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.

What's That Thing That Hangs Off a Turkey’s Face?

NCHANT/iStock via Getty Images
NCHANT/iStock via Getty Images

That thing is called a snood. And it's there to let the other turkeys know that its owner is kind of a big deal.

When a male turkey—known as a tom—wants to mate, he faces two hurdles. One is his potential mates, the female turkeys (a.k.a. hens). In the realm of turkey mating, the hens wield the power of choice and the toms have to get a hen's attention and win the opportunity to reproduce. Come mating season, a tom will strut around, gobble, puff out his chest, fan his tail, and drag his wings to attract the hens, who then pick which of the toms they’ll mate with.

The second problem for a tom looking for love is the other toms in the area. They’re all competing for the same limited number of hens. Sometimes a good mating display isn’t enough to win a mate, and toms will attack and fight each other to secure a hen.

This is where the snood comes in. That goofy-looking piece of dangling flesh helps a tom both with choosy hens and with competition from rival males. Having a long snood almost always means that a hen will want to mate with him and that another tom will back down from a fight.

Dudes and their snoods

When two toms are trying to establish dominance, they’ll size each other up. Then they'll either fight, or one will flee.

In the late 1990s, Dr. Richard Buchholz, an animal behaviorist who focuses on turkeys, wanted to figure out which, if any, characteristics of a tom turkey could predict how they fare in dominance fights. That is, did bigger turkeys tend to win more scuffles? Did older ones? He also wanted to see if the turkeys used any of these predictive cues when sizing each other up. He looked at various characteristics of dominant toms that fight and win, and compared them to those of subordinate toms that lose fights or run from them. Of all the characteristics he looked at, only “relaxed snood length” seemed to be a reliable predictor of how a tom would do in bird-vs-bird combat. The dominant males, the ones who won fights and got a choice mate, had longer snoods.

With that in mind, Buchholz looked at how toms reacted to other toms with snoods of varying sizes. The birds tended to avoid confrontation with other males with longer snoods, and wouldn’t even feed near them. A big snood, this suggests, says to the other turkeys that this is a tom you don’t want to tangle with. Buchholz noted that snood length correlates with age, body mass, and testosterone, so, to competitors, the snood could be a good indicator of a tom’s aggressiveness, age/experience, size, and overall condition and fighting ability.

In the snood for love

Once the males have established who’s going to have a chance to mate, the final choice goes to the hen. While the mating display is the main draw for getting a hen to check him out, a tom’s snood helps him out again here.

Like it did for the other males, a tom’s snood signals a lot of information to a female assessing potential mates—it indicates how old and how big he is, and even says something about his health. In another study, Buchholz found that longer-snooded toms carried fewer parasites. If a hen wanted to choose a mate with good genes that might help her offspring grow large, live long, and avoid parasites, a tom’s snood is a good advertisement for his genes. In that study, hens showed a clear preference for toms with longer snoods. In another experiment years later, Buchholz found that healthy hens again showed a strong preference for long snoods and that hens with their own parasite problems were less picky about snood length and checked out more potential mates—perhaps, Buchholz thinks, because the hens recognized their own susceptibility to infection and were willing to invest more time searching for a tom with genes for parasite resistance that would complement their own—but still showed some preference for longer ones.

While a snood might look goofy to us, for a turkey, it’s integral to the mating game, signaling to other toms that they should get out of his way and letting hens know that he’s got what they’re looking for.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Journey to the Monarch Mosh Pit

iStock/Spondylolithesis
iStock/Spondylolithesis

Each fall, millions of migrating monarchs return to Mexico to wait out winter. The gathering makes Woodstock look like a business conference. Here’s how they get there.

Mosh Pit

In the mountains of central Mexico, the butterflies crowd on the branches of oyamel fir trees. The trees provide a perfect microclimate that prevents the butterflies from getting too hot or cold.

Texas Toast

After winter, the butterflies fly north to Texas in search of milkweed, where they lay their eggs. Many adults will die here; northbound monarchs generally live only three to seven weeks.

Juice Cleanse

One of the reasons monarchs love milkweed? Protection. As caterpillars, they absorb the toxins in the plant, which makes them less tasty to birds.

Connecting Flight

Eventually, a new generation of butterflies will make its way north to Canada. It takes multiple generations of butterflies to reach their final, most northerly destination.

Dine and Dash

On the way, butterflies will eat practically anything. Sure, there’s nectar—but they’ll also slurp the salts in mud.

Catching Air

When fall returns, a new generation of monarchs rides the air currents more than 3000 miles back to Mexico. They navigate by calibrating their body clocks with the position of the sun. (An internal magnetic compass helps them navigate on cloudy days.)

Latitude Adjustment

Monarchs “are one of the few creatures on Earth that can orient themselves both in latitude and longitude,” The New York Times reports—a feat sailors wouldn’t accomplish until the 1700s.

Southern Charm

Miraculously, each generation of southbound monarchs lives up to eight months—six times longer than their northbound descendants. Their longevity might have something to do with a process known as reproductive diapause (which is a fancy way of saying that the insects won’t breed until winter ends).

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