Fun cat facts

And from BBC Radio 4, courtesy of reader Laurie, we have “16 things you never knew about cats.” Hint #4 could be useful if you own a cat.  I knew 8 of these “facts” (some of which may be doubtful).

1. When night falls in the Disneyland theme park, 200 cats are released to catch all the mice.

2. A group of cats is called a clowder.

3. Cats sweat through their paws.

4. Cats will normally eat something confidently on the fourth go after tasting it uncertainly three times. So stick the antibiotic in the fourth bit of ham…

5. Cat nap. On average, cats sleep for 70% of the day.

6. Unbelievably their urine glows in the dark.

7. Every single domesticated cat can be traced back to one of five African wild cats. [I think it’s only one subspecies, but I’m not sure.]

8. Cats can’t taste sweet things.

9. Female cats are more likely to be right-pawed, and male cats left.

10. A cat has no collarbone.

11. Isaac Newton invented the cat flap.

12. The technical name for a hairball is a bezoar.

13. A female cat is called a molly or a queen.

14. Cats can drink sea water. Their kidneys do something complicated to filter out the salt.

15. In the Dutch embassy in Moscow, the embassy’s cats kept clawing at the walls. Investigation revealed microphones hidden by spies.

16. Cats are responsible for the extinction of 33 different species, including mammals and birds. They are listed among the top 100 most invasive species.



  1. Posted November 27, 2016 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    #10 is not true. They have a floating collar bone which isn’t attached to other bones. This allows them to squeeze through openings that would otherwise be too small.

    #11 is apocryphal and is unlikely to be true:

    • John Hunt
      Posted November 27, 2016 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      I teach Comparative Anatomy, and can vouch that Vern is right in his comment on number 10. Cats have clavicles; I’ve seen ’em with my own eyes.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted November 27, 2016 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      I always view with levity this legend about the discoverer of gravity. 🙂

  2. Peter Austin
    Posted November 27, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    #1: How do they get them back?
    Cats are notoriously hard to herd. Or train, especially when they just fed themselves.

    #15: The only way this would make sense to me is if the spy-microphone-installers hadn’t washed their hands after eating caviar right before their mission.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted November 27, 2016 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      Supposedly the wireless mics [powered by the mains but using radio waves to broadcast sounds picked up] from the 1960s emitted a sound when they were intermittently turned on by radio signal. I assume these mics were normally turned off to make them harder to detect in a bug sweep.

      The story goes back to the early 60s. The ambassador Henri Helb’s two Siamese cats were scratching at the walls when the Soviet microphones were remotely turned on.

      I think this is probably all baloney & the person who invented this tale used Helb to make it convincing – Helb had a fallout in 1961 with the Moscow Soviets after only a few months there as consul & he got moved to a post elsewhere [or he was expelled?] & he died soon after in ’64. His recent bio doesn’t mention it.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 27, 2016 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

        The story stinks to me too. If you want to reduce the chances of detection, you do it by … running a permanent RF oscillator that picks up an on-off signal. The antenna system would resonate passively when hit by a “sweep” signal – which could be innocuous, but would be a signal and frequency range to investigate further. The link of a burst of radiation to the appearance of a powered signal would be extremely suspicious. If I can work this out, then SIGINT people know it better.
        How would the buggers (sense SIGINT, not common sense) know when to turn on the signal from the buggee’s office?
        Actually, turning on / off remote equipment was one of the proposals for the “numbers channels.” That way, the noise of the number channel is constantly there and the signal (maybe hidden in the noise of the ostensible signal) only comes on intermittently. Working in a world of digital transmission at 1-2 bits per second brings up some liberating ways of thinking.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted November 27, 2016 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

          I used to listen to those spoken numbers channels in the early hours when I was a kiddo on my home made crystal radio in the 60s from the UK. They were close to AFN & Radio Luxembourg on my “dial” [a copper coil wound around a graphite rod]

          Also far off at the end of the dial was a strange ‘knocking’ channel which was extraordinarily powerful & sounded like a woodpecker or death watch beetle. Those were scary days after Cuba when nuclear annihilation was uppermost in the thoughts of even eight year olds.

