4 MAY 1895, Page 14


THE most recently published volume of Allen's Naturalist's Library is a monograph on the cat family by Mr. R.

Lydekker, F.R.S. There are at least forty-five species of cats, ranging in size from the tiger to diminutive tiger-cats, less in size than the domestic species, besides which a numerous list of civets and genets, with claws partially or wholly retractile, compete for a place in the list, but are dis- qualified, on the ground that their teeth do not conform to

the arrangements found in the true cats. There is no reference to the origin and habits of that well-known domestic species, catus politicos, or "jumping cat," in Mr. Lydekker's book. But among the varieties mentioned is one which, if the authority for its existence is credible, shows a power of adaptation to unusual surroundings unlooked for in creatures of such conservative habits. The reference is to an American newspaper, and as it is quoted at length by Mr. Lydekker, it may be assumed that he sees no reason to question its correctness. The name of the new variety is not stated, but looking to its " habitat " as well as its habits, it should be called the "refrigerator-cat," and as each, may be commended to the future notice of zoologists. Mr. Lydekker, referring to the American account of its origin, says :—

" In the cold-storage warehouses of Pittsburg there were originally no cats or rats. The temperature in the cold rooms was too low. The keepers soon found, however, that the rat is an animal of remarkable adaptability. After some of these houses had been in operation for some months, the attendants found that rats were at work in the rooms where the temperature was constantly kept below freezing-point. They were found to be clothed in wonder- fully thick and long fur, even their tapering tails being clothed with a thick growth of hair. Rats whose coats have adapted themselves to the condition in which they live, have thus become domesticated in the storage warehouses of Pittsburg. The appearance of rats in these places led to the introduction of cats. Now, it is well known that pussy is a lover of warmth and com- fort. When cats were bulled loose in the cold rooms they pined and died because of the excessive cold. One cat was at last intro- duced into the rooms of the Pennsylvania Storage Company which was able to stand the low temperature. She was a cat of unusually thick fur, and she thrived and grew fat in a tempera- ture below 300. By careful nursing a brood of seven kittens was developed in the warehouse into sturdy, thick-furred eats that love an Arctic climate. They have been distributed amongst the other cold-storage warehouses of Pittsburg, and have created a peculiar breed of cats, adapted to the conditions under which they must exist."

There is no prima' facie reason for questioning this account,

for it is far less strange that cats should develop a power of living in a temperature kept uniformly just below freezing.. point, than that men should be found able to work in a pres- sure of three or four atmospheres in submarine caissons or tunnels, or to spend their days as attendants in the hot rooms of a Turkish bath. The cats, like the rats, have also the advan- tage of producing three or more litters of young in a year ; and this specialisation of form seems to be taking place at a rapid rate. The only variety of cat which is peculiar to an Arctic climate, is the Archangel, or " blue " cat, which has a very thick, short coat of bluish-black hair, the long- haired cats being always from hot countries, such as Shiraz, Angora, or Persia. The " refrigerator-oat " seems to develop the length of fur as well as thickness of coat. "These cats," says Mr. Lydekker, "are short-tailed, chubby pussies, with hair as thick and full of under-far as that of the wild-cats in the Canadian woods." The only other peculiarity which they exhibit is that the "whiskers," or feelers, on their faces grow to an unusual length, sometimes five or six inches, possibly because the light, even in day-time, is always dim, and at night their movements must be largely guided by their sense of feeling. If taken into the open air from the cold storehouse during the hot season they are said by the employes in the cold stores to sicken and die, and at no time to care to approach a fire. The first statement seems probable enough. But the cold in the refrigerating-houses, which are usually kept only at a temperature sufficiently low to ensure the meat being frozen, is not so severe as to induce such a change in the natural habits of cats; and in this particular the story probably needs revision.

Mr. Lydekker discusses at length the origin of the tame ask and notes, without suggesting any explanation, the contra- diction, that while it takes advantage more completely than any other creature, of the comforts and conveniences of human society, being not only s. domestic, but also a highly :1' domesticated" animal, it retains at the same time a great

part of its wild nature. This tendency varies from the quiet in.- dependence of cats that, while scarcely ever leaving the house, lead their own self-absorbed life, with very little regard for the human inmates, to the resumption of a wild life in the woods and fields, either by caprice or after some slight depriva- tion of food or comfort.

The modern hypothesis of their origin probably explains this. That they were imported into Europe from the East, and not bred directly from our wild-cats, seems well estab- lished. But in Africa and India., the domestic breeds of cats show strong resemblances to the various wild species of each country. It is known that the African Kaffir cat, the leopard-cat, the rusty-spotted cat, and the Indian desert- cat, will breed with the tame species; and as the general colour of domestic cats in Europe was " tabby " till the Persian breed was introduced, it is surmised that the European wild-cat was crossed with the imported pets. The only wild breed which is known to have been tamed and reclaimed in its original state is the Kaffir cat. This is a tawny cat, striped on the legs and towards the end of the tail, the soles of the hind-feet being usually coloured black..

It is now the common wild-cat of most parts of Africa.

"This cat," says Mr. Lydekker, "was tamed by the ancient Egyptians, and vast numbers of its remains have been.

embalmed and preserved. Although some writers hold a.

different view, the black sole of the foot suggests that the Kaffir cat is the chief stock from which the domestic cats of Europe have been derived." In India the domestic cats are frequently spotted, while others are of a uniform sandy tint. The latter colour is probably due to their being descended from or crossed with the chaus, or jungle-cat. The spotted varieties are accounted for in the same way, by descent from spotted wild-cats. The commonest of these are the desert-cat and the leopard-cat, both common Indian species. The latter varies so much in colour and markings, that it is one of the standing puzzles of zoological classification. In the Natural History Department of the British Museum there are more than forty skins of this cat, or of species which are allied to it. Mr. Blandford, after examining these, declared that, among the great variety exhibited, he had been unable to detect a single character by which the various races could be distinguished. The variation of domestic cats seems thus to agree with a tendency in the wild species ; and it is probable that where the latter are numerous and found in the same district, they interbreed, not only among themselves, but also with the domesticated cats in the villages. A parallel for this mixture and interbreeding of wild and tame species might be found in the case of "tame" mice and rats. These creatures are bred in thousands in London and other large towns, and are of all colours, though white usually predominates. The tame rats are like no known species; they are smaller than the Hanoverian rat, are not black, like the old English rat, and are

not identical in shape with the Alexandria rat. They are so tame that they never bite or try to escape when handled, and in this respect the tame mice are equally stupid—or confiding —which secures to them the privilege of forming the ordinary food of snakes kept in menageries, as, unlike the 00131IIIOD mice, they sit still to be eaten.

There are signs that cats are destined to occupy a more important social position than they have yet done since the

days of ancient Egypt. The decorative value of the finest kinds is recognised. Men, as well as ladies, now appreciate cats. If an unusually fine Persian or Angora is seen occupy- ing the beat place before the drawing-room fire, it is more than likely to be found to be the property of the master, rather than of the mistress, of the house. There is an attraction in possessing an animal with a will of its own, which, unlike a dog, only does what it is told after delibera-

tion, and veils its motives in a mist of reserve which only specially gifted persons, in whom cats seem to exhibit spon- taneous confidenel, are able to penetrate.