Domestic Cat × Marten

Felidae × Mustelidae

Mammalian Hybrids

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EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS

     
Peter Simon Pallas
Peter Simon Pallas
(1741-1811)

cat-marten hybrid
An alleged marten-cat hybrid (Pallas 1812, p. 51). Note the similarity of this animal to a Siamese cat.

Martes foina
Beech Marten
(Martes foina)
Image: Franco Atirador, Wikimedia
Note: A Youtube video shows a male ferret mating with female domestic cat. A ferret is the domestic equivalent of Mustela putorius

Peter Simon Pallas (1741-1811) was a German naturalist who received an appointment from Catherine the Great in 1767 and thereafter spent most of his career in Russia, studying and documenting the flora and fauna of the empire. Between 1793 and 1794, he led an expedition to southern Russia, and en route passed through the Oblast of Penza. The administrative center of Penza is the city of Penza, which lies on the Sura River, 625 kilometers (388 miles) southeast of Moscow. He gives an eye-witness account (Pallas 1803, pp. 34-36) of the progeny of a domestic cat, which he saw there, and which he clearly regarded as probable hybrids between a cat and a marten (though the English translations of his book say “polecat,” in the original, he uses the German word Marder, which means marten). Given the geographic location of Penza, this case might refer either to a beech marten (Martes foina) or a pine marten (Martes martes). Note that the animal he pictures (see image at right) looks very much like a Siamese cat. Here's what he had to say:

There are but few notable animals in the oblast of Penza, which because of its high degree of agricultural development has, with the exception of the wooded areas, scarcely any wild animals. … [however, a] hybrid or breed of the common house cat here did strike me as quite remarkable. There were three, exactly alike, produced by a black cat belonging to His Excellency Councillor of State Igor Michailovitch Shedrinskoi, a resident of the village of Nikolskoi, also known as Beketovka, in the Insara district. The cat lived alone, on this nobleman’s estate, and liked to go out to the woods behind their English-style garden. They noticed this cat had been away while in heat, and shortly thereafter she produced three young, all precisely alike, of which I saw two in the house of my colleague [Fedor Michailovitch] Martynov, and one in that of the Governor. Supposedly, the cat had already produced one ordinary litter of kittens, which she devoured a few days after birth. The form and, especially, the consistency and color of the fur suggested something extraordinary about these cats. They are of a medium size, have legs a bit thinner than an ordinary cat’s, and the snout seems somewhat lengthened. The length of the tail is three times that of the head. In general, the fur is the light, nut-brown of a marten, a little darker on the back, especially in the males, and paler below. The throat is even lighter, and the female has a white patch on the neck below. The black of the snout spreads out around the eyes, and the extends toward the forehead to form a point. The ears, paws and tail are entirely black. The hair, like a marten’s, is less stiff than that of a cat, and the under-hair is similarly gray-white. The fur of the tail has a texture somewhat like feathers. Otherwise, the entire behavior, odor—and all else—is that of a cat. All three were, however, at first very wild. They crept away into holes they had in fact dug themselves, and indeed even now they lack the sociability of tame cats. So, then—are they hybrids?” [Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original German]

Later writers mention this same cross and seem to refer to even the same event, but some aspects of the later accounts are different. For instance, they seem to refer to the same case as Pallas, in that they talk about a cat going out to the woods and mating with a marten, and the event again occurs in Penza. However, in these subsequent mentions of the cross, there are four hybrids in the litter, two like a marten and two that are more like cats. Moreover, according to these later accounts the hybrids are fertile and founded a new breed of furbearing animal. One example, is an anonymous article that appeared in a French magazine about recent scientific discoveries (Archives des découvertes et des inventions nouvelles: faites dans ... pendant l’annee 1819, Volume 12, Paris: Treuttle and Würst, 1820, p. 24). It reads as follows:

An animal, interesting in that it seems to constitute a new species capable of reproducing itself, and which offers to commerce a fur almost as lovely as that of the marten, has been presented at the Imperial Society of Natural History in Moscow. It comes from the oblast of Penza, and from a part of that region abounding in martens. A domestic cat disappeared there for several days and came back pregnant. After her term of gestation, she gave birth to four offspring, two of which were exactly like a marten (Mustela martes). Their claws were not retractable like a cat’s, and the snout was elongated, like that of a marten. The two others were more like a cat. They had retractable claws and rounded muzzles. But all had the black paws, tail and ears of a marten. Attempts were made to propagate this hybrid race, and to prevent mixing with ordinary cats. These efforts were completely successful, and after a few years, there were already more than a hundred of these animals, and they are making very attractive furs from their skins. [Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original French.]

Several subsequent articles (e.g., Morton 1847b, pp. 275-276) tell much the same story.

Heinrich Georg Bronn
Heinrich Georg Bronn
(1800-1862)

In a separate case, Heinrich Georg Bronn (1800–1862), the German geologist und paleontologist, creator of the first German translation of Darwin’s Origin of Species, gives the following account of two animals thought to be hybrids between beech marten (Martes foina) and house cat (Bronn 1847, p. 178):

An ordinary dark-and-light gray striped cat on the Ranzau estate in Denmark gave birth to a kitten, whose hair is glossy black (but on the belly, the hind legs, and under the tail the hairs are more reddish toward their roots), and white on chest, roughly as in a beech marten. The two hind feet, a spot on the toes of the right front foot, and the whiskers, are white, in which things it resembles a house cat. The coat is remarkably long, especially on the back and tail, where it reaches a good three inches in length. The upright ears are martenlike, the head, smaller, more tapering and triangular than in a cat’s. A neutered offspring of the same mother (from the previous year?) is the size of the largest sort of house cat and colored like a wild cat; its body and tail are unusually long, the abdomen curled hair, soft as silk, flexible in all directions like a marten’s. In its teeth, electricity [cat fur has a marked tendency to store static electricity], soft meowing and purring it is like a cat. Its manner of living is almost exclusively nocturnal; the animal hides by day, but appears at dusk to feed. Otherwise it like a cat. Similar animals are supposedly found elsewhere in Norway and Denmark. The first individual has twice produced similar offspring with the mother. Hansen, the forester there at Ranzau, vows that he shot a marten while it was mating with a cat, and Brede, the gardener there, claims to have witnessed such a pairing. Therefore, it may certainly be the case that the cats just described are in fact hybrids. [Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original German.]

A list of cat crosses

The following is a list of reported cat crosses. Some of these crosses are much better documented than others (as indicated by the reliability arrow). Indeed, some might seem completely impossible. But all have been reported at least once. The links below are to separate articles. Additional crosses, not listed here, are covered on the cat hybrids page.

reliability arrow

Table of contents >>

Bibliography >>

Internet citations >>

Biology Dictionary >>

By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).


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