Saturday, February 26, 2005

So It's a Tiger, Then?

Sigh. No. Though we do get that reaction sometimes, especially from the in-laws, who seem to think we've taken in some ravenous man-eater that's going to maul us to death at any moment. (Okay, our tales of her antics may not have helped there...)

But, in case you're totally unfamiliar with the Bengal cat, it isn't a tiger (despite the name); and it isn't a leopard (despite its parentage). It's a hybrid of the standard domestic cat and the asian leopard cat, or simply leopard cat (Prionailurus Bengalensis). The leopard cat is not a leopard, the name notwithstanding. It's a smaller wild cat, more like a lynx or a bobcat. There are a good dozen different subspecies, found all the way from Pakistan to Japan, and south into places like Indonesia and the Phillippines. Those subspecies can have fairly dramatic differences in appearance, so searching for photos will turn up a wide range of coat patterns and even different body shapes. Some look sort of like domestic cats, while others have a slinky weirdness in the head and body that immediately says "wild animal." Coloration tends toward spots and stripes, in colors that definitely suggest a big predatory cat. In fact, one danger the cats face is fur hunting.

Here are a couple good links for further reference.
Mating between leopard cats and domestic cats happens naturally from time to time, and some breeding experiments were conducted at least as far back as the 19th century. But it was in the 1970s that a deliberate effort began to create the Bengal breed, combining the leopard cat's exotic appearance with the personality of a domestic cat.

Crossing the two gives you what breeders call an F1. This is still a long way from being a pet. F1 males are sterile, but F1 females are mated - again with domestic cats - to create F2 kittens, and so on. By the time you get about four to six generations away from the original leopard cat, you have what's no longer considered a hybrid, but a Bengal proper.

As is obvious from looking at Leela, the Bengal maintains a lot of the exotic coat pattern of the leopard cat. Otherwise, any physical differences between her and regular cats are pretty subtle. Her tail is particularly long and expressive. She's a long, sleek cat (remember she's about ten months old right now). When she sleeps, her rear paws clench up in a way I don't recognize from other cats. The leopard cat is quite a tree climber, so we guess this is to hang on to branches. When she's in "about to pounce" mode, her ears do the weirdest kind of swivel. She doesn't just flatten them against her head; she seems to literally rotate them back or something.

But one of the things I find most interesting about her is that her back seems - I don't know - compressible. When she sits, the tips of her rear and front paws are almost in a perfect row. And her spine seems to have an almost 90 degree bend in the middle. Much more than the rounded back I'm used to from regular cats. I was just digging through our pictures of her, but I don't think I have one of that pose. I'll have to try and catch one to post.

So she's got some different traits, but they're pretty minor apart from the coat. A bengal is not a tiger, but more standard domestic cat than anything else.


At May 12, 2006 at 5:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our bengal named Panar has a cooing sound that she makes when she knocks our tax papers off the coffee table. She's giddy with the joy of causing trouble. She also comes when a dog. She will also leap off your lap in guilt if I come in the room. She has to maintain her complex power plays....she reminds us very much of the cat in Shrek 2...lovable one minute with expressive eyes...and on the attack the next...aun guard..

At March 3, 2008 at 9:52 PM, Blogger Debbie said...

Our bengal is very mischievous. He likes to reach up while standing on his hind legs and, using his paws, pull things off the tabletops. He also does that late night yowling. It was kind of creepy at first, but we're used to it now. I love my big boy, Gizmo. He's about 8 years old and weighs about 17 lbs.


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