7 Facts About Turkish Van Cats

The Turkish Van is a striking, silky cat with a white body and colored head and tail. True to its name, it's thought to hail from modern-day Turkey’s eastern Lake Van region. Here are seven facts about the gorgeous kitty.

1. THE TURKISH VAN IS LIKELY AN OLD BREED ...

Like many cat breeds, no one quite knows the Turkish Van’s true origins. According to legend, ancestors of the Turkish Van sailed aboard Noah’s Ark. Once the boat reached Mount Ararat—a volcanic mountain in eastern Turkey that serves as the Biblical vessel’s mythical landing place—the cats hopped off and swam for dry land. God blessed them, and his divine touch caused their white coats to develop their signature coloration. These cats became the progenitors for the Turkish Van breed.

In reality, the Turkish Van breed probably developed in central and southwest Asia. It's believed that the furry cat has lived in Turkey’s isolated Lake Van region—a mountainous area that’s home to the country’s largest lake—for generations, thanks to local legends, traditional folk songs, and ancient artifacts that reference the cat and its unusual markings. The Turkish Van has reportedly also been spotted in neighboring countries including Iran, Iraq, and parts of the former Soviet Union.

2. ... BUT THE CAT WAS ONLY RECENTLY RECOGNIZED IN AMERICA.

The Turkish Van eventually migrated from Turkey to central Europe, possibly thanks to merchants, explorers, military troops, or returning Crusaders, who brought the cat home with them during the late 13th century. But according to most sources, the cat didn’t make its mark on the world until the mid-1950s, when two British women named Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday were photographing Lake Van for the Turkish Tourist Board; when they had finished their project, the Tourist Board thanked them with a pair of unrelated dark red and white felines. Lushington took them back to England, began breeding the kitties, and imported more cats from Turkey to further the bloodline.

Eventually, the foreign breed was registered with the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF). Originally called “Turkish cats,” their name was later changed to the Turkish Van to avoid confusion with the Turkish Angora breed. (Over the years, the Turkish Van has also been known by a handful of other names.) In 1969, the GCCF officially granted the Van full championship status.

No one knows quite how or when Turkish Vans made their way to America, but in the early 1980s, two breeders named Barbara and Jack Reark imported two of the cats from France, helping to pave the way for the Van’s acceptance as a new breed. By 1985, The International Cat Association (TICA) also recognized the Van, and the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) followed suit in 1994.

The Turkish Van is still relatively rare in America, so if you want to purchase one you might have to search long and hard for a breeder who sells the silky kitties. In 2013, CFA registration statistics showed that the Turkish Van ranked 41st in popularity out of the 43 breeds the organization accepts for championship status—probably because so few of them exist in the U.S.

3. THE TURKISH VAN IS PROTECTED IN ITS NATIVE LAND.

Even though the Turkish Van is beloved in the Republic of Turkey, one 1992 survey revealed that only 92 of the purebred felines remained in the country's Lake Van region. To expand the cat's bloodline, the Turkish government officially recognized the Van and launched measures to protect it, while a local university developed breeding programs. Today, very few Turkish Vans are exported to other countries, and most of America’s breeding stock comes from Europe.

4. THE TERM "VAN MARKINGS" WAS COINED TO DESCRIBE THE TURKISH VAN'S COAT.

If you’re a cat aficionado, you’ve likely heard the term Van markings, which describes a mostly-white feline with colored markings that are restricted to its head and tail. This phrase was originally coined to describe the Turkish Van’s unique coloration. The Van’s markings can come in multiple shades, including red, cream, black, and blue, and patterns like tabby and tortoiseshell [PDF]. Cat registries have rules about how many colored markings can cover the white portion of the Van’s body before it’s considered a bicolor cat instead of a Turkish Van. The CFA, in particular, only allows for 15 percent of the Van's entire body, excluding the head and tail color, to be colored.

You’ll also find solid white Turkish Vans, and Vans that have been “blessed” with a color patch between their shoulder blades; cat fanciers refer to this as the “Mark of Allah.”

Aside from its markings, the Van is known for its beautiful fur. It has a plumed tail, and a silky, semi-long coat that’s water-repellant. The coat is thick and dense in the winter, sheds to a shorter length in the summer, and has no undercoat, so it’s tangle-free and easy to groom. This fur covers a broad-chested, muscular body, which according to some accounts, can weigh anywhere from 7 to 20 pounds.

