Cat Nights Begin

Cat Nights Begin
tabby cat--public domain

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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  • Marvelous work! I never knew about the origin of "nine lives" before -- thank you!
    (As for dog days vs. cat nights, my theory is that somebody noticed the lack of the dog star and figured a cat must have been the one to drive it away. I can't think of the cat constellation, though!)

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Not Leo or the Lynx? I found this on Wikipedia---

    Felis (Latin for cat) was a constellation created by French astronomer Jérôme Lalande in 1799. He chose the name partially because, as a cat lover, he felt sorry that there was not yet a cat among the constellations (although there are two lions and a lynx). It was located between the constellations of Antlia and Hydra.This constellation was first depicted in the Uranographia sive Astrorum Descriptio (1801) of Johann Elert Bode. It is now obsolete.

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    Love it! Sounds like the answer, not like something obsolete.

  • So when is it little lizard days in Florida? It also seems to be chipmunk days around here.

  • In reply to jack:

    You have chipmunks? Do you still have skunks around as well? There are squirrels and possums, here. All these animals are more active, now...

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    There is at least one chipmunk hanging out by my patio (I think it dug a burrow underneath). Seems like more rabbits too. Preferable to the family of skunks that was around 2 years ago, but I haven't seen them since, but the roads still smell of skunk.

  • Chipmunks and lizards and possums! Oh, my!
    Lions and squirrels and cats! Oh, my!

  • My oldest son is strongly allergic to cats, so I told him not to read your post. Just kidding. I got the following info out of "How Did It Begin?" by R. Brasch:

    "Nine is a mystical number. It is composed of three threes, a trinity of trinities. Thought to possess supernatural power and to work as a charm, this figure has featured prominently in the myths and traditions of many parts of the world....It is not surprising, therefore, that to express the cat's mystical power of life, use was made of the very figure as well. Bast, the cat-headed goddess of Egypt, where our feline friends were divine, was said to possess nine lives and this no doubt is an important factor in the legend of cats' longevity."

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Is that related to the Trachtenberg theorem or whatever if that if you add all the digits of a factor of 9, the result is 9?

  • In reply to jack:

    Yes, isn't that weird? 3 x 9 = 36 and 3 + 6 = 9

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Thanks so much, AW! Yes, nine sure is a mystical number--the trinity of trinities--there were nine muses, too.
    And the "casting out nines" in math.

    Yes, cats are also physicists. It seems they can move in other dimensions. How else do they appear out of nowhere? And why do they stare at the walls?

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    "Cats are also physicists" WG, funny you should say that. I have a book by Mark Levi called "Why Cats Land on Their Feet And 76 Other Physical Paradoxes and Puzzles."

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    ha, ha, I was joking about Schrodinger’s cat, of course…

    That book sounds fascinating, AW—I’ll have to take a look. Between you and Margaret Serious, there’s quite a reading list!

    Some cats are amazing jumpers, too. My friend has a young Bengal cat who can jump from the floor to the top of a door–like nothing!

  • Serendipitously I just came across this Ray Bradbury quote from his collection of essays called "Yestermorrow". I was looking up an answer for a New York Times crossword clue---something I sometimes reluctantly do. Here's was he wrote:

    "Cats come at dawn to sit on your bed. They may not nip your nose or inhale your breath or make a sound. They simply sit...until you open one eyelid and spy them...about to drop dead from need of feeding. So it is with ideas."

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    What a lovely quote– from a favorite author, too–thank you so much!

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