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8 Elegant Facts About Russian Blue Cats

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We’ve ogled the British Blue Shorthair, and admired the plush gray fur of the Chartreux from France. Now, it’s time for a crash course on Russia’s sleekest, most aristocratic-looking feline: the Russian Blue.

1. THE RUSSIAN BLUE LIKELY HAILS FROM NORTHERN RUSSIA.

The Russian Blue’s ancestral roots are lost in time. Some people speculate that they’re descended from the pet cats of Russian czars, but there’s probably more truth to the claim that the breed originated in northwest Russia. According to legend, the gray kitties lived in the wilderness, and were prized—and sadly hunted—for their dense, warm fur. Today, it’s said that gray cats resembling the Russian Blue still live in the country's coldest regions.

It’s believed that sailors brought the Russian from the port city of Arkhangelsk—which sits on the Northern Dvina River in the northwestern part of the country—to Great Britain and Northern Europe in the 1860s. The city was one of the most important ports in the Russian Empire. Its name means Archangel in English, which may explain why the Russian Blue was once known as the Archangel Blue. (Other early monikers include the Maltese and Foreign Blue.)

2. RUSSIAN BLUES WERE SHOWN AT ONE OF THE WORLD’S FIRST CAT SHOWS.

The “Archangel Cat” made an appearance at one of the world’s first cat shows, held at London’s Crystal Palace in 1875. The breed reportedly drew praises from one writer in attendance, who described it as "a very handsome cat, coming from Archangel … particularly furry …. They resemble mostly the common wild gray rabbit."

Sadly, the Russian Blue didn’t win any prizes: Harrison Weir—the show’s founder who’s today remembered as “the father of the cat fancy”—grouped all the short-haired blue cats into one category, and he preferred the stockier, round-faced British Blue.

3. THE RUSSIAN BLUE NEARLY DISAPPEARED DURING WORLD WAR II—BUT IT LATER MADE A COMEBACK.

Britain’s Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) recognized the Russian Blue as a distinct breed in 1912. The cat was often referred to as a "Blue Foreign type” or the "Foreign Blue." But World War II eventually broke out, and many breeders no longer had the resources to continue the kitty's bloodline. The Russian Blue dwindled in number, but after the war ended, cat lovers in countries including Britain, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark saved the cat by crossbreeding it with other feline types.

Today, the Russian Blue's appearance varies around Europe. Scandinavians mated the cat with Siamese cats, resulting in a longer, more angular look. And in Britain, the kitty was crossbred with bluepoint Siamese cats and British Blues, so they developed a stockier silhouette.

Russian Blues first arrived in America sometime in the 1900s, but it wasn't until much later that the country's cat enthusiasts started breeding them in earnest. They imported Russian Blues from Scandinavia and England, and over time, combined their unique features into the blue-furred, green-eyed cat we know and love today.

4. A RUSSIAN BLUE INSPIRED NYAN CAT.

A Russian Blue cat helped inspire the Internet’s most famous 8-bit animated feline. Nyan Cat—the YouTube video-turned-viral Internet-meme of a flying cat-Pop Tart hybrid flying through space, leaving a rainbow trail in its wake—was created in 2011 by then-25-year-old illustrator Chris Torres, who owned a Russian Blue named Marty.

Torres was participating in a Red Cross donation drive, and received conflicting suggestions on what to draw. One person wanted him to sketch a cat; another, a Pop Tart. Torres ended up drawing a hybrid of both, but if you look closely, you'll notice that the feline portion of Nyan Cat strongly resembles Torres's beloved cat.

This wasn't a coincidence: Marty, who was named after Marty McFly from Back to the Future, “heavily influenced a lot of my comics and the creation of Nyan Cat,” Torres tweeted after his cat died in 2012.

5. THE RUSSIAN BLUE ISN'T TOTALLY HYPOALLERGENIC.

Some people say that the Russian Blue is a good pet for people with allergies. It doesn’t shed a lot, plus the gray kitty allegedly produces lower levels of Fel d 1 protein, the allergenic protein in cat saliva and skin secretions that makes your skin itch and eyes water. But even small amounts of Fel d 1 can cause you to suffer an allergic reaction, plus Russian Blues still have dander. There are plenty of reasons to want the gray cat; just keep in mind that it won't be the solution to your allergy woes.

6. THE RUSSIAN BLUE IS DIFFERENT FROM OTHER "BLUE" CATS.

With its slate-colored fur, the Russian Blue resembles other “blue” short-haired cats like the Chartreux and the British Blue. But if you look closely, you’ll see subtle differences between the three breeds. For one, the Russian Blue has green eyes, whereas the Chartreux has brilliant orange pupils, and the British Blue’s are gold, copper, or blue-green. Also, the Russian Blue and Chartreux have round faces and stocky (if not slightly chunky) bodies, while the Russian Blue is much more elongated and lithe, with a wedge-shaped head. Finally, the Russian Blue's dense, double-layered coat is silky to the touch. In contrast, the British Blue's plush fur feels slightly crisp, and the Chartreux's is tufted and wooly.

7. THE RUSSIAN BLUE IS A LOVING (BUT SHY) FELINE.

If you're looking for a calm cat with a pleasant disposition, consider the Russian Blue. The kitty is shy around strangers, but affectionate with owners. It enjoys sitting quietly by the side of its favorite humans—but it's also down for a playful game of fetch.

8. THE RUSSIAN BLUE GETS ITS HUE FROM A UNIQUE GENE.

The Russian Blue gets its silvery fur from a diluted version of the gene that's responsible for black hairs. If you mate two Russian Blues together, they'll produce a litter of all-gray kittens. But if the Russian Blue is bred with another cat type, the black Russian Shorthair, the union will result in a mix of blue and black kittens. (Mate the Russian Blue with a white feline, and their children will be white, blue, and black.)

All photos courtesy of iStock.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

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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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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