How many lives do cats have?
English-speaking peoples sometimes refer to cats as having nine lives, while traditions in Greece, Germany, Italy and Spain generally stipulate seven, and Arabic and Turkish cultures opt for six. Perhaps this idea arose through cats demonstrating their suppleness and swiftness in escaping from life-threatening situations. Falling cats often instinctively land on their feet. But cats, like all creatures, are subject to the whole creation having been cursed (Genesis 3), and thus cannot escape death—many, in fact, have been injured or killed by a high fall. So the answer is ‘one’.
Mutations abound in the cat kind, and over 250 have been documented in domestic cats, including taillessness in Manx cats, congenital deafness of white cats, the American Ringtail’s curly/twisted tail syndrome, and the Japanese bobtail, split-foot syndrome (syndactyly).
White tigers lack the capacity to produce red and yellow pigments (called ‘pheomelanin’)—caused by a single mutational change in a gene. All living white tigers are descended from descendants of a single male white tiger (named ‘Mohan’) captured in India in 1951. Black pigment (eumelanin) production is not affected, which is why white tigers still have their characteristic dark stripes.1
Stripes, by the way, represent a challenge to evolution, as there’s increasing evidence now that mutations degrade (not produce!) stripes, resulting in spots and other broken patterns—representing a loss of genetic information.2,3 This begs the question: how did cats get their stripes in the first place? From a biblical perspective, there’s no problem—although it would be nice if all Christian artists were aware they should portray at least one of Noah’s pair of felids4 with stripes when boarding or disembarking from the Ark.
References and notes
- Xu, X. et al., The Genetic Basis of White Tigers, Current Biology 23(11):1031–1035, 3 June 2013 | doi:10.1016/j.cub.2013.04.054. Return to text.
- How the tabby gets its stripes, The Week, issue 198, 5–11 October 2012. Return to text.
- Since the entire genome of an Abyssinian cat was sequenced in 2007, geneticists have progressively been identifying the mutations responsible for blotchy patterning, white and ginger colouring, long hair, among many other coat characteristics of modern cats. Return to text.
- Horses, too. See: Catchpoole, D., Zebra or horse? A ‘zorse’, of course! Creation 30(1):56, 2007; creation.com/zorse. Return to text.