Socks, Mittens, Boots, Tux
April 8, 2020 1:42 PM   Subscribe

Socks are rarely seen in wildcats, the elusive and undomesticated cousin of the house cat, so why do so many pet cats sport furry white feet? Turns out it's a result of genetic mutations, domestication and developmental biology. (Live Science).

Why do cats—and so many other animals—look like they’re wearing socks? (Popular Science, adblock blocked):
Piebaldism [is] the result of a mutation in the KIT gene, which causes an unusual distribution of melanocytes—the cells that give eyes, skin, and hair or fur pigment.

When a cat is still an embryo, all of its available melanocytes are bunched up toward its back, where its spinal column will eventually form. As the fetus develops into a mewling kitten, pigment cells spread throughout the developing body. If the melanocytes are evenly distributed, the cat could have a unicolor coat, like Sabrina the Teenage Witch's all-black cat, Salem, or the all-white Hello Kitty. But in many animals, the cells spread irregularly. That's how you get a cat like Sylvester, who's black from his back to his legs, but white down to his toes.
How the Cat Got Its Coat (and Other Furry Tails): Striking pattern formation has implications for serious embryonic disorders in humans (Scientific American) (2016):
Our team of researchers from the universities of Bath, Edinburgh and Oxford have been working to unlock the mystery of how these animals get their distinctive patterns. We have discovered that the way these striking pigment patterns form is far more random than originally thought. Our findings have implications for the study of a wide range of serious embryonic disorders in humans, including diseases affecting hearing, vision, digestion and the heart.[...]

Although the effects of piebaldism are relatively mild, it is one of a range of more serious defects called neurocristopathies. These result from defects in the development of tissues and can manifest as heart problems, deafness, digestive problems and even cancer. The diseases are all linked by their reliance on a family of embryonic cells called neural crest cells. By understanding piebaldism better, we can improve our understanding of these related and more serious diseases.
Piebald mystery solved: scientists discover how animals develop patches (The Guardian) (2016):
The distinctive patterns were known to be caused by a mutated gene, but how the faulty DNA produced the signature white bellies and other splashes of light on animals’ coats was far from clear.

The discovery has led researchers to a mathematical model that describes how the curious patterns arise through the movement and growth of pigment cells when the animals are still growing in the womb.

The formula could help scientists understand not just the variations of animal colourings but also more serious, related conditions called neurocristopathies that cause deafness, gut disorders, heart defects and cancer in humans when cells fail to move to the right positions.
posted by not_the_water (25 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
My cat Steve had long socks in the back and short socks on the front. I used to sing to her,
"Boots and mittens,
Mittens and boots,
Steve's my kitten
And she's awfully cute."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:11 PM on April 8, 2020 [24 favorites]

I once had a book called "Cat genetics for Veterinarians", and thanks to that book, I became the go-to person for cat paternity suits in the neighborhood.
posted by acrasis at 3:35 PM on April 8, 2020 [27 favorites]

Mine stepped in paint and I'll not be told otherwise.
posted by 7segment at 3:43 PM on April 8, 2020 [7 favorites]

So all tuxies were at one time potential black cats? In the womb?
posted by double bubble at 4:12 PM on April 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

I asked my cat he says he just likes to make a bit of an effort to look nice.
posted by carter at 4:37 PM on April 8, 2020 [25 favorites]

My two grey cats show tabby markings in bright sunlight, darker grey striped on dark grey fur. They are like walking secrets.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:13 PM on April 8, 2020 [13 favorites]

Ah, the ol' "stealth tabby." Does it seem to you like their stripes are more pronounced when they're agitated?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:30 PM on April 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Cat tax: Steve and her mittens.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:19 PM on April 8, 2020 [7 favorites]

This chart is also a good one for understanding cat markings & coat colour.
posted by terretu at 12:32 AM on April 9, 2020 [5 favorites]

My cats do not appear obviously on that chart. They're ragdolls, and I guess pointed but in reverse? Like brown bodies with white legs and faces. Bridget has one very dark splotch on the back of her back leg which I always think is a kitty shit stuck to her fur, because sometimes that happens.
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:14 AM on April 9, 2020

Wait, I found them, they have a mask and mantle! How appropriate, for they are thieves.
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:18 AM on April 9, 2020 [4 favorites]

As my tabby kitten grew into my tabby cat, she developed a very thick black stripe along her spine - there was no hint of it when she was small, so we describe it as her "adult stripe".
posted by rmd1023 at 4:58 AM on April 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

we describe it as her "adult stripe".