          My aerial was 150 ft of wire strung down the garden & I tried stringing it towards various compass points [big garden] & for both types of signal it was the Baltic region [or reverse of course] that gave the strongest return.

          P.S. my dad thought my crystal radio was a fake because no battery or external power connection. He didn’t believe it could power an earphone just by the radio energy collected by 150 ft of wire.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted November 27, 2016 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

            I tried using those aerial core rods as electrodes in my Cl2 plant in the trainset (“Dad, it’s just a model. See the Airfix tanks – it’s the invasion of the Rhur!” ; “Yes, young GravelInspector, but if I turn this dial on the trainset controller, why does the train remain stationary and the electrolysis cell bubble?” ; “Umm, these are not the Droids your’re looking for?”) ; the rods are not graphite, they’re “ferrite” (un-oriented NaFeO2-ish grains in a matrix – maybe containing graphite to get the right resistance/ reluctance combination).
            If you want clean(ish) graphite, you need to take apart a “dry” cell and extract the central rod. It’s got a little MnO2 contamination, and should be soaked in a gummy NH4Cl electrolyte … but a lot closer to graphite. Less iron contamination in your poison gas plant.
            In your “model of a WW1 German gas plant”, I mean. “But young GravelInspector, the locos are 1930s models.” “These still aren’t the Droids you’re looking for, Dad?”
            Dad was a chemist. Building my own radiotelescope as you did wouldn’t have impressed him. His science teacher tracked Sputnik.

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted November 27, 2016 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

              HaHa lovely remembrances!

              I hadn’t thought of it as a radio telescope until now that you’ve articulated that thought – I was after the devil’s music [Frankfurt branch] from AFN in an era when I was subjected to an overdose of sugar from the BBC: Dean Martin, Tony Bennet, Val Doonican [on Variety Bandbox], Patsy Cline, Peggy Lee etc

              On AFN I first heard Coltrane & that weird guy who built Kind of Blue out of empty space. How did I know this was the good shit at 8yo when I’m from the Irish Catlik peasant class & no ear myself for music? For me that was the sound of rebellion & not the hippy or punk or grunge that followed.

              It took me years to find out the weird guy was Miles Davis. If I’d had a name, face & locale perhaps I’d be an old, atonal jazz cat today with a drugs problem & six ex-muses, but hey you can’t have everything!

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted November 28, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

                Ha. I remember coming home one day after school to the sound of Radio 4 in the living room and some guy laying in front of a bulldozer. Got my first radio – attached to a cassette recorder – in time to catch the Sunday repeat and the rest of the Fit.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted November 28, 2016 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

                Ah, that’d be the saga where the meeces were the projection in our reality of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings.

                I don’t recall any kittehs except for one that had the ruler of the universe as its staff?


    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 27, 2016 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      I don’t believe #1 either. Unless Disneyland (whichever one) is embedded in a several kilometre annulus of concrete, there will be plenty of “external” sources of cats attracted to such a rodent-friendly environment.
      That Disneyland (any/ all) has a lot of rats and mice does not surprise me in the slightest.

      • Posted November 28, 2016 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        I can personally testify to the presence of mice in Disneyland. I recall watching with amusement as a mouse came out from a flower bed and looked around, sniffed, and then went back into hiding. Of course I assumed it was a relative of Mickey.

  3. Posted November 27, 2016 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    #2b. A soup of cats is called a chowder.


    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 27, 2016 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      Actually, consider for a second the multiple attestations to dog-meat recipes (various nationalities, as well as every second siege/ famine story ; quoth Pratchett’s CMOT Al-Dibblah, “Pets can be such a source of solace in times of stress. And famine, of course.”), and the dearth of such stories concerning cats … maybe the legendary feline aloofness isn’t such a bad idea after all.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 27, 2016 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

        Between writing these two posts, I heard an anecdote of people eating Fido on the Channel Isles between the fall of Normandy and the relief of the Isles.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted November 27, 2016 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

          ‘Fido’ = the dog food, or
          ‘Fido’ the dog = food?


          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted November 28, 2016 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

            Latter, the Al-Dibblah sense of being a comfort in times of famine.

    • TJR
      Posted November 28, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Clowder should be the collective noun for a group of Cham people.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted November 28, 2016 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      A soup made of tofu “clams” is a sham clowder.