5. TURKISH VAN CATS SOMETIMES HAVE ODD-COLORED EYES.

Turkish Van kittens are initially born with pale blue eyes, which change to a deeper blue or amber as they grow older. Occasionally, you’ll also see a Van with one amber eye and one blue eye, or two blue eyes of different hues. This unusual trait stems from the cat’s piebald white spotting gene, which sometimes prevents melanin, or pigment, from imbuing one eye’s iris with color.

6. TURKISH VAN CATS ARE SAID TO LOVE WATER.

Turkish Vans are often called “the swimming cats” because they’re said to love water. Fans of the fluffy feline claim they’ve seen the kitty jump into showers, pounce at dripping faucets, and splash through puddles, kiddie pools, and thunderstorms.

It’s unknown why Vans like water, but it’s likely that the breed developed its love for swimming—and its water-repellant coat—to hunt for the fish that live in Lake Van. Still, these claims are speculative, so unless your Turkish Van has proven its love for all things liquid, don’t try giving it a bath without clipping its claws first.

7. THE TURKISH VAN IS A LIVELY CAT.

If you’re looking for a quiet, cuddly lap cat, the Turkish Van is not the pet for you. But if you’re looking for a livewire feline that likes to play games, leap onto high surfaces, and race around the house, the Van might be your best bet.

A Newly Discovered Species of Prehistoric Shark Was Named After the Video Game Galaga

Velizar Simeonovski, Field Museum
Velizar Simeonovski, Field Museum

Dinosaurs weren’t the only fearsome creatures who called North America their home millions of years ago. The recent discovery of pointy, fossilized teeth in rock that had been left over from an excavation in the ‘90s has led scientists to declare a new—yet long-extinct—shark species, Smithsonian reports.

North Carolina State University professor Terry Gates, who led the study published in the Journal of Paleontology, named the shark species Galagadon nordquistae after its triangular teeth, which he thought resembled the shape of the battleships in the video game Galaga. The second part of the name pays homage to Karen Nordquist, the retired chemist and volunteer at Chicago’s Field Museum who found the fossils in the first place.

Galagadon lived in what we now know as South Dakota’s Hell Creek Formation, an area known for having rocks and fossils that date back at least 65 million years to the Cretaceous Period. It’s the same place where scientists unearthed Sue the T.rex—the most complete skeleton of its species ever discovered. Not only did the shark live at the same time as Sue, but it also “lived in a river Sue probably drank from,” the Field Museum, where Sue can be seen on display, said in a press release.

In fact, the excavation that led to Sue’s discovery in 1990 is what enabled this latest find. The sediment that encased Sue’s bones, known as matrix, was removed and stored in an underground unit at the Field Museum. Scientists and museum volunteers have only recently begun to sift through it in search of smaller fossils.

Shark tooth fossils
Terry Gates, Journal of Paleontology

Sharks’ skeletons are primarily made of cartilage, which deteriorates over time. But the tiny teeth, measuring just a millimeter wide, helped scientists figure out what the shark looked like. "Galagadon was less than 2 feet long—it's not exactly Jaws," Pete Makovicky, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement.

The species is believed to be similar to bamboo sharks, which can be found today in southeast Asia and Australia. This connection surprised researchers, who are now questioning their understanding of the area where Sue was found, which was thought to be a lake formed from a partially dried-up river. This latest discovery, however, indicates that there “must have been at least some connection to marine environments," Makovicky says.

[h/t Smithsonian]

12 Animals Named After the Noises They Make

A bobolink, said to have been named for the call it makes
A bobolink, said to have been named for the call it makes
iStock.com/PaulReevesPhotography

If you were asked to name an onomatopoeic word, then you’d probably come up with something like boom, boing, whizz, smash, or tick-tock. They’re all perfectly good examples, of course, but onomatopoeia is actually responsible for a lot more words than you might think. For instance, etymologists believe that pebble might have been coined to imitate the sound of flowing water. Laugh might have been invented to sound like, well, a laugh. Owl, crow, and raven are all descended from Old English words (ule, crawe, hræfn) that were meant to imitate the owl’s hoot and the crow’s and raven’s squawks. And the 12 names listed here are all meant to represent the bizarre whoops, chips, peeps and wows made by the animals they describe.

1. AI

An ai in Venezuela
Fernando Flores, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

As well as being a contender for the world’s shortest animal name, ai (which should be pronounced “ah-ee") is another name for a three-toed sloth, especially the pale-throated sloth, found in the far northeast corner of South America. Although sloths are generally fairly docile, the name ai is apparently meant to resemble the high-pitched cry they can make when they’re agitated or alarmed.

