|A Manx cat with a bit of a tail. A rumpy-riser, perhaps?|
1903 photo by Gambier Bolton from
The Book of the Cat by Frances Simpson.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Manx cats originally hail from the Isle of Man, a small island (only 227 square miles) in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. The word “Manx” can refer to human inhabitants of the Isle of Man, the Celtic language of the original Manx people, or, of course, to the tailless domestic cats that are our subject today. A tailless cat is an interesting thing to humans, so people have thought up lots of stories for how these cats lost their tails. But first, let’s find out just what makes a Manx a Manx.
Some of them have tails
Interestingly, the one feature (lack of a tail) most people associate with Manx cats is not actually shared by all cats in the breed. There are four classifications of Manx cats:
- rumpy—tailless, with a little dimple where the tail should be
- rumpy-riser—has a tail that’s only one to three vertebrae long
- stumpy—has a somewhat longer, stumpy tail
- longy—has a tail like other cats, or slightly shorter
|The Isle of Man has sometimes|
put its famous cats on its coins,
like this silver 15 ECUs coin.
Photo by CTHOE [CC BY-SA 3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons.
Aside from their interesting tails, Manx cats are known for having a rounded face and being short-bodied and heavy. They are muscular cats and have powerful back legs that make them excellent jumpers. Those back legs can also make their movement seem rabbit-like. The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) says, “The Manx cat is the working cat on the Isle of Man and, as such, has a strong constitution, great intelligence, and a personality that is active yet not hyperactive.”
Manx cats have been around for a long time. They were shown in some of Great Britain’s very first cat shows, and they were one of the founding breeds of the CFA in 1906.
Legends of the breed
The Manx has been the inspiration for quite a few stories and legends. I present them here in chronological order:
- When it was time for all the animals to board the Ark, the Manx cats were sleeping (because, you know, they were cats). They woke up just in time to scamper onto the great ship, cutting it so close that Noah slammed the door on their tails, thus de-tailing the cats.
- Phoenicians brought tailless cats to the Isle of Man sometime in the period 1500–300 BC. These cats were thought to originate from Japan (those Phoenicians really got around, or so the theory went)—just think “Japanese bobtail.”
- The cats on the Isle of Man had their tails cut off by Irish invaders, who wore them as plumes in their helmets.
- The cats swam ashore from a wrecked ship that was part of the Spanish Armada in 1588. These cats also supposedly originated from the Far East, just like the cats the Phoenicians were thought to have carried on their ships.
- In 1844, a historian named Joseph Train noted the cats’ resemblance to rabbits (at least in their motion) and suggested that the Manx was a rabbit-cat hybrid.
|The cats also show up on|
of the Isle of Man.
Image via AdobeStock.
So far as we know, none of these stories is true.
The real story
Somehow, from somewhere, some cats (possibly from England or Wales) arrived on the Isle of Man by ship. At some point, a mutation occurred that caused taillessness in some of the cats. The cat population of the island was isolated, so there was a lot of inbreeding, and the mutation got passed down through the generations and became common.
Incidentally, a cat having her tail cut off by any means would not automatically have tailless kittens, because her lack of a tail would not be passed down to them. That’s basic genetics.
Also basic genetics is the fact that the gene for taillessness is dominant in the Manx. This is different from other tailless cats, who get the trait through a recessive gene. Manx cats can suffer from some abnormalities in their hindquarters because of this mutation. Kittens that get two copies of the dominant tailless gene (one from each parent) die before birth. Thus, long-tailed Manx cats are needed for breeding to keep the overall population healthy.
|A Manx in an 1895 illustration|
from The Cat, R. S. Huidekoper,
who called these
cats "a monstrosity."
By Internet Archive Book Images.
About the breed, veterinarian Rush Shippen Huidekoper wrote in 1895,
The Manx Cat really can be classed as a monstrosity, having been developed probably by the interbreeding of some freak of nature in the form of a cat which inhabited the Island of Man at an early period. (p. 72)
We think “monstrosity” is a little much, but clearly, not everyone has been a fan of the tailless Manx.
One last story
Our final story is about the Isle of Man’s tailless longhaired cat, which is called the Cymric. These cats have been around for a long time but did not become popular for showing until the 1960s. One story of their origin involves our favorite invaders, the Vikings, who may or may not have brought longhaired cats to the island in the eighth century. Those cats bred with the island’s native shorthaired cats, and voila! The Cymric.
Today, both longhaired and shorthaired varieties compete in the show ring.
Cat Fanciers’ Association. http://www.cfa.org/Breeds/BreedsKthruR/Manx.aspx
Info Please. http://www.infoplease.com/country/isle-of-man.html
The International Cat Association. http://www.tica.org/cat-breeds/item/233
Huidekoper, Rush Shippe.n The Cat: A Guide to the Classification and Varieties of Cats and a Short Treatise upon Their Care, Diseases, and Treatment. New York: D. Appleton, 1895. https://books.google.com/books?id=k8NJAAAAIAAJ