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6 Brilliant Facts About Bengal Cats

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With its lithe body, large oval eyes, and a coat that’s covered in contrasting spotted or marbled markings, the Bengal looks like a tiny jungle cat. Here are six bits of trivia about the exotic kitty.

1. THE BENGAL CAT IS A WILDCAT/DOMESTIC CAT HYBRID …

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Today, owning a leopard cat—a small spotted wildcat from South and East Asia that’s also known as the Asian leopard cat—can be a highly regulated and complex proposition. But it was much easier in 1963, when a cat breeder named Jean Sugden purchased a female leopard cat from a pet store. Sugden reportedly thought the spotted feline looked lonely in its cage, so she stuck a domestic male cat in there with him, not expecting for them to reproduce. (Another version of the story has Sugden deliberately trying to breed a domestic cat that looked like a leopard to get women to stop wearing leopard-skin coats.) But nature found a way, and the two cats mated. Later, the leopard cat gave birth to a litter of kittens. Sadly, only one female kitten survived, but the leopard cat got pregnant once more and gave birth to two more babies.

After her husband passed away, Sugden took a long hiatus from breeding the spotted cats, and gave away her leopard cat. But years later, in the 1970s, she re-married, changed her last name to Mill, and decided to make a foray back into breeding. Her goal was to create a new, spotted feline with the personality of a regular kitty. Since it was now much harder to buy leopard cats, Mill relied on female hybrids supplied by a geneticist named Dr. Willard Centerwall, who had used them to study a noticeable resistance to the feline leukemia virus. (Male wildcat/domestic cats are typically less likely to be fertile than female ones.) Mill mated them with a short-haired, brown-spotted rescue tabby and an orange shorthair with dark brown rosette spots that she had specially exported from a zoo in New Delhi, India.

Mill initially called her unique cats the “Leopardette,” but the name was later changed to Bengal in honor of the leopard cat’s scientific name, Prionailurus bengalensis. Along the way, Mill encountered difficulties in her breeding program. While today’s Bengal is lively and loving, Mill’s first generation of hybrid felines were skittish and anxious, just like their jungle cat ancestors. (Over the years, breeders have cut non-affectionate Bengals from breeding programs, resulting in more pleasant, even-tempered cats.) And since they were a cross between two different species, the first male Bengals cats were infertile. Three generations later, only around 50 percent of them were able to sire kittens. This slowed down the breed’s development considerably.

Still, Mill kept at it, and eventually bred enough cats to only breed Bengals with other Bengals. Today, no leopard cats are used in breeding programs, and most pet Bengals are several generations removed from their feral progenitors.

2. ... WHICH MAKES IT CONTROVERSIAL IN SOME CIRCLES.

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By 1985, Mill had bred numerous Bengals, and began showing them at cat shows hosted by The International Cat Association (TICA), one of the world's largest registries of pedigreed cats. But the new feline wasn’t greeted with open arms: Cat breeders protested, saying it was dangerous to show cats descended from non-domestic wild animals, and others said it was unethical to breed threatened or endangered wildcats with domestic ones. Still, the exotic cat found fans, and they formed clubs like The International Bengal Cat Society.

In 1991, TICA accepted the Bengal for championship status, and another group, the American Cat Fanciers Association (ACFA) quickly followed suit. However, the Bengal was still a relatively new—and wild—breed, and the ACFA rescinded their support for the Bengal after they reportedly experienced problems with second-generation cats at shows.

In 1997, the ACFA accepted the Bengal once more, but on one condition: Cats displayed at shows had to be five generations removed from their wildcat ancestors. Today all cat associations that recognize the Bengal have rules regarding how closely show cats can be related to the leopard cat. And for a long time, the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), another large pedigree cat registry, wouldn’t recognize the Bengal at all.

Recently, the CFA accepted the Bengal in the Miscellaneous Class, meaning the breed has begun the process for official recognition. The Bengal is now exhibited at shows, where judges are examining it and forming a breed standard. Still, it’s not eligible to win any awards just yet.

3. THE BENGAL IS A POPULAR FELINE.

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Even though many cat fanciers and associations were slow to warm up to the Bengal, it quickly skyrocketed in popularity following TICA’s 1991 stamp of approval. As of the end of 2010, Bengals were the most registered cat with TICA with 6369 cats registered, beating out Ragdolls at 4050 and Maine Coons at 2062.

4. BENGALS ARE KNOWN FOR THEIR DISTINCTIVE SPOTTED OR "MARBLED" COATS.

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Bengal cats are known for their distinctively patterned fur, which is short, silky, and often “sparkles” at the tips when the light hits it the right way. No two cats’ markings are exactly alike, but the Bengal’s coat comes in two main patterns: spots and two-toned markings called “rosettes,” or marbled, which means the cat has long stripes that swirl around their bodies. The most popular Bengal colors are brown/black, but the cat can come in a variety of shades, including black and silver, seal brown and silver, charcoal, and blue [PDF]. Their eyes are typically green, gold/yellow, or aqua/blue.

Bengals are large, well-muscled felines. They aren't enormous like Maine Coons or Norwegian Forest Cats, but according to some estimates, they can weigh between 6 and 15 pounds; some people even claim that larger Bengals can weigh in at 18 pounds.

