Contrary to popular belief, cats, dogs and other animals with black fur and skin are not unlucky. In fact, the dark coloration boosts their lifespan. So those once thought unlucky? Think again. They’re actually the luckiest of all.
In a study published on Feb. 19, data suggested that dark coloration isn’t something merely inherited by animals via the gene pool but a case of melanism at work. Melanism refers to the development of melanin (in this case, dark colored) in the skin, fur, eyelashes and similar appendages – a characteristic believed to help animals like black cats live longer.
The study, entitled “Recurrent Evolution of Melanism in South American Felids,” was lead by Alexsandra Schneider and senior author Eduardo Eizirik, who, along with their colleagues, focused on three South American wild big cats: the Kodkod, Geoffroy’s cat, and Pampas Cat to reach their conclusions. So what were the results?
While some black cats are merely black due to genetics, others are the product of natural selection via mutations which increase fitness and longevity. The Pampas Cat (you may be familiar with this species from Nick Jr.’s “Go, Diego, Go!”) showed the strongest evidence for this natural selection; but the Pampas isn’t alone.
When domestic cats and wild big cats were tossed into the mix, researchers found that the gene responsible for melanism in the Pampas Cat also creates black fur in some Panthers, Jaguars and Leopards – as well as your beloved housecat. As for the increased lifespan, the cause is still somewhat inconclusive.
“We don’t know for certain,” says Gregory Barsh of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, co-author of the study that appeared in PLOS Genetics. “Factors such as foliage, humidity, temperature and/or infectious agents are all possibilities, and could affect camouflage, resistance to heat or thermoregulation or resistance to infections.”
The National Institutes of Health, however, have been embroiled in research regarding black cat genetic mutations using domestic cats and Jaguars for some time, and believe that they create a higher resistance to illnesses such as Feline Immunodeficiency Disease (FIV). Currently, the NIH is using its findings to work on a treatment for FIV – as well as HIV.
Looks like black cats may just be able to ditch their bad rap once and for all.
What are your thoughts on these findings?
Posted by: Chewy Editorial
Featured Image: Via Shutterstock/Slavikboxerr