11 Curious Events That Really Happened

iStock / Rebecca O'Connell
iStock / Rebecca O'Connell

Sometimes things happen that humans just can’t explain in the short-term—or for a long while after. 

1. THE KENTUCKY MEAT SHOWER

Would you eat meat that fell from the sky? In 1876, some people did. That’s because a Bath County, Kentucky couple witnessed meat seemingly falling from the clouds. On March 3, 1876, Allen Crouch and his wife watched chunks of meat inexplicably cover their farm; the newspaper report drew neighbors, spectators and local butchers who attempted to determine where the mysterious meat came from. Some (along with the Crouch’s cat) even sampled the meat and believed it to be "either mutton or venison," but no definitive source could be identified. Scientists at the time eventually concluded vultures flying overhead after an exceptionally large meal could have vomited the half-digested meat mid-flight, leading to the meat shower, but researchers were unable to confirm the theory.

2. SALISH SEA HUMAN FOOT DISCOVERIES

In February 2016, within days of each other, two shoes containing severed human feet washed up in the area of Vancouver Island’s Botanical Beach, and unfortunately, they were not the first. Since 2007, 16 severed feet have washed up along the Northwest Pacific coastline, only to be found by Washington or British Columbia beachgoers. Initially, investigators speculated that the feet could have come from victims of far-off natural disasters or serial killers, but after several years they determined that the identified remains belonged to people who had committed suicide or likely died accidentally during stormy weather. But why are feet the only found remains in these cases? Decomposition in water is tough business, with the push and pull of waves causing hands and feet to disconnect from a corpse. And with modern shoes being constructed with light materials and air pockets, those remains were more likely to float. Still, some believe that similarities between the remains—mostly right feet wearing running shoes or hiking boots—are too coincidental, and that something more sinister is amiss.

3. GERMANY'S EXPLODING TOADS

A small pond in Hamburg, Germany, became the center of an exploding toad epidemic in 2005. More than 1000 toad carcasses were found—including splattered remains—mystifying nearby residents and park visitors. After water testing proved inconclusive and autopsied toads appeared free of fungus or viruses, scientists let another theory take flight: hungry crows. Berlin veterinarian Frank Mutschmann suggested that crows with an affinity for toad livers likely pecked between the toad’s chest and abdomen, causing the amphibians to puff up in an effort to scare away their predators. Unfortunately, the missing liver and subsequent wound (and possibly a punctured lung) could cause the toad’s blood vessels and lungs to burst upon puffing. While this guess seems reasonable, scientists can’t confirm since bystanders haven’t seen it happen.

4. WAKING UP WITH PERFECT PRONUNCIATION

In 2014, Australian native Ben McMahon spent a week in a coma following a car accident. When he awoke, the English speaker instead spoke fluent Mandarin, which he had previously studied, but not to any strong level. Scientists understand that brain trauma can damage portions areas of the brain where speaking skills are stored, possibly causing the brain to re-circuit to other language skills—regardless of how minimal—stored in different zones. But how sudden fluency is achieved isn't known. McMahon isn’t the only person to emerge from a coma with new language skills; a Croatian teenager awoke speaking fluent German in 2010, while a British survivor of a six-car pileup came out of a coma speaking French—and also believing he was actor Matthew McConaughey.

5. RETURNING MORNING GLORY CLOUDS

For centuries, clouds have been used as real-time alerts for incoming weather. While meteorologists have extensively studied clouds, there's one they don't know much about: the Morning Glory cloud. These long, narrow clouds often appear in perfectly straight rows, each cloud reaching up to 600 miles long. When it comes to research, the Morning Glory phenomenon is often overlooked because it is normally only seen between September and November in the skies above northeastern Australia. Scientists know the clouds are created by the collision of sea breezes that lift moist air and forms clouds, but few scientists study beyond their formation, leading us to wonder how long Morning Glory clouds been occurring and why they’re sometimes also seen over Germany and the U.S.

6. A SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUSTING TENANT

Those curious about spontaneous human combustion may point to the case of Mary Hardy Reeser, a 67-year-old St. Petersburg, Florida, woman who died in a mysterious blaze. On July 2, 1951, Reeser’s landlady stopped by only to find Reeser’s charred remains in a chair, with the rest of the room seemingly untouched by flames. FBI investigators believed Reeser took a sleeping pill and after falling asleep, accidentally caught her highly flammable clothing on fire from a lit cigarette. The chair she slept in was made of fire-retardant materials, allowing it to remain relatively unscathed while Reeser’s own body fat fed the flames. Yet, many conspiracy theorists find the FBI’s findings unrealistic, puzzled by how a fire so hot could have minimal damage to Reeser’s apartment when cremation often requires temperatures well above 2000 degrees.

