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

Surprising Answers for 15 Questions About Your Dog

Seregraff/iStock via Getty Images
Seregraff/iStock via Getty Images

You probably think of your dog as part of the family, but sometimes your canine companion does the most peculiar things. Here are the answers to some of the questions you’ve been pondering about your pet.

1. Why do dogs lick people?

Dogs lick people and other dogs for a whole variety of reasons. Puppies will lick their mothers or owners as a sign of affection or when asking for food. Once they’re adults, licking becomes a sign of submission to an authority figure. When your dog licks you, they probably want something, like food or attention. Doggy kisses are also a way for your pet to feel better: Licking releases endorphins that calm and relieve stress.

2. Why is my dog’s nose always wet?

A common misconception is that your dog’s wet nose is a sign of good health. In reality, the moisture on Fido’s nose is no indication of their overall well-being. The reason for a dog’s wet nose is a little murkier. One explanation is that dogs repeatedly lick their nose throughout the day to keep it clean. Another is that the moisture helps them cool off. Dogs don’t sweat the way humans do, so they pant and let off extra heat through their noses. A special gland in the nose produces a clear fluid that helps them cool down faster.

3. How much better is a dog’s sense of smell than our own?

A dog can smell anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times better than the average human. Canines have 300 million olfactory receptors, compared to our measly six million. Moreover, the part of the brain dedicated to smell is 40 times larger in dogs than in humans.

A dog’s nose also works differently than the human nose. While people breathe in and out the same way, canines breathe in through their nostrils and out through the slits found on the sides of the nose. This system circulates air so that the animal is always bringing in new smells. Breeds like the bloodhound also have the advantage of floppy ears that push up new smells.

4. Why do dog feet smell like corn chips?

If you think your dog’s feet smell like popcorn or corn chips, you’re not alone! Dogs have a lot of bacteria and yeast that grow on their paws as a result of moisture that gets caught in the many folds and pockets between their toes. These microorganisms create a variety of smells. The bacteria Proteus or Pseudomonas are the likely parties guilty of giving your hound’s feet that distinct tortilla smell. There’s no need to go wash your pet’s paws just yet, though—a subtle smell is completely normal.

5. Is my dog’s mouth really that clean?

A common myth is that a dog’s mouth is a magically clean place. This is not the case: A canine mouth is brimming with bacteria. Fortunately, a lot of those germs are specific to the species so you don’t have to worry when your pup goes in for a wet kiss. That said, there are some similar bacteria, so make sure your pet has up-to-date shots.

6. Are pit bulls actually dangerous?

Like people, dangerous dogs are on a case-by-case basis. It’s not fair or accurate to condemn a whole breed as hostile or aggressive. Despite bans on the dogs, pit bulls are no more dangerous than any other large breed. The negative connotation is likely a result of the increase in illegal dog fighting in the 1980s. Pit bulls were not always seen as vicious, though. In the early 20th century, the dogs were an American family favorite. The breed made appearances on television, in movies, and in war propaganda—some pits even became celebrated war heroes in World War I.

7. Do dogs get jealous?

Anyone with two dogs will probably tell you that dogs definitely feel jealousy—and it’s true! A 2014 study confirmed that your pet gets a little miffed when you start petting other dogs on the side.

Subjects in the study were asked to give love and attention to objects while filming their dog’s reactions. The items were a stuffed dog, a jack-o-lantern, and a pop-up book. The participants would give attention to the plush and pumpkin, and then read from the book. Scientists recorded the reactions of the dogs and looked for jealous signs such as pushing the owner or snapping. The study found that dogs displayed many jealous tendencies and made attempts to break the owner away from the rival. They were most threatened by the stuffed dog and least threatened by the book.

8. Who cleans up after guide dogs?

Guide dogs are extremely well trained and only go to the bathroom on command. Usually the owner will have a specific spot for the hound and use a command word like, “go time” or, “do your business,” so they’ll know when to clean up.

9. What are the most common dog names?

For 2019, the most popular dog names are Luna, Bella, Charlie, Bailey, Lucy, and Cooper. If you’re curious about how much dog name trends change, here are some popular ones from Medieval times: Blawnche, Nosewise, Smylfeste, Bragge, Holdfast, Zaphyro, Zalbot, Mopsus, and Mopsulus.

10. Does a dog’s wagging tail really mean it’s happy?

A dog’s tail can tell you a lot about how they are feeling. A loose wag from side to side means the dog feels relaxed and content. More fervent wagging with hip movements means the dog is happy or saying hello to a loved one. If the tail is straight up, it is a sign of confidence or aggression; down and curled between the legs usually means fear or submission.

11. Can my dog be left-pawed?

Just like humans, dogs have a preferred paw. There is an equal chance your pup can be a lefty or righty, so the best way to find out is to perform a series of tests. Watch what paw your dog uses to shake, scratch at the door, or pull toys out from under the couch. Usually a dominant paw will emerge with enough observation.

12. Why do dogs walk in a circle before lying down?

Dogs get this behavior from their wild ancestors, who didn’t have access to doggy beds. Walking in tight circles would push down tall grass and shape it into a bed. The motion would also scare off any bugs and snakes hiding in the vegetation.

13. Why is a frankfurter called a hot dog?

The deli product was originally known as a dachshund sausage because it resembled the short-legged hound. How the name switched is up for debate, but some believe the name was shortened to “hot dog” when a befuddled cartoonist could not spell the original name.

14. Why do dogs sniff each other's rears?

Dogs sniff rear ends as their way of asking, “Who are you and how have you been?” Canines can find out a whole slew of information from just a whiff. The secretions released by glands in the rump tell other animals things like the dog’s gender, diet, and mood. It’s sort of like talking with chemicals.

15. Can my dog feel guilty?

Possibly, but dogs are great actors. A study asked dog owners to place a treat in front of their dogs, tell them not to eat it, and then walk away. In some trials, the dogs were scolded regardless of whether they had eaten the treat or not; in other trials, they were not scolded at all. The results showed that the dogs always looked guilty when scolded, but dogs that weren’t reprimanded for bad behavior made no face at all. The expression seemed to be a way to appease their owners. So when your pet flashes you those big puppy eyes, they may just be faking it to get out of trouble.

This story has been updated for 2019.

A Same-Sex Penguin Couple Has Adopted an Egg at a Berlin Zoo

LisaStratchan/iStock via Getty Images
LisaStratchan/iStock via Getty Images

At first glance, king penguins Skip and Ping don’t appear to be too remarkable a sight when viewed by spectators at their enclosure at Germany's Zoo Berlin. But look closer and you may see one of them nurturing an egg under one of their skin folds. Skip and Ping, a same-sex penguin couple, have effectively adopted an egg and hope to raise it as their own baby.

A story by writer Liam Stack in The New York Times details their pursuit of parenthood. According to Stack, the penguins arrived at Zoo Berlin in April and were observed to have a degree of baby fever, trying to coddle everything from a rock to a fish. Taking note of their coupling, zookeepers passed on an unhatched egg laid by a female at the zoo. They immediately took to it, taking protective measures and growing ornery when employees got too close. Ping has taken to sitting on the egg in the hopes it will hatch.

That’s not guaranteed. Zookeepers aren't certain whether the egg was fertilized. If it is, it’s likely to crack open in early September, giving Skip and Ping an opportunity to expand their family.

Earlier this year, a same-sex penguin pair named Sphen and Magic began rearing a chick in Australia’s Sea Life Sydney Aquarium. The doting parents sang to and fed their adoptive offspring.

[h/t The New York Times]

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