Just published Fact 24 as a blog post at 50 Cat Facts.
Yes, it’s now about a month before my latest planned publication date, and I’ve still got 26 facts to go. When setting up the schedule, I expected these to be easier, as it doesn’t involve researching the development of the species and many of them already appear as blog posts, but now I know how difficult it is to write a good post. Those earlier ones were too easy.
We’ll see. I am not going to take that January 5th date too seriously – so glad I don’t have a contract at this point!
Excuse: It’s my first nonfiction book. This experience is going to help a lot with the next one, on the rest of the modern cat family, which is still due out in late November 2018.
I’ve started a blog called “50 Facts About Cats” to help me focus and also to promote the books as each takes shape. Just posted the last of the first facts for each category: wild cats, big cats, sabertoothed cats, house cats, and fancy-cats.
So far, there are only five facts up, but I’m trying to do at least one fact a day.
The books, of course, will be in a series of 50 facts each, offered separately and in a bundle.
The fate of Robin Huntingdon
For now, I’m going to leave this Robin Huntingdon blog as it is, making occasional posts and book updates.
I’m thinking about making it a general platform for a variety of science writers in the future, if the cat writing goes well for me. Time will tell.
The origin of the name Robin Huntingdon
By the way, did you ever wonder about this (since my name is Barb Beier)?
It’s based on my favorite Douglas Fairbanks silent movie! Not science, but a creative fleshing out of the old Robin Hood legend.
Here’s Doug as Robin Hood (the former Earl of Huntingdon):
I found this lovely video per this source while researching why some animals, including cats, are born blind and deaf (a/k/a altricial), while others, including ducks, are able to move and do other life tasks at birth (a/k/a precocial).
Mama Cat is hardwired to treat her “children” as if they are helpless, so she keeps trying to get the ducklings into the chow line. My favorite moment is when she finally gives up and just stares at them perplexed – we’ve all been there for one reason or another, Kitty!
Fortunately, it all works out at the end. Good thing for the kittens that ducklings are light and you can get a little air through their feathers!
As far as I’m concerned, Life, the Universe, and Everything appeared just so this young lion could get that much satisfaction from a green rubber ball. You’re welcome, Leo.
We’re done here . . .
Wait. Why pass up such a fascinating topic?
It may take a PhD to cover every detail of where cats come from and where they might be going, but some of the most interesting highlights aren’t at all hard to understand.
Let’s check out ten common misconceptions about fossil cats and how they turned into the modern cat family Felidae.
To start off, most people think that . . .
10. Dogs and cats are unrelated.
Cats and dogs work hard to keep this misconception going, but they’re actually “kissing cousins.” Well, sort of.
Not much hard evidence of the carnivoran family tree has survived the last sixty-six million years of geologic activity, but paleontologists still comb through fossil beds, searching for the last common ancestor of dogs and cats.
There must have been a hungry little mammal – they were all little back then (Rose) – that either survived the K/T extinction or developed very soon afterwards, during the first epoch of the Age of Mammals – the Paleocene. (Benton and others, page 66; Fox and others; Nyakatura and Bininda-Emonds, 2012)
How do the boffins know that?
From cat and dog teeth, specifically, certain upper and lower cheek teeth that fit together like scissors blades.
They’re called carnassials, after the French word for “carnivorous.”
Carnassials are why Fluffy rarely takes food from your hand. The cat has to use its cheek teeth on food.
Its impressive fangs and incisors are specialized murder tools, as we’ll see in #6 later.
As you can see, cats and dogs aren’t the only ones with carnassials. All members of the biological order Carnivora have them. (Revell)
It’s always the same teeth, too – the last premolar on the upper jaw and the first molar on the lower jaw. (University of California Museum of Paleontology)
This means that all carnivorans inherited their carnassials from the same ancestor.
That’s the K/T-surviving and/or fast-evolving animal paleontologists would love to identify in the geologic record.
Now, the next misconception is something that every zoo visitor and safari adventurer takes for granted. Scientists once thought it was true, too.
9. Hyenas and the big cats are unrelated.
Not surprisingly, wildlife biologists used to classify hyenas as caniforms. (World Heritage Encyclopedia) That’s science-speak for “dog-like.”
Yes, and otters and seals, too. Not killer whales, though. (Heske)
Hyenas were moved out of the group when genetic testing showed that they are really feliforms, though it isn’t clear exactly how they fit in with the rest of the “cat-like” carnivorans. (Barycka)
Feliforms include families you don’t usually think of as related to cats until you see them all together. Here are modern representatives of the whole feliform group (Heske):
OK, the hyena still seems strange there, but molecular analyses don’t lie.
By the way, meerkatts are in the mongoose family. They are smart, but cheetahs are smarter.
Since paleontologists are still looking for the last common ancestor of dogs and cats, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that no one knows for sure when these two groups went their separate ways.
The oldest known caniform and feliform fossils go back to the Eocene – the second epoch of the Age of Mammals. However, molecular studies suggest that the big break may have happened long before then. (Benton and others; Nyakatura and Bininda-Emonds, 2012; University of Edinburgh)
The exact date hasn’t been pinned down yet. Some researchers think . . . Uh-oh. Let’s move on – something really horrible has just appeared in the tree branches over your head . . . act casual and don’t turn your back on it.