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The winged cat – a feline with wings like a bird, bat or other flying creature – is a theme in artwork and legend going back to prehistory, especially mythological depictions of big cats with eagle wings in Eurasia and North Africa. Belief in domestic cats with wings persists to the present day as an urban legend. Sightings of cats with supposed wings are easily explained by medical conditions that can result in matted hair, loose skin, or supernumerary limbs on or near the shoulders, that flap about in a wing-like manner as the cat runs.

Big cats with wings in ancient through Renaissance art

Pantherines with wings, especially winged lions, are a common theme in ancient religious and mythological art of the Sumerians and other Mesopotamians, Akkadians, Persians, and Scythians, and other peoples with whom they came into contact and shared ideas in the Middle East, Near East, and Europe. These sometimes also feature a winged cat's body with a bird's head (e.g., the gryphon) or human face (e.g. the lamassu and sphinx). It is hardly a unique, biologically impossible, artistic conceit in works of Classical Antiquity; Greco-Roman, Egyptian, and other works also often depicted winged horses (Pegasus), animal-headed human figures (the Minotaur, and many Egyptian deities like the cat-headed Bastet and Sekhmet), half-human and half-horse figures (the centaur), and other mythological part-cat beasts, such as the Chimera. Art of this sort featuring felids dates back to the Upper Paleolithic era, to 40,000 BCE, though it is uncertain when winged felines in particular were first represented.

Aq Bars is a legendary winged snow leopard, a symbol of ancient Turkic and Bulgar origin, and going back to an uncertain period in pre-literate history. Emblematic use of snow leopards with wings continues in the modern coat of arms of Tatarstan, Russian Federation; Samarqand, Uzbekistan; and Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

Such fanciful creatures appear twice in the context of the Judeo-Christian bible. In the Book of Daniel of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Old Testament, the first beast in the vision of the beasts from the sea (chapter 7, dating to around the 2nd century BC) resembled a winged lion. The (probably unrelated) Lion of Saint Mark is the winged heraldic symbol of Mark the Evangelist of the New Testament (1st century AD), and features prominently in Christian art from the early church to the present day. In later, medieval Christianity, both cats (of the domestic sort) and bats were associated with the Devil, and demons were sometimes depicted as bat-winged cats. For example, an Athanasius Kircher engraving from 1667 depicted a demonic creature with a cat's head, bat's wings and human torso.

The theme of winged domestic cats

Medical explanations

There are three different causes of wing-like appendages. The most common is long-haired cats having matted fur that can form if it is not properly groomed. Less commonly, mats can occur in shorthaired cats if molted fur adheres to growing fur. When the cat runs, the mats flap up and down and give the impression of wings. These can be very uncomfortable for the cat and can harbour dirt, feces and parasites. Extensive mats must be shaved or clipped by a veterinarian. This explanation is ultimately untenable as the sole solution to the winged cat phenomenon, for several reasons. Many notable examples of winged cats feature shorthaired specimens. The occurrence of mats in longhaired cats is easily recognisable by experienced cat owners and breeders, but not recognisable to novices. Matted fur is not considered notable and rarely reported, except by those unfamiliar with the condition. Although mats can occur all over a longhaired cat's body, to novice eyes, they are most noticeable on the flanks when the cat is in motion.

The second explanation of reports of winged cats is a skin condition called feline cutaneous asthenia, which is related to Ehlers–Danlos syndrome (elastic skin) in humans. In "winged" cats with cutaneous asthenia, the pseudo-wings only occur on the shoulders, haunches, or back, and the cats can often actively move these growths, suggesting the presence of neuromuscular tissue within them, which is not present within clumps of matted fur alone.

The third explanation is a form of conjoining or extra supernumerary limbs. These non-functional or poorly functional growths would be fur-covered and might resemble wings, as in one winged-cat case recently documented by Karl Shuker (see below), in which the "wings" were shown to be supernumerary limbs.

There are more than 138 reported sightings of animals claimed to be winged cats, though most of these are clearly nothing more than individuals with clumps of matted fur, some cases of cutaneous asthenia or supernumerary limbs, and others taxidermy frauds (freakshow "grifts"), or just sensationalist tabloid journalism. There are over 30 documented cases (with physical evidence) and at least 20 photographs, and one video. There is at least one stuffed winged cat, but this may be a nineteenth-century grift.

There is no evidence of actual bird- or bat-like wings, and there is no scientific reason to believe such a thing is possible. The only true winged mammals, bats, have wings in place of arms, as do birds, while species of gliding mammals like flying squirrels, have membranes of skin that stretch between the front and rear limbs. Neither feature has ever been reported for cats. Classical and modern art featuring cats, as well as reports of alleged winged cats, uniformly place the wings or apparent wings on the back of cats with four legs.

Reports of sightings

In modern popular culture

As detailed above, a winged cat appears in the chapter "Brute Neighbors" in Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Domestic cats, and sometimes larger types (panthers, etc.), with wings are today a frequent trope in fantasy art and fiction:

See also


  1. ^ Dance, Peter (1975). Animal fakes & frauds. Maidenhead, England: Sampson Low. ISBN 0562-00045-3.
  2. ^ "Extraordinary Capture at Winster: A Tomcat With Wings". High Peak News. 26 June 1897.
  3. ^ "Can a Cat Fly?". Strand Magazine. Vol. 18. November 1899. p. 599.
  4. ^ "Cat in China grows a pair of wings". 27 May 2009. Retrieved 2017-08-30.
  5. ^ "- YouTube". YouTube.

Veterinary articles