Cats.—I have already described the actions of a cat, when feeling savage and not terrified (fig.9). She assumes a crouching attitude and occasionally protrudes her fore-feet, with the claws exserted ready for striking. The tail is extended, being curled or lashed from side to side. The hair is not erected—at least it was not so in the few cases observed by me. The ears are drawn closely backwards and the teeth are shown. Low savage growls are uttered. We can understand why the attitude assumed by a cat when preparing to fight with another cat, or in any way greatly irritated, is so widely different from that of a dog approaching another dog with hostile intentions; for the cat uses her fore-feet for striking, and this renders a crouching position convenient or necessary. She is also much more accustomed than a dog to lie concealed and suddenly spring on her prey. No cause can be assigned with certainty for the tail being lashed or curled from side to side. This habit is common to many other animals—for instance, to the puma, when prepared to spring; but it is not common to dogs, or to foxes, as I infer from Mr. St. John’s account of a fox lying in wait and seizing a hare. We have already seen that some kinds of lizards and various snakes, when excited, rapidly vibrate the tips of their tails. It would appear as if, under strong excitement, there existed an uncontrollable desire for movement of some kind, owing to nerve-force being freely liberated from the excited sensorium; and that as the tail is left free, and as its movement does not disturb the general position of the body, it is curled or lashed about.
All the movements of a cat, when feeling affectionate, are in complete antithesis to those just described. She now stands upright, with slightly arched back, tail perpendicularly raised, and ears erected; and she rubs her cheeks and flanks against her master or mistress. The desire to rub something is so strong in cats under this state of mind, that they may often be seen rubbing themselves against the legs of chairs or tables, or against door-posts. This manner of expressing affection probably originated through association, as in the case of dogs, from the mother nursing and fondling her young; and perhaps from the young themselves loving each other and playing together. Another and very different gesture, expressive of pleasure, has already been described, namely, the curious manner in which young and even old cats, when pleased, alternately protrude their fore-feet, with separated toes, as if pushing against and sucking their mother’s teats. This habit is so far analogous to that of rubbing against something, that both apparently are derived from actions performed during the nursing period. Why cats should show affection by rubbing so much more than do dogs, though the latter delight in contact with their masters, and why cats only occasionally lick the hands of their friends, whilst dogs always do so, I cannot say. Cats cleanse themselves by licking their own coats more regularly than do dogs. On the other hand, their tongues seem less well fitted for the work than the longer and more flexible tongues of dogs.
Cats, when terrified, stand at full height, and arch their backs in a well-known and ridiculous fashion. They spit, hiss, or growl. The hair over the whole body, and especially on the tail, becomes erect. In the instances observed by me the basal part of the tail was held upright, the terminal part being thrown on one side; but sometimes the tail (see fig. 15) is only a little raised, and is bent almost from the base to one side. The ears are drawn back, and the teeth exposed. When two kittens are playing together, the one often thus tries to frighten the other. From what we have seen in former chapters, all the above points of expression are intelligible, except the extreme arching of the back. I am inclined to believe that, in the same manner as many birds, whilst they ruffle their feathers, spread out their wings and tail, to make themselves look as big as possible, so cats stand upright at their full height, arch their backs, often raise the basal part of the tail, and erect their hair, for the same purpose. The lynx, when attacked, is said to arch its back, and is thus figured by Brehm. But the keepers in the Zoological Gardens have never seen any tendency to this action in the larger feline animals, such as tigers, lions, &c.; and these have little cause to be afraid of any other animal.
Cats use their voices much as a means of expression, and they utter, under various emotions and desires, at least six or seven different sounds. The purr of satisfaction, which is made during both inspiration and expiration, is one of the most curious. The puma, cheetah, and ocelot likewise purr; but the tiger, when pleased, “emits a peculiar short snuffle, accompanied by the closure of the eyelids.” It is said that the lion, jaguar, and leopard, do not purr.
From Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.
2 thoughts on “On the Special Expressions of Cats — Charles Darwin”
Reblogged this on williamkaramk and commented:
Esto es sólo para tomarlos en cuenta, sino imaginen que a nadie le importara lo que expresamos
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Reblogged this on O LADO ESCURO DA LUA.
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