When the Dog Days end, Cat Nights begin. The Old Farmers’ Almanac tells us Cat Nights begin on August 17. According to Irish legend, witches could change into a cat and change back to human form 8 times. On the 9th time, on August 17, they could not change back–hence the expression, a cat has 9 lives.
But what does this have to do with cat nights? This is my theory. Sirius, the star of the Dog Days, is no longer visible in the pre-dawn sky. The late summer nights are getting cooler, which cats (and dogs) find quite a relief after the heat and humidity of July.
The nights are getting longer, too. Even we have begun to notice this, but other animals are much more sensitive to these changes in light and temperature. Those of us who share our lives with cats and dogs cannot help but notice how lively they are now.
Cats are crepuscular creatures, most active at dusk and dawn. They are nocturnal hunters. Their long, oval shaped pupils (which all nocturnal hunters have) are like the changing moon. In bright light, the merest slit. At night, the pupils open wide.
Their eyes seem to glow in the dark. No, they are not headlights or lasers! The mirrored eyes of jaguars in Aztec and Mayan statues may be closer to the mystery of cats’ eyes.
Why do a cat’s eyes shine in the dark? A veterinarian’s answer in the Daily Mail explains that the back of their eyeballs includes a reflective layer of cells called the tapetum lucidum, which works like a mirror on the retina, reflecting back the available light. Cats can see 8 times better in the dark than humans can.
Cats can see some colors, too. They can see yellows, blues and violets. And, their eyes are much more sensitive to movements than our eyes are.
But it is their superior night vision that may leave us in awe. They are particularly fond of the twilight, the half-light of 4 am. They are our companions of insomnia. Who needs an alarm clock when there’s a cat or two around?
When we turn on the lights and flashlights, cats are waking, watching, prowling. Longer nights are coming. The nights belong to them.
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