      • Bent Backenforth
        Posted November 29, 2016 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        A group of artificial cat effigies
        made from the hides of agile European
        goatalopes would be a chamois clowder.

  4. tubby
    Posted November 27, 2016 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    #6 might only be true if by ‘dark’ you include black light.

    • Flaffer
      Posted November 30, 2016 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      I was going to post the same thing. Urine generally glows in ultraviolet spectrum and cats, who are sensitive to ultraviolet spectrum, use it to identify possible predators of THEM. And other cats of course.

  5. chris moffatt
    Posted November 27, 2016 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Given the activities of one my wife’s cats Bailey, a geriatric feline given to thinking outside the box, I rather doubt #6.

    • Posted November 27, 2016 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      We have currently share our home with six kitties and have shared with many more including one tabby who survived to the age of twenty four human years.
      All of our cats are and have been litter trained but notwithstanding are occasionally subject to the odd urine based accident.
      I have never ever seen cat urine glow in the dark.
      I am skeptical.

      • Posted November 27, 2016 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

        I’m pretty sure they mean “glows under fluorescent light”.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 27, 2016 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

        At work, we use (well, used) fluorescent light routinely (most natural oils fluoresce), and use two different wavelengths of UV, “short” and “long” because they can help to differentiate certain oils and other contaminants (mud chemicals, e.g. fluorspar as a contaminant of barytes). I don’t have the wavelengths to hand – I seem to remember that one (long) wavelength passes through regular glass tubes and the other needs quartz tubes).

        My “off-the-shelf” bank-note “detector, however only produces one wavelength range – presumably the long, plain glass one, and I’d expect the same for regular disco-rated “black light.”

        Whether cat pee fluoresces under one range or both, I don’t know.

        What it is about cat pee specifically, I don’t know. Quite possibly it’s something in the diet. Maybe natural oils in the fur of squeaky mammals?

        • nicky
          Posted November 27, 2016 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

          Kestrels use their vision in the UV to track vole urine, IIRC.
          Scorpion enthusiasts use UV light to search for scorpions at night.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted November 27, 2016 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

            GravelInspectors on night shift use their battery-powered UV lamps to spot the scorpions when out on the desert sands “lubricating the squeaking porcelain”.

    • Peter N
      Posted November 27, 2016 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      Cat urine certainly doesn’t glow in the dark, but it does fluoresce under UV (then again, so does yours). Having a geriatric cat myself, I find it helpful when trying to track down mysterious odors in the house.

      • Posted November 27, 2016 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

        That’s good to know. We’re having trouble with a partly house-trained dog. Sometimes I’m not sure and wonder if I’m just not finding the urine or if I’m getting paranoid about it.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted November 27, 2016 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

        “(then again, so does yours)”

        As any CSI fan knows.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 27, 2016 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

        fluoresce under UV (then again, so does yours)

        Experiment performed. Datum confirmed – the fluor is a weak yellowish-green. It’s actually quite reminiscent of classical “uranium glass”, for those of you who also have radioactive dinner services for terrifying the straights.
        There is an optical treatment involving a strongly fluorescent dye which makes one’s pee glow red under the leaking UV from fluorescent lights – I am told. The effect is apparently spectacular, and leads the victims of this treatment to take solace by hanging around in public toilets. Once more, to “scare the straights.”

  6. Jenny Haniver
    Posted November 27, 2016 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Re point no. 1: Back in the late ’60s — no cats about then — as a favor to a friend, I took one of her house guests and his girlfriend to Disneyland. During the excursion I consumed long-lasting, somewhat psychedelic cannabis edibles (the only way I could endure the place was to be good and stoned), and I went in costume because it was a place of costumery — in surreligious nun’s drag — to my surprise I got a religious discount on admission, as well as preferential treatment on rides — no waiting in line for the surreligious nunny). Once inside, they went on their way and I went mine (I knew the place well — the first time I’d gone there as a 12th birthday present, was by commercial helicopter, very cool). Day grew into night, they were very late arriving at our scheduled meeting place, which was in the square outside the saloon in Frontierland. I sat there waiting and tripping. The park was near closing and the area virtually deserted. At some point, I looked about and in the dark I saw lots of rats emerge from various places. These were not mice, but rats and they were large, huge, in fact — quite well-fed off the leavings of the tourists. They took over the place after the people were gone. It was so strange to sit there in that deserted square, loaded and contemplating the concept of Disneyland, where Mickey Mouse reigned, while the “hyperreal” was both subverted and complemented by the very real humongus foraging rats. Sooo postmodern, one might say sneeringly.

