This would have been the right kind of cat for me to keep if I had kept any; for why should not a poet’s cat be winged as well as his horse?
—Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Video: Three different live cats with wings.
Video: Another cat with wings.
Video: Cats sometimes mate with birds.
Note: Claims that hybrids can be produced from this highly disparate cross require confirmation.
Three different cats with wings, or at least what appear to be wings, appear in the video at right. What are these animals? Is it possible for cats on rare occasions to hybridize with birds? Certainly, the idea seems far-fetched. But, then again, if bird-cat hybrids are impossible, what is the origin of animals such as those shown in the video (and described in innumerable reports, as well, in the printed press)?
Some say that the winglike appendages of these animals are composed of mere matted hair or that they are the result of a rare skin condition, known as “cutaneous asthenia.” But the second cat in the uppermost video can be seen moving its wings, so it seems these appendages are, at least in some cases, musculated. And many of the reports state, too, that these growths contain bones and that they can be extended, which would not be possible if they were just flaps of skin or matted hair.
Video: Cat adopts three ducklings.
Video: Duck adopts kittens.
Imprinting: Cats will care for, and even nurse, abandoned ducklings, and ducks, too, will adopt kittens, though they cannot nurse them (see the two videos immediately above). Mothers who have recently lost their own young are especially prone to adopt the young of others, even those not of their own kind. The fact that ducks will care for kittens, and vice versa, is significant in the present context because most mammals and birds imprint on whatever kind of animal that raises them, that is, when they reach sexual maturity, they will choose a mate of that kind.
When I first encountered reports relating to this cross, it seemed to me that even a friendly association between a duck and a cat would be something extremely unusual. And that, indeed, was the opinion of the people in the video at right before their cat adopted three ducklings, nursed them, and raised them to maturity.
Perhaps my doubts merely reflected that I wasn't raised on a farm, because the other day I was reading one of Sue Grafton’s alphabet murder mysteries (“F” is for Fugitive, 1989, p. 14) and she had her main character, Kinsey Milhone say, “I felt like one of those ducklings inexplicably bonded to a mother cat.” Her use of this simile suggests this phenomenon is not as rare as some seem to suppose. Neither Grafton nor her creation Milhone are particularly given to madcap notions.
I only bring up the fact that ducks are known sometimes to raise kittens, and vice versa, because it is also well known that animals, when they reach sexual maturity, typically choose to mate with whatever type of animal raised them (a phenomenon known as "imprinting"), which is relevant to what follows.
An old picture of the Oxford winged cat (the straight line visible is a leash).
The Oxford Winged Cat
In the 1930s a winged cat was discovered roaming wild in Oxford, England. It was put on display at the Oxford Zoo. The Daily Mirror sent a reporter to the scene. The following is a transcript of his 9 June, 1933 story: “A few days ago neighbours of Mrs Hughes Griffiths of Summerstown, Oxford saw a strange black and white cat prowling round her garden. Last evening Mrs Hughes Griffiths saw the cat in a room of her stables. She says “I saw it move from the ground to a beam — a considerable distance which I don’t think it could have jumped — using its wings in a manner similar to that of a bird.” Mrs Hughes Griffiths at once telephoned Oxford Zoo, and Mr Owen the managing director and a Mr W. E. Sawyer, the curator, went to her house and captured the animal in a net. I have myself carefully examined the cat tonight, and there is no doubt about the wings, they grow just in front of its hindquarters.” (see picture above)
Above: News story about the Oxford winged cat (source).
At any rate, an old report, published in the May 14th, 1778 issue of the French medical periodical Gazette de Santé (pp. 79-80), gives an account of three supposed hybrids between domestic duck (Anas platyrhynchos) and domestic cat (Felis catus).
Note that in the report no mention is made of any actual mating between a cat and a duck (though mating has been observed between combinations of cat and various other birds, such as the cat and chicken shown in the video at the top of this page).
Instead, the notion is expressed that the eggs were somehow altered by the cat’s “emanations,” (probably a reference to “animal magnetism,” a force that supposedly radiated out of animals and had physical effects).
At any rate, here is a translation of this old and odd report about what seem to be duck-cat hybrids hatching from duck eggs:
We are not in the habit of reporting monstrosities, since they ordinarily add nothing to the sum of our knowledge. However, there are certain individuals of this kind that serve to throw light on the most secret mysteries of nature, such as the generation of animals. Moreover, in publishing the following facts, we are attempting to accommodate the curiosity of certain individuals who desired us to do so.
Location of Le Sap
A person whose testimony cannot be doubted (Monsieur Vimont, a doctor of medicine) informs us from the town of Le Sap in Normandy, where he lives, that in a certain house there where duck eggs are regularly incubated under hens, twelve such eggs were placed under a hen who was on friendly terms with a cat, and the cat, wanting to share his friend’s labor, took three of the twelve to lie upon himself. At the end of the usual term of incubation the nine eggs tended by the hen hatched nine ordinary ducklings. But the three of the cat still had not hatched. For 4 or 5 days, the cat remained upon his clutch, and then, when at last the eggs were opened, everyone was astonished to find in each a little monster partaking of the nature both of a cat and a duck. Two were living, the other dead. Dr. Vimont, who reports this event, has preserved one of these little duck-cat monsters in spirits, and offers to send it to anyone who might be curious about such phenomena. Here is a description:
|A news story, dated Aug. 29, 1893, about a court case to determine the ownership of a cat with wings like a duck (source).|
The lower jaw is similar to an ordinary bird beak, that is to say, a duck’s, the tongue stretching its entire length. But, instead of an upper beak, there is the nose or muzzle of a cat. These little monsters have four legs, and the feet are webbed like those of a duck, but the nails end in very sharp claws. They also have wings, which arise from the shoulder joint. The whole body is covered with a long dark-brown down.