Sounds more like a promotion.
posted by notoriety public at 6:11 AM on April 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:15 AM on April 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

I love the duck's righteous indignation. Quack, sir; quack, I say!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:46 AM on April 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

I don't think anyone's linked to this bicolor cat chart yet. I like how it shows their little pelts spread out. I've had at least one beast of each pattern over the years.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:53 AM on April 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

After looking at the charts I just had to pick up nearest fluffbutt (who happens to be a bicolor, but I've always thought of as cat hero mask & cape) and give a big squeeze. I can't help it, it's an instinctive reaction to anything to do with cats-- must squeeze nearest. Like sneezing at bright light.
It's also a well known fact around our house that Elder Cat has spotty stripey belly, and we reaffirm this delicious fact many times a day.
posted by winesong at 8:22 AM on April 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Spots *and* stripes are important features to point out to the cats, in case they didn't notice.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:25 AM on April 9, 2020

Our Kyle has a half mask, and is quick to point out that his mantle is SO meta... he’s got the silhouette of a cat on his back! So clearly, he’s got the awesome and specialness of two other cats. Youngster Chevy (named after the model of van engine from which he was rescued) is an orange (he says flame-colored) tabby with mittens and socks. One of the socks is being held up by a matching garter. He has yet to confirm the location of a second garter, but knowing him, we’re better off not knowing.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 11:10 AM on April 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

So according to that chart my cat's got, like, a mantle on one side and a saddle on the other.
"Cow cat" is a much easier description.
posted by TwoStride at 11:31 AM on April 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

Poor Slippers, just trying to do the right thing.
posted by carter at 12:21 PM on April 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

My goofy cat Baby Goat is a long white rotund cat with tabby markings on the top of his head and part of his ears. His tail is very small in relation to his large long body and has dark tabby markings. He has blue eyes and tiny paws with pink pads. He headbutts and can jump straight up and caper like a baby goat. I classify him as a Van Goat.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 6:03 PM on April 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

Cat coloration genetics is fascinating, and when teaching I habitually replace all genetics labs involving human "Mendelian" traits with a lab on cat coloration. This is because all of those human traits that we learned in high school -- free vs. attached earlobes, tongue rolling vs not tongue rolling -- are mostly bullshit. But cat genetics, those are really well worked out, and a lot of fun, and provide good opportunities to teach about a lot of the main types of dominant and recessive gene systems while also explaining *why* some genes are dominant and some are recessive. Like the tyrosine hydroxylase gene. The protein that gene makes is responsible for helping to turn tyrosine into melanin precursors. One allele of that gene leads to a protein that doesn't work at normal body temperatures, but does work at slightly cooler temperatures -- leading to successful melanin production in colder parts of the cat like ears, tail, nose, and paws. The Siamese phenotype is recessive because if you have one copy of a regular tyrosine hydroxylase gene and one slightly broken one, you'll be able to make melanin everywhere just fine. Here is so much more about cat coat genetics.

If you think about it, a Siamese cat's coloration is literally a heatmap of the cat's body temperature...
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 7:22 PM on April 9, 2020 [4 favorites]

Do we pay no cat tax on the Blue these days?
posted by ninazer0 at 8:55 PM on April 9, 2020

I wanted to pay cat tax, but we're full of fumble fingers these days and the camera, the phone, the thingy that records the images, got broken in my case, and there's no strolling into a phone store to demand my rights as an idiotic payer of insurance for how long.
He's a mackerel tabby of deep grey with an undercoat of fawn (so elegan) with snake yellow eyes except also citrine maybe, and the belly is creamy grey with the aforementioned stripes and spots. We discuss this nightly.
posted by winesong at 1:26 PM on April 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

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