    • davidintoronto
      Posted November 27, 2016 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      I enjoyed this little story. Have you thought of selling it to Hollywood? “Stoned nun in Disneyland” could be blockbuster material.


      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted November 27, 2016 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

        I had a number of splendid adventures in nun’s drag — all would make for a crazy movie, but the style was consciously Surrealistic, or as I call it Surreligious, and the piece de resistance was a huge, bristling Crown of Thorns. I have an old photo. Loved perplexing and scandalizing real RC nuns when I showed up at a large convention of religious in LA. They didn’t know what to make of me and my friend, who was dressed similarly. We looked real enough, but de trop. We also messed with the Surrealists, crashed art exhibits and engaged in stoned “devotions” in front of Dali’s paintings. The guards didn’t know what to do, so they let us do our thing. One opening we crashed, the guests thought Dali had sent us just to disrupt it. I loved that. Bunuel would have to direct the movie, and, alas, he’s dead.

      • jeremy pereira
        Posted November 29, 2016 at 4:24 am | Permalink

        I’m sure it’s already been done. It stars Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly as Jenny and it is called High Nun.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 27, 2016 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

      Jenny, you are definitely a person, and not a member of a generic class, such as “straights”, as I referred to disparagingly above.
      No wonder you’re here. I’m sure you feel quite at home.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted November 27, 2016 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

        Your work with UV and mention of uranium glass to scare the “straights” conjures even more remote memories. The beautiful color of the glass reminds me of the cathode ray tube I had when I played around in my “lab” in the garage, trying to be a pre-teen Marie Curie. Between that and my UV light, irradiating all kinds of things (but I wanted X-rays!), with no protection, especially since I had no blasted idea what I was doing, it’s a wonder I didn’t do myself in. What fun it must be to roam about at night looking for scorpions to make them fluoresce. Much better than skulking around public toilets.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted November 28, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

          No toilets, public or private, on a drilling rig in the Empty Quarter.
          You probably had an X-ray machine in your home. The CRT in pre~2005 TVs produced a good dose of X-rays from the impact of electrons accelerated by 10s of kV into the “shadow mask”. Of course, you’d have had to fight other sticky fingers off the multi-kV components of the power supply. And the lead in the screen tended to keep the X-rays inside the tube, making them less than useful. I did wonder how I could build a good enough vacuum pump. Or beg, steal or borrow one.
          Then I discovered the joys of explosives. Pardon?

          • Jenny Haniver
            Posted November 28, 2016 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

            Good thing I didn’t know about the TV! (this in the early ’50s. Were you in the Rub’ al Khali? I’ve read Thesiger (also his wonderful book on the Marsh Arabs). “The joys of explosives,” eh? Fortunately or unfortunately, I didn’t experiment too much with them as a child. In my adulthoodI did, however, make the acquaintance of a ‘criminal hermaphrodite’ (so un-PC to describe Sally that way, I know), who was sent to Alcatraz for trying to steal radioactive material from some kind of accelerator at Stanford. She told me that she wanted to make an atom bomb, and she was serious. Interestingly, she was incarcerated with Morton Sobell and they became friends; each, for specific reasons, were apparently kept pretty much apart from the rest of the prison population (though I must research this), Sobell for being an atom bomb spy and Sally for her intersexuality (though male enough to be sent to prisons for men, and she was in a number of them — an extremely interesting person!)

  7. Posted November 27, 2016 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    #15 The Dems should have relied on American Bobtails to thwart Kremlin propaganda.

  8. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted November 27, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    #2 and #13 are facts about cat fanciers, not about cats.

    You could say with equal truth that a group of cats is called a bunch.

  9. Ann German
    Posted November 27, 2016 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m naming my next cat “Bezoar” – sounds like something out of Ghost Busters!

