Monday felid: the cats of Mystras

I found this on my computer yesterday; I hadn’t seen it for years, and thought I’d post it.

I love Greece and have been there several times, including spending nearly three years when I was aged 5-7 (my father was an Army officer stationed in Athens).  About ten years ago I went to the Peloponnese (the southern “island”, cut off from the mainland by the Corinth Canal) for a month’s vacation.  It was a swell trip, especially since it was mid-September and the tourists had mostly gone but the water was still warm.

One of the bonuses of Grecian travel is, of course, the profusion of kittehs, which are everywhere—especially near the sea where they can get fish scraps.  This shows you what a softy I am, but when I travel there I always carry a box of dry catfood in my daypack, since some of the cats are underfed.  While visiting the fantastic site of Mystras near Sparta—a site filled with Byzantine ruins—I came across an active nunnery.  While resting my bones on the porch, a cat came out. Then another, then another.  The nuns kept cats—hungry ones! I pulled out my box of cat food, and the rest is history.

Ο Θεός να ευλογεί τις γάτες!


  1. Posted September 13, 2010 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Only a true Biologist would go to Greece and post pictures of the kittehs and not the ruins…:))

    • Michael
      Posted September 13, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      I lived there for 3 years too,
      and we have quite some kitteh pictures as well.

      approx. Ruins:Kitteh=1:5

      Ok, I’m a biologist too…

  2. Posted September 13, 2010 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    St. Francis of Asofty. Be careful, it looks like the one on the left is about to attack.

  3. Darrell E
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    You’re a good man Jerry Coyne.

    Also, I am jealous of your month long vacation in Greece. One of the many places on my list of places that must be experienced.

    When I was at USF in the mid 80’s, 18 or 19 years old, I had the opportunity to go to Greece with an expedition, headed by Professor William Murray at USF, to do an underwater excavation of an ancient ship tentatively identified as a trireme. Like a fool I regretfully decided I had to pass, for want of $500 dollars. One of the more serious regrets of my life.

  4. Kevin
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    I’m seriously worried about you…and the future state of your house after you’re long retired and semi-senile.

    I can envision the county coming in and cleaning out the hundreds and hundreds of cats from your home.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted September 13, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      I am already semi-senile and have zero cats. I may eventually get one, but no more than that. As my dad used to say, “I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid!”

      • Rob
        Posted September 13, 2010 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        You’re assuming the “get” there.

        Three of our five cats are rescues, two of those direct.

        One walked up to me while visiting parents

        One walked in our back door

        One a friend who couldn’t afford her rescued her and all the no-kills were full so we took her.

      • daveau
        Posted September 13, 2010 at 11:16 am | Permalink

        Rob is right. Let’s see what happens when some poor starving stray takes a shine to you. We only have one rescue at the moment, but we have always taken strays to the vet, and found good homes among our friends and co-workers for them.

  5. Posted September 13, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Ouah! One of my favorite places, with one of my favorite biologists, with my favorite tetrapods.
    But really: Ο Θεός να ευλογεί τις γάτες!?
    Do you want them to go extinct?

    For those who don’t understand greek: God bless the cats!

  6. gatr
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    So the nuns at the nunnery kept the cats hungry? Full of blessings but empty in the belly. Yeah, I too would say say ‘god help the cats’.

  7. daveau
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    That really is sweet of you. And you brought healthy food for them, not just a bite of your sandwich. (my cats love lunchmeat & cheese) Do you feed all the strays in your neighborhood, too?

    PS: I just ordered my tickets for Ghost Bird this Saturday.

  8. Eleusis
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Does the white, black and orange one qualify as calico or do they have to be mottled?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted September 13, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      That’s a calico, and a female—as all calicos are. Here’s the explanation.

    • daveau
      Posted September 13, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      All torties (tortoise shell) are are female, and all oranges are male for the same reason. Same applies to dilute colors (blue=dilute black & cream=dilute orange). Any breeder will be happy to talk your ear off on coat colors, patterns, masking, ticking, etc., if you ever want a quick lesson, but don’t have time for a master class from Jerry.

      • daveau
        Posted September 13, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        OK, I take that back. It is possible to have an orange female cat. It’s just less likely.

        • Thornavis.
          Posted September 13, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

          Yep, my sisters cat was a female ginger and supposed to have been spayed except she wasn’t and that’s how I ended up with two of her kittehs ( torties ). It doesn’t matter what you decide in the matter, Bastet will send you cats if she feels like it.

        • Rob
          Posted September 13, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

          We have a brother and sister orange tabby.

          It’s less likely, but not that much (1/3 is the number the vet quoted, I haven’t checked that out)

  9. littlejohn
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    From the cats’ point of view, there is a god – you! Please don’t smite them.

  10. littlejohn
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    As a gnu atheist abroad, watch out for the gnu dung (note the palindrome!). I’ve been waiting forever to use that at this site. I think I’ll have drink now.

  11. Grendels Dad
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    I’ll raise a glass for a palindrome. Cheers!

  12. dakuan
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Cool Kittehs, the one on the right in the second picture has some cool spotty markings!

  13. littlejohn
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    As a cat lover, I’ve generally used the terms tortoiseshell and calico interchangeably. Both are tri-color and both are generally females.
    Does any one know if there’s a difference? And for you palindrome fans, step on no pets.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted September 13, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      Yes, there is a difference; see the link in my comment above. Torties have smaller patches of color and no white. But the principle is the same: they’re all females with different color genes on the two X chromosomes.

  14. MadScientist
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    No 2 of those kittehs have the same coat; I guess they all go to different tailors.

  15. Rodrigue
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Amen to that!

    They’re really beautiful creatures. Good idea, the dry catfood in your bag.

  16. Gunga Lagunga
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    Professor Coyne is certainly no Tom Lehrer.

    (Terribly sorry. I’m blaming Dawkins for that one.)

  17. GP
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink


    Did you attend ACS when you lived in Athens as a child?

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