13 Facts About Siamese Cats

iStock/chromatos
iStock/chromatos

As their name suggests, Siamese cats are descended from felines born in Siam, or modern-day Thailand. No one quite knows how the sleek feline made its way to American shores during the late 19th century. However, thanks to its sociable nature, lithe body, and dark-tipped creamy coat, the Siamese became one of the country's most beloved cat breeds.

Currently, it is the 12th most popular kitty in the U.S., according to registration statistics compiled by the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA). Curious to learn more? Impress ailurophiles with these 13 bits of trivia about the blue-eyed beauties.

1. THE SIAMESE IS AN OLD BREED.

Like most cat breeds, the Siamese’s true origins are cloaked in mystery. Some people say the cats were the pets of royalty, while others believe they were raised by Buddhist monks. However, a Thai manuscript called the Tamra Maew, or 'The Cat Book Poems,' provides an early depiction of the country's dark-pointed cats. The work was produced sometime between the 14th and 18th centuries. This suggests that the Siamese is a very old breed—even if we don't quite know where it came from.

2. A U.S. PRESIDENT OWNED A SIAMESE CAT.

Cat lovers brought the Siamese to America in the late 19th century, but there are mixed reports about when—and how—it traveled across the pond. Some say the Siamese first appeared in the U.S. courtesy of an American naval officer, who picked up two cats while on a tour of duty in Southeast Asia. Others claim an American friend of the King of Siam was given Siamese cats as a gift, or that renowned opera singer Blanche Arral brought them back to America after touring Siam. And from 1889-1890, a Chicago cat club lists several registered Siamese cats, one of which was "imported from Siam" by its founder.

But what really put Siamese cats on the map was when U.S. Consul David Stickles, a diplomat at the consulate in Bangkok, gave President Rutherford B. Hayes's wife Lucy a Siamese cat named Siam in the late 1870s. "I have taken the liberty of forwarding you one of the finest specimens of Siamese cats that I have been able to procure in this country," he wrote to the First Lady. "I am informed that it is the first attempt ever made to send a Siamese cat to America."

Sadly, Siam fell ill and died after less than a year in the White House. According to legend, the president's steward requested that the cat's body be preserved. However, no stuffed kitties were ever discovered, suggesting that the tale might be more fanciful than fact-based.

3. SIAMESE CATS SUPPOSEDLY MADE AN APPEARANCE AT THE WORLD'S FIRST MAJOR CAT SHOW.

According to some sources, Siamese cats were showcased at the world’s first major cat show, a national competition at London’s Crystal Palace in July 1871. The occasion reportedly marked the first time anyone in England had ever seen a Siamese cat. Harper’s Weekly described the exotic animals as “… soft, fawn-colored creatures, with jet-black legs—an unnatural, nightmare kind of cat, singular and elegant in their smooth skins, and ears tipped with black, and blue eyes with red pupils.”

However, other historians argue that the dark-tipped cats described by onlookers weren't true Siamese cats, and that the breed didn't make an appearance in England until much later. All parties, however, agree that British Consul-General Owen Gould brought two Siamese cats, Pho and Mia, from Thailand to London in 1894. The pair gave birth to kittens, and the cat family was displayed at the Crystal Palace cat show of 1895.

4. SIAMESE CATS ONCE HAD CROSSED EYES AND CROOKED TAILS.

Many Siamese cats once had kinked tails and crossed eyes. Cat fanciers viewed these traits as undesirable, and gradually eliminated them via selective breeding. However, these physical quirks were once the stuff of myth. According to legend, a Siamese cat was tasked with guarding a golden goblet for the king. Ever the loyal subject, the feline clutched the cup so hard with her tail that it bent, and stared at it for so long that her pupils lost focus.

Today, you'll occasionally still come across a cross-eyed Siamese, or one with a crooked tail. If you do, make sure to salute it for its honorable service.

5. THEY ALSO HAD STOCKIER BODIES AND ROUNDER FACES.

The Siamese originally had a heavier body, and a face that was more round than triangular. However, mid-20th century cat fanciers favored an exaggerated silhouette, and gradually bred the Siamese into the lean, fine-boned feline it is today. You’ll only see this new variety in cat shows, but some breeders continue to produce Siamese kittens with a more "traditional" look. The International Cat Association also accepts a new breed called the Thai, which looks like an old-school Siamese with its soft cheekbones and stocky frame.

6. THEIR TIPS ARE "TEMPERATURE-CONTROLLED."

Ever wondered why a Siamese cat has a white coat and dark-tipped paws, ears, and facial features? It stems from a temperature-sensitive enzyme, which causes the cat to develop the color on the cooler parts of its body and stay pale on its warmer torso. Siamese kittens are born with all-white fur, and develop their points when they’re several weeks old.

7. THEIR TIPS ALSO VARY IN COLOR.

Originally, cat fanciers' organizations only recognized Siamese cats with dark brown points, called Seal Points. Today, they accept a range of color points, include blue, chocolate, and lilac.

8. A SIAMESE WAS ONCE THE WORLD'S "FATTEST CAT."

The Guinness World Records doesn’t keep tabs on the world’s fattest living animals, since officials don’t want to encourage people to overfeed their pets. But a Siamese cat named Katy could have easily claimed the title in 2003. The five-year-old kitty hailed from Asbest, a Russian city in the Ural mountains. She was given hormones to stop her mating, which caused her to develop a voracious appetite. Katy ended up ballooning to 50 pounds, making her weigh a tad more than a six-year-old human. (The average male Siamese typically weighs between 11 and 15 pounds, and females between 8 and 12 pounds.)