7. THE DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT

Even experienced climbers and hikers fear getting injured or worse. But what happened to a team of nine Soviet campers in February 1959 continues to puzzle and terrify many. Led by an experienced mountaineer, the students ventured into the northern Ural Mountains, only to be discovered dead weeks later, with no clear explanation of what went wrong. When five of the campers were initially found, their bodies exhibited signs of traumatic injuries yet there were no obvious clues to how they were harmed. A tent was cut from the inside out and bodies were found leading away from the base camp. Several in the group were missing clothing, revealing their bodies had turned an unusual hue of orange. The Russian government investigated the incident, noting that the bodies displayed some evidence of radioactivity, but case files were sealed, making it difficult to know why exactly that was noted. Plausible theories for the hikers’ deaths include accidental exposure to radioactive testing or infrasound frequencies that were misinterpreted as an avalanche, causing the hikers to flee into treacherous conditions. No matter what the cause, the only ones who truly know what happened on that mountain died there.

8. MYSTERIOUS "CHUPACABRA" ATTACKS

While the lore of a vampire-like beast has existed in the Rio Grande region of Texas since the 1970s (usually described as a giant bird), it wasn’t until the mid-1990s when chupacabra fears hit a fever pitch. In March of 1995, Puerto Rican farmers reported a series of attacks by the chupacabra (which translates to "goat sucker") after finding eight sheep dead and drained of their blood. The only evidence of the killings was a set of small puncture wounds on each animal. By August, the town of Canóvanas saw more than 100 dead farm animals and pets, all drained of their blood with similar wounds. While speculation initially considered satanic cults, many believers found it entirely possible that there were vampire beasts on a bloodsucking frenzy.

By the 2000s, attacks from el chupacabra spread throughout Latin American, Florida, and Texas, where several residents and ranchers captured suspected beasts—though DNA tests show that the animals were simply coyotes or wild dogs with intense mange. Biologists believe there is no such thing as a chupacabra, but instead the attacks were the work of frenzied coyotes and wild dogs that often kill but leave behind their prey. As for the suspected blood drainings, many of the examined animals lost an amount of blood typical of bleeding to death from a bite, proving they weren’t a bloodsucker's meal. Yet many chupacabra believers claim the beast exists simply because the theorized wild dog attacks haven't been witnessed, and so, the legend of the chupacabras continue to haunt the night.

9. THE TOXIC WOMAN

The story of the Toxic Woman sounds like the plot of a sci-fi movie, except it really happened. On February 19, 1994, Gloria Ramirez entered the General Hospital in Riverside, California, for complications attributed to advanced-stage cervical cancer. Within minutes, doctors and nurses who had contact with her mentioned the smell of ammonia before falling ill, with some even passing out due to fumes coming from Ramirez’s body. As a precaution, the emergency room was evacuated, and a doctor and nurse were hospitalized for side effects attributed to the unusual fumes; Ramirez died of heart failure that evening. The autopsy on her body required the coroner’s office to build a special enclosure and follow hazmat procedures, including suits and being washed with decontaminants afterwards, but the autopsy was inconclusive.

While it’s not perfectly clear what exactly happened or why Ramirez’s body emitted ammonia-like fumes, doctors believe it was due to her cancer treatments. Ramirez is believed to have taken a pain-relieving home remedy that included dimethyl sulfoxide, which built up in her body due to a urinary blockage. When oxygen was administered, the chemical transformed into dimethyl sulfone, and the use of defibrillators on Ramirez would have changed that compound to dimethyl sulfate—a poisonous gas.  While researchers in the mid-1990s believed this to be a logical solution, additional testing was not possible due to the decomposition of Ramirez’s body. And so, theories of extraterrestrial interference and the hospital’s wrongdoing have continued to live on.

