THE CAT AND ITS NINE LIVES
The cat has been the friend of man for thousands of years. It was probably first tamed in Africa, and the Ancient Egyptians used its services as we do those of a sporting dog, to retrieve birds caught in the chase. Probably the Egyptian cats had less dislike of water than have our modern cats, for the fact that cats nowadays do not often care to wet their feet is due to the comfortable and easy lives they live. Domesticated ducks sometimes show a distaste for getting wet. Many interesting facts about the cat are given here.
WILD cats, looking remarkably like the pets of our hearthrugs, are still found in the remoter parts of Scotland, but strange to say our domestic cats are not descended from the European wild cat but from the wild cat of Africa, an animal widely spread over that continent. Of course, there has probably been some crossing of the two species, but scientists are now agreed that our domestic cat is a descendant of the African cat.
At a very early period in history, the Egyptians tamed the wild cat, and we know from an old Egyptian wall painting, now in the British Museum, that they used the cat as we do the dog when they went bird-hunting. The picture shows the cat with the family of its owner among the reed-beds of the Nile, retrieving birds that have been brought down by arrows or throwing sticks. The cat is seen with one bird in its mouth, another held by its fore paws, and a third between its hind paws.
The Cat Defends the Corn
WHEN Egypt was the granary of the ancient world, the cat was, of course, a very important animal to the inhabitants of that land, for it was essential to keep down the numbers of rats and mice that proved such pests in devouring the corn, and the cat has always been the best friend of man in this work.
It is perhaps not surprising that the animal came to be greatly honoured and revered in ancient Egypt, till at last it was regarded as a sacred beast; and among the tombs of Egypt many mummies of cats that had been carefully embalmed before burial have been found. The cat still goes on with its work of catching mice, and it has thus remained one of the greatest friends of man. There are few houses, indeed, in Great Britain where a cat is not kept.
The cat is a very interesting animal. It varies from that other domestic pet, the dog, in many ways. Its teeth are much more pointed than the dogís and its claws are far sharper than a dog's claws. These can, however, be drawn back when not wanted, and the catís foot then becomes a beautifully soft pad on which it walks with ease and silence. A dog cannot draw back its claws. Of course, in the case of the cat the claws are its chief weapon, whereas in the dog the really formidable weapons are the teeth.
There is a great difference, too, between the eyes of the cat and those of the dog. Both have large pupils when the light is dull, the pupil, of course, being the dark part in the centre of the eye, but when there is a strong light the dogís pupil contracts to a small disc, while the catís changes to a narrow slit. Indeed, when the light is very bright the pupil is nothing more than a thin, vertical line. It is a wonderful case of adaptability, and the same thing is found in our own eyes, though not to an equal extent.
The pupil is really the opening in the iris which admits the light to the retina or curtain at the back. As in the case of the photographic camera, if the light is very weak the opening must be enlarged to admit as much of the light as possible, otherwise no image would be thrown on the retina. The pupil, therefore, acts like the various stops of the camera, but, unlike the camera, it does not have to be worked from outside, its operation is purely automatic.
Sharp Eyes and Ears
It is very interesting to watch the changes in the pupil of the catís eye as the light varies. Of course, the old saying that a cat can see in the dark is nonsense. No animal can see in absolute darkness, for the simple reason that seeing is the result of light, and when there is no light at all, which is very rarely the case, no animal can see. But a cat probably sees better than we do in a bad light, because its pupil opens wider so as to let in every bit of light there may he, however faint.
The catís pupil will also expand under the influence of excitement, opening widely if, for example, we put a mousetrap containing a mouse on the floor before it. The pupils also expand under the influence of fear; as when a dog goes up to a cat and barks at it.
The hearing of the cat is perhaps more acute than its sight. Even when a brick wall intervenes between two gardens, a cat in one garden can hear the gentle footfall of a mate walking in the other garden, a sound which no human ear could possibly detect. The catís sense of smell, however, is much less than the dogís. A naturalist, Mr. Arthur Nicols, carried out an interesting experiment which proved this.
ď I have long had reason to think,Ē he says, ďthat the sense of smell in cats is much less highly developed than in dogs and even among other animals, because among other things we see the difficulty cats often seem to experience in finding food thrown down to them unless they see it fall, bobbing their noses about on the floor in search of it, even when it is no distance from them.
When Dog Beats Cat
ďA few days ago, therefore, I prepared some dozen or so of dainty pieces of meat, both raw and cooked, and some pieces of fried cod and herring, and taking my dog into a room from which every ray of light had been excluded, threw pieces of the meat into different parts of the room. As might have been expected, each piece was found by him almost as soon as the first could be eaten.
"The house cat was afterwards tried in the same room and had real difficulty in finding pieces dropped close to her, failing altogether in securing some of them. What the dog accomplished in the space of a moment, the cat could not do in a quarter of an hour, for on letting light into the room I found pieces of the fish lying about in the farther corners.
ď There was no comparison between the one and the other in the manner of searching for the food. The dog went to work with confidence and after a few seconds employed in sniffing round, could be heard eating until every piece of meat had been found. The cat, on the contrary, walked about mewing, and seemed to have no idea of the presence of the fish until she was close to it.
" The cat was quite familiar to me, and had been kept quite a long time without food intentionally. I used fish because it was a food to which she was accustomed and calculated to emit sufficient smell. The result impressed me with the conviction that cats discover food by smell with very indifferent success, whence perhaps it may be inferred that their perceptions generally through this sense are ore feeble than those of some animals."
Later experiments with other cats and dogs gave the same result.
The Warning Whiskers
In addition to its eyes, ears, and nose, the cat has still another means of finding its way and avoiding difficulties when pursuing prey or travelling in the dark. The front part of its face is provided with long, sensitive whiskers and when it is creeping along these touch any obstacles there may be, and warn the cat to be careful. They also enable the cat when pursuing prey, such as a bird or mouse in the garden, to keep its eyes on the victim and go forward without watching the path. The sensitive whiskers enable it to avoid obstacles on the way, for they are provided with special nerves and act as delicate organs of perception.
If we touch a catís tongue we find that it is very rough, and seen through the microscope it has a most extraordinary appearance, showing many small points directed backwards. These help the cat to lick the flesh from bones, and also serve as a comb when the cat is at its toilet. Cats are very particular about cleanliness, and are always washing and combing their fur with their tongues.
Another interesting thing about the cat is that it is very sure-footed, and is rarely hurt by a fall. We have probably been astonished to see a cat fall from a great height and alight on its feet without any apparent injury or inconvenience. We can understand then that a cat is reputed to have nine lives. Why is it that a cat can fall from such a great height without hurting itself? If we see a cat fall from an upper window, or some similar situation, we shall notice that even when it begins with its back towards the ground or head downwards it invariably rights itself during its journey through the air, so that the feet are in the proper position for alighting when it reaches the ground.
We know exactly how this manoeuvre is performed from slow-motion films, which have been taken of falling cats starting from different positions. The brain of the animal when it begins to fall realises instantly that its position is incorrect, and messages are at once flashed to the limbs and other parts of the body to right themselves so that the head may be in the correct place relative to the rest of the body and to the pull of gravity.
The cat has learnt this method of self-preservation in the course of ages, because it has needed it. It walks in perilous places and is liable to dangerous falls, so that if its body did not automatically adjust itself in coming down so many cats would have been killed that the race might have been in danger of becoming extinct. Human beings have not acquired this faculty to the same extent because they have not needed it in the same way. The average human being rarely walks in a position where a fall would be serious. If, however, he does fall from a height as proportionate for his size as the fall of a cat for its size, he is usually killed or seriously injured.