5. THE BENGAL IS AN ACTIVE CAT.

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Even though a Bengal looks like a wildcat, it’s been bred to have the personality of a typical feline. Bengal owners say their cats are intelligent, vocal, and very active. They love to climb furniture, leap up onto high surfaces, play fetch, and splash around in bathtubs and sinks. If you’re looking for a docile lap cat, the Bengal isn’t for you. But if you’re an energetic person who wants a cat that can keep up with your high-intensity lifestyle, it might be the perfect breed.

6. BENGALS ARE EXPENSIVE FELINES.

Want to purchase a Bengal cat? Make sure you’ve saved up plenty of cash. Fans of the breed shell out anywhere from hundreds of dollars for a “pet” quality Bengal—meaning it’s not meant to be exhibited at shows—to thousands for a show-quality one. According to one tale (which might be more fictional than fact-based), a British woman once paid over $50,000 for a Bengal cat in 1990, calling them the “Rolls Royce” of kitties.

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Martin Wittfooth
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Art
The Cat Art Show Is Coming Back to Los Angeles in June
Martin Wittfooth
Martin Wittfooth

After dazzling cat and art lovers alike in 2014 and again in 2016, the Cat Art Show is ready to land in Los Angeles for a third time. The June exhibition, dubbed Cat Art Show 3: The Sequel Returns Again, will feature feline-centric works from such artists as Mark Ryden, Ellen von Unwerth, and Marion Peck.

Like past shows, this one will explore cats through a variety of themes and media. “The enigmatic feline has been a source of artistic inspiration for thousands of years,” the show's creator and curator Susan Michals said in a press release. “One moment they can be a best friend, the next, an antagonist. They are the perfect subject matter, and works of art, all by themselves.”

While some artists have chosen straightforward interpretations of the starring subject, others are using cats as a springboard into topics like gender, politics, and social media. The sculpture, paintings, and photographs on display will be available to purchase, with prices ranging from $300 to $150,000.

Over 9000 visitors are expected to stop into the Think Tank Gallery in Los Angeles during the show's run from June 14 to June 24. Tickets to the show normally cost $5, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting a cat charity, and admission will be free for everyone on Wednesday, June 20. Check out a few of the works below.

Man in Garfield mask holding cat.
Tiffany Sage

Painting of kitten.
Brandi Milne

Art work of cat in tree.
Kathy Taselitz

Painting of white cat.
Rose Freymuth-Frazier

A cat with no eyes.
Rich Hardcastle

Painting of a cat on a stool.
Vanessa Stockard

Sculpture of pink cat.
Scott Hove

Painting of cat.
Yael Hoenig
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Big Questions
Why Do Cats 'Blep'?
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As pet owners are well aware, cats are inscrutable creatures. They hiss at bare walls. They invite petting and then answer with scratching ingratitude. Their eyes are wandering globes of murky motivations.

Sometimes, you may catch your cat staring off into the abyss with his or her tongue lolling out of their mouth. This cartoonish expression, which is atypical of a cat’s normally regal air, has been identified as a “blep” by internet cat photo connoisseurs. An example:

Cunning as they are, cats probably don’t have the self-awareness to realize how charming this is. So why do cats really blep?

In a piece for Inverse, cat consultant Amy Shojai expressed the belief that a blep could be associated with the Flehmen response, which describes the act of a cat “smelling” their environment with their tongue. As a cat pants with his or her mouth open, pheromones are collected and passed along to the vomeronasal organ on the roof of their mouth. This typically happens when cats want to learn more about other cats or intriguing scents, like your dirty socks.

While the Flehmen response might precede a blep, it is not precisely a blep. That involves the cat’s mouth being closed while the tongue hangs out listlessly.

Ingrid Johnson, a certified cat behavior consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the owner of Fundamentally Feline, tells Mental Floss that cat bleps may have several other plausible explanations. “It’s likely they don’t feel it or even realize they’re doing it,” she says. “One reason for that might be that they’re on medication that causes relaxation. Something for anxiety or stress or a muscle relaxer would do it.”

A photo of a cat sticking its tongue out
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If the cat isn’t sedated and unfurling their tongue because they’re high, then it’s possible that an anatomic cause is behind a blep: Johnson says she’s seen several cats display their tongues after having teeth extracted for health reasons. “Canine teeth help keep the tongue in place, so this would be a more common behavior for cats missing teeth, particularly on the bottom.”

A blep might even be breed-specific. Persians, which have been bred to have flat faces, might dangle their tongues because they lack the real estate to store it. “I see it a lot with Persians because there’s just no room to tuck it back in,” Johnson says. A cat may also simply have a Gene Simmons-sized tongue that gets caught on their incisors during a grooming session, leading to repeated bleps.

Whatever the origin, bleps are generally no cause for concern unless they’re doing it on a regular basis. That could be sign of an oral problem with their gums or teeth, prompting an evaluation by a veterinarian. Otherwise, a blep can either be admired—or retracted with a gentle prod of the tongue (provided your cat puts up with that kind of nonsense). “They might put up with touching their tongue, or they may bite or swipe at you,” Johnson says. “It depends on the temperament of the cat.” Considering the possible wrath involved, it may be best to let them blep in peace.

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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