This is another of those rewritten blog posts. Hope you like it! (I won’t be using videos in the final ebook, but it’s nice for this blog post.)
It’s awesome to say “rex mutant” when somebody asks what kind of cat you have.
Even better, these mutants and their unusual fur coats can only take over the cat fancy, not Planet Earth.
This look comes from gene mutations that are rather complex. All we need to know is that experts are still trying to understand the LaPerm’s coat, while Selkirk Rex, Cornish Rex, and Devon Rex fancy-cats all have different mutations.
And the Devon Rex–a top-ten breed in the Cat Fanciers’ Association–has also inherited its moggie ancestor Kirlee’s elfin good looks.
All rex fancy-cats are mutation breeds.
Appearance and Personality:
Body build in these kitties varies from big-boned and sturdy (Selkirk Rex) through typical house cat (LaPerm) to whippy and sleek (Cornish Rex). But at first, no one looks at anything but the animal’s fur.
Here’s why rex cats look so strange to us.
We’re used to seeing the typical layered coat that most cats have. On the outside are coarse and slightly oily outer guard hairs to fend off wind and rain. Underneath this outer layer there is often, but not always, a softer undercoat for warmth.
Many biologists divide this feline undercoat into awn hairs (shorter than guard hairs but still fairly stiff) and down hairs (wooly insulation close to the skin).
Rex mutations mess up everything. Overall, a rex cat’s fur is shorter than normal and curly, but the precise details are different in each fancy-breed.
- Cornish Rex: The guard hairs are gone. All we see is the undercoat, a little shorter and more curly, sitting tight against the cat’s body. C. Rex whiskers are also shortened and curly.
- Selkirk Rex: All three layers–guard, awn, and down hairs–are present but the hair in each layer is waved and curled. These cats, whether shorthairs or longhairs, have very soft, plush coats.
- LaPerm: All coat layers are there, but the cat appears to have an 80s-style shaggy perm. This fur texture comes from varying curl and the three different hair types mixing together. LaPerms also can be either shorthairs or longhairs.
- Devon Rex: Again, all three layers exist, but the guard hairs are much shorter and curlier than in other rex breeds, while the awn hairs have different thicknesses. This keeps the coat a little looser on the body than it is on C. Rex. Whiskers are either little stubs or totally absent.
All of these fancy-cats are friendly, affectionate, and outgoing.
The Devon Rex was 2017’s 9th most popular breed in the Cat Fanciers’ Association. The Cornish Rex came in at #13, Selkirk Rex at #23, and the LaPerm was #40.
Famous Rex Cats:
There is Pompous Albert, a gray-and-white Selkirk Rex with a pleasant nature but a very disapproving facial expression. He’s famous on Instagram and has acted in a car commercial.
An unnamed black Cornish Rex appeared in the movie F/X2, prompting a line of dialogue that probably echoes the thought many people have upon first seeing a rex fancy-cat: “Are you telling me they look like this on purpose?”
Yes. Yes, they do.
In fact, the most famous rex cats are the founders of each group. We actually know their names because rex breeds are so new.
Feline curls and waves have been around since at least the 1890s. The Cornish and Devon Rexes were among the first fancy-breeds to get established.
In 1950, Serena–a farm cat in Cornwall–had several kittens including an unusual-looking one with no guard hairs and naturally curly awn and down hairs. No one knew what cat had fathered it.
Serena’s owner named the kitten Kallibunker and showed it to A. C. Jude, who besides being a geneticist was also a well-known cat and rabbit breeder. He felt the mutation was similar to a coat type in the Astrex fancy-rabbit breed, and the owner therefore named her new breed the Cornish Rex.
Another unusual kitten was born in nearby Devonshire in 1960; its mother was a stray cat that someone had given a safe place to for having kittens. Upon seeing the odd coat, that person named the kitten Kirlee and offered it to a Cornish Rex breeder.
However, breeding trials showed that this new rex mutation was different from C. Rex’s. Kirlee therefore became the founder of a new breed: the Devon Rex.
Since the coats are similar, early Cornish and Devon Rex breeders decided to breed each line to a different standard. Kirlee’s unusual but lovely pixie-like body shape was the obvious choice for D. Rex breeders. Today, the word “elfin” is actually part of the breed standard.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, an Oregon cat named Speedy had several kittens in 1982, including one that appeared to be bald with tabby tattooing on her skin. Over the next few months he grew a shaggy coat of ringlets and was named Curly. Over the next decade, he and other kittens founded the LaPerm breed.
By the way, it’s correct to say “the” LaPerm here. Human memories go back a long way in Oregon, and this breed uses the old Chinook Native American system, adding the French article “la” as part of the word for something.
Finally, in 1987, a Persian cat breeder in Montana adopted an unusual-looking kitty from the local shelter. This cat’s coat looked like a body wave! The new owner named her Miss DePesto because she constantly sought attention. After a few breeding trials with Persians showed that this was a new mutation, Miss DePesto became the founder of the Selkirk Rex breed.
There are plenty of other rex cat breeds. These four–Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, Selkirk Rex, and LaPerm–are just the most widely accepted ones in the cat fancy at the time of writing.
The rex mutation apparently is a common one, but it never caught on back in the days when all cats were supposed to earn their living. Most cats without a normal coat quickly disappeared, victims of hypothermia or sunstroke.
We only began to protect them, because of their unique appearance, in the second half of the 20th century. Now rex cats are thriving, and their success raises an interesting question–what new mutation will domestic cats come up with next?
Featured image: Devon Rex by Nickolas Titkov via Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 2.0.
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