WINGED CATS - MYTH, LEGEND AND FAKES
Over the years there have been many reports of "winged cats" and many people would like to believe in flying cats. Regardless of the medical causes, winged cats have caught the public imagination over the years.
Winged Cats - Recent Reports
Winged Cats - Historical Reports
Winged Cats - Myth, Legend and Fakes
Winged Cats - Vet Reports, Causes and Medical Issues
Brad Perry related this tail of winged cats to me in Spring 2007. So far, I haven't been able to verify it. The Syrax, or winged cat, was first described to Brad by his elderly grandmother, Corine (Young) Perry in 1954 and had evidently been transmitted orally within the family. According to her, in nature there were many monsters and mistakes. The winged Cat was one such aberration that was thought to be a familiar of adept Wiccans and was used to spy on the encroaching Christian hordes migrating from France and Italy (the period from about 300 AD to 790 AD). In 1901, Corine Young and her husband (21 years her senior) were married as Lutherans although she also seemed to know much of the "old ways" - herbalism and myths and stories related to Wicca.
There is even a tale of a winged big cat known as the Cat-a-Mountain. The explorer Marco Polo reported the existence of a large predatory cat in the Far East with the body of a leopard but a strange skin that stretched out when it hunted, enabling it to fly in the pursuit of its prey. It is highly unlikely that a lion or similarly sized cat could survive with the FCA condition so the Cat-a-Mountain is most likely an imagined hybrid a big cat and a large bat or a big cat and a flying squirrel (which has flaps of skin enabling it to glide). Later authors used the term to describe a wild cat and by the seventeenth century it had been abbreviated to Catamount and was used as a synonym for the American Mountain Lion (Cougar, Puma).
The winged cats of myth and legend were often demonic creatures with "feathered" wings and liable to swoop down on humans. Cats were all too often associated with the devil hence there were evil bat-winged cats in superstition. Below is a detail from a Kircher engraving (1667) depicting a curious mix of cat's head, bat's wings and human torso. The later picture, by Grandville in the 19th Century is an anthropomorphic image of cats in the forms of angel, demon and humanised cat. It is the angelic image which seems to have persisted into modern times, while the image of bat-winged demonic cats has been consigned to history.
As cats moved into the home and became our companions, the popular image of winged cats also began to change (as illustrated by Grandville). Most modern winged cats are either cute and fuzzy storybook creatures (Pegapuss); feline analogues of angels or fairy-like creatures.
"Flittens" by Greenwich Workshop
"Almost Purr-fect Angels" by Bradford Edition
In the 1980s and 1990s, a popular range of fantasy novels depicted shy owl-winged cats which were the pets of wizards and which were a magical hybrid of cat and owl. The winged cat motif remains common in fantasy role-play games. Figurines, Christmas tree decorations and pendants of winged angel cats have become popular. Angel kitty figurines are especially popular among bereaved cat owners and feature cats with feathered wings in much the same style as human angels.
Examples of modern winged cats (2000s) can be found in Greenwich Workshop's range of winged kitten figurines called "flittens" (flying kittens) which were whimsical kitten-fairies with colourful butterfly wings and Bradford Editions' "Almost Purr-fect Angels".
The rise in popularity of pet cats has led not only to medical diagnoses and better understanding of the mysterious winged cat condition, but also to a change in the way fictional winged cats are portrayed.
TAXIDERMY FAKE WINGED CATS
In the 21st century, better grooming and better medical care can prevent "wings" from forming in the first place. Apart from areas where superstition is rife, afflicted cats are more likely to go to a veterinary clinic for treatment than be exhibited. The likelihood that the wings will be shed or surgically repaired makes genuine stuffed and mounted winged cats unlikely. The skin fragility related to cutaneous asthenia presents a problem to taxidermists though there is one report of a allegedly genuine winged cat taxidermy mount.
Taxidermy fakes, known as "grifts" or "gaffs" (both words which mean "to swindle or deceive") , are made by combining parts from different creatures. Some were made to entertain the public while others were passed off to collectors as "genuine" creatures (usually mythical creatures). Many have appeared in sideshows and curio cabinets. A common example is the "mermaid" made from a monkey upper body attached to the body and tail of a large fish. Such was the trade in these fakes, that the first genuine platypus specimens were dismissed as fakes. A few people still make taxidermy fakes as a form of art. Winged cats and kittens can be made using a cat's or kitten's body and the wings of a suitably sized and similarly coloured bird. Although the idea is distasteful to many cat-lovers, I checked with a British taxidermist who confirmed (with respect to non-food animals) that he only uses bodies of animals which have died, or been put to sleep, due to age, illness or accident; this is to ensure that animals are not killed simply for the sake of "art". Not all "artists" are so scrupulous.
A collection of bizarre stuffed animals including a flying cat purportedly discovered by a Victorian adventurer were auctioned at Duke's auction house, Dorchester, England in April 2010. They were billed in the 19th century as having been brought to the UK by fictional adventurer Professor Copperthwaite and were exhibited at the Brading Experience musuem on the Isle of Wight alongside conventional creatures. The museum closed due to lack of visitors. The flying cat is a young white cat with brown markings fitted with the wings of a barn owl. The other taxidermy fakes include a furry fish, unicorn, woolly pig and yeti.
There have been a few cases of people attaching birds' wings to living cats using wire or string, but these are generally quickly removed by the cat!