It’s unclear whether Katy is still alive today, but one thing’s for sure: She tipped the scales way more than Elvis, a 7-year-old male cat from Germany that social media labeled “the world’s fattest cat” in 2015.

9. SIAMESE CATS HAVE SHINED ON THE SILVER SCREEN.

The 1965 film That Darn Cat! features Hayley Mills as a suburban teen named Patricia “Patti" Randall, but the movie's real star is Darn Cat, or "DC," a Siamese tomcat that helps Patti foil two robbers’ kidnapping plot.

DC was played by a Seal Point Siamese named Syn. He was left at an animal shelter at the age of two because he was “standoffish,” and an animal trainer adopted him for $5. The orphaned Syn became the first cat to win a PATSY Award, an honor granted to animal performers by the Hollywood office of the American Humane Association. (Due to a lack of funding, the PATSY Awards were discontinued in 1986.)

Siamese cats have also graced the silver screen in The Incredible Journey (1963) and Bell, Book and Candle (1958), and have appeared in animated form in Lady and the Tramp (1955).

10. SIAMESE CATS FOILED AN ESPIONAGE PLOT.

In the 1960s, two Siamese cats at the Dutch Embassy in Moscow, Russia, knew that something wasn't quite right. The pet kitties were asleep in then-ambassador Henri Helb's study when they suddenly woke up and began arching their backs and clawing at a wall. Helb suspected that the agitated felines heard a noise that didn't register with the human ear. He was correct: An investigation revealed 30 tiny microphones hidden behind the wall.

Instead of protesting the Russian government's espionage, Helb and his staff decided to use it to their advantage. They lingered in front of the microphones and strategically complained about delays in embassy repairs, or packages stuck in customs. Within 24 hours, these problems were "mysteriously" resolved.

11. A SIAMESE CAT ONCE GAVE BIRTH TO 19 KITTENS.


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On August 7, 1970, a Burmese/Siamese cat in Oxfordshire, U.K., gave birth to 19 kittens. (Sadly, four were stillborn.) According to Guinness World Records, Siamese cats typically only have four to six babies. The massive brood was recorded as the world's largest litter of domestic cats, and remains so to this day.

12. JAMES DEAN OWNED A SIAMESE CAT.

Shortly before his death in 1955, James Dean met Elizabeth Taylor on the set of the film Giant (1956). The co-stars became friends, and Taylor gave Dean a gift: a Siamese kitten, which Dean named Marcus after his uncle. Dean fed Marcus a strange diet, which Taylor had reportedly developed for her own cats: a liquid mixture that consisted of 1 teaspoon white Karo syrup, one large can of evaporated milk, one egg yolk, and equal parts boiled or distilled water—combined and chilled.

13. SIAMESE CATS HAVE A POETIC NAME IN THEIR NATIVE LAND.

In Thailand, Siamese cats are called the wichien-matt, which is roughly translated to “Moon Diamond.”

Additional Source: The Cat Encyclopedia: The Definitive Visual Guide

This article originally appeared in 2016.

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

Fish Tube: How the 'Salmon Cannon' Works and Why It's Important

PerfectStills/iStock via Getty Images
PerfectStills/iStock via Getty Images

If you’ve been on the internet at any point in the past week, you’ve certainly come across footage of wildlife conservationists stuffing salmon into a giant plastic tube and shuttling them over obstacles. It’s so bizarre—even by the already loose standards of the web—that it briefly ignited discussions over fish welfare, its purpose, and the seeming desire of people to be similarly transported through a pneumatic tunnel into a new life.

Naturally, the “salmon cannon” has a mission beyond amusing the internet. The system was created by Whooshh Innovations, a company that essentially adopted the same kind of transportation system featuring pressurized tubing that's used in banking. Initially, the system was intended to transport fruit over long distances without bruising. At some point, engineers figured they could do the same for fish.

The fish payload is secured at the entrance of the tube—acceptable species can weigh up to 34 pounds—and moves through a smooth, soft plastic tube that conforms to their body shape. Air pressure behind them keeps them moving. The fish are jettisoned between 16 and 26 feet per second to a new location, where they emerge relatively unscathed. Because there’s no need for a water column, the tubing can cover most terrain at virtually any height.

The tubing solution is a human answer to a human problem: dams. With fish largely confined to still bodies of water thanks to dams and facing obstacles swimming upstream to migrate and spawn, fish need some kind of assistance. In the past, “fish ladders” have helped fish move upstream by providing ascending steps they can flop on, but not all fish can navigate such terrain. Another system, trapping and hauling fish like cargo, results in disoriented fish who can even forget how to swim. The Whooshh system, which has been in used in Washington state for at least five years, allows for expedient fish export with an injury rate as little as 3 percent, although study results have varied.

The video features manual insertion of the fish. In the wild, Whooshh counts on fish making semi-voluntary entries into the tubing. Once they swim into an enclosure, they’re curious enough about the tube to go inside.

If all goes well, the system could help salmon be reintroduced to the Upper Columbia River in Washington, where the population has been depleted by dams. Testing of the device there is awaiting approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

[h/t Popular Mechanics]

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