Certainly, this is all food for thought, and the most peculiar aspect of the case is the effect of the cat’s emanations, which were able to alter the form generated by the primitive germ, or at least to add to it. All this goes to show that the mechanism, by which an animal breeds and takes on a particular form, remains an impenetrable mystery. [Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original French appears below]
So these strange hatchlings had four legs and wings sprouting from their shoulders, as do the reported winged cats. There is also a similar and more recent reported case of a winged cat hatching from a chicken egg. These reports suggest that the best explanation of winged cats is not that they are mutants, nor that they have a skin disease or matted hair, but rather that they are rare bird-mammal hybrids. The only difficulty is accepting that such distant hybrids might occasionally occur.
Above: Screenshot of a news report about a cat adopting a duckling, here appearing on page 7 (bottom of column 2) of the August 7, 1910 issue of Los Angeles Herald. (source)
Above: Screenshot of a widely circulated news report about a cat, in the town of Reach, Cambridgeshire, UK, with wings like a duckling, here appearing on page 106 (Vol. 3, No. 7, Ed. 1 Monday, July 1, 1895) of Home, Field and Forum an agricultural journal published in Guthrie, Okla. (source)
Thoreau’s Winged Cat|
In Walden, Henry David Thoreau gave the following account: “A few years before I lived in the woods there was what was called a ‘winged cat’ in one of the farm-houses in Lincoln nearest the pond, Mr. Gilian Baker’s. When I called to see her in June 1842 she was gone a-hunting in the woods, as was her wont (I am not sure whether it was a male or a female and so use the more common pronoun), but her mistress told me that she came into the neighbourhood a little more than a year before, in April, and was finally taken into their house; that she was of a dark brownish-grey colour, with a white spot on her throat, and white feet, and had a large bushy tail like a fox; that in the winter the fur grew thick and flatted out along her sides, forming strips ten or twelve inches long by two and a half wide, and under her chin like a muff, the upper side loose, the under matted like felt, and in the spring these appendages dropped off. They gave me a pair of her ‘wings,’ which I keep still. There is no appearance of a membrane about them. Some thought it was part flying squirrel or some other wild animal, which is not impossible, for, according to naturalists, prolific hybrids have been produced by the union of the marten and domestic cat. This would have been the right kind of cat for me to keep if I had kept any; for why should not a poet’s cat be winged as well as his horse?”
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.
By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).
Original French of text translated above: “Quoique nous ne soyons pas dans l’usage d’annoncer les monstruosités, qui pour l’ordinaire n’augmentent en rien la sòmme de nos connoissances; il en est cependant d’un genre qui peuvent donner lieu à de nouvelles recherches & servir à jetter quelque jour sur les mysteres les plus cachés de la nature, tel celui de la génération des animaux. Nous avons cède d’ailleurs aux instances de quelques curieux qui nous ont prié de publier le fait suivant.
“Une personne dont le témoignage ne sauroit être suspect (M. Vimont Doct. en Médecine) nous mande du bourg Sap en Normandie, où il demeure, que dans une maison de cet endroit où l’on étoit dans l’usage de faire couver les oeufs de canne par des poules, douze de ces ayant été mis, dans cette intention, sous une poule, un chat avoit contracté une amitié singuliere avec cet animal, avoit voulu partager fa peine; j qu’il en avoit tiré trois à lui fut lesquels il s’étoit couché à l’exemple de la poule; qu’au bout du terme ordinaire de incubation les neuf œufs couvés par la poule avoient donné neuf cannetons, mais que les trois que le chat avoit fomentés de sa chaleur n’avoient d’abord rien produit; qu’au bout de 4 ou 5 jours, le chat ne les quittant pas, on avoit pris le parti de les casser, & qu’on a été très surpris de trouver dans chacun de ces œufs un petit monstre participant de la nature du chat & de celle du canard, dont deux étoient vivans & l’autre mort. M. Vimont, auteur de cette observation, conserve un de ces monstres canard-chat dans l’eau-de-vie. & qu’il offre d’envoyer aux curieux de ces sortes de phénomènes. En voici la description.
“La mâchoire inférieure est semblable à celle qui sert à former le bec des oiseaux, c’est-à-dire, du canard, avec une langue qui occupe toute la longueur de cette partie. A la place de la partie supérieure du bec on voit un nez ou museau de chat. Ce petit monstre a quatre pates, dont les pieds font membraneux comme ceux du canard, avec cette différence que les ongles finissent en petites griffes très-pointues & très-fines. Cet animal a des aîles qui prennent naissance à l’articulation des épaules. Tout le corps est recouvert d’un long duvet noir-brun qu’on prendroit pour du poil. Voilà une belle matière à réflexions. Ce qu’il y a de plus singulier dans cette observation, c’est l’effet des émanations du chat sur ces oeufs, lesquelles été capables de changer la forme primitive du germe, ou du moins d’y ajouter; ce qui prouve de plus en plus que le méchanisme par lequel l’animal se reproduit & prend une forme décidée, est encore un mystère impénétrable.”
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