2. BOBOLINK

Bobolinks can produce very long and surprisingly complex songs, but their usual go-to noise is a brief four-note call that’s commonly said to sound like someone saying “Bob-o-Lincoln.” The name Bob-o-Lincoln eventually was shortened to bobolink in the 1800s.

3. CHIPMUNK

One theory claims that the name chipmunk is an English interpretation of a native Ojibwe word, ajidamoo, meaning something like “red squirrel.” But because chipmunks were originally known as “chipping squirrels” in English, it seems more likely that the name is actually an English invention, in which case it’s probably meant to describe their short “chipping” call.

4. CHOWCHILLA

A chowchilla
Seabamirum, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The chowchilla is type of logrunner, a small thrush-like bird, that’s native to Queensland, Australia. For a bird not much larger than a robin, the chowchilla has a particularly noisy call that to early European colonists and explorers apparently sounded like “chow-chilla-chow-chow.” The chowchilla was also once known as the “auctioneer bird,” apparently because (with a bit of imagination) its song sounds like an auctioneer's incessant chattering.

5. CHUCK-WILL’S-WIDOW

A cousin of the better-known whippoorwill, the chuck-will’s-widow is another species of nightjar (a family of nocturnal birds related to swifts and martins) native to the southern United States and much of Central America. Dozens of different species of nightjar are found all over the world, and they all share incredible camouflaged plumage and strange whooping calls—so if the “whippoorwill” makes a noise that sounds like poor Will is about to be whipped, then the “chuck-will’s-widow” makes a sound like poor Will’s widow is about to be chucked.

6. GANG-GANG

A gang-gang cockatoo
iStock.com/JohnCarnemolla

The peculiar croaking noise made by the gang-gang cockatoo of southeast Australia has been likened to everything from a creaking wooden door to a cork being pulled from a wine bottle. However you might want to describe it, the onomatopoeic name gang-gang was adopted into English from a Wiradhuri name that was supposed to imitate it.

7. HOOPOE

Hoopoe bird on a branch
iStock.com/shurub

The hoopoe is a striking-looking songbird whose name is meant to imitate its strange whooping call. Their bizarre appearance has also helped make them the frequent subject of myths and folktales over time: the Ancient Egyptians worshipped them and drew pictures of them inside the pyramids; the Romans believed that they were filthy creatures because they fed on dung and frequently nested in graveyards; and at least one old European legend claims that the younger birds look after the older ones in their old age, restoring their youth by plucking out dying feathers and licking blindness from their eyes.

8. KATYDID

A katydid on a purple flower
iStock.com/blindsquirrelphoto

Katydids make their loud and often three-syllable “ka-ty-did” call by rubbing their forewings together. They hear each other, incidentally, with ears located on their front legs. There are more than 6000 species in the katydid family, found on every continent except Antarctica.

9. MACAQUE

The name macaque was borrowed into English via French in the late 17th century, but it’s thought to originally derive from an old Bantu name, kaku, for any of the numerous monkey species found in West Africa. The name kaku is in turn supposed to be imitative of a monkey call, and it’s from the plural form of kaku—namely makaku in Bantu—that the word macaque eventually evolved.

10. PEEWIT

A type of plover with characteristic green plumage and a long curled crest, the northern lapwing has a number of nicknames in English—including the peewit, the swipe, the peepsweep, the teewhit, and the teeack—every one of which is supposed to emulate its noisy alarm call. The common name lapwing, incidentally, refers to the bird’s tactic of feigning a broken wing in order to distract predators from their nest when they feel threatened.

11. PIET-MY-VROU

Piet-my-vrou is another name for the red-chested cuckoo, a species of cuckoo found across much of sub-Saharan Africa. Cuckoos are well known for their instantly recognizable call, and it’s the loud three-note descending call of the piet-my-vrou (which literally means “Pete my wife” in Afrikaans) that gives it its name.

12. WOW-WOW

A wow-wow, or agile gibbon

Gibbons are famous for their lengthy and surprisingly complex songs, and the whooping or “wowing” call of the wow-wow or wawa—a local Indonesian name for either the agile gibbon or the silvery gibbon—is no exception. Sadly both species are now listed as endangered, due to their localized distribution and on-going habitat destruction.

This story first ran in 2014.

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