    • Posted November 27, 2016 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      I first came across the word in one of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics. It’s not really a hairball – but what a hairball would become if not spat out: “A bezoar /ˈbiːzɔər/ is a mass found trapped in the gastrointestinal system…” [Wp]


      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted November 27, 2016 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

        As I recall it featured as a magical ingredient in one of the Harry Potter books.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 27, 2016 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

        Ah yes – it had an air of familiarity to it. I think it came up in discussions of coprolites one day. Not necessarily here though.

    • nicky
      Posted November 27, 2016 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

      I thought Bezoars were a kind if middle eastern Ibex with huge horns. 😊

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted November 27, 2016 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    All pretty interesting. And ‘bezoar’ can be used as a mildly derogatory term that will be little recognized.

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted November 28, 2016 at 5:22 am | Permalink

      If you wish to be derogatory isn’t it better if the words you use are recognised? It would be a little frustrating if your abuse was misconstrued as a compliment!

  11. Posted November 27, 2016 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Cats are not released in Disneyland, they have a colony of community cats, known as Cats of Disneyland, they even have a facebook page.

    They wander free at all times, you can see them everywhere in the park, I usually see them when on the tram to the park.

    They are indeed kept and cared for so that they can keep the rodent population down.

    • darrelle
      Posted November 28, 2016 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      That’s even better than the story per the list.

  12. Posted November 27, 2016 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    #2 or a glaring

  13. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted November 27, 2016 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    Cats can drink sea water?

    Really? That is surprising.


    • darrelle
      Posted November 28, 2016 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      There is a lot of conflicting information about this but it seems like this one might be accurate.

      Potability of sea water with special reference to the cat.

      From the abstract.

      “Under certain conditions in which food provides an adequate caloric intake but too little water to sustain a cat or a rat in euhydration, these animals can be shown to depend for survival on their intake of sea water. They will generally drink enough sea water ad libitum to thrive, even overcoming thereby a previously induced water deficit; or, they will readily eat their food, mixed with sea water in amounts which can vary widely, with similar benefit. Without sea water they undergo progressive hydropenia and die. Along with experimental verification of the potability of sea water a theory of sea water drinking (mariposia) is presented, based upon the concept of urinary osmotic space.

  14. Diane G.
    Posted November 28, 2016 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    “..the extinction of 33 different species…”

    Superfluous adjective…

  15. joshl
    Posted November 28, 2016 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Trichobezoar is hairball, phytotrichbezoar is hair and plant material, bezoar is a general term for a mass of stuff in the GI tract (generally the stomach).

  16. Cnocspeireag
    Posted November 28, 2016 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Another group noun for a group of cats is ‘a glaring’. I prefer a clowder, but see from where where the glaring comes.

  17. eric
    Posted November 28, 2016 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Cats are responsible for the extinction of 33 different species, including mammals and birds. They are listed among the top 100 most invasive species.

    I expect this refers to felis catus, and not the entire genus? I believe it. In that same vein, I have also heard these two supposed facts:

    17. Domestic cats are the only animals on the planet – other than humans – that ‘kill for sport.’ Meaning, specifically, that they are the only predators that go hunting even when they aren’t hungry (or defending territory from competitors, like when lions kill cheetahs).

    18. While most predators have 1-5 prey species that they attack, domestic cats have been observed hunting 100+ different species of animals and insects.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted November 28, 2016 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

      #17 seems pretty dubious. There are plenty of documented instances of domestic dogs attacking squirrels, cats, and even toddlers for no apparent reason other than the thrill of it.

      For #18, I would want to see a distribution curve of number of predators v. degree of specialization before concluding that domestic cats are extreme outliers.

  18. Susan Campbell
    Posted November 29, 2016 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    When I was a child in Argentina my father always used to say that the way to tell whether your “rabbit” stew (a favourite offer on off-the-beaten track restaurants) was not made of cat, but was genuine rabbit, you had to look at the ribs! If they were rounded it was indeed cat, because rabbits’ ribs are flat. Cats ribs, he said were rounded, which helped them to squeeze through impossibly small spaces. He was a great joker, but that tale might have contributed to my becoming a vegetarian, as well as a devoted moggie lover.

%d bloggers like this: