Tetrapod Zoology

Rabbit-headed cats in the news

i-1670d48b8ac57964fe4e31032e2ce390-Rabbit_Headed_Cat_by_SkyJaguar.jpg

I promised myself not to bother, but what the hell. Last week I assisted journalist Marc Horne in his research on rabbit-headed cats, and the result was an article in the Scotland on Sunday newspaper that you can read here. I’m not going to write anything new on these cats, but the article does raise a couple of things worth commenting on…

Firstly, my quotes are – I hope – appropriately sceptical. I am not pretending to be a world expert on small cat morphology so, while the skull of the Dufftown cat does look morphologically unusual to me, I tempered my opinion with the caveat that we need further work before we can say anything definitive. I am pleased to see that Andrew Kitchener – who is a recognised felid expert – is also quoted in the piece. His interpretation is less sensational (he notes his hunch that the cats are wildcat x domestic cat hybrids, or perhaps just unusual domestic cats), but he also notes the need for further study. If anything, the take-home message is that more work is needed, and that we should do science on these animals before committing to a conclusion.

One more thing has been brought to the fore by the article. Namely, the fact that you can’t use the name ‘Rabbit-headed cat’ without people endlessly taking the piss. Unfortunately, but understandably, as soon as people hear the name, they think the whole thing’s a joke (look at the comments at the end of the article). So there are plans to come up with a new name: my vote is for ‘Roman-nosed cat’. Anyone any better ideas?

Galve post II to be published later today. The art used above is by SkyJaguar and first appeared here.

Comments

  1. #1 John Hopkin
    May 22, 2007

    It’s a shame that you’re getting personally dissed on the Scotland On Sunday web response message board thingy just for saying that something is “interesting” and “worthy of further investigation”.

    Sometimes I wonder what people’s motives are for their personal attacks, especially when they bring nothing new to the discussion other than their vague and malevolent points of view.

    In short, keep up the good work, Darren.

  2. #2 Darren Naish
    May 22, 2007

    Thanks for the words John. Re: the dissing, I’m never sure whether we should laugh at, or pity, the sources of such attacks. Whatever, it doesn’t bother me. Yeah, like I’m some kind of ‘fake academic’ without an affiliation.. Hmm, guess I’d better stop visiting my University of Portsmouth office then.

  3. #3 Neil
    May 22, 2007

    Too quote red dwarf ‘Like german tourists, the stupid are everywhere!’

    Also would descibe yourself as a cryptozoologist, as your are descibed in the article? Ive got to say the papers article didn’t come across as totally professional journalism, kind of making a mockery of the whole subject

  4. #4 Steve Bodio
    May 22, 2007

    I second (third?) the comments. I am glad that a respectable and credentialed zoologist and paleontologist remains open if skeptical to the possibility of the strange.

  5. #5 Asher
    May 22, 2007

    Umm, maybe I missed something, but I still don’t understand why theyre called rabbit-headed cats.

  6. #6 Mark
    May 22, 2007

    The name rabbit headed cat was given to the animal purely as a joke by Di Francis, just for a laugh. It stuck. No other reason

  7. #7 Stevo
    May 23, 2007

    “Umm, maybe I missed something, but I still don’t understand why theyre called rabbit-headed cats.”

    They are so-called because in profile, the shape of such a cat’s head resembles the profile of a rabbit’s — mostly because, compared to a typical domestic cat the muzzle is a bit elongated and the nasal bone is more arched.

    More specifically, in a typical domestic cat the area of the skull right behind the brows is domed, and from there to the tip of the nose the nasal area follows a concave curve. On the “rabbit headed” cat, the nasal area running from just behind the brows to the tip of the nose is a more convex, upward-bulging shape.

    Do a Google image search for each of the following in turn …

    “cat profile”
    “rabbit profile”
    “rabbit-headed cat”

    … and you’ll see it.

  8. #8 Mark Lees
    May 23, 2007

    The name ‘rabbit-headed cat’ has several problems. As noted it sounds like a joke (I thought it was at first), and does nothing to help the credibility of the claim. Second, I’m fairly sure that for most people hearing the expression ‘rabbit-headed’, it isn’t the profile of the nose that comes readily to mind. I do see the similarity, but I really don’t think it warrants the description.

    ‘Roman-nosed cat’ is much better, as it certainly focuses on the intended feature, though it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Most of the other possibilites are no better – narrow-headed cat, thin-faced cat etc (I’m not sure whether the head/face is narrower/thinner, but the look to so so in the pictures).

    Since it’s Scottish, is there a good Gaelic or Scots name that could be used (if Gaelic it would have to be something pronounceable by non-Gaelic speakers)?

  9. #9 Alan Kellogg
    May 24, 2007

    Which indicates, to me, a different line of descent than that which leads to domestic cats. Indeed, it may not be a cat at all, but an animal whose line diverged from the feline before true felines appeared. A descendent of a proto-feline species. But, to determine if this is true requires a look at the genes, and that may not be possible with the available specimens. A live specimen to take samples from would be better.

  10. #10 Sarda Sahney
    May 24, 2007

    Thought you might appreciate this news piece on a recent sighting of a big cat.

  11. #11 Darren Naish
    May 24, 2007

    Thanks for that Sarda: this piece of footage did the rounds in the British cat research community some months ago and is generally agreed to be a domestic moggy. This is certainly my opinion of it.

  12. #12 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    May 25, 2007

    Mystery animal stalks Minnesota

    Unidentified nocturnal animal claws camper, stops when it realizes the victim is not PZ Myers

  13. #13 Ben Willis
    May 27, 2007

    Actually only one of the so-called Kellas-Cats
    had a roman-nose, an odd characteristic found
    in almost all breeds of domestic cat. Di Francis believed several of the dead specimens
    had heads resembling a rabbit, so they were
    called “rabbit-headed-cats”.
    In reality, these were nothing more than crosses between domestics and the Scottish
    wildcat. One specimen was believed to be a
    pure melanistic wildcat.
    As to the rabbit-heads, those particular cats
    had similar features of the Siamese and nothing
    similar to a rabbit head of skull. A web-site
    on the Internet has featured photos of one of
    these cats which has obviously been altered. The image has been stretched horizonally, giving the head the resemblance of a rabbit.

  14. #14 Darren Naish
    May 28, 2007

    Every now and again it is argued that the ‘rabbit-headed’ look of the Dufftown cat results from photo manipulation. There is indeed one image on the net which has been squashed, but I don’t think it was intentional. The original published photos (which you can see in, for example, Francis’ My Highland Kellas Cats) show that the odd look of the head was genuine. As for whether the cats look this way because they incorporate genes from Siamese or similar breeds, this is indeed a viable hypothesis that requires testing. Many thanks for your comment Ben.

    PS – for those interested, here is the full text of the email I sent to Marc Horne. Some of my comments were incorporated into the article, but not all of them (overall, I was more sceptical than perhaps implied in the article)…

    ——————————-
    Given that we presently lack any skeletal material of these so-called ‘rabbit-headed cats’, my opinions are based almost entirely on Di Francis’ photos (though I did also get to examine the skin of the Dufftown specimen).

    I found that several anatomical features visible in the photos were highly interesting and very odd compared to the skull features of domestic cats, Scottish wildcats and Kellas cats (these features include a different tooth count, brain size, bone texture and the shape of the lower jaw).

    I am _not_ an expert on cats, but these features certainly suggested to me that the Dufftown cat was unusual and worthy of further investigation. If it _is_ a new type of cat, as has been suggested, this would be a huge discovery: new mammal species (the size of cats and bigger) are still being routinely found around the world, but the discovery of a new mammal in the British Isles would be an immense discovery as it is generally agreed that Britain’s wild animal fauna has been well documented and that there is nothing new to find.

    If, on the other hand, these cats are just weird hybrids or mutants, then they are not so remarkable – especially if the features they possess turn out to be present elsewhere in domestic cats. On this point, I have asked Andrew Kitchener, a cat expert at Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland, what his opinion is, but I have yet to hear back from him. I understand that he was able to compare the skull of the Dufftown cat with numerous domestic cat and Scottish wildcat specimens, but I can’t say any further than that.

    You asked about Kellas cats. The easiest answer is to direct you to my blog article here..

    http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/2007/03/post.php

    Kellas cats are discussed about half-way down the article.

    My article on rabbit-headed heads is here…

    http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/2007/03/post_1.php

    Ok, I hope this helps, I have to go. Overall, please note that while I am interested and await future developments, I remain sceptical.

    I’d really appreciate a copy of your article when it’s published, thanks. Good luck with it.

    ——————————-

  15. #15 Jon Ferguson
    May 29, 2007

    Don’t take the piss-taking to heart – it’s aimed at the sort of numpties who swear blind that blurry pics of household moggies are giant killer cats. It’s tough to resist having a pop at the fantasists. I’m afraid by becoming associated with the self-styled cryptozoologists, you will attract this kind of cynicism (as opposed to scepticism). It’s a case of damned if you do (comment), damned if you don’t. The cryptos are looking for any little positive comment so that they can say “see! a scientist believes us!” when in fact all you are doing is keeping yourself open to the possibility of something unusual (be it hybrid or even “new”).

  16. #16 Mark
    May 31, 2007

    Oh no, those images on the website have not been altered in any shape or form, who ever advocates that knows nothing of the original circumstances that these photographs were taken – and who actually took them, and what the original prints show. I have the original photographs, that were taken at the Edinburgh Natural History Museum, and the prints show exactly what is on the website. No doubt the negatives will be somewhere, I will ask Di on that point.

    Also we really need to get this straight – the Kellas cats have nothing to do with the so-called rabbit headed cats – these, if they exist, are something totally different advocated by Di. And there is not only ONE, but three speciemens that came to light – the possible fourth had its skull shot to pieces. At the time Di published her book she only had the Dufftown speciemen – only one, she never advocated that the other Kellas cats were the so-called Rabbit headed speciemns.

    And as a reply to the last comment about cryptozoologsist wanting scientists to agree – I think Darren knows completely different on that score after the recent posts on the BCIB list!! don’t kid yourself…….

  17. #17 Mark
    May 31, 2007

    Also anyone who dounbts that the name rabbit headed cat was given as a joke by Di shoud ask her. I did again the other day to make sure. In the light of an email I received off a scientists explaining the reason for the name was given because of rigour mortice setting in making the ears pin right back into the head.

    It was a joke, a nickname, nothing more

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