10. THE TUNGUSKA EVENT

More than 100 years after an explosion charred a Siberian forest, scientists still don’t know what exactly happened. In 1908, the remote Tunguska region of Siberia experienced a blast so intense that scientists say it produced nearly 185 times more energy than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The closest eyewitnesses, who were 35 miles away, claimed to see a fireball light the sky above the forest before hearing and feeling a crash, followed by heat. At most one or two people were killed, along with hundreds of reindeer. Initial speculations included a volcanic explosion or meteorite impact, but investigations proved difficult due to the rural, rugged area and Russian politics. During the past century, scientists have leaned on the theory of an asteroid or air burst, yet little physical evidence supports this idea.

11. MEOWING NUNS

Modern science understands mass hysteria—a situation where groups of people suffer from the same mysterious effects of a strange illness or behavior—and how easily it can spread. We also now know it can be common among people who live in strict social settings for extended periods of time. But before modern psychology, no one understood this phenomenon or knew how to deal with it—especially when an entire convent of nuns got a little … catty. After one nun mysteriously began meowing, an entire French convent took on the persona of cats. Soon, many in the convent also began meowing for hours each day, gaining the attention of nearby villagers who eventually had enough. Soldiers were called in to circle the convent and nuns were warned that if they didn’t stop meowing, they’d be whipped. Not surprisingly, the meowing stopped pretty quickly, but how the cattitude started and why it lasted so was never clearly documented. How curious.

20 Surprising Facts About Benedict Cumberbatch

Larry Busacca, Getty Images
Larry Busacca, Getty Images

If Benedict Cumberbatch isn't careful, he might just run out of dream roles to play. Since the earliest days of his career, the 42-year-old actor has made no secret that there were two roles at the top of his character bucket list: Hamlet and Patrick Melrose, the protagonist at the center of Edward St Aubyn's critically acclaimed series of novels.

In 2015, Cumberbatch took the stage in London to do the whole "to be or not to be" thing. (More on that later.) In 2018, he starred in Patrick Melrose, Showtime's television adaptation of the book series, and earned both Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for the role. Now, Cumberbatch is back on the small screen—and bald—for the HBO movie Brexit, which premieres on January 19th.

1. He made his stage debut playing a "very bossy" Joseph in a Nativity play.

In a 2010 interview with London Theatre, Cumberbatch shared that his first stage performance found him playing “a very bossy Joseph in the Nativity play at primary school. Apparently I pushed Mary offstage because she was taking too long. Actresses eh!”

2. He thinks his name sounds like "a fart in a bath."

There’s something very regal-sounding about a name like Benedict Cumberbatch, but it’s not one that necessarily rolls right off the tongue. The Washington Post once identified the actor as “Bandersnatch Cummerbund” (though later clarified that it was a joke). But there have been plenty of other mix-ups—like the time a television show ID'ed him as “Benedict Cumberpatch” (which sort of has a nice ring to it).

Cumberbatch had a feeling that his name might cause problems in his career, which is why he began his career as Benedict Carlton (which is his middle name). Ultimately, it was his agent who convinced him to use Cumberbatch, even though the actor said the surname sounds like “a fart in a bath.”

3. He toyed with the idea of becoming a lawyer.

Though he grew up in a family of actors, Cumberbatch wasn’t always planning to live his life out in front of a camera. In fact, it was because of his parents’ chosen profession that they encouraged him to pursue a more stable calling, which led him to want to become a criminal lawyer.

“[Acting is] a very odd, peripatetic, crazed, out of your control work and social schedule,” Cumberbatch told The Mirror in 2015. “It's very hard to plan a family life, let alone know where the next paycheck is coming from so they worked very, very hard as my parents, and actors, to afford me an education whereby I had the opportunity and the privilege to try and channel myself towards other goals.

“For a while, I wanted to be a barrister because there's definitely a crossover with criminal law—with trying to persuade an audience and a jury and a judge of the case and your client's story so I did go down that route for a little bit. I think they would have been very happy if I ended up there."

He spoke with Vulture about his legal leanings, too, and noted that, “I would've loved the performance of court, the idea of persuading people, storytelling and all that. It parallels beautifully with acting, lots of frustrated, amateur dramatics going on in court all the time. I think lots of barristers literally perform in amateur dramatic societies and are very good actors. It's a massive crossover."

4. His parents on Sherlock are also his parents in real life.

Speaking of Cumberbatch’s parents: While both Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham are familiar faces as actors in their own right, fans of Sherlock might also be quick to recognize them as Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes’s parents.

In 2014, Cumberbatch told the Press Association that he was a little nervous about working with his parents, as “They’re Equity card carrying members but you know it was nerve-wracking because they are actors as well and yet they were brilliant and they were fantastic.”

5. He spent a year teaching in India.

During a gap year, Cumberbatch decided to volunteer his time and teach English at a Tibetan monastery in Darjeeling, India. “I’d always been fascinated by the idea of meditation and what it meant,” he told Lion’s Roar. “In India, I went on a retreat with a lama—several days of incantation to clear and purify the mind—along with a dozen other people. It was incredible, and I kind of floated out of there after two weeks."

Though teaching and acting may seem unrelated, many of the skills and practices Cumberbatch learned during that time eventually helped him in his acting career. “Stillness is an essential part of acting,” he said, “so I already had a certain amount of focus in that beforehand. A still point is a very, very hard place to find, especially among the usual kind of pulped sheep pushed around by the blinking flashing world of modern technology.”

6. He was kidnapped in South Africa.

While filming the 2005 miniseries To the Ends of the Earth, Cumberbatch experienced another kind of epiphany when he nearly lost his life. The actor and two of his co-stars took a day off to learn how to scuba dive near Mozambique. On their way back from the outing, the actor explained, “The three of us were trying to change the tire. These six men appeared suddenly from the eucalyptus. They said: 'Put your hands on your head, don't look at us,' and were frisking us for drugs, money, weapons. Then they bundled us into the car. They dragged me up and put me in the boot of the car.”

Like so many of the quick-thinking characters he has played, Cumberbatch realized his only option was to try and argue his way out of the situation:

“I said: ‘If you leave me in here, it’s not the lack of air, it’s the small space. There’s a problem with my heart and my brain.’

“I just tried to explain to them: ‘I will die, possibly have a fit, and it will be a problem for you. I will be a dead Englishman in your car. Not good.’

“They shut the boot and had an argument, and then pulled me out. So I kind of thank God I had the presence of mind to give them the idea that it would be better to keep me alive. And the other two hadn’t been harmed.”

In a way, the incident became the impetus for Cumberbatch to pursue his dreams even more aggressively. “It taught me that you come into this world as you leave it, on your own,” he said. “It’s made me want to live a life slightly less ordinary.”

7. Julian Assange tried to talk him out of starring in The Fifth Estate.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange in 'The Fifth Estate' (2013)
DreamWorks

In 2013, a very white-haired Cumberbatch played the role of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate. In preparing for the role, Cumberbatch—ever the dutiful actor—reached out to Assange about arranging a meeting. Assange’s response, which went viral, was rather epic. Though he assured Cumberbatch that he would very much enjoy meeting him, and that he believed they would get along, he spent the bulk of his word count telling the actor why making the film was a terrible idea:

“You will be used, as a hired gun, to assume the appearance of the truth in order to assassinate it. To present me as someone morally compromised and to place me in a falsified history. To create a work, not of fiction, but of debased truth.

“Not because you want to, of course you don't, but because, in the end, you are a jobbing actor who gets paid to follow the script, no matter how debauched.

“Your skills play into the hands of people who are out to remove me and WikiLeaks from the world.

“I believe that you should reconsider your involvement in this enterprise.”

The film went forward as planned, with Cumberbatch in the lead (though it was a critical and box office failure, which likely pleased Assange).

8. He is easily starstruck.

When asked during a Reddit AMA whether he’s ever been starstruck while meeting or working with a fellow actor, Cumberbatch admitted that it happens all the time: “Uhhhhhhhh. Every time I've met someone famous who I've been in the audience of,” he said. “I have the same butterflies and inability to be cool. I approach them as a fellow member of the human race as the next person in their audience does. I've been doing this for 10 odd years, and so to meet people who thrilled me with their work for my entire life in such a concentrated manner as has happened over the last few years has been mind-blowing.”

9. Ted Danson was really, really excited to meet him.

While Cumberbatch may get nervous every time he meets an acting hero, one well-known actor who was pretty excited to meet Cumberbatch was Cheers star Ted Danson. When asked during a Reddit AMA to share the “weirdest encounter you've had with a fan,” Cumberbatch answered: “Ted Danson at a pre-Oscar party screaming across a floor of people like Leonardo DiCaprio, Ray Liotta, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, et al while pushing past them and knocking their drinks. ‘OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! IT'S F***ING SHERLOCK HOLMES!’”

10. He wasn't immediately sold on playing Sherlock Holmes.

Though playing the titular “consulting detective” in Sherlock is the role that brought Cumberbatch global recognition, saying yes to the part wasn’t exactly a no-brainer for the actor. While speaking at a BAFTA event in 2014, Cumberbatch admitted that he was actually a little hesitant to sign on for the project. “I heard about it and thought that sounds like an idea to [re-franchise] something to make money,” he said. “It could be a bit cheap and cheesy. Then I found out who was involved and realized it wouldn’t be cheap and cheesy.

“My mum had done a few episodes of Coupling with Steven [Moffat] and Mark Gatiss was a huge hero of mine when I was a student in League Of Gentleman,” Cumberbatch continued, “so I knew the stable was good. I thought I would read it and then I fell in love with it.”

11. The BBC wasn't sure Cumberbatch was "sexy" enough to pull off Sherlock.


BBC

It’s funny to think about now, considering Cumberatch’s massive worldwide fanbase, but just as the actor wasn’t immediately sold on playing Sherlock Holmes, the BBC wasn’t sure the actor was a great match for the role—because they wanted someone with sex appeal. While speaking at the Hay Festival in 2014, Sherlock co-creator Steven Moffat talked about the BBC’s track record in determining which actors might connect with audiences—Cumberbatch being one of them.

“They said of casting David Tennant as Casanova, ‘Damn, you should have cast someone sexier,’” Moffat said. “With Benedict Cumberbatch, we were told the same thing. ‘You promised us a sexy Sherlock, not him.’”

Sue Vertue, a fellow producer on Sherlock (and Moffat's wife), relayed a similar tale to Entertainment Weekly just a few months prior to Moffat’s comments, telling the magazine: “When we first cast [Cumberbatch], people were saying, ‘You promised us a sexy one!’ People weren’t thinking of Benedict in that light at all.” His name, apparently, posed another problem: “When people said, ‘Who’s playing Sherlock Holmes?’ and we’d say, ‘Benedict Cumberbatch,’ everyone looked very vague,” Vertue said. “Then we’d always have to spell his name.”

12. He is (distantly) related to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

It turns out that Sherlock Holmes may have been the role Cumberbatch was born to play. In 2017, researchers at Ancestry.com made the rather fascinating discovery that Cumberbatch and Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are sixteenth cousins, twice removed. The ancestral link between the two is former Duke of Lancaster John of Gaunt, who was Doyle’s 15th great-grandfather and Cumberbatch’s 17th great-grandfather.

13. He also has a family link to Alan Turing.

Amazingly, the Conan Doyle connection wasn’t the first time Cumberbatch’s ancestry was linked to one of his characters. In 2014, the same team of researchers determined that Cumberbatch was the 17th cousin of Alan Turing, the computer scientist/codebreaker he played in Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game (2014)—a role that earned Cumberbatch an Oscar nomination in 2015.

14. He has been rendered in chocolate on more than one occasion.


UKTV/FLICKR

In a somewhat bizarre promotional campaign by Britain’s UKTV in 2015, Cumberbatch narrowly beat out David Tennant by a margin of just one percent to be named “TV Dishiest Drama Actor.” The prize? Having a life-sized statue, made entirely of Belgian chocolate, created in the actor’s likeness.

It took a team of eight people more than 250 man-hours to construct the delicious doppelgänger, dubbed “Benedict Chocobatch." In 2016, he was recreated in the sweet stuff again, though this time as an edible chocolate bunny/Benedict hybrid that fans could actually purchase … and eat.

15. He turned Hamlet into "the most in-demand show of all time."

In 2015, Cumberbatch achieved one of his lifetime dreams when it was announced that he would play Hamlet in a 12-week run at London’s Barbican theater. Tickets ended up selling out almost as fast as one could say “To be or not to be.” As The Telegraph reported in 2014:

"The curtain does not go up on the production for another year, but Cumberbatch's Hamlet is nevertheless outselling the next most popular show, the current run of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic, by four to one. The show has even registered 214 per cent more ticket searches in the hours after tickets were released than Beyoncé and Jay Z’s global On the Run tour.

Hamlet tickets went on sale at 10am on August 11 and within minutes fans were expressing frustration at finding themselves more than 20,000 places back in the queue."

16. He's the leading man in a lot of fan fiction.

In addition to being a leading man on the stage and both the small and big screens, Cumberbatch plays a starring role in a lot of fan fiction. A lot of fan fiction! In 2013, The Mirror estimated that approximately 100 million words of fan fiction had been written about the Sherlock star. Considering that was six years ago, the word count has certainly only grown.

17. Simon Pegg convinced him that he might have radiation poisoning.

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in 'Star Trek Into Darkness' (2013)
Paramount Pictures

While filming Star Trek: Into Darkness, Simon Pegg decided to have a little fun with Cumberbatch by convincing him that he was at risk for radiation exposure. According to Pegg, it worked. He recounted the story to The Sun in 2013:

"I don't like seeing people get embarrassed. But we were filming in a nuclear facility and one day I said that Chris [Pine] needed neutron cream—otherwise he'd get sunburn. He said, 'What?' And I said, 'Yeah, you'll get a rash from ambient radiation in the air.' From there the trick spread to other cast members. Finally, we got Benedict. He had this speech and he kept f***ing it up. Afterwards he said, 'Guys, I'm ever so sorry —I've got a real headache. I think the ions were getting to me.' He was so convinced."

18. He has a rare genetic mutation.

If Cumberbatch’s eyes seem to regularly change color, you’re not imagining things: The actor was born with both central heterochromia and sectoral heterochromia—two rare-but-harmless genetic mutations that affect his eyes. Each of his eyes has multiple colors (a mix of blue, green, and gold) because of the central heterochromia, and the sectoral heterochromia is the reason why he has a brown “freckle” on his right eye.

But ask the actor what his favorite part of his body is, and the eyes have got it. “I guess as an actor your eyes are vital in conveying any internal thought process or feeling, and for that I have my mum to thank,” he said.

19. He's not cool with "Cumberbitches."

When Cumberbatch’s massive contingency of female fans dubbed themselves “Cumberbitches,” the actor took issue with the pejorative moniker. “It’s not even politeness,” he said of his distaste for the term. “I won’t allow you to be my bitches. I think it sets feminism back so many notches. You are ... Cumberpeople."

20. He has been a vocal proponent of closing the gender pay gap.

Equal pay in Hollywood is a hot-button topic, and Cumberbatch has made his stance on the issue very clear by stating that he won’t work on a project if his female co-stars aren’t being paid the same. "Equal pay and a place at the table are the central tenets of feminism," Cumberbatch told Radio Times. "Look at your quotas. Ask what women are being paid, and say: 'If she’s not paid the same as the men, I’m not doing it.'"

13 Fascinating Facts About Pallas’s Cats

iStock.com/NEALITPMCCLIMON
iStock.com/NEALITPMCCLIMON

Far across the world, an elusive—and adorable—wildcat called the Pallas’s cat (also known as the manul) roams the grasslands and steppes of Central Asia and Eurasia. Get to know the flat-faced, furry kitty, which has been featured in memes and viral videos and recently received its own wildlife preserve in Asia’s Altai Mountains.

1. It's named after naturalist Peter Pallas.

German naturalist Peter Pallas first described the furry wildcat in 1776. He named the kitty Felis manul, and theorized that it was an ancestor of the Persian cat, due to its round face, luxurious coat, and stocky body. (He was wrong.)

2. Its scientific name means "ugly-eared."

Later on, the cat's scientific name was changed from Felis manul to Otocolobus manul—not exactly the most flattering moniker, since Otocolobus is Greek for “ugly-eared.”

3. Its unusual ears come in handy.

Some may consider the Pallas’s cat’s ears to be ugly, while others might think they’re adorable. Arguments aside, the cat’s round ears—which sit flat on the sides of its head—are one of the feline's most distinguishing features. As Crystal DiMiceli, a former wild animal keeper at Brooklyn's Prospect Park Zoo, explains in the above video, having low-positioned ears helps the cat conceal itself—they don’t poke up to reveal the animal's position while it's hiding or hunting.

4. It has a dense, plush coat.

The coat of the Pallas's cat is its true crowning glory. It’s longer and denser than any other coat belonging to a member of the Felid species (growing in even heavier in the winter), and the undercoat on its belly is twice as long as the fur covering the rest of its body. The shade ranges from silvery grey during the winter to a darker, red-toned hue during warmer months. (Some cats are also red, particularly in Central Asia.) Its broad head is streaked and speckled with dark markings, and its bushy tail is banded with stripes and a dark tip. These markings tend to appear darker during the summer.

5. Its fur blends with its habitat, which conceals it from predators.

Pallas's cats live in areas ranging from Pakistan and northern India to central China, Mongolia, and southern Russia. According to Wild Cats of the World, by Luke Hunter, its body isn’t adapted for snow, so it sticks to cold, arid habitats—particularly grassy or rocky areas, which help conceal it from predators—at elevations of around 1500 to nearly 17,000 feet. The stocky cat isn’t a fast runner, so when it senses danger, it freezes and crouches flat and motionless on the ground, and its fur helps it blend in with its surroundings.

6. Pallas's cats aren't fat—they're just furry.

Pallas's cats typically weigh less than 12 pounds, and they’re usually only 2 feet or less in body length—meaning they’re not that much larger than an ordinary house cat. Yet their dense coat of fur makes them appear much larger.

7. Their pupils are round instead of vertical.

Pallas's cats do share one feature in common with larger wildcats, like lions and tigers: their eyes. Their pupils are round, whereas a house cat's pupils are vertical and slit-shaped. Wondering why some cats have round pupils while others have vertical ones? A 2015 study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that animals’ pupil shapes might indicate their role in the predator/prey food chain. They analyzed 214 species of land animals (including cats), and noted that species with vertical pupils tended to be ambush predators that were active during both day and night. In contrast, species with vertical pupils were often “active foragers,” meaning they chase their prey. Also, predators that are closer to the ground, like house cats, were prone to vertical pupils, whereas larger wildcats had round ones. Pallas’s cats are small, and they are primarily ambush hunters, so the jury’s still out on whether the study's findings hold true for all creatures.

8. They subsist mostly on pika.

A Pallas's cat sticks its tongue out
iStock.com/Nikolai Vakhrushev

Pallas's cats are ambush hunters and spend much of their time hunting pika, a small mammal, and other critters like gerbils, voles, hares, ground squirrels, birds, and young marmots. Pika typically make up more than 50 percent of the cat's diet. 

9. They may be distantly related to the leopard cat.

Peter Pallas thought the animal was related to the Persian cat. (We think it looks like a Maine Coon and a Scottish Fold had a baby and weaned it on steroid milk.) However, experts have uncovered evidence that the wildcat’s nearest—yet still pretty distant—relative might be the leopard cat.

10. They's not social animals.

The Pallas's cat is notoriously elusive and spends much of its time hiding in caves, crevices, or abandoned burrows.

11. They don't seem to like each other much.

A pair of Pallas's cats size each other up
iStock.com/eli77

Pallas's cats may be adorably fluffy, but they aren’t the world’s sweetest, most cuddly creatures. In fact, they’re very aggressive. Case in point: In The Wild Cat Book, authors Fiona and Mel Sunquist recount an anecdote provided by Bill Swanson, the Cincinnati Zoo’s director of animal research. Zookeepers thought that a litter of newborn Pallas's cats were having difficulty breathing, but “when they listened closely, they realized that the noise they were hearing was the kittens growling and hissing at each other—before they had even opened their eyes!"

12. Their mating period is brief.

Pallas’s cats mate between December and March; the females typically give birth between the end of March and May, after a gestation period of 66 to 75 days. Pallas’s cats usually give birth to three or four kittens, but litters can sometimes have as many as eight kittens. Kittens become independent by four to five months, and when they reach nine to 10 months, they’re mature enough to reproduce. 

13. They're classified as "near-threatened."

It's estimated that Pallas's cats can live up to six years in the wild, but because of predators and other dangers, their lifespan is likely to be half this length. In captivity, they’ve been known to survive for nearly 12 years.

In 2002, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classified the Pallas’s cat as “near-threatened,” and that status remains today. Many factors contribute to their low numbers, including farming, agricultural activities, mining, and poisoning campaigns aimed at reducing pika and marmot populations. They're also often killed in traps meant for wolves and foxes, or by domestic dogs. And despite international trading bans and legal protections in some countries, they're often hunted for their fur. (The cat's fat and organs are also used to make traditional medicines.) 

Scientists don't have enough data to estimate the Pallas’s cat's population size, but due to their scarcity and the many threats they face, experts believe that their numbers have dropped by 10 to 15 percent over the past decade or so. To better understand—and protect—the animal, an international team of conservationists recently secured a 12-mile swath of land in Sailyugemsky Nature Park, which lies in the Altai Mountains between Kazakhstan and Mongolia, as a sanctuary for the rare cat. There, they hope to monitor its population, study its habitat, and build a database of information detailing encounters with it. 

Additional Source:
Wild Cats of the World by Luke Hunter

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER