11 Writers Who Really Loved Cats

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Alamy

They say that a dog is a man's best friend, but these writers found solace—and occasional inspiration—in another four-legged companion. Celebrate International Cat Day with these feline-loving scribes.

1. MARK TWAIN

Mark Twain—the great humorist and man of American letters—was also a great cat lover. When his beloved black cat Bambino went missing, Twain took out an advertisement in the New York American offering a $5 reward to return the missing cat to his house at 21 Fifth Avenue in New York City. It described Bambino as “Large and intensely black; thick, velvety fur; has a faint fringe of white hair across his chest; not easy to find in ordinary light.”

2. T.S. ELIOT

Aside from peppering his high Modernist poetry with allusions to feline friends, T.S. Eliot wrote a book of light verse called Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, a collection of 15 poems, dedicated to his godchildren, regarding the different personalities and eccentricities of cats. Names like Old Deuteronomy, the Rum Tum Tugger, and Mr. Mistoffelees should be familiar to people all around the world—the characters and poems were the inspiration for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running Broadway musical, Cats. Later publications of Old Possum's included illustrations by noted artist Edward Gorey—yet another avid cat lover. You can listen to Eliot read "The Naming of Cats" here.

3. ERNEST HEMINGWAY

A cat sleeps on the bed at the home and museum of author Ernest Hemingway on February 18, 2013 in Key West, Florida, where Hemingway lived and wrote for more than ten years
A cat sleeps on the bed at Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida.
KAREN BLEIER, AFP/Getty Images

Ernest Hemingway and his family initially became infatuated with cats while living at Finca Vigía, their house in Cuba. During the writer's travels, he was gifted a six-toed (or polydactyl) cat he named Snowball. Hemingway liked the little guy so much that in 1931, when he moved into his now-famous Key West home, he let Snowball run wild, creating a small colony of felines that populated the grounds. Today, some 40 to 50 six-toed descendants of Snowball are still allowed to roam around the house. Polydactyl felines are sometimes called “Hemingway Cats.”

4. WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS

William S. Burroughs is known for his wild, drug-induced writings, but he had a softer side as well—especially when it came to his cats. He penned an autobiographical novella, The Cat Inside, about the cats he owned throughout his life, and the final journal entry Burroughs wrote before he died referred to the pure love he had for his four pets:

“Only thing can resolve conflict is love, like I felt for Fletch and Ruski, Spooner, and Calico. Pure love. What I feel for my cats present and past. Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is. LOVE.”

5. WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

Though not overt, William Yeats’s love for cats can be found in poems like “The Cat and the Moon,” where he uses the image of a cat to represent himself and the image of the moon to represent his muse Maude Gonne, a high society-born feminist and sometime actress who inspired the poet throughout his life. The poem references Gonne’s cat named Minnaloushe, who sits and stares at the changing moon. Yeats metaphorically transforms himself into the cat longing for his love that is indifferent to him, and the heartsick feline poet wonders whether Gonne will ever change her mind. Too bad for Yeats; Maude Gonne never agreed to marry him, despite the fact that he asked for her hand in marriage—four separate times.

6. SAMUEL JOHNSON

A 'talking statue' of Samuel Johnson's pet cat 'Hodge' is pictured in central London
CARL COURT, AFP/Getty Images

Known to be a general cat lover during his life, this 18th century jack-of-all-trades was immortalized in James Boswell’s proto-biography The Life of Samuel Johnson. In the text, Boswell writes of Johnson’s cat, Hodge, saying, “I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily, one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same Hodge.” Although Boswell was not a fan, Johnson called Hodge “A very fine cat indeed.” Hodge is immortalized, with his oysters, with a statue of his likeness that stands outside Johnson’s house at 17 Gough Square in London.

7. CHARLES DICKENS

One of most important and influential writers in history, Charles Dickens once said, “What greater gift than the love of a cat?” He would sit entranced for hours while writing, but when his furry friends needed some attention, they were notorious for extinguishing the flame on his desk candle. In 1862, he was so upset after the death of his favorite cat, Bob, that he had the feline’s paw stuffed and mounted to an ivory letter opener. He had the opener engraved saying, “C.D., In memory of Bob, 1862” so he could have a constant reminder of his old friend. The letter opener is now on display at the Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library.

8. NEIL GAIMAN

The author of American Gods and The Sandman kept regular updates on his blog of the everyday eccentricities of the group of cats—including Hermione, Pod, Zoe, Princess, and Coconut—that he kept at his house. Though he hasn’t written much about them recently, the love and affection that come across in the posts from 2010 and earlier show someone who is absolutely an animal lover in all respects.

9. PATRICIA HIGHSMITH

American novelist Patricia Highsmith, the author of 'The Talented Mr Ripley' and 'Strangers On A Train'
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Patricia Highsmith doesn’t have the friendliest literary reputation around (she once said “my imagination functions much better when I don't have to speak to people”). But The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train author nevertheless found a perfect way to let her imagination function with her many four-legged companions. She did virtually everything with her cats—she wrote next to them, she ate next to them, and she even slept next to them. She kept them by her side throughout her life until her death at her home in Locarno, Switzerland in 1995.

10. WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS

Imagist poet William Carlos Williams also worked as a doctor to supplement his writing career, which would eventually culminate in a 1949 National Book Award for Poetry and a posthumously awarded 1963 Pulitzer Prize. His direct style tried to capture the essence of small moments in everyday life, and it’s no wonder he uses a cat to conjure a simple scene in his poem entitled “Poem (As the Cat)”:

As the cat
climbed over
the top of

the jamcloset
first the right
forefoot

carefully
then the hind
stepped down

into the pit of
the empty
flower pot

11. RAYMOND CHANDLER

Raymond Chandler had an immense influence on detective fiction and came to define the tenets of hard-boiled noir. He used femme fatales, twisting plots, and whip-cracking wordplay in his evocative classics starring the detective Philip Marlowe, including The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. But it wasn’t all serious business for Chandler because—you guessed it—he really loved cats. His cat Taki gave him endless enjoyment, but also occasionally got on his nerves. Here’s a passage from a letter Chandler wrote to a friend about Taki:

“Our cat is growing positively tyrannical. If she finds herself alone anywhere she emits blood curdling yells until somebody comes running. She sleeps on a table in the service porch and now demands to be lifted up and down from it. She gets warm milk about eight o'clock at night and starts yelling for it about 7.30.”

This post originally ran in 2013.

Chimpanzees Bond by Watching Movies Together, Too

Windzepher/iStock via Getty Images
Windzepher/iStock via Getty Images

Scientists at the Wolfgang Kohler Primate Research Center in Germany recently discovered that, like humans, chimpanzees bond when they watch movies together, the BBC reports.

In the study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers stationed pairs of chimpanzees in front of screens that showed a video of a family of chimps playing with a young chimp. They found that afterward, the chimps would spend more time grooming and interacting with each other—or simply being in the same part of the room—than they would without having watched the video.

They gave the chimps fruit juice to keep them calm and occupied while they viewed the video, and they chose a subject that chimps have previously proven to be most interested in: other chimps. They also used eye trackers to ensure the chimps were actually watching the video. If you’ve ever watched a movie with friends, you might notice similarities between the chimps’ experience and your own. Drinks (and snacks) also keep us calm and occupied while we watch, and we like to watch movies about other humans. Since this study only showed that chimps bond over programs about their own species, we don’t know if it would work the same way if they watched something completely unrelated to them, like humans do—say, The Lion King.

Bonding through shared experiences was thought to be one of the traits that make us uniquely human, and some researchers have argued that other species don’t have the psychological mechanisms to realize that they’re even sharing an experience with another. This study suggests that social activities for apes don’t just serve utilitarian purposes like traveling together for safety, and that they’re capable of a more human-like social closeness.

The part that is uniquely human about this study is the fact that they were studying the effect of a screen, as opposed to something less man-made. The chimps in question have participated in other studies, so they may be more accustomed to that technology than wild apes. But the study demonstrates that we’re not the only species capable of social interaction for the sake of social interaction.

[h/t BBC]

10 Facts You Should Know About Mosquitoes

tskstock/iStock via Getty Images
tskstock/iStock via Getty Images

Between the itching and the welts and the fears of mosquito-borne viruses, it's easy to forget that mosquitoes are a wonder of evolution, and that maybe they don't get a fair shake from us. Of more than 3000 known species, only 80 actually bite people, and at least one eats other mosquitoes for us. They grow from egg to adult in just five days, begin mating within minutes of hatching, and possess, by way of their stinging mouthparts, some of the coolest appendages in the animal kingdom.

1. Mosquitoes are excellent flyers in bad weather.

The average raindrop is 50 times heavier than the average mosquito, yet they buzz around in the rain with no problems. If a Boeing 747 got whacked with a similarly scaled-up raindrop, there would be 2375 tons of water coming down on it, and things probably wouldn’t turn out as well as they do for the mosquito. How do the insects do it?

A common urban legend said that the bugs were nimble enough to dodge the drops. A few years ago, a team of engineers from the Georgia Institute of Technology watched real mosquitoes and Styrofoam dummy mosquitoes with a high-speed camera during a rainy flight to see if that’s what was really happening. They found that the bugs don’t fly fast enough to dodge the drops, but their slowness is what keeps them from getting knocked out of the sky. A mosquito’s low mass even at slow speed doesn’t provide enough of a target for a raindrop to splash on collision. Instead, the drop just deforms, and doesn’t transfer enough momentum to the mosquito to disrupt its flight.

2. Texas is the mosquito capital of America.

Of the 3000 species of mosquitoes around the world, at least 150 are found in the United States, and 85 of those call Texas home. When people say everything's bigger in Texas, you can also include the biodiversity of the state's biting, disease-carrying insects.

3. Some mosquitoes are truly dangerous to humans ...

The female mosquito, which is the one that stings and sucks blood, is an incredible transmitter of disease and, because of that, the deadliest animal in the world. Each year, the malaria parasites they transmit kill 2 million to 3 million people and infect another 200 million or more. They also spread pathogens that cause yellow fever, dengue fever, Rift Valley fever, Chikungunya and West Nile disease.

4. ... and some mosquitoes are harmless.

Not every species of mosquito sucks blood from people, and among those that do, not every one transmits disease. The blood suckers don’t even need to bite you for every meal. Males live entirely on nectar and other plant fluids, and the females’ diet is primarily plant-based, too. Most of the time, they only go after people when they’re ready to reproduce, because blood contains lipids, proteins, and other nutrients needed for the production of eggs.

5. MosquitoEs actually help the environment.

When you’re rubbing calamine lotion all over yourself, mosquitoes might not seem to serve any purpose but to annoy you, but many species play important ecological roles. The mosquitoes Aedes impiger and Aedes nigripes, which gather in thick clouds in Arctic Russia and Canada, are an important food source for migrating birds. Farther south, birds, insects, spiders, salamanders, lizards, frogs, and fish also eat different mosquito species regularly. Plants need them, too, and some, like the blunt-leaved orchid and endangered monkeyface orchid, rely on mosquitoes as their primary pollinator.

Some mosquito species are also excellent at mosquito control. Species of the genus Toxorhynchites feed on the larvae and immature stages of other mosquitoes and will sometimes even cannibalize members of their own species.

6. Mosquitoes are amazing hunters (as if we needed to tell you that).

Mosquitoes are adept at picking up on the chemicals given off by their human hosts. They can detect the carbon dioxide in our breath, the 1-octen-3-ol in our breath and sweat, and other organic substances we produce with the 70-plus types of odor and chemical receptors in their antennae. These receptors can pick up traces of chemicals from hundreds of feet away, and once the mosquito closes in, it tracks its meal chemically and also visually—and they’re fond of people wearing dark colors.

7. Mosquitoes can be picky.

If it seems like you’re always covered head to toe by bites while people who were sitting right next to you only have one or two, it’s not just paranoia; the skeeters actually are out to get you. Some people happen to give off more of the odors and compounds that mosquitoes find simply irresistible, while others emit less of those and more of the compounds that make them unattractive to mosquitoes—either by acting as repellents or by masking the compounds that mosquitoes would find attractive.

8. A female mosquito's mouth is primed for sucking blood.

A mosquito doesn’t simply sink its proboscis into your skin and start sucking. What you see sticking out of a mosquito’s face is the labium, which sheaths the mouthparts that really do all the work. The labium bends back when a mosquito bites, allowing these other parts to pass through its tip and do their thing. The sharp, pointed mandibles and maxillae, which both come in pairs, are used to pierce the skin, and the hollow hypopharynx and the labrum are used to deliver saliva and draw blood, respectively.

9. Mosquito saliva prevents blood clotting.

The saliva that gets pumped out from the hypopharynx during a bite is necessary to get around our blood’s tendency to clot. It contains a grab bag of chemicals that suppress vascular constriction, blood clotting and platelet aggregation, keeping our blood from clogging up the mosquitoes' labrum and ruining their meal.

10. Mosquitoes can explode.

Blood pressure makes a mosquito's meal easier by helping to fill its stomach faster, but urban legend says it can also lead to their doom. Story goes, you can flex a muscle close to the bite site or stretch your skin taut so the mosquito can’t pull out its proboscis and your blood pressure will fill the bug until it bursts. The consensus among entomologists seems to be that this is bunk, but there is a more complicated way of blowing the bugs up. To make a blood bomb, you’ve got to sever the mosquito’s ventral nerve cord, which transmits information about satiety. When it's cut, the cord can’t tell the mosquito’s brain that its stomach is full, so it’ll keep feeding until it reaches critical mass. At least one researcher found that mosquitoes clueless about how full they were would keep sucking even after their guts had exploded, sending showers of blood spilling out of their blown-out back end.

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