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An Illustrated Haiku from the strange depths of the Internet

An Illustrated Haiku from the strange depths of the Internet

Today (August 8) is International Cat Day, a holiday which honors our beloved feline friends. The domestic cat descended from the African Wild Desert Cat in the depths of prehistory and has been revered (though not universally) ever since. Cats have been portrayed both as gods and as monsters by artists. They represent beauty, grace, friendship, happiness, and love. They represent bad luck, witchcraft, endless hunger, and cruelty. Humans cannot get enough of our bewhiskered predatory friends and their odd dual natures. Additionally, cats dominate the worldwide web–the hive mind conglomerate which has become so central to human activity (and upon which you are presumably reading this post).

Old Fashioned Catfish Charm from eBay

Old Fashioned Catfish Charm from eBay

I am personally celebrating International Cat Day with a rabbit fur mouse for Sepia Cat–my beloved middle aged tabby who sleeps purring on my legs (when she is not committing war crimes against mice). To celebrate on this blog, however, I am giving you a whimsical gallery of cat/fish hybrids which artists draw as puns to represent the siluridae. When I was a child I loved these kinds of endearing mixed animal cartoons (and they deeply influenced the Zoomorphs—a line of mix-and-match animal toys I designed). I hope you enjoy the chimerical fun—but more than that, I hope you are especially nice to your catfriends on this, their special day!

10x10Catfish CartoonBlk

Cartoon Catfish by Steven Wallet

Cartoon Catfish by Steven Wallet

Stock Illustration by RobinOlimb

Stock Illustration by RobinOlimb

 

Tabby Sabertooth Catfish by Kennon9 (Deviantart)

Tabby Sabertooth Catfish by Kennon9 (Deviantart)

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Felix the Catfish

Felix the Catfish

cat fish (18)

A Catfish Aisha from Neopets

A Catfish Aisha from Neopets

A Smilodon fends off the vulture-like Teratornis at what would later be called the Rancho La Brea tar pits, situated in Los Angeles, California (Painting by Charles R. Knight)

Lately this blog has been fixated on magnificent saber-toothed mammals.  We have featured the extinct saber-toothed whale, a saber-toothed marsupial predator, the little saber-toothed deer, and even the familiar walrus (in reality, a giant saber-toothed seal), but we realize that everyone has really been looking forward to the most famous saber-toothed animal of them all, Smilodon, the saber toothed cat.  Smilodon was actually a genus of several large cats, the biggest of which, Smilodon populator, weighed 360 to 470 kg (790 to 1,000 lb) and was larger than modern tigers or lions. In fact Smilodon species are sometimes known as “saber toothed tigers” or “saber toothed lions,” however taxonomists tell us such names are off the mark since the Smilodons belonged to the extinct Machairodontinae genus of felines rather than the familiar Panthera genus of big cats so familiar today.

About two and a half million years ago, Smilodon evolved in North America from an earlier genus of saber toothed cat Megantereon (there were a lot of other earlier genera of saber-toothed cats, not to mention even more genera of saber toothed carnivores which were not exactly felines—the whole story is complicated).  During the Great American Interchange with South America the big predators invaded South America at the same time armadillos were making their way up into North America.  Yikes, that’s a pretty lopsided exchange.

In addition to long razor sharp teeth, Smilodons possessed immense neck and forelimb muscles. Using the muscles of their front torso they would pull down and pin the great grazing metafauna of the American plains.  Prey animals almost certainly included bison, tapirs, deer, American camels, and ground sloths. Additionally Smilodons might have opportunistically killed juvenile mastodons and mammoths. To dispatch such large prey Smilodons employed their fearsome canine teeth with which they bit through the prone creatures’ necks.

Smilodon fatalis (reconstruction/specimen at the Page Museum)

Paleontologists have collected a great deal of fossil evidence concerning Smilodons, which suggest that the big cats were sophisticates social predators like today’s lions or wolves.  The number and nature of saber-toothed cat fossils recovered from tar pits suggests that Smilodon prides would converge together on prey animals caught in the petrochemical ooze–only to become trapped themselves.  Also some fossilized smilodons have shown evidence of badly broken bones healing—a rarity in carnivores which is generally only possible for pack/pride animals which can (sometimes) rely on a support network.

Thanks to their size, ferocious appearance, and highly characteristic teeth, Smilodons have a special place in human culture to the extent that few other extinct animals do.  The Flintstones had a pet smilodon named “Baby Puss” which evicted Fred from his house in the title sequence and the moral struggles of Diego the saber tooth constituted the moral hook of “Ice Age” a cartoon movie. Ironically for all of our apparent fondness for the great cats, it seems that human migration into the Americas may have been the downfall of the great cats (which vanished 10,000 years ago) but whether their extinction was the result of humans overhunting their prey, shifting climate, or some other factor remains an open question.

Smilodon by Knight

Idea of a Certain Cat (Tokuhiro Kawai, 2004, Oil and Tempera on Board)

To balance yesterday’s post about the dog star, today we feature three whimsical cat paintings by Tokyo born surrealist Tokuhiro Kawai.  I am calling Kawai a surrealist, but perhaps it would be more correct to call him a painter of fantastical narrative: all of his works seem to have some sort of magical fairy-tale story behind them.  Although the three monarchical cats shown here are lighthearted, some of Kawai’s other paintings are much more melodramatic and feature fearsome conflict between devils, angels, and heroes.

Tame Cat’s Optical Illusion (Tokuhiro Kawai, 2006, Oil on Canvas)

Each of these paintings features a Scottish Fold housecat either wearing a crown or being ceremonially coronated.  The little black and white cat is so self-assured and regal that we hardly wonder at its elevation to the throne.  With broad gleaming eyes and fur that seems as though the viewer could touch it, the cat seems real.  One wonders if perhaps it belongs to the artist.

Smolder Thinking (Tokuhiro Kawai, 2008, Oil on Canvas)

Kawai has a particular gift for painting animals and many of his compositions are filled from top to bottom with flamingos, foxes, owls, ammonites, and pelicans.  Cats seem to be his favorite and they are pictured as conquerors, tyrants, and gods—in one of his pictures a feisty cat has killed an angel like it was a songbird and is holding the limp corpse in his fangs while standing like a stylite atop a classical column. Fortunately the cat in these three paintings does not seem as violent.  The little kitty is clearly dreaming about the trappings of power—what it would be like to wield absolute authority and be pampered all day.  Knowing my own pet housecat’s personality, I believe that such an interpreatation of feline psychology is not entirely a stretch.

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