are a lot of cats in Washington, D.C. They live in parks, backyards, side streets, and people's homes. Exactly how many there are is the question a new conservation project wants to answer. DC Cat Count, a collaboration between Humane Rescue Alliance, the Humane Society, PetSmart Charities, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, aims to tally every cat in the city—even house pets, The New York Times reports.

Cities tend to support thriving feral cat populations, and that's a problem for animal conservationists. If a feline is born and grows up without human contact, it will never be a suitable house cat. The only options animal control officials have are to euthanize strays or trap and sterilize them, and release them back where they were found. If neither action is taken, it's the smaller animals that belong in the wild who suffer. Cats are invasive predators, and each year they kill billions of birds in the U.S. alone.

Before animal welfare experts and wildlife scientists can tackle this problem, they need to understand how big it is. Over the next three years, DC Cat Count will use various methods to track D.C.'s cats and build a feline database for the city. Sixty outdoor camera traps will capture images of passing cats, relying on infrared technology to sense them most of the time.

Citizens are being asked to help as well. An app is currently being developed that will allow users to snap photos of any cats they see, including their own pets. The team also plans to study the different ways these cats interact with their environments, like how much time pets spend indoors versus outdoors, for example. The initiative has a $1.5 million budget to spend on collecting data.

By the end of the project, the team hopes to have the tools both conservationists and animal welfare groups need to better control the local cat population.

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in a statement, “The reality is that those in the fields of welfare, ecology, conservation, and sheltering have a common long-term goal of fewer free-roaming cats on the landscape. This joint effort will provide scientific management programs to help achieve that goal, locally and nationally."

[h/t The New York Times]

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How Does Catnip Work?
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If you have a cat, you probably keep a supply of catnip at home. Many cats are irresistibly drawn to the herb, and respond excitedly to its scent, rubbing against it, rolling around on the floor, and otherwise going nuts. There are few things that can get felines quite as riled up as a whiff of catnip—not even the most delicious treats. But why does catnip, as opposed to any other plant, have such a profound effect on our feline friends?

Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is a member of the mint family. It contains a compound called nepetalactone, which is what causes the characteristic catnip reaction. Contrary to what you might expect, the reaction isn’t pheromone related—even though pheromones are the smelly chemicals we usually associate with a change in behavior. While pheromones bind to a set of specialized receptors in what’s known as a vomeronasal organ, located in the roof of a cat's mouth (which is why they sometimes open their mouths to detect pheromones), nepetalactone binds to olfactory receptors at the olfactory epithelium, or the tissue that lines the mucus membranes inside a cat’s nose and is linked to smell.

Scientists know the basics of the chemical structure of nepetalactone, but how it causes excitement in cats is less clear. “We don’t know the full mechanisms of how the binding of these compounds to the receptors in the nose ultimately changes their behavior,” as Bruce Kornreich, associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, tells Mental Floss. Sadly, sticking a bunch of cats in an MRI machine with catnip and analyzing their brain activity isn’t really feasible, either from a practical or a financial standpoint, so it’s hard to determine which parts of a cat’s brain are reacting to the chemical as they frolic and play.

Though it may look like they’re getting high, catnip doesn’t appear to be harmful or addictive to cats. The euphoric period only lasts for a short time before cats become temporarily immune to its charms, meaning that it’s hard for them to overdo it.

“Cats do seem to limit themselves," Michael Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss. "Their stimulation lasts for about 10 minutes, then it sort of goes away.” While you may not want to turn your house into a greenhouse for catnip and let your feline friend run loose, it’s a useful way to keep indoor cats—whose environment isn’t always the most thrilling—stimulated and happy. (If you need proof of just how much cats love this herb, we suggest checking out Cats on Catnip, a new book of photography from professional cat photographer Andrew Martilla featuring dozens of images of cats playing around with catnip.)

That said, not all cats respond to catnip. According to Topper, an estimated 70 percent of cats react to catnip, and it appears to have a genetic basis. Topper compares it to the genetic variation that causes some individuals to smell asparagus pee while others don’t. Even if a cat will eventually love the smell of catnip, it doesn’t come out of the womb yearning for a sniff. Young kittens don’t show any behavioral response to it, and may not develop one until several months after birth [PDF].

But some researchers contend that more cats may respond to catnip than we actually realize. In one 2017 study, a group of researchers in Mexico examined how cats might subtly respond to catnip in ways that aren’t always as obvious as rolling around on the floor with their tongue hanging out. It found that 80 percent of cats responded to catnip in a passive way, showing decreased motor activity and sitting in the “sphinx” position, an indicator of a relaxed state.

There are also other plants that have similar effects on cats, some of which may appeal to a wider variety of felines than regular old catnip. In a 2017 study in the journal BMC Veterinary Research, researchers tested feline responses to not just catnip, but several other plants containing compounds similar in structure to nepetalactone, like valerian root, Tatarian honeysuckle, and silver vine. They found that 94 percent of cats responded to at least one of the plants, if not more than one. The majority of the cats that didn’t respond to catnip itself did respond to silver vine, suggesting that plant might be a potential alternative for cats that seem immune to catnip’s charms.

Despite the name, domestic cats aren’t the only species that love catnip. Many other feline species enjoy it, too, including lions and jaguars, though tigers are largely indifferent to it. The scent of the plant also attracts butterflies. (However, no matter what you’ve heard, humans can’t get high off it. When made into a tea, though, it reportedly has mild sedative effects.)

The reason Nepeta cataria releases nepetalactone doesn’t necessarily have to do with giving your cat a buzz. The fact that it gives cats that little charge of euphoria may be purely coincidental. The chemical is an insect repellant that the plant emits as a defense mechanism against pests like aphids. According to the American Chemical Society, nepetalactone attracts wasps and other insect predators that eat aphids, calling in protective reinforcements when the plant is in aphid-related distress. That it brings all the cats to the yard is just a side effect.

Because of this, catnip may have even more uses in the future beyond sending cats into a delighted frenzy. Rutgers University has spent more than a decade breeding a more potent version of catnip, called CR9, which produces more nepetalactone. It’s not just a matter of selling better cat toys; since catnip releases the compound to ward off insects, it’s also a great mosquito repellant, one that scientists hope can one day be adapted for human use. In that case, you might be as excited about catnip